SARAH HUELMSTAD  (photo by Bob DeChiara)

WILMINGTON - Sunday morning in Wilmington marked the return of one of the area's great fall traditions, as hundreds of runners from both near and far descended on Wilmington for the 14th Annual Wilmington Half Marathon and 5K Run/ Walk, presented by the Wilmington/Tewksbury Chamber of Commerce.

Nearly 500 runners/ walkers hit the streets of Wilmington where they were greeted by enthusiastic spectators along the route for both races, with participants of all ages making their way to the finish line.

The order of finish looked pretty familiar, at least on the men's side, with Wilmington's own Brian Schell winning the 5K in a time of 16:25 for his sixth consecutive win at the event, while in the half marathon, another Wilmington resident, Carl Hartford, won the event for the fourth time overall, and the second time in the last three years after missing last year's race due to an injury, finishing in a time of 1:16:50.

On the women's side, Ellen Bryant of Chelmsford took top honors in a time of 20:57, while Katelyn Richardson was the top local female finisher, finishing fourth overall among women and 18th overall among all competitors in a time of 24:07. In the half marathon, Katrina Vassallo of Peabody was first among women in a time of 1:21:51, which was good enough to not only lead the pack among women, but was also fifth overall. Katrina is the wife of Wilmington native and course technical coordinator Dan Vassallo, who finished tenth in this year's Boston Marathon.

The top local female finisher was Sarah Huelmstad of Wilmington, who was fifth overall among women in a time of 1:34:04.

While the overall numbers for race were a little but down this year, with 474 total participants as opposed to the usual average of about 550, the half marathon continued to grow this year, with 236 participants, one of the highest in race history, trailing only the 2014 total of 240.

Nancy Vallee, the Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce was happy to see so many runners and walkers out enjoying the course on what turned out to be a beautiful day, carrying on a great local tradition.

"Our overall total number of participants was on the low side. We fell short this year was with the number of 5K racers walkers, but we were thrilled with the turnout for the half marathon. and have made Tom Pazyra, founder of the race, proud," Vallee said. "This was his vision fourteen years ago, to bring a high quality, low cost half marathon to the town. The first two years the race consisted of just the half marathon.

“In 2007, Tom added a 5K course and since the Chamber took over in 2010 total participants have tripled. Our half marathon has become well-known in the running club arena and we are extremely proud of that."

Those who did come out for both races loved being part of the event. As seems to be the case every year, participants couldn't say enough positive things about the entire experience.

“It’s a great race to run," said women's half marathon winner Katrina Vassallo "There are plenty of water stops, plenty of police detail, a lot of volunteers and there are a lot of people out sitting on their front lawns cheering, which is awesome.”

Men's half marathon winner Carl Hartford was equally impressed with the entire event, which is a big reason why he continues to run every year.

“It’s a very well organized race. You’ve got Dan Vassallo, who is one of the best runners around, and you have Nancy Vallee who is great at coordinating everything," Hartford said. "They do a great job. The course is well marked and the price is great, for $40 you really can’t beat it. They pride themselves on keeping it affordable.”

Sarah Huelmstad, the top local female finisher in the half marathon, has run both the 5K and the half marathon over the years, and she says that coming back every year is something she truly enjoys.

“It’s always great to run this. It is a very well marked course, with plenty of signs and there are so many people out there cheering you on, so it is a lot of fun. I will be back next year,” Huelmstad said. “Today was great. It was perfect weather. You really couldn’t ask for better weather and the course was great. It is mostly flat, with a couple of little hills. It is a great race”

Even runners completely new to the racing scene were amazed by what it was like to take part in the event. 14-year old Adam Ippolito, who completed his first 5K road race in a time of 27:24, will be coming back again next year.

“It was a fun race, it was fun to be part of the 5K race and then to see so many runners who are training for things like the Boston Marathon,” Ippolito said. “The course was great, and there were so many people cheering you on that it made you want to run faster.”

It is no accident that the race is such a hit with participants every year, given the commitment of its organizers. It doesn't come together overnight. Planning for the race starts in June, and requires countless hours of hard work by Vallee and her staff.

"Planning a race for this number of athletes is difficult enough, but our race has three separate events (Half Marathon, 5K Run, and 5K Walk) that all have their own set of details to contend with, especially the half marathon," Vallee said. "To ensure a successful race every year, every detail needs to be planned and timed out perfectly. Sponsors, advertising, logistics, volunteers and budgeting.

"But in the end, we love putting this race together," Vallee said. "And I am glad to report that once again we had a successful, fun, safe race,"

The top ten finishers for the Men’s 5K race were Schell, winning in a time of 16:25, followed by Mike Giberti (16:48) Jesse Belding of Wilmington (18:21), Edward Katz (18:48), Noah Thompson (19:05), Nathaniel Hull (20:12), Steve Zella of Wilmington (20:12), Jared Constantino of Wilmington (20:37), James Schortemeyer (20:37) and John Brzezenski (20:43).

On the Women’s side, Ellen Bryant took top honors in a time of 20:57, followed by Damaris Hoeman (21:24), Kristina Scaviola (22:45), Katelyn Richardson of Wilmington (24:07) Rachel Loan (24:33), Jane Rogers (24:43), Karen Cassella (24:55), Jessica Geraldo (25:21), Erin Byrne (26:57) and Kayla Milburn (27:07).

In the half marathon the top ten overall finishers were, Carl Hartford of Wilmington in a time of 1:16:50, followed by Thomas Scott (1:19:19), David Corbett (1:19:30), Chase Smith (1:19:31), Katrina Vassallo (1:21:51), Coley Carden (1:22:06), Patrick Mahoney (1:22:08), William Flugrad (1:22:16), Amanda Beucler (1:22:43) and Patrick Brickley (1:22:47).

The top ten female finishers in the half marathon were Katrina Vassallo (1:21:51), Amanda Beucler (1:22:43), Rebecca Trachsel (1:26:05), Heather Mahoney (1:32:26), Sarah Huelmstad of Wilmington (1:34:04), Nicole Bedard (1:38:32), Molly Karp (1:38:43), Mio Yonemura (1:39:04), Hanna Smith (1:39:32) and Mia Savagian (1:40:27).

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