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June 28. 2014 9:50PM

Goffstown Gallop an athletic event, social occasion

Runners begin their trek at Saturday’s 5.2-mile Goffstown Gallop. Second from right is the women’s winner, Mary Klene, of Manchester. (HARRY KOZLOWSKI/Union Leader Correspondent)

GOFFSTOWN - The sky was a brilliant blue as 140 runners embarked on the 35th annual Dave French Goffstown Gallop Saturday.

The 5.2-mile course winds through Goffstown and provides some challenging terrain for runners, but the race was designed to be an event for all levels.

"I wanted to make it a community event. An event for top runners and first-time runners," said Dave French, the race founder. "I wanted to grow the sport and promote it to new runners."

French served as director of the Goffstown Parks and Recreation Department until his retirement in 2010. It was then that the race was named after him.

A distance runner himself who ran in five Boston Marathons, a hip replacement curtailed French's racing career. So now he waits at the finish line cheering for those in the Gallop.

"The whole premise is to have a local, fun event," said race organizer Rick Wilhelmi, Goffstown's current parks and recreation director. "It's an event where neighbors come to socialize and connect with neighbors."

Gordon Barnard is 85 and he has run the Gallop since its inception. "I run four times a week. I enjoy it," he said.

Then there were first timers like 11-year old Patrick McVey. "I ran cross country at Mountain View Middle School. I wanted to try it this year," said McVey.

The first finisher was Richie Spitsberg, 29, of Manchester, who completed the course in 28 minutes, 11 seconds. Mary Klene, 30, of Manchester, was the first female finisher in 32:17.

The race featured seven age divisions for men and women, with a trophy for the top finishers.

The race course went partly up Mount Uncanoonuc along Mountain Road.

"It's the furthest I've ever run," said McVey, whose longest race until Saturday was 2 miles. "I had to walk up most of the hills."

As the final runner crossed the finish line a little over an hour after the race started, French clapped his hands and looked at the smiling groups of tired but happy people enjoying refreshments and chatting with friends and neighbors about what they all just endured.

"That's what I've always hoped this would be, and I guess it turned out that way," said French.

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