PEPPERELL-- Dozens of umbrellas clustered beneath ominous skies on Sept. 30 as residents gathered for the first Pepperell Covered Bridge 5K race on the Pepperell town field. But the threat of rain by no means dissuaded the runners from turning out for the five-kilometer stretch.
In fact, the weather only served to encourage the runners.
"Rain will just make us want to run faster," said runner Liz Williams.
By the time the race began at 8:30 a.m., 241 runners poured over the start line.
The race was hosted by the Friends of Pepperell Recreation. Thanks to funds donated by the 31 sponsors as well as registrations fees, the race raised $6,000 for the organization.
After 16 minutes, 36 seconds, Colin Cook, 30, of Pepperell was the first to cross the finish line, with North Middlesex cross-country runner Chris Skelly, 17, on his heels.
Cook said his running the race was a last-minute decision.
"I came out to help (with the race), and I just decided to run this morning," he said. But it's a decision he's happy to have made.
"It's a tremendous honor (to win the first Covered Bridge race)," he said. "I grew up in Pepperell my whole life."
Cook will be traveling to Kona, Hawaii, for the Ironman World Championship triatholon on Oct. 13.
"This is my last tune-up before that," he said.
Chapel Guarnieri, 17, of the North Middlesex cross-country team won the woman's race with a time of 20 minutes, 17 seconds. But, she said, she and her teammates weren't running to win. Each North Middlesex cross-country teammate who ran the race sported the letters M.B. on their upper arm. The initials stand for Matthew Boisevert, a Pepperell resident and former Marine who was injured in the line of duty and uses a prosthetic leg.
"We were all thinking what we could do...so all of us decided to just to be here to show support and run for those who can't really," she said.
Skip Cleaver won in the senior age group with a time of 28 minutes, 6 seconds.
Michael Spooner, 13, won in the under-14 age group, and came in 11th place overall, with a time of 19 minutes, 29 seconds. Spooner had his own reasons for coming out on race day.
"I like the competition," he said.
His mother, Laura Spooner, said she was thrilled for her son, especially since it was his first 5K race.
"I'm so proud of him. He works so hard," she said. "He does it because he loves it. It's a passion for him."
Many runners turned out simply to fulfill a personal challenge, heedless of the outcome of the race.
Hilary Nolin began running as a way to stretch her legs after a bout of pneumonia and has been competing in 5K races for the last six months.
"I just want to finish, and keep my time or do better," she said.
Spectators and corporate sponsors also came out to rally around the runners, and the Pepperell auxiliary police volunteered their services for free.
Following the race, Rob Kosman, director of the event, held an award ceremony, naming the individual winners as well as declaring Cook the winner in the category of "Fastest Pepperellite," crowning him with a garden hat outfitted with wings. For his wins, Cook was awarded two gift baskets from Fitness Your Weigh in Groton. Guarnieri received a $50 gift certificate for a therapuetic massage. Spooner received a $25 iTunes gift card, and Cleaver received a $25 gift card to Pepperell Family Pharmacy.
Regardless of who won, Kosman said the goal of the event was accomplished: To provide an organized outlet for the runners of Pepperell and well as to highlight the town.
"On all accounts it far exceeded our expectations, so I think it's definitely something we plan to do next year," said Kosman.