LONDONDERRY - Despite freezing temperatures and a wind that at times made the downhill course much colder, the Apple Therapy Millennium Mile road race drew its largest field yet Tuesday afternoon, attracting more than 1,300 runners and walkers for the 14th annual holiday jaunt down Mammoth Road.
They ranged in age from 2 (Addison Ntengeri of Nashua, who finished in 9 minutes 10 seconds) to 76 (Litchfield's Bill Spencer, who crossed the line in a spritely 6:18), with Concord resident and Franklin Pierce University runner Makop Rugabirwa leading the way in 4:07.
Antoine Gisore - like Rugabirwa, a refugee from Congo who graduated from Concord High and transferred to Franklin Pierce in Rindge after starring at New England College in Henniker - was just one second behind his friend and teammate, in 4:08.
Joanna Murphy of Cambridge, Mass., and the New Balance Boston running team led the women's field in 4:36. Former University of New Hampshire standout Sydney Fitzpatrick of Billerica, Mass., was second in 4:40. Sarah Lagasse of Rindge, a graduate assistant at Franklin Pierce, was the top New Hampshire woman, in 5:08.
A total of 1,196 official finishers crossed the line before the clock was turned off at 13 minutes, with the elite runners pacing a field that included toddlers, grandparents and moms pushing strollers from the start between Londonderry High School and the town fire department and the finish in front of St. Peter's Episcopal Church, just past Mack's Apples.
Two of the race's founders, former collegiate all-Americans Andy Downin and John Mortimer, whose Millennium Running company now manages the race, marvelled at how far the event had come since its humble beginnings in 1999.
Around 120 runners participated in the inaugural race, which included Mortimer, Downin and other elite runners who had come together for a New Year's Eve party and a bid to run a mile in less than four minutes (albeit on a downhill course). Over the years, the race has consistently grown more popular. Last year there were 1,153 racers, the year before 1,115.
Downin - whose younger brother, Matt, won a cross country national championship as a Pinkerton Academy runner and chief rival (as well as close friend) of Londonderry High's Mortimer in the 1990s - ran in five previous Millennium Miles and won twice, with a personal best time of 3:51 back in 2001. He said the downhill race course is challenging, as well as unique.
"It's a crazy feeling, running this race. It's completely unlike running on a track," said Downin, who this year worked as a race official rather than entrant. "The awesome part of it is, you'll look behind you and see 8-year old kids running this race, you'll see 85-year-old guys ... and everyone starts at the same time."
Proceeds from the race will be used toward a college scholarship Mortimer founded in memory of his parents, Jack and June Mortimer. June Mortimer lost her battle with cancer in 2004, and Jack Mortimer died of cancer two and a half years later. Since 2004, the scholarship has been awarded each spring to one college-bound student-athlete.
The race also kicked off the nine-event 2013 Millennium Running Series, which continues March 24 with the 2-mile Northeast Delta Dental Shamrock Shuffle in Manchester and concludes Dec. 7 with the 3-mile BASC Santa Claus Shuffle, also in Manchester.
► For complete race results, click here.
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April Guilmet may be reached at AGuilmet@newstote.com.