By Bill Burt
---- — Thanksgiving morning in Andover wouldn’t be the same without American road racing legends Joan Benoit-Samuelson and Bill Rodgers, would it?
Well, the 56-year-old Benoit-Samuelson and the 65-year-old Rodgers are expected back in downtown Andover, with about 10,000 others, for the 26th annual Feaster Five Road Race on Thursday, Nov. 28.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: There is no other place I’d rather be than at the Feaster Five on Thanksgiving Day,” said Rodgers, whose first-ever race was as a boy in Manchester, Conn. on Thanksgiving Day.
“There is nothing better than being healthy and being with your family,” said Rodgers, a four-time Boston Marathon winner.
Given the growing popularity of the event, race director Dave McGillivray of DMSE Sports, who also directs the B.A.A. Boston Marathon, New Balance Falmouth Road Race and TD Beach to Beacon 10K in Maine, advises runners to sign up soon to secure a spot at the starting line for either the 5-mile or 5K.
“The Feaster Five brings participants from throughout New England,” McGillivray said. “It’s a popular, family-friendly event, and each year we have more and more runners who want to participate, so signing up early makes sense in case we reach our limit.”
Race officials took 10,720 registrations in 2012, which resulted in a record-setting 9,297 runners crossing the finish line.
“Entries are coming in at a record pace already,” said Tom Licciardello of the Merrimack Valley Striders, which serves as race host. “We are at double the rate of the record-breaking 2012 field, so participants should sign up soon to take advantage of the early registration discount and to guarantee the commemorative race shirt.”
The Feaster Five Road Race’s 5-mile and 5K races will begin at 8:30 a.m. and the Kids Fun Run at 7:45 a.m. All three races — which welcome walkers as well – begin near Brickstone Square on Main Street in Andover at the corner of Routes 133 and 28.
Proceeds from the race benefit Ironstone Farm, Merrimack Valley YMCA and the Merrimack Valley Striders.
The race offers a early entry discount fee of $30 for both the 5K and 5-mile races through Oct. 31 for entrants over age 12 and $20 for those under 12. The Kids Fun Run entry fee is $5, regardless of when they sign up.
The Feaster Five also features bands and music along the course, digital clocks posted at each mile, holiday refreshments after the race and, of course, a traditional Table Talk apple pie for all finishers. The race also provides ample free parking and a printed race program, courtesy of The Eagle-Tribune.
The Feaster Five Expo – featuring a variety of sponsors and vendors – will be held Nov. 25 to 28 at the Merrimack Valley Y, 165 Haverhill St., Andover, in conjunction with on-site registration, bib number and T-shirt pick-up.
With a focus on “Friends and Family,” participants in the 2013 race are encouraged to gather together and form a team. The team captain creates the team name when registering for the race, and then teammates can join the fun. For teams with 10 or more members, Whirlaway Sports Center in Methuen will provide discounts at its running store starting at 10 percent, with 1 percent more for each additional member up to a full 30 percent off its prices.
The Eagle-Tribune Publishing Company is the presenting sponsor of the event and the gold sponsor is Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. Silver sponsors include Table Talk Pies, Bagel Boy, Holy Family Hospital, Kiwanis Club of Greater Lawrence and Tallman Eye. Bronze sponsors include Woodworth Motors, Brickstone Square, Costa Fruit & Produce, Whirlaway, Fuddruckers, Tactician, Smolack Farms, Larabar, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Food That Should Taste Good, Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate, Pridestar EMS, Eastern Bank, Nature Crops, Cape Cod Chips, Seacoast Coca-Cola and Enterprise Bank.
For additional information and to register, go to the race website at www.FeasterFive.com. In addition, volunteers are needed on race day. To learn more, visit the volunteer page at www.feasterfive.com/Volunteer or e-mail Crissy Licciardello at crissyL26@yahoo.com.