A scan across the faces of Saturday's 24th Annual Chilmark Road Race participants revealed every kind of runner. There were kids - confident that gym class laps had prepared them for the 3.1 miles of hilly stretch before them. There were moms - more concerned with making sure their flock used the bathroom before the race began. There were 70-year-olds whose love of running reached back much further than the 24-year history of this uniquely up-Island road race. And then there were those who came to win - stretching silently at the front of the line, their sprinters' thighs bulging beneath running shorts.
The five-kilometer stretch along Middle Road in Chilmark welcomed them all.
"This is like a miniature Boston Marathon. You don't just show up to this without doing your research," said David Normandeau, a first-time participant in the road race who proved to be well-versed on the race's details.
Only the trees dripped with moisture before the starting time, and the rainy weather offered cool relief for the racers.
Every runner seemed to have a strategy for survival.
Seven-year-old Charlie Feinberg repeated his drill aloud to his parents, Marsha and David, as the family moved toward the start line.
"On the first mile, I'm going to pace myself. On the second mile, I'll go a little faster. Then, on the third mile, I'm going to break free," he said excitedly.
When asked what they did to prepare Charlie, three-year-old Jamie and 11-year-old Rebecca for the race, Mr. Feinberg laughed: "We had a couple of egg sandwiches at the Chilmark General Store." Jamie, wearing long five-pocket khaki pants and the official race shirt, practiced his short sprints before the race. His mother knew she would be carrying him to the finish line.
As the clock ticked closer to the 10:30 start time, Bob and Joannie Hall, Kim Bennett and Brad Woodger got a good abdominal work-out from laughing. Mr. Woodger was the only experienced road racer in the bunch, although he confessed a seven-year lapse since his last race. He gave a deadpan account about his preparation: "I did some cross-dressing and some cross-training."
Toward the back of the lineup, Rufus Peebles and Laurie Huff decided to take the "race" portion out of the event. As avid walkers, they decided to walk, not run the course. But even the walkers kicked it into high gear with a light sprint across the finish line.
Nine-year-old twins Elise and Alexa Wilansky taunted one another and sister Jacque about which of them would finish first. Elise proved triumphant at the finish line - she waited for nearly a full 10 minutes for her sisters to cross.
A few minutes shy of start time, volunteers like Alex Guinier worked hard to make sure runners sorted themselves into appropriate time slots. He urged kids to step back, out of the five-minute mile slot.
Race organizer and founder Hugh Weisman arrived in the start car - a red pickup truck - and used a megaphone to organize the runners. Pushing well over a thousand runners onto the narrow Middle Road proved to be quite the logistical challenge, a challenge Mr. Weisman has mastered.
The start went off before 11 a.m. (official start time is 10:30 but the race always starts late). Mr. Weisman bragged about the efficiency.
"It went better this year than ever before. We began much closer to the start time," he said.
As the countdown began, silence replaced chatter, and runners lunged forward into a starting stance.
And they were off. For a few seconds, an endless sea of heads rounded the bend, but within a minute the lead pack worked a respectable distance between them and the rest. At the half-mile mark, seven men delivered their five-minute mile promise, finishing with a time of 2 minutes and 30 seconds.
"The pack is not normally this big," race official Mickey Stone said.
The only sound was the steady beat of running shoes hitting the pavement.
As the runners approached the hills, Mr. Stone said: "The race is won and lost on the hills."
Sure enough, after the downward slope the lead pack was reduced to just two men: 20-year-old Tyler Cardinal and 24-year-old Jonevan Hornsby. Both ran in graceful synchrony, staying close well into the last mile. Even the race officials couldn't manage to pick the winner from the two runners. The red truck took off for the finish, horn honking, passengers in the back yelling to spectators too far back to see. "We've got a race!" they yelled.
Just after the 2.7-mile point, Mr. Cardinal made his move for the finish, putting a few seconds of distance between him and Mr. Hornsby. Mr. Cardinal won the race with a final time of 15 minutes and 43 seconds. A roar from the crowd welcomed both men across the finish. After dousing in water and stretching out, the two runners spoke for the first time, congratulating each other on a race well fought.
"We communicated with body work. We vibed off each other," Mr. Hornsby said, who admitted he didn't even try to catch Mr. Cardinal when he took the lead.
"I've seen too many people spill at the end. I just wanted to cross standing," Mr. Hornsby said.
Mr. Cardinal is no stranger to the Chilmark Road Race circle of champions. In 1999, he went home with the grand prize - a large live lobster. Last year he finished second.
"I've done it for so many years. It was a great way to prep for [track] season during college," he said. Mr. Cardinal traveled to the Vineyard on the day of the race, leaving Connecticut at 4 a.m. Saturday.
Jake Gyllenhaal, Hollywood actor who spent childhood summers in Chilmark, worked the mike at the finish line. As the clock hit the half-hour mark, and a crowd of young runners spilled across the line, Mr. Gyllenhaal said: "These young runners will be setting the records in the days to come. They are the ones who keep the spirit alive."
Susan Wilson, a 71-year-old runner, kept the spirit alive as well, capturing the 70-and-over winning title again this year.
Lizzy Plapinger and Chris Bailey, 13-year-old counselors at the Chilmark Community Center, stood on the sidelines cheering on the later finishers, even though they finished their run at just over 30 minutes.
"It's so nice when you have someone cheering you on," Miss Plapinger said as Miss Bailey shouted a "good job" to a kid coming across the finish.
Marsha Feinberg looked across the crowd at the blend of young and old. "This is what the Chilmark Community Center is all about, bringing everyone together for a good cause," she said.