Earlier this fall, one of my dear friends and fellow MYL Foundation volunteers asked me to join the fundraising team he was putting together for a race. I have never in my life turned down an opportunity to support a great cause, so I happily signed on for the College Bound Dorchester running team, and registered for the Firefighters’ Memorial 10K.
Firefighters have always held a special place in my heart. My younger brother, Michael, had Duchennes Muscular Dystrophy. The International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) has a long history of supporting the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and through this connection, the firefighters of Revere, MA, became part of my extended family. They were always there for us, whether it was giving Mike a ride on a fire engine or answering the call of duty in medical emergencies. When my brother passed away, my mom had one request: she wanted a bagpiper at the memorial service. The fire chief went above and beyond, and we ended up with a full color guard on top of the bagpipers at the service – something that’s unheard of for civilians, let alone a 14 year old boy. So, for me, this race was as much about paying tribute to the outstanding men and women of the Boston area fire department as it was about pushing my fitness limits and supporting a friend’s charity.
The start and finish line were at Florian Hall in Dorchester, MA. The first thing I saw when I arrived was a bag piper in full kilt regalia, which I took to be a good sign. The weather on Sunday morning was on the chilly side, which was a nice change from the unseasonably warm temps we’ve had in Boston lately. I was really worried about attempting this run in the heat, so I was relieved to see the forecast hovering in the 50s – that’s definitely my favorite kind of running weather. The CBD team captain had already picked up my bib and race swag for me earlier in the weekend, so the pre-race time was spent taking team photos, loosening up and catching up with friends.
Prior to the start, there was the standard playing of the national anthem, but there was also a moment of silence in memory of all of the firefighters who passed away this year. This was an especially poignant moment as the crowd paid tribute to firefighters Walsh and Kennedy, who passed away in a massive fire in the Back Bay region of Boston this past spring. The moment of silence was followed by a bagpiper playing “Amazing Grace,” which is something that always brings on a wave of emotions for me. It might sound corny, but hearing this at the start of the race definitely made me feel like I had a guardian angel watching out for me – and boy, did I need it.
The starting line was at the top of a very small hill, so the first 50 yards or so were downhill before leveling out to an easy cruise. There were yet more pipers at the start to set the tone for the race with some upbeat Irish music, which I loved! The route took us out along Morrisey Boulevard to the entrance to UMass Boston, where we turned around (about 2.5 miles into the race) to head back toward Tenean Beach. I really appreciated being able to run past my teammates during this portion of the race – they were all more seasoned runners and each and every one of them shouted encouragement at me as we passed. I was also pleasantly surprised to see some other familiar faces in the crowd – this was a popular race among my friends and family, apparently! The encouragement was helpful, because the wind was at my face during the run out to UMass, and it definitely was working against me.
During the return trip back toward Tenean Beach, I enjoyed the view out over the water – and I enjoyed having the wind at my back! There was a fireboat stationed just offshore, with the water cannons going and the sirens blaring – I had to slow my pace down enough to capture a picture, because it really was a great view.
As we passed under Route 93, between miles 3 and 4, there was a fire engine parked with a crew in full gear cheering on the runners. I unfortunately did not catch a picture of them, but they definitely helped me to pick up my pace a bit and gave me a much needed boost to make it to mile 4.
And then, at mile 4, my total lack of training caught up with me. Last week, I met with a new dermatologist, and had another biopsy – because while sutures and scars suck, they suck a whole lot less than cancer. I really didn’t think the stitches would be a big deal. They were on my upper outer right thigh and weren’t bothering me at all after about 24 hours, and I figured I’d be fine. Evidently, I was wrong. Shortly after the 4th mile mark, the stitches started to really bother me. I tried to keep alternating between running and walking, but by the time I hit the 5th mile marker, I was resigned to walking the rest of the route. I definitely don’t think the stitches are the sole reason for this — I certainly could have trained more for the race — but they definitely didn’t help matters.
There were pipers and a drummer stationed at the 5 mile mark. I took my headphones out for a bit and listened to the pipes until they faded behind me, and it gave me the final boost I needed to make it to the end of the race. I’ll be honest; I was feeling not so great at this point. My leg hurt, I knew that my time was shot, and the course was pretty deserted. I really just wanted to get to the finish.
Luckily, I’ve got some pretty fantastic friends. Matt, the CBD team captain, was waiting for me at the 6 mile mark to help me finish strong, even though he was dealing with his own fatigue and injury issues after running his first marathon in Hartford last week. We came around a corner and I saw the rest of the team waiting by the finish to cheer me on, and suddenly I forgot about everything that had been bringing me down. I ran the last bit and crossed the finish line with a huge smile on my face.
The finish line party might have been my favorite part of the race. Florian Hall provided free beers for the runners, which helped to keep that big smile on my face. I would say that between raising over $1500 for College Bound Dorchester and successfully finishing the race, we had earned these beers, no?
There was also live music at the finish – The Fenian Sons provided great post-race entertainment. I may be a colossal Boston stereotype, but there’s nothing I enjoy more than some great Irish music! What else would you expect from a lass named Colleen? (That’s gaelic for “girl,” for those of you who didn’t grow up in an Irish family.)
I ended up finishing in 1:24. I had hoped to finish around 1:10, but I’m not beating myself up too much. This was my first 10K, and I had admittedly slacked on my training. The important thing is that I did manage to finish, and I proved to myself that I could do it. I definitely want to do this race again next year, but I will up my training plan and hopefully be at 100% on race day. The race itself was really well organized, and I loved the atmosphere. The course was fantastic; I honestly have no complaints, aside from my own less-than-stellar showing! I learned a valuable lesson in respecting my body’s limitations and knowing how far I can push myself — and also the importance of setting and sticking to an established training plan.
Do you have any lessons to share from your own challenging race experiences? Any training tips to help me tackle my next race?