Forty-one long-distance runners turned out Sunday for what they say is the most beautiful off-road race in this area — the Paddlers for Humanity half-marathon, which began and ended at Ed Ecker County Park off Montauk’s Navy Road.
Jason Hancock, who teaches sixth grade at the Amagansett School, and was unheaded throughout the rolling 13.1-mile loop through Hither Woods, won it, in 1 hour, 36 minutes, and 14 seconds.
Hancock also won there in 2012. Asked afterward if he was getting faster or slower, he replied, “Slower. I ran it in 1:33 two years ago.”
Hancock, who’s 40, and who lives in Southampton, can always be found among the top finishers in the local 5Ks, though rarely in the top spot. “I’m a good trail-runner,” he said by way of explanation, adding that he and Amagansett’s fifth and sixth graders will compete in the Bonac on Board to Wellness 5K in East Hampton Village on May 21.
The women’s winner was Sinead FitzGibbon, the physical therapist from Sag Harbor, who had run the Boston Marathon recently. She was third over all, in 1:46.18. The runner-up to Hancock was Patrick Larkin, in 1:39:25. Steve Puglia and Chris Watson were the relay team winners (and fourth over all) in 1:48:21.
“It’s all the same bunch of crazies,” said FitzGibbon as she cheered her fellow runners on at the finish line.
“I began running,” she said, in answer to a question, “to get rid of hangovers, though now I do it for fun and fitness.”
“This is my favorite course,” she said. “I’ve been riding and running on it for the past 17 years. I know it like the back of my hand, though it doesn’t make it any less difficult. There’s much variety to it, so much challenge, no matter how long you’ve run and biked over it.”
Billy O’Donnell has described the Hither Woods course thus: “The first four miles are the hardest, up and down, up and down. Then, from mile four to six it’s flat and wide open. Then you go down the Ho Chi Minh trail from six to eight, and the last five miles are real nice.”
As for the news that Boston’s winner, the Ethiopian-born Meb Keflezighi, was coming here for the Shelter Island 10K in June and would, along with Joan Benoit Samuelson, speak to North and South Fork high school track teams the day before, FitzGibbon said, “I hope the kids understand what an inspiration it is to have the two of them here.”
She, herself, was a bit giddy, she added, knowing that she is to accompany Benoit Samuelson on a warm-up run over S.I.’s 6.2-mile course. “I’m in training,” she said, with a laugh, “for that training run . . . I hope I can hang with her.”
The proceeds from Sunday’s race will go, as has been the case in the past, to help underwrite several Long Island Communities of Practice surfing camps in Montauk during the summer for children with disabilities.
“Air and Speed supplies the boards and instructors,” said Lynne Calabrese, whose daughter, Amanda, is one of the volunteer instructors.
Lars Svanberg, who along with Ed Cashin and Scott Bradley helped oversee the half-marathon, said he would have competed otherwise. “Later,” he said, “Scott and I are going to do a [stand-up paddleboard] downwinder from East Hampton to here. . . . . With this westerly wind behind us, it should take about an hour and a half.”
On the subject of paddleboarding, Svanberg said the first of his Main Beach Surf and Sport’s stand-up paddling race series would be held at Sag Harbor’s Havens Beach this Saturday morning.
Last year’s race there drew 60 competitors to the three-mile triangular Shelter Island Sound course. As it turns out, the inaugural Bridgehampton half-marathon is to be contested the same day, and at the same time, 9 a.m.
“Next year, maybe they’ll coordinate it,” said FitzGibbon, who plans to run the Bridgehampton half.
“Life’s too short not to,” she said.