Worcester Firefighters Memorial 6K, 12 June 2016

What: 6K (~3.73 miles) road race

Where: Worcester, Massachusetts (course map)

Who: Just me, with moral support from Drew and my dad

Benefited: Worcester Firefighters Scholarship Fund, Community Harvest Project, Genesis Club, American Society for Suicide Prevention, and NEADS

Time: 38:14 Personal record!

2016 was my third year in a row running this race, and I PR’d by 5:30 (last year’s result, also a course PR, was 43:44)! To read my recaps from years past, see 2015 and 2014.

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Pre-race

Drew and I arrived at the park about an hour before the start, and there was already a great crowd. Music was blasting, kids were playing with the little firehose demonstration thingie, and the atmosphere was great as always.

Registration was pretty straightforward, but a little hard to find. Each year I’ve run this race the registration table has been in a different spot, and each year I go to where it was the year before, only to be a little confused. This year’s location took a bit more hunting than last year’s, but once I found it I had my bib and shirt within 3 minutes.

The porta-potties had also changed location this year, and the lines were much longer than last year’s (the field this year felt significantly bigger than the last 2 years’, but it was only about 200-250 people bigger). Thankfully the lines moved relatively fast, and I was able to get in and out and still have 10-15 minutes left to warm up before the start.

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Warmed up and ready to run!

The race

Unlike the previous 2 years, when I lined up near the very back of the pack, this time I tried to find a spot a bit further up; last year I remember being frustrated at how many walkers I had to dodge in the first quarter-mile, and hoped that moving up a bit would help avoid that.

All the runners moved aside to let the WFD Pipe and Drum band through, which has been one of my favorite parts of this race. I love bagpipes, and love all the ceremony in honor of the Worcester 6 and other fallen firefighters.

Last year I complained a bit about how all the runners were made to stand in the sun on the hot asphalt while the race director and others spoke for upwards of 15 minutes. There was quite a bit of talking this year too, but it didn’t seem quite as long… maybe because last year it was in the 90s and this year was only in the 70s? I also feel like I wouldn’t mind all the talking so much if I could hear it at all! Even closer to the start line I heard nothing that was said, which is a shame because this was the race director’s last year in charge and I’m sure lovely things were said. Oh well.

After the national anthem – which I could hear! – the horns on the fire trucks parked at the start blasted the beginning of the race and we were off!

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Motorcycles leading the way

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Here I come, doing an awkward wave thing

I didn’t have to do quite as much dodging as last year, but the road definitely felt more congested, which made any dodging I had to do a little trickier than in the past. One unsettling thing that happened in the first half-mile – where the road is only blocked one-way and the other half is open to traffic – was when an ambulance was trying to go the other way, but was stymied because of all the backed-up race traffic. It felt wrong to have a firefighters race interfere with first responders, but what can you do at that point? I squished as far over to the right as I could and the ambulance eventually got through, and I hope it got to where it needed to go in time!

The first mile ticked by pretty quickly, though I wouldn’t have known because I’d forgotten to take Simon off the manual lap setting and so he didn’t beep at the mile marks. D’oh! I happened to glance down around 1.2 and saw my time was roughly 9:26. What?? No wonder the first mile went by quickly… I was flying! I guess that’s what can happen when I start further up the pack than usual.

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I don’t have any mid-race pictures, but check out my form in this one! Who am I and where are my flingy shins??

I took a brief walk break at that point – though not as hot as years past, the sun was hot and radiating up off the asphalt and I was feeling quite warm. I started running when I spotted the firehouse where the firefighters always have a hose out to spray down the runners, and ran through the glorious spray and yelled a thank you.

I don’t remember how often I took walk breaks… I know I took a few more, and I know I slowed down pretty significantly after that first speedy mile, but the rest of the race sort of blurs together. Some highlights:

  • The same firefighter who is always road guarding the same spot, who always tells the runners how awesome we are and thanking us and handing out high-fives… and high-fiving him each time I passed him.
  • The glorious, cool tunnel and people whooping and being echoey in it, and cheering for the eventual winner who flew past us under there.
  • The awesome football team and their coach who were manning the water table, and who looked slightly overwhelmed by all of us but who did a fantastic job!
  • The lines of older folks dressed in their Sunday best who were trying to cross the street as we can barreling down the road at them, and the lady behind me who muttered a “are they serious right now?” as some of them stepped out into the road and the rest followed, making a kind of obstacle course for us.
  • Getting to the point last year where I had to stop and eat some chews, only to realize I was so close to the finish line that I could actually see it… and knowing not to stop because I was closer than I felt to the end.
  • Being passed by sprinters as I chugged up the hill to the finish, fighting the head-wind coming at me and trying to blow my hat off, and being disheartened that I didn’t have anything left in the tank to do my usual sprint to the finish and chase them down. It was all I could do to not puke, and the pics Drew got of me show a big grimace:
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Grimacing and… it looks a little like I’m doing comedy tip-toeing

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I look pretty unhappy in the official pic too, but so does everyone except the lady celebrating up front

Post-race

Crossing the finish line was wonderful, and I was met with a medal and a full-size bottle of water within steps of crossing the mat. Glorious indeed!

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Love. This. Thing.

I made a bee-line for the giant misting fan and stepped into the spray before finding Drew and my Dad and sitting/stretching in the shade. Last year we enjoyed the post-race party and free ice cream, but this year we opted out, which I’m a little sad about. My dad was fresh off an overnight shift and Drew was hungry and a little cranky… and were already almost at our cars, whereas the party was quite a ways in the other direction. So we opted to go out for lunch instead. It was nice, but part of the awesomeness of this race is the block-party atmosphere, and I missed that. Ah well, there’s always next year! And the next, and the next, and the next… 🙂

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Worcester Firefighters Memorial 6K, 8 June 2014

What: 6K (~3.73 miles) road race

Where: Worcester, Massachusetts (course map)

Who: Just me, with moral support from Drew and my dad

Benefited: Worcester Firefighters Scholarship Fund, Community Harvest Project, Genesis Club, and NEADS

Time: 47:13

Splits:
-Mile 1: 11:48
-Mile 2: 10:26
-Mile 3: 14:07
-Mile 3.8: 13:11

Photos: (there’s a ton… brace yourselves)

Giant flag between firetruck ladders at the starting line

Giant flag between firetruck ladders at the starting line

There was a kids' 1K race before the 6K, and this girl was awarded "tiniest runner." So adorable.

There was a kids’ 1K race before the 6K, and this girl was awarded “tiniest runner.” So adorable.

The Worcester Fire Brigade Pipe & Drum Band kicked off the event

The Worcester Fire Brigade Pipe & Drum Band kicked off the event

My view of the starting line before the fire truck horns signaled the start

My view of the starting line before the fire truck horns signaled the start

These firefighters ran the entire race in their full gear. Not an easy feat in 80-something degrees!

These firefighters ran the entire race in their full gear. Not an easy feat in 80-something degrees!

Off I go, excited about the race and clutching my precious, giant bottle of Nuun

Off I go, excited about the race and clutching my precious, giant bottle of Nuun

The course took us by 2 fire stations, each with someone manning a hose to cool the runners down. I was so grateful!

The course took us by 2 fire stations, each with someone manning a hose to cool the runners down. I was so grateful!

Drew caught me right after a water stop, but far enough after that I was fighting another walk break already

Drew caught me right after a water stop, but far enough after that I was fighting another walk break already

Right before the 2-mile mark I caught up to the full-geared firefighters. I snapped this pic right as one was high-fiving a shirtless football player carrying an American flag.

Right before the 2-mile mark I caught up to the full-geared firefighters. I snapped this pic right as one was high-fiving a shirtless football player carrying an American flag.

So many people were high-fiving them and yelling thank you. I sped up so I could catch them and gave them side-fives, along with my thanks.

So many people were high-fiving them and yelling thank you. I sped up so I could catch them and gave them side-fives, along with my thanks.

I got so excited each time I saw another fire hose and apparently my reaction was to take a giddy picture. When I passed these firemen, I yelled "You guys are the BEST!" and the one with the hose turned it on me to give me some extra spray. It was amazing.

I got so excited each time I saw another fire hose and apparently my reaction was to take a giddy picture. When I passed these firemen, I yelled “You guys are the BEST!” and the one with the hose turned it on me to give me some extra spray. It was amazing.

Here I come...

Here I come… a cruel uphill finish

This next series of photos, courtesy of RaceWire, shows just how freaking happy I was to be crossing the finish line. No intense beast-stares or awkward poses here – just pure giddiness!

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In this one, I've caught sight of something amazing just past the finish line and decide to keep running toward it...

In this one, I’ve caught sight of something amazing just past the finish line and decide to keep running toward it…

...a giant misting machine! It's a fan usually used to blow smoke out of a burning building, but a hose was hooked up to create this glorious wonderment. Firefighters are AWESOME.

…a giant misting machine! It’s a fan usually used to blow smoke out of burning buildings, but a hose was hooked up to create this glorious wonderment. Firefighters are AWESOME.

Recap: This was the race I had been looking forward to for nearly a year, one of the two most important races for me this year (the other is a 10K in August; more on that at a later time), and I was so, so happy that my ankle had healed in time for me to run it. This is the race dedicated to the memory of the Worcester 6 – 6 firefighters who gave their lives protecting their city during the Cold Storage Fire of December 3, 1999 – and it’s a 6K in honor of those 6 men. The WFD6K website gives a brief history of the race here.

After my first hot race experience of the year the day before, I was super prepared for this one. So I thought. I was wearing my fancy new tank top with “Omni Freeze Zero” technology (it has little dots inside that claim to react to your sweat and cool you down… I got it for almost 80% off retail, score!), and I had a giant water bottle full of Nuun and ice that I was prepared to lug around with me so that I hopefully wouldn’t faint. I had been hydrating like crazy the day before (after my other race), and I was decked out with my hat, sunglasses, and all kinds of sunblock. I was ready.

The one thing I neglected to do was warm up before the race started. I was running a tad late (late enough that they had run out of my size shirt, even though I had registered way in advance for a small) and decided to stand around in the shade and chat with my dad rather than warm up and stretch. As such, my right calf seized up for the entire first mile, making it a very unpleasant experience. I was struggling to keep running after less than a half-mile, urging myself to just make it to the mile marker, since I knew from past experience that calf-cramp due to shoddy warm-up usually clears up for me after a mile.

I didn’t make it to the mile marker and had to stop to walk for a while. I wasn’t the only one! I don’t think I’ve ever taken part in a race in which so many people had to walk because of the heat. Even the super hot races I ran last July! Luckily the course took us past two fire stations that featured God-sent firefighters and their hoses, spraying runners as they passed. It made such a difference, not just for me, but for pretty much everyone else on the course around me. Everyone was so grateful.

After my calf started behaving itself, and after I enjoyed my first firehose misting, I was able to pick up the pace a little in the second mile. It helped that there were some downhills, including one nice downhill in a shaded tunnel, and it also helped that I caught sight of two firemen up ahead of me. They were running in their full gear, heavy tanks and all, and I could see the people looping back the other way running by to high-five them and say thank you as they passed. I think it was the same two firemen who ran the Jay Lyons Road Race in their gear, and I hadn’t been able to catch them in that race. I was determined to high-five and thank them myself, so I upped my pace to catch them. After I did, I was so pumped that I kept running a bit faster for a while.

That “speediness” did me in a bit, and my next mile was dead slow. I had to walk most of it as I was starting to feel a bit fainty. I kept thinking of the sign someone had at last year’s London Marathon – “Run if you can, walk if you must, but finish for Boston” – and used a modified version of that not only as reassurance that it was okay to walk, but also as a mantra to keep going and not faint: “Run if you can, walk if you must, but finish for the firefighters.” It kept me going, even when my head started swimming a bit and I thought the race would never end.

I walked almost all of the last mile, because I decided I wanted to finish strong. I knew my dad and Drew would be at the finish watching for me, and it just felt right to cross the finish triumphantly, rather than pulling myself over it with my lips. I walked until the bottom of the hill (the race finished on a hill! Damn you Worcester and your hills!) then sped up and crossed the finish line with arms aloft and a giant grin on my face. I was thrilled that I was able to run the WFD6K this year, giddy to be able to stop dragging my sorry self around the course, excited to stand under the misting machine and get some free ice cream, and just overwhelmed with the great feeling of community around me.

The whole race had a real community feel to it, with a big post-race barbecue in the park next to the course, full of events for kids – including a 1K race before the 6K – and many local businesses and charities were represented. Each year the WFD chooses local charities to donate the proceeds to, which is awesome. One of the city’s high school football team manned each of the water stops, some Worcester Roller Derby girls joined them at one and then skated around to encourage runners, and there was a firefighter at almost every intersection. One of them clapped for each and every runner that struggled past, yelling out “thank you for running” to everyone and giving high-fives to anyone within reach. Even a parking attendant at a lot along the course was giving out high-fives and shouting encouragement to everyone. I loved it.

As a bonus, the race was very well organized (except for a bit of confusion at the starting line and the way they had everyone get there… so many walkers ended up at the start, and if you watch the video of the start you can see so many people dodging around walkers) and there was just a good feeling about it all. I got to see parts of my home city that I had never noticed before, like really cool architecture (walking has its good parts!), and I can’t wait to run this race again next year!