LYNN — Bill Mullen and Joe Abelon simply love running. Not just the act of running, but the activity as a whole. They love it so much, in fact, that they spend hours each week during the summer months organizing and operating the Lynn Woods Summer Cross Country Series.
“I can’t run well, or at all, anymore, but I love the sport,” Mullen said. “I just love having this event on Wednesdays. People get to enjoy the woods, run and fraternize with people that they maybe only see during the summer months. It’s a really cool event.”
“To be honest, I just like the night out with all of the people,” Abelon said. “I couldn’t really tell you why I love it so much, but I do. I’ve always loved helping to put on this event.”
Abelon started it all back in 1970 as a way to bring together the multitudes of runners from Lynn. After a few years, the Lynn Parks and Recreation Department took full control and began to sponsor the races, allowing Abelon to take a step back from the administrative side. But when budget cuts threatened to derail the series in the early 1980s, it was Mullen who stepped in to take over.
“We probably wouldn’t be here having this event if it wasn’t for Bill,” Abelon said.
Actually, according to Mullen, it was the help of another Lynner that kept the series afloat in those early years.
“Around 1979-1980, Proposition 2 1/2 brought cuts that almost ended the series completely,” Mullen said. “But a gentleman by the name of Wayne Spinney, who deserves a ton of credit for this, took over the series and kept it running, and I helped Wayne that first year. I’ve been doing this ever since.”
Mullen ran things with the help of volunteers over the next couple decades, and Abelon came back a little over 10 years ago to continue to help with organizing.
Now the race averages nearly 250 people every week in the summer, as the series runs from the end of May until the end of September. Over the past two weeks, the series has posted its two largest crowds to date: 270 people on July 11 and 272 people on July 18.
“It might be the biggest event of its kind in the country,” Abelon said. “I don’t know of any other cities that put something like this together.”
For Mullen, who has been running for over 50 years, the races are a way for him to bring the sport he loves to anyone and everyone. As a free event, the series is kept afloat thanks to countless donations from the participants themselves.
“It’s entirely runner-funded, we just have a can out and people give what they can,” Mullen said. “We provide refreshments for them, and their donations keep this thing going.”
Each week, the series consists of a kids race (1.54 miles), a short race (2.5 miles) and a long race (anywhere from 4 miles to 10 miles).
And of course, Mullen and Abelon would not be able to do all of this without the help of a number of volunteers who donate their time each week.
“We don’t do it alone,” Mullen said. “All of these folks come out to help us and that’s great.”
For the second week in a row, the Lynn Woods Summer Cross Country Series saw a record number of runners come out to run across the three races.
In the 1.54-mile kids race, Eamonn McHale of Lynn took the top spot with a time of 11:36. Winthrop’s Bailey Ferguson placed second (15:36), while Dillon Duval of Saugus finished third (15:41). Cathy Curran of Wakefield (16:05) and Stephen Shultz of Lynn (16:31) rounded out the top five finishers.
In the 2.3-mile run down the Goat Path, Lynners Adnan Jalal (14:42) and Abrar Jalal (14:48) finished in the top two spots, separated by just six seconds. Swampscott’s Shea Reny finished third (14:55), while Michael Mansfield of Saugus (15:18) and Paul Ricchi of Lynn (15:48) rounded out the top five.
And in the four-mile race around the Twin Towers and Dungeon, Jose LeClerc of Chelsea earned first place with a time of 29:30. Jacob Johns of North Andover and Adam Cook of Melrose tied for second place with times of 29:38, while Matthew Perkins of Cambridge placed third with a time of 30:08. Lynn’s Walter Kotkowski (31:45) and Boxford’s Jeff Hixon (31:51) rounded out the top five.
The Lynn Woods Summer Cross Country Series will continue every Wednesday through September 26.