The noisy, motley group of runners suddenly waxed silent and awaited the bullhorn.
When it blasted, the soles of more than a thousand running shoes began pummelling Middle Road against a canvas of shadows and golden light.
On Saturday morning the 25th annual Chilmark Road Race began just as its predecessors - but with an even richer sense of history, and featuring a wonderful new gadget.
"You're making history today - 25 years," race founder Hugh Weisman told the crowd, speaking through a megaphone from the back of his red pickup truck.
Back in 1978, Mr. Weisman put this event together for the kids at the Chilmark Community Center. Fittingly, the road race remains a fundraiser for the center.
Just 180 participants ran in the incipient race; this year slightly more than 1,500 ran, including one canine entry.
The late Joey Kinstlinger was one child who raced the five kilometers along Chilmark's Middle Road, starting near Tea Lane and ending at Beetlebung Corner, in 1978; photographer Alison Shaw captured the moment.
"Wherever he lived - which was mostly in Colorado, after he left the East - he always had [the photograph] in his bathroom because it was such a comforting picture of water coming down on his head," said Julia Kinstlinger, his mother. "He loved that picture."
A year ago in May, he died at the age of 33 while hiking in Colorado with friends.
The photograph was featured on the poster advertising the race.
For Mrs. Kinstlinger, this was her first road race. "I am here to walk for Joe," she said.
Mr. Weisman's family was out in full force, his wife, Suzanne, his three daughters, Ali Weisman, Jennifer Sullivan with husband Dan, and Wendy Jenkinson, and his four grandchildren, Marguerite Smith, 10, Timmy and Annie Sullivan, ages six and four, and Wyatt Jenkinson, four.
"It gets you strong," said Miss Smith. "This year I'm trying to win a prize."
Jim Austin, a Vineyard Haven resident who has run in almost every race since 1978, said, "We are going into the third generation of runners. Today is many grandchildren's first time."
For veteran runners, the idyllic course has a magnetic charm.
"Although you think you know every inch of the course, you never know it until you run this year's race," Mr. Austin said
There were two runners who haven't missed a single Chilmark Road Race since the event began. They were Priscilla Karnovsky, now coordinator of this year's 60 volunteers, and Morgan Shipway, a summer resident of Chilmark.
Miss Karnovsky called the event "downright fun."
Mr. Shipway said Mr. Weisman was instrumental in bringing him out for the first race.
"It was my first step I ever took, right here," said Mr. Shipway. "And 25 years later I have run a lot of marathons. Hughie talked me into it. It made me a runner."
Mr. Shipway talked about the race's popularity and its uniqueness.
"A lot of it has to do with running - it's a great sport," said Mr. Shipway. "Hughie Weisman's aesthetics make the race the fun event that it really is, like the lobsters, the feeling of Chilmark and the Island. Hughie's personality, the race is steeped in it."
There was a time when Mr. Shipway ran competitively, but these days he enjoys himself in mid-pack. "To be 60 years old and healthy is a good thing," he said. "It was fun then, and with my speed lesser, it is still fun."
The race is fun - for children of all ages, running or walking, for parents pushing strollers, serious runners, amateurs and those who just want to soak up the experience of the race.
For years, members of the MacMaster family have come from Philadelphia and New Jersey to the Island for the race.
Patrick MacMaster said the race is a "total blast" every year.
The family, this year numbering over 30, wore self-designed shirts, as they do each year.
This year the shirt design was by Katie MacMaster, who died in May of this year.
The slogan on the back of the blue shirts was "You Push Me, I'll Push You."
Mr. MacMaster said the slogan is all about helping one another out.
One family member, Sarah Williams, six, secured second place in her age category of females under eight years old.
The race times ranged from under 16 minutes to almost an hour and a half. And this year a new gizmo was used to time each runner - an electronic chip with a velcro strap worn on the ankle. The high-tech device proved effective, and times were posted minutes after the first runner crossed the finish line.
The race champs were repeats from last year.
Twenty-one-year-old Tyler Cardinal took a comfortable lead from the start and finished the race with an impressive 15:30.3, almost a minute ahead of second place. He traveled from Middletown, Conn., this weekend to make the race.
Mr. Cardinal, a student and cross-country athlete at Iona College in New York, ran in the road race for the first time when he was in seventh grade.
He won the race in 1999, came in second the next year and won it again last year.
"It's been my favorite summer race," said Mr. Cardinal after receiving his first place prize, a lobster.
Anne Preisig, 34, of Falmouth, took first place among women with a time of 18:05.5.
She came out last year for the first time after hearing from friends how fun the race is. She is a professional dual-athlete and coach of the cross-country team at Falmouth High School.
"The race is a great community event, with all these little kids, spectators along the course," she said. "It's a beautiful course with the trees, and a tough course with the hills, and there always seems like there is a headwind."
She was behind Marian Bihrle until the 2.5-mile mark when she overtook her up a hill. Miss Bihrle finished in 18:16.2.
After all the runners crossed the finish line, a ceremony was held for the founder and the two veteran race runners outside the Chilmark Community Center before a number of prizes were handed out to the top runners from each age category.
The two who have run in the race every year were presented with lobster sculptures by Steve Lohman, Island artist.
Jeff Herman presented Mr. Weisman with another Lohman sculpture, and said, "Without the efforts of a certain individual none of us would have been here for the last 25 years."
Mr. Weisman assured everyone the race will continue for at least another 25 years.
"The road race," Mr. Austin said, "is part of the summer biorhythms now."