SHIRLEY -- "The weather was perfect!" said race co-chairman Jason Rakip of the seventh annual Holdenwood Trail Run for Education. With 470 registrants for the 2K, 5K, and/or 10K race, the Sept.29 event was the most successful to date.

"I had a wonderful time -- beautiful weather and gorgeous scenery," commented 5K runner Jim Strouse, of Franklin. "That was my first trail run, and I'm very tired, but I am already excited for next year."

The Holdenwood Trail Run, which takes place at the scenic Holdenwood Wildlife Refuge in Shirley Center, was originated as "Ready, SEF, Go!," a fundraiser for the Shirley Education Foundation that began in 2006. With the official merger of the Ayer and Shirley School Districts in 2011, the name was changed and the race began benefitting students in the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District.

"The Holdenwood Trail Run and the (May) Janis Bresnahan 5K Road Race in Ayer are the two main fundraising events for the Ayer-Shirley Education Foundation," said ASEF President Maureen Kilcommins.

"Between the two events and other generous donations, we are able to provide funding for special programs, events and equipment for the school children in our district.

"This year's trail run raised almost $11,000 after expenses. This will be a great help, as we have many worthy grants to review for the schools this year," she added.

Rakip said this year's record-breaking number of registrants was an increase of more than 40 percent over last year. Part of that increase may be due to the addition of a 10K run, sponsored by the Bull Run Restaurant in Shirley.

"We had participants from every New England state and New York," exclaimed Rakip. "We estimate roughly 600 people were on the (Shirley historic town) common, including runners, spectators and volunteers. By far a record!"

The Winners

Each 2K winner and 5K age group winner received a gift card to either Dicks Sporting Goods or Evans on the Common. Overall winners of the 5K won a free pair of trail-running shoes from Salomon Sports.

The overall winner of the 2K (1.2 miles) was 8-year-old Sam Secor of Shirley, with a time of 9:15. The male winner for ages 8 and younger was Conor Bresnahan, with a time of 9:22. The female winner was Nora Joyce, age 6, of Groton, with a time of 10:53.

The 9-to-12-year-old winners of the 2K were 10-year-old John Canning of Shirley, with a time of 10:02, and 11-year-old Katie Cadogan of Ayer, with a time of 10:53.

The 5K overall winners were Charlie Whitney, 43, of New Braintree, with a time of 19:05, and Ryleigh Levensailor, 16, of Ayer, with a time of 21:03.

Age 18-and-under 5K winners were Rudy Graves, 15, of Shirley, at 20:39, and Hannah Leahy, 14, of Lunenburg, at 23:29.

Richard Beausoleil, 37, of Groton, and Erica Spencer, 29, of Lunenburg, were the top winners in the ages 19-39 category, with times of 21:29 and 24:29, respectively.

Fabio Piergentili, 50, of Andover, and Kerri Chartier, 42, of Shirley, won the 40-plus category with times of 20:55 and 24:02.

The first-ever Holdenwood 10K began at the same time as the 5K, but consisted of two full loops around the course. Overall winners won two tickets to a concert of their choice and a gift card from the Bull Run Restaurant. Age group winners received Bull Run hats and gift certificates.

The overall 10K winners were Ethan Matthews, 13, of Shirley, with a time of 42:02, and Simonetta Piergentili, 49, of Wilmington, with a time of 45:18. 

The age 18-and-under winner was Michael Rooney, 18, of Medford, with a time of 1:00:34. There was no female runner in this age category.

The ages 19-39 category winners were James Ryan Jr., 33, of Lunenburg, who teaches art at Ayer-Shirley Regional High School, and Nicole Petrucci, 35, of Shirley. Their times were 42:03 and 53:01, respectively.

The age 40-and-up category winners were Dan Somes, 45, of Barre, with a time of 45:11, and Jame Soltesz, 58, of Shirley, with a time of 59:40.

Many to Thank

Trail Run co-chairs Rakip and Matt Korhonen said they had many to thank for making this year's event possible. Some of those include associate race director Jason Cashton, registration manager Kate Robinson, marketing and media manager Meredith Marcinkewicz, Web and Facebook managers Vajrang and Kranti Parvate, ASEF President Kilcommins and ASEF Treasurer Brenda Gleason.

Race day volunteers included Gary Bourrassa, Liz West, Sarah Rakip, Heidi Korhonen, Jen Cashton, Erica Secor, Ellen McCann, Michele Granger, Peg Donnelly, Ann Kahn, Stacey Gerace, Justine Carrillo, Megan Conversano, Brenda Koperniak, Bill Donnelly, Cliff Bailey, Randy Clemence, Tim Terhune, Tom Koperniak and Shirley Girl Scout Troop 73497.

The Holdens of Holdenwood

Rakip said he would especially like to thank the Holden family of Shirley.

"The Holden family has donated the use of their property for this fundraiser for the past seven years," he said.

David Holden, who died at the age of 80 two years ago, had a strong passion for the outdoors and for beautifying the landscape. Together with his late sister Mary, late brother Robert, and brother Harley, he oversaw the 200-acre Holdenwood Wildlife Refuge in the heart of Shirley.

Holden protected the wooded natural landscape from development, and landscaped areas of it with numerous gardens, stone walls and stone bridges.

Each year since the trail run's inception, Holden would make sure that the trails were cleared and marked in preparation for the race, and, since his death, the family has continued the tradition.

As a token of appreciation, each year the race's managers have presented the family with a special gift. This year, the trail run committee commissioned a craftsman from West Virginia to create a custom handmade birdhouse replica of the Holden family's Storybook Cottage on Hazen Road.

Carol Jurga, David Holden's daughter and vice president of finance and administration for her father's company, All-Star Sporting Goods, was ecstatic.

"What a fantastic day," she said. "From the family's perspective, things couldn't have been nicer. Our family is so happy and proud to offer the use of the land for such a fantastically successful and well-run event. We are already looking forward to hosting and sponsoring the eighth annual Holdenwood Trail Run in 2014."

For a complete list of sponsors, which includes All-Star Sporting Goods, visit holdenwoodtrailrun.org.

A Generous Community

According to Korhonen, thanks to the fundraiser's generous sponsors, the trail run committee was able to give away 400 long-sleeve technical running shirts, 300 running caps, bottled water, a free Bull Run beer or ice cream to each runner, and almost $1,000 in prizes to the top finishers.

"What a great day for the community!" said Bull Run Co-owner Alison Tocci, whose restaurant opened its Sawtelle Room to runners after the race. "I absolutely love the Holdenwood Trail Run. We are proud to be a part of it and look forward to sponsoring again next year."

For a complete list of this year's runners, visit coolrunning.com/results/13/ma/Sep29_Holden_set1.shtml.