By Jim Sullivan
---- — MERRIMAC — Runners’ thirsts were quenched with hot cocoa, and the streets of Merrimac were a bit more festive yesterday thanks to the 18th annual Santa’s Toy Trot benefit for the Merrimac Holiday Helper Program and Toys for Tots. The run raised over $1,500, and racers donated over 250 toys for those in need.
“This is a great day, we’ve got the hot chocolate going,” said race director Jim Banyas. “It’s a family event. It’s a great cause. People just bring toys, and it all stays here in Merrimac.”
The Toy Trot, run each year by the Winner’s Circle Running Club, featured an estimated 300 racers who ran a combination of 2-mile, 4-mile and 6-mile races as well as a Santa’s Elves’ Fun Run for Kids. The founder of the Toy Trot, Bob Randall, was out to see his brain child live on.
“It’s one of the best races around,” said Randall. “You can run whatever distance you want, your choice, and we get about 200 to 300 runners a year. I love it because it’s for such a great cause. You go inside and you see all the toys on the stage. The generosity is unbelievable. We get people from all over who come down to run it.”
Casey Carroll, 41, of Dover, N.H., finished first in the 2-mile race with a time of 10:49. Laura Rudd, 24, of Amesbury was the leader of the women’s pack at 12:47.
Sherri Marshall, 35, of Amesbury ran the 2-miler herself as part of her 30-plus races per year.
“It’s a nice day to run,” Marshall said of the 50-degree weather. “It’s not too hot, not too cold. It’s always good to run for a cause.”
The 4-mile race was topped by Mark Tonelli, 18, of Ayer with a time of 24:19. Laurie Gaudreau, 43, of York, Maine, was the women’s winner at 27:32.
Rita Labella, 62, of Tewksbury took a fall a few weeks ago, but was ready to take on the 4-miler.
“I was kind of taking it easy out there, but it was good,” said LaBella, who says she runs almost 45 races a year . “Everyone out there was really enthusiastic about bringing the toys in, and that’s the really important part of this race. Being able to contribute for the kids.”
LaBella’s friend, Julie Cristo, 86, of Bradford runs about six races a year and has been running the Toy Trot from the beginning.
“Every (Trot) is very pleasant, very nice,” said Cristo. “It’s a nice group. It starts with the little kids and has us old people, and it’s still a great race.”
Christopher Baird, 24, of Boston was the winner of the 6-miler at 30:04 and Brianna Blanchard, also 24, of Boston took the women’s prize at 38:35.
Mike Leonard, 47, of Newburyport ran the 6-mile race while his son, Cam, 13, took on the 2-miler since he runs cross-country for the Immaculate Conception School.
“I really didn’t want to hurt my legs running longer,” said Cam, who finished the 2-miler at 12:51. “This is my second time running this race. I really like doing this.”
“I was under the 7-minute mile so that’s a good bench mark,” said Mark. “I’ve done this seven or eight times. It’s pretty nice because the course is fairly flat. It’s always a good time here.”
Bob Brown was playing the part of a holiday elf wearing a red and green court jester’s hat complete with bells for the Amesbury Holiday Program, and was happy to raise money for a good cause.
“It makes me happy,” Brown said of his festive hat. “I’m a cheerleader for Christmas and a cheerleader for the runners. We can help people who need it.”