CLINTON – The hills never get any easier, but that is why the Tribute Road Race is called one of the most challenging five-mile races in the state.
The 43rd running was no different. In fact, blazing sun and humid conditions made it harder.
But runners like a challenge.
Arthur Besse, 49, of Templeton, was the first to cross the finish line, and was first male finisher. Besse, a member of the Central Mass. Striders, is a well-known Worcester County runner, who has completed five Boston Marathons.
His winning time was 28 minutes and 36 seconds.
“This is my first Tribute, and it is as tough as they billed it,” Besse said. He actually was working on race day, but his boss let him out to attempt the course over his lunch break. He returned back to work after the awards ceremony.
“Many of my friends had done it and told me it was a tough one,” Besse said. “The first couple miles, there was a group of three of us (including brothers Mark and Matt Rabasco). After the second hill, I pulled away (on Chace Street).
“I thought the heat and humidity was kind of shocking today,” he said. “I try to do as many of the local races that fit into my (running) schedule. My wife, Heidi, is the one who got me into running. I didn’t have the healthiest lifestyle, before she encouraged me to get into the sport.”
Besse, who has run Stu’s 30K Road Race, said the Tribute was harder.
Mark Rabasco, 27, of Greenfield, was also running in his first Tribute. He is a Keene State College graduate and runs for the Western Mass. Distance Project running club. He finished in 29:31.
“I found out about the race from my brother (Matt Rabasco), who lives in Worcester, and decided to jump in with him,” Mark Rabasco said. “It was advertised as a hilly course and it was a hilly course, and a very hot May day didn’t help.
“The first two miles, we (Matt, Mark Rabasco and Arthur Besse) were pushing it up the hill,” he said. “He (Besse) had a little more energy than me and took off. I ran a marathon in Louisville just two weeks ago and I’ve run several of them.
“I’ve done Stu’s 30K and that’s a hilly course, too, so I knew the area,” Mark Rabasco added.
In third place was 25-year-old Matt Rabasco, Mark’s brother, finishing in 30:39.
Terese Wheeler, who was eighth overall, with a time of 35:36, was the first female to cross the finish line. Wheeler, one of the area’s top runners, won her third Tribute.
“It was hot, but luckily I trained enough this year, so I was able to withstand it,” Wheeler said. “This race is personal for me because we live nearly on the course (on Crown Street), and it has always been the town’s race.
“I love the course, but it is really hard,” she said. “We have a good running community, and the race is good for the town.”
In addition to the camaraderie, the race raises money for Clinton High School scholarships. After The Item helmed the race for many years, the Clinton High Athletic Booster Club took it over, running a COVID-postponed race in the fall. This year, it returned to May.
In second place for the women was Emily Mallick, 39, in 39:48, while Megan McRell, 48, of Clinton, was third in 40:48. McRell has also completed the Boston Marathon.
“It was very hot, and I’ve run the Tribute before and walked it, too, but it doesn’t matter; it is always tough,” McRell said. “I’ve run the course several times over the last month, but I knew the heat would be a problem.
“My goal for this year is eight half-marathon distances,” she said. “I’ve already done six, and I may bump that up to 10.”
According to results, available online at my.raceresult.com/199492/results, there were 108 finishers, including walkers.
The youngest finisher was Lauren Colleton, 10, the oldest was Joe Pellegrini, 79.
It really is a community race, with residents lining the streets to cheer on the runners. Members of the Clinton High softball team manned water stations and directed runners.
Item Sports Writer Bill Marsh served as race director and emcee, while School Committee Chair Joel Bates kept the sound system and tunes going, adding commentary during the race.
In addition to being a challenging race and a way to raise money for scholarships, the Tribute honors people who have made a difference to young people in the community. This year’s Tribute awards went to Bob Bonci and Bill Marsh.
Marsh noted that Bonci, a longtime coach, had run the Tribute the year he turned 50. On Saturday, Bonci walked the race course with his wife, Mary Beth, and other members of his family.
Marsh presented Bonci with a “well-deserved plaque for all he’s done for Clinton athletes.”
Bonci thanked the Booster Club and praised the families and student athletes he has had an opportunity “to teach and move along in this beautiful town.”
The Booster Club’s Lillian Fournier noted that Marsh “led an army to make sure this race went on.”
Marsh, who is a sports writer for The Item, retired as longtime race director after the 2019 race, just prior to the adoption of the race by the Booster Club.
“After one year, we went back to beg him to take over as race director,” Fournier said. Then the nominations came in for him to also be an honoree. Fournier said the committee was pleased to choose him because of the work he has done above and beyond the expectations of his role with the Item to make sure student athletes were featured in the paper.
“Anything to do with athletes Bill has been there to cover,” she added.
Marsh thanked the Item volunteers who manned the race for many years, adding “always read your Item,” plus the Booster Club for keeping the race alive.
Rep. Meghan Kilcoyne presented citations for Bonci and Marsh from the House and Senate, the latter on behalf of Sen. John Cronin.
Kilcoyne ran the race in 59.32.
“I really sweat for you guys,” she said.