Final Common Fence Point 5 Miler in Portsmouth called ‘bittersweet’

16th and last race benefited PHS Music Boosters

By Jim McGaw
Posted 8/19/19

PORTSMOUTH — The Common Fence Point 5 Miler went out with a bang. The 16th and last running of the annual race, a benefit for the Portsmouth High School Music Boosters, came to an official close Sunday morning in festive fashion.

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Final Common Fence Point 5 Miler in Portsmouth called ‘bittersweet’

16th and last race benefited PHS Music Boosters

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — The Common Fence Point 5 Miler went out with a bang.

The 16th and last running of the annual race, a benefit for the Portsmouth High School Music Boosters, came to an official close Sunday morning in festive fashion.

The event, which the promoters are discontinuing due to fewer and fewer runners coming out each year, drew one of the largest slates of participants in years, with 299 total registrants — well up from 99 last year.

“That’s not a record, but it’s our third best in the 16 years. I think it’s mostly because it’s part of the New England Pub Series and a couple of clubs’ Grand Prix events,” said race director John Santillo, who created the event along with his wife, Kathy.

The strong turnout could also be explained by the fact that many participants said they wanted to take one last run along one of their favorite courses. They also spoke highly of Mr. Santillo and family, and liked the fact they were supporting a local organization.

“I started this with my son, who’s also here,” said Patty Everette, 66. “He was in college, and we used to go to the Red Rooster Ramble down in Warren, and then we met John (Santillo), and then we started coming here,” she said.

Ms. Everette, who’s competed in about 10 of the 16 races in Common Fence Point, finished Sunday’s route in a respectable 47 minutes, 44 seconds. “I’m competitive,” said the West Bridgewater, Mass. resident, who’s sad to see the event discontinued.

“It’s so nice and beautiful. It’s challenging and has a lot of turns, and you go down a nice dirt road. And, there’s lots of support here — and it’s for a good cause,” she said.

Her comment about the zig-zagging course was echoed by other runners. One man, a first-timer, said a map of the course resembled a plate of spaghetti.

“I think I’ll just follow the people in front of me,” he said before the race started.

“You’ll never get a PR (personal record) on it,” acknowledged Mr. Santillo. “There’s 16 turns, one hill and Mother Nature doesn’t usually give us a runner’s day.”

Keeping cool was a priority

It was certainly a hot one Sunday. Paul Hammond and Greg Picklesimer were among the runners who took advantage of a garden hose that some kind neighbors near the finish line along Common Fence Boulevard had put out for competitors.

Mr. Hammond, 59, of Lexington, Mass., has done about “five or six” races in Common Fence, but he’s not sure. 

“I don’t keep accurate records. I’ve done the Boston Marathon a bunch of times, but I couldn’t even tell you how many,” said Mr. Hammond, who finished 21st overall in a time of 32:33.

He’s grown enamored with the course, despite its challenges.

“It’s got a lot of corners. When you get older — I’ll be 60 next year — you don’t navigate as well as you used to,” he said.

More importantly, he feels a personal connection with the organizers.

“I love this race, and I love John. John’s just the best; he’s the best race director out there, and a good guy, too,” said Mr. Hammond. “I’ll miss it terribly.”

Mr. Picklesimer, 53, expressed similar thoughts. 

“I think this is my third time doing it. I heard this was the last one, so I wanted to come. It’s such a cool course and I like the family connection to it. It’s a great race,” said the Brighton, Mass. resident, who finished in 15th place with a time of 31:34.

‘Too many races’

The final race on Sunday was won by Luke O’Connor, of Brookline, Mass. (men) and Christina Campbell, of Hingman, Mass. (women).

They earned medals and rather unorthodox trophies that featured a can of Heady Topper beer, a coveted brew that can be found only in Vermont.

“I thought it would be a good name for the winner — to be a topper,” said Mr. Santillo. “I drank those two cans of beer; we just put them through the dishwasher.”

He said he had no choice but to discontinue the race. It’s a lot of work and fewer runners mean smaller checks for the Music Boosters.

“It’s definitely bittersweet,” he said. “Charity road races aren’t a way to generate money for charities anymore. There are just too many races. There are six, seven races every weekend and when we started this, we were the only game in town for half of Southeastern New England. That’s made it a little tough.”

People are more interested in “adventure races” or obstacle courses, he said. “They want powder thrown on them or they want to be hit with spray paint,” he said, referring to “color runs” and similar charity events.

That’s not what the Common Fence Point race was about, he said.

“This is the old-fashioned race — have a couple of beers, nobody gets crazy, you have a deejay, eat some pizza, have a little raffle. It’s old school.”

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