PROVIDENCE — His hair soaking wet and his feet inside some soggy pair of racing flats that just endured more than an hour’s worth of rainfall, Patrick Moulton sized up the weather for the inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Providence Half Marathon on Sunday morning with a glass-half-full approach.
“It got tough, but at least it wasn’t hot,” he said. “It got gusty a few times, but for August you can’t complain. It could have been 100 degrees out there.”
There were no 100 degree temperatures to be had for the more than 7,000 runners and walkers that graced the starting line on Gaspee Street. Instead, the brave souls that made the 13.1-mile journey through downtown Providence and its East Side were greeted with the mercury level at 65 Fahrenheit and a driving rainstorm from Point A to Point B.
Like most of the participants in the field of the Providence race, the largest of its kind for the New England region, the 29-year-old Moulton wasn’t looking at setting any kind of PRs for the challenging distance.
But the former Providence College standout did manage to come away with a more-than-satisfying effort. Moulton, who decided to compete at the Rock ‘n’ Roll race just a day earlier, finished third overall with a time of 1 hour, 9 minutes, 1 second.
“I wish I ran under 1:09, but I kind of didn’t worry about my time [today],” he said. “I just wanted to be competitive.”
Ethiopia’s Kumsa Adugna Megersa and Tesfaye Assefa Dube claimed the top two spots. Breaking away from his good friend during one of the final stretches on Memorial Boulevard, Megersa earned the $1,000 winner’s check with a time of 1:07:32. Dube finished second at 1:07:50.
“There was too much rain. It was very difficult for running,” Megersa said. “But it was good.”
The women’s title belonged to Kim Smith. The four-time NCAA champion and ex-Providence College great made that evident from the start.
Smith, a New Zealand native, ran among the lead men’s pack for the first two miles and then solo the remaining 11, cruising to a new R.I. record of 1:11:54 for sixth overall. Dengersa Tezeta, 31, of Turkey, was a distant second and 17th overall with a time of 1:18:56.
The 29-year-old Smith, who trains under the tutelage of her former coach at PC, Ray Treacy, utilized the race as the start-off point in her preparation for the upcoming ING New York City Marathon on Nov. 6
The Big Apple race will be her first marathon since her Boston Marathon debut back in April when she was forced to drop out with calf cramps with a few miles remaining after leading for the first 15 miles.
“This is my first week of marathon training; the first week of over 100 miles since Boston,” said Smith, who admitted she healed quickly after her DNF in Beantown. “This was a good end to the week for my workout. I needed to do a workout so having the Rock n’ Roll in Providence was a great opportunity. I hadn’t raced in Providence in years. It was nice to do it at home.”
The slender Smith, a two-time Olympian (5,000 and 10,000 meters) with a national record of 1:07:36, set at the Rock n’ Roll Mardi Gras Half Marathon in February, nestled herself on Sunday among a pack of about a dozen runners through a first mile of 5:16 and 10:44 at two.
“I was fine,” she said. “They started out pretty slow and I kind of worked off them. I didn’t want to race hard. I was kind of doing it as a workout.”
Smith increased her already-sizable advantage over the remaining distance with no one in sight, male or female.
“It’s not an easy course for sure,” she said. “The roads around downtown are pretty tough to run because of all the holes. It definitely wasn’t a fast course. But I run on the roads here a lot. I knew what to expect. It’s never fun to run alone, but it was just a good, quality workout.”
The men’s race proved to be a bit more contested, at least for the first six miles. At that point, a group of four runners were in the mix, including Moulton, Megersa, Dube and eventual fourth-place finisher Chris Zablocki (1:09:04) of Essex, Conn.
Moulton handled the front-running duties for most of the first five miles that traversed through downtown, the East Side and North Main Street. The pack hit the five-kilometer checkpoint at 16:35, four miles at 21:04 and five at 25:20.
As the runners took a right-hand turn onto Alfred Stone Road, Mergersa and Dube, made the first decisive move on one of the few downhill portions of the race. Moulton and Zabloski got right back in the lead group a half-mile later on Blackstone Boulevard, but that was only temporary.
Mergersa and Dube, who are roommates in the Bronx, N.Y. and train with the Westside YMCA, picked up the pace between miles 6 and 7 and turned the remainder of the race into a two-man battle. The tandem was 48:23 (5:12 pace) at 15K.
“It broke up around five [miles],” Moulton said. “I caught back up around six. As soon as I caught up, the two (Ethiopians) kind of took off and kind of split the guy (Zabloski) from third. I caught him around nine and we were kind of running together for pretty much until the end there.”
“I didn’t know if I was going to come back or not,” he continued. “I actually kind of kept a steady pace, but they were too far in front. I know (Zabloski) is a tough guy. He beat me at Little Compton (a 4.8-mile race on July 9) a couple of weeks ago. He’s gotten me a few times. I was happy I finished a little in front of him.”
Locally, Dave Constantino, 42, of Cumberland was the top finisher, taking 20th overall at 1:21:40. East Providence’s Ryan Bank placed 27th with a 1:25:55 clocking.
Lauren Hill, a 20-year-old runner from Pawtucket, was 16th among women and 99th overall with an area-best time of 1:32:21.