When the backline leaves the starting line at Andover’s Feaster Five – New England’s biggest Thanksgiving road race – those who were ahead when the air horn blew will be well on their way to the finish line of the 5K.
Regardless, the Feaster will be about the full field of 7,000 Striders as the race hits a milestone in 2022, its 35th anniversary.
While attendees have included celebrities, including Matt Damon, and long-distance running kings, including Joan Benoit Samuelson and Lynn Jennings, the representative runners are everyday Als and Annies, people who love to run and are among their running kin.
“Mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, the cat and the dog,” said race director Dave McGillivray.
The Feaster is about family, fun and fitness, apple pie and high fives. About tradition on the day of the year with the most street races in America.
Here are memories from runners and those who make the race possible.
The first Fester was held in 1988 and attracted a modest field of 300-400.
In the sophomore year, a nor’easter threatened the race.
Bill Mooney, from Salem, New Hampshire, now 84, recalls his wife telling him he was crazy about going to the race as it was sure to be cancelled.
“It wasn’t, and many others came too,” says Mooney, who had ice on his eyebrows and mustache by the end of the race.
Jacqui Kennedy of Hampton, New Hampshire, a former youth secretary at St. Augustine School, Andover, has been leading the festival with two teacher friends from the school for more than 10 years – Megan Campbell and Norma Defusco-King.
The Feaster Five remain her “must have” year after year.
“After all, Andover is where our friendship took root, and it’s also Norma’s and my hometown,” Kennedy said. “Regardless of the conditions – snowy, mild, rainy, bitterly cold or just ideal – the Feaster Five is our favorite Run with Friends road race every year.”
North Andover’s Glen Johnson has memories of his 30 years with Feaster Fives, including meeting “Boston Billy” from the famous Boston Marathon, of which he won four.
“One time, as I was nearing the home stretch along the High Street, I found myself next to Bill Rodgers,” Johnson said. “I spent the rest of the time chatting with ‘Boston Billy’ about what it was like running Boston, rejecting Boylston Street as a hometown hero and his overall racing career. Where else can you say that you had such a running experience?”
Rodgers is the Grand Marshal of this year’s race.
Emily Goldsmith from Keene, New Hampshire, who directed 30 Feasters, keeps the family spirit alive at the 5K.
“In 2007, my sister Janice Goldstein and I lost our mother, Miriam Stone, just days before Thanksgiving,” Goldsmith said. “Our entire Feaster Five family competed with a new headband – ‘Mimi’s Team’ – and a new tradition was born. It was and always will be a way to keep her spirit with us.”
Ian O’Connor from Stoneham and formerly Andover and his wife Leigh Ann will introduce a new family member to the Festaster tradition in 2022.
Each year, the couple meets with a group of runners at O’Connor’s grandparents’ home in Homestead Circle to carpool and drive to the start line.
“We are particularly excited for FF2022 as we will be introducing our little boy Carter, who was born on September 3rd, to the tradition,” said O’Connor.
Bill Hames of Salem, New Hampshire directed all of the Feaster Five.
“I love the cool fall weather; most were pleasant,” he said. “I enjoy the fun atmosphere for family and friends. It’s a celebration of tradition, community and Thanksgiving gratitude for everyone.”
The race had become a force of nature, said race director and organizer Tom Licciardello.
“We’ve faced everything you can think of and some you can’t – this race will go on,” he said. “We could choose not to have it and a thousand people would show up on Thanksgiving morning anyway.”￼
As the race grew in popularity, finding a retailer with 5,000, 6,000, 7,000 or more cakes to sell on Thanksgiving morning became the organizers’ dilemma.
“Table Talk came to our rescue and has been our go-to choice for many years,” said Licciardello.
Students from Bellesini Academy bundled up at their High Street water station will cheer on the crowds of Fester five-runners and hold out cups of water.
The feast lives on, a Thanksgiving tradition created for families and memories, and all its runners from start to finish.