Mike LauterbornThough the sun was not smilin' brightly early Sunday and the 20=degree temperatures had yet to spring to seasonal levels, hundreds of runners decked out in green -- and high spirits -- hit the streets for the annual St. Patrick's Day Classic Road Race sponsored by the Warren Street Social & Athletic Club at Jennings Beach.

The event is one of the largest New England field for a 4-mile race, and also featured a 2-mile fitness walk, a 1-mile youth and family run, and a half-mile fun run for kids. Starting point for all of the races was at the Jennings Beach parking lot at the end of South Benson Road.

Joe Riccio, the race director, said, "The club is based in Branford, but its 170 members live in towns from Greenwich to Niantic, with a concentration in New Haven," he said. It "was once based in Bridgeport and J.F. O'Connell's Bar would conduct the race. When I became president of the club in 1995, we did the race with O'Connells on St. Patrick's Day, but they went out of business just two days later. The club wanted to continue the race tradition and we sponsored our first in 1996. We've been doing it ever since."

Sunday's weather, which was brisk with a new dusting of fine snow, presented some set-up challenges. Despite that, Riccio said, "We'll have 600 runners and some 350 kids, including 150 that will do the 1-mile race."

One of the major beneficiaries of the event was the Fairfield YMCA. A portion of the funds raised also will benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and the Sandy Hook Elementary School Scholarship Fund.

Warren Street Social Club's Secretary/Treasurer Bill Weinheimer said the group sponsors nine races a year. "Our events are all charity benefits," he said. "We used to support national concerns, but have turned our focus to more local groups and needs. The folks at the Y have reciprocated our support by volunteering and helping with race coordination."