Foot traffic will bump up against beach traaffic on Friday, but it will be a welcome sight.
Runners and walkers will be back on the streets of Narragansett for the return of the Blessing of the Fleet Road Race. One of the more tradition-laden races in Rhode Island, it was canceled and sent to the virtual realm last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s back in full force this year, with nearly 2,000 participants registered.
“We’re really excited,” said Joe Vingi of the Narragansett Lions Club, which organizes the race and its accompanying events. “Obviously last year, we couldn’t do it. This year, it’s amazing to get it back up and running.”
The 10-mile walk begins at 5 p.m, with the main event – the 10-mile run – to follow at 6 p.m. Walkers and runners will take off just outside Narragansett Pier Middle School, with the race culminating as always at the post office by the Towers.
This will be the 49th edition of the race. It will turn 50 next summer, but there will be plenty to celebrate this year in light of the 2020 cancellation. The typical Friday race day became just another quiet evening when the Lions Club followed suit with race organizers around the state in calling off last year’s event.
Registrants were given the option of a refund or an opportunity to submit times from their own personal 10-mile runs, with their registration fees going to support the Lions Club’s community causes. Hundreds did so and a few diehards ran the Blessing course on what would have been race day, but it obviously wasn’t the same.
In addition to a draw for top runners around the region, the race is a community event, with parties along the route and locals cheering from the side of the road throughout the race. It’s a carnival atmosphere at the finish line, with live music planned. The actual Blessing of the Fleet is set for Saturday in Galilee, capping off a festive weekend.
“It’s a nice thing in town,” Vingi said. “Everybody looks forward to it. It’s really an enjoyable time for Narragansett and we’re happy to have everything back up and running this year.”
The Lions Club initially announced that the race would be virtual again this summer. But with the declining COVID cases, the easing of restrictions around the state and a number of other road races getting back to full speed, it was decided in May that the in-person race would return. There is still a virtual option for people if they prefer.
Getting the in-person race back up and running in a short planning window was no easy task. A few changes will greet participants. Early registration has been encouraged. Results will not be posted at the finish line and there will be no awards ceremony. Aside from that, it’s game on, thanks to a lot of hard work.
“The Lions Club appreciates the cooperation between the police department, the fire department and parks and recreation,” Vingi said. “It’s a great partnership. We can’t wait to have everyone coming out and having a good time.”
The race and the weekend festivities also serve as huge fundraisers for the club, with all the proceeds going back out to the community. Keeping that mission alive was part of the impetus for the virtual race last year. The opportunity for more is a welcome part of the return this year.
“One hundred percent of all the proceeds that come in, we give away,” Vingi said. “We support everything from people in need to the Jonnycake Center to Welcome House to the Children’s Cancer Society, the Eye Institute. We’re really happy we can give back.”
Those in the race will be thrilled to do their part. The Blessing of the Fleet is one of the most popular races in the state. Regulars start signing up as soon as registration opens every year. Many runners and walkers make it an annual tradition.
It’s good to be back.
“It’s a wonderful weekend,” Vingi said. “We’re just super happy to do it, really excited to be back up and running again.”