BETHEL -- About a third of the way through his title defense in Wednesday's John Demille Firecracker 8K, Kevin Hoyt appeared headed for another wire-to-wire win, his neon orange tank top announcing the front of the pack like a pace car.
Nipping at Hoyt's heels, however, was former UConn cross country standout Will Sanders, who did eventually catch Hoyt for a comfortable victory of his own.
Hoyt, a 2008 graduate of Newtown High, settled for the next best thing: a personal-record-smashing performance in his fourth go at the traditional Fourth of July road race, which logged its 47th edition on a sultry yet rain-free morning at P.T. Barnum Square.
Sanders, 25, of Wethersfield, finished in 25:42. Hoyt cruised in at 26:02 -- nearly 1:40 faster than last year's time (27:40).
"I'm happy about that," said Hoyt, 22, who recently graduated from Keene State University. "I'll take second and 1:40 (personal record)."
Hoyt earned All-SWC and All-State honors in track as a Nighthawk. His success continued with the Keene State Owls, his breakthrough victory coming in the 2011 Little East Conference Cross Country Championships last October in Dartmouth, Mass.
Hoyt's plan now is to compete in as many local distance races as possible, and the five-mile course through downtown Bethel figures to stay in his personal circuit.
"I've done it enough," Hoyt said. "And it's about 10 minutes from home."
The winning time was not the only number to see a spike in this year's race. Some 487 runners participated, the bulk of them locals, which was up from 333 in 2011.
A pair of Bethel Wildcats ran seventh and eighth to top the list of hometown participants. Jack Ferguson, 19, who now runs for his college cross country team at Roger Williams University, clocked in at 29:03. Travis Braisted, 17, who just graduated from Bethel High, posted a time of 30:04.
The top female finisher was Sara Belles, 31, a marathoner from Brookfield, who finished 20th overall with a time of 32:01. Carly Schuyler, 16, was the top hometown finisher on the female side. Schuyler, who won the 3,200 in the SWC Championships held on her home course at Bethel High back in May, finished in 34:30 to place 36th.
For complete results, visit the race's official scoring website at www.fasttracktiming.com.