Road races return to Smithfield

Road races return to Smithfield

Ocean State Multisport receives approval to host state’s first races since March on Aug. 9 at Deerfield Park

SMITHFIELD – Like most road race directors who saw their events get kicked to the curb by the COVID-19 pandemic, Ocean State Multisport’s Gary Menissian organized a couple of informal virtual races this past spring to help keep runners involved and on their home roads during this trying time.

But in Menissian’s eyes, there’s nothing better than race day, from setting up his event and marking off his things-to-do checklist early in the morning to welcoming the runners and walkers – most of whom are regulars on his race schedule – and touring the course in a rental van to check on his participants and volunteers and make sure everything is running according to plan.

Virtual races? To paraphrase a song in the late ’60s by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, ‘Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing.’

“And nobody wants to do virtual races right now,” he added. “Nobody cares.”

As a result, Menissian, who has hosted the Sour Apple Half Marathon & 5K for the past two summers in Smithfield, is going to host the first live road race in this state since Run Rhody’s “Tour de Patrick” Irish 5K hit the streets of Pawtucket on March 7.

The Funky Monkey Half Marathon and 5K, which has traditionally been held in Seekonk, Mass., will take place on Sunday, Aug. 9, at Deerfield Park, and while this is excellent news for the running community, this wasn’t an easy task for Menissian to put together.

Not only did he have to put in the extra work to make sure he could successfully conduct a road race that closely followed the state’s Phase 3 guidelines, but he also had to get the green light from the Smithfield Town Council to host the event, which they approved on Tuesday, July 7, by a 3-2 vote.

And Menissian knows there are going to be plenty of eyes on his event. He expects to see the state’s Department of Environmental Management and the town’s fire chief at his race to make sure everyone is following the state’s guidelines and social distancing, and he knows that fellow race directors will be looking off in the distance to see how he fares and if they can duplicate his success.

“It was a lot of work just trying to figure out how to put a safe race on,” he said. “But it feels good that we’re putting it back on. It’s going to look a little different, but we’ll get there.”

And what was the driving force behind Menissian’s mission?

“I love my runners,” he said. “I could care less if I don’t make a dime on this race. I just want to get them back out there.”

There are a lot of rules that participants must follow to a ‘T’ that weekend, starting with the packet pickup, which won’t take place on the morning of the race. Participants will have the option of picking up their packets at the Newman YMCA in Seekonk on Friday, Aug. 7, from 4:30 to 6 p.m., or Saturday, Aug. 8, from 8 to 11 a.m., or receiving their packets in the mail for a small fee.

There will also be no race-day registration. The event will be capped at 249 entrants, and once that number is reached, the online registration will close.

As for the races themselves, they will mirror the Sour Apple courses and start near the park’s entrance on Lisa Ann Circle, venture through some rolling neighborhoods, and return to the park.

Runners and walkers will be free to begin their events anytime between 7 and 9 a.m. A computer chip on the back of their bib numbers will calculate their times once they cross the mats on the starting and finish lines.

“By not having a mass start, it eliminates crowding,” Menissian explained in his long list of rules. “Once you are on the course, it will feel just like a normal road race. If you are running the half marathon, we recommend that you start more towards the 7 a.m. time, just in case it’s a hot day.”

Before heading to the starting line, everyone will be required to answer a few COVID-19 questions and take a quick temperature check. On the half marathon course, there will be five water stops, and on the 5K, there will be two, and all the volunteers at the stops will be wearing masks and gloves.

Once participants are on the verge of finishing their races, they will be directed into a chute and across the finish line. At that point, they will receive a race medal and a bottle of water, get a chance to grab a banana and a bag of chips, and be directed toward the parking area.

Menissian does not want anyone lingering near the finish line, “and even USA Track & Field rules tells us that we can’t have anyone hanging around that area,” he added.

Results will be posted online once the races are in the books, and while the top male and female finishers will receive a trophy, “there will not be age group awards for this event,” Menissian added. “Once things settle down and get back to somewhat normal, we will resume age group awards.”

Above all, Menissian wants everyone to have fun, and he has a special message for them.

“Honestly, I just want everyone to follow the guidelines and what we’re telling them,” he said. “If we get through this successfully, then at least we have a leg to stand on later. We can show another town that, ‘Listen, we had a road race. We had two road races. It went well.’ I just want everyone to follow the rules so we can continue to have more races and get them going again.”

Visit www.oceanstatemultisport.com/events to sign up for the race or for more information.