“Why did I want to do this?” I looked down at my watch this morning, and it showed I was 1.21 miles into the Firecracker 5K course. I was falling off pace and questioning why running the course means so much to me.
After I spent my Fourth of July in bed and on medication for tonsilitis, I’ve obsessed about running the route (under the mug cutoff). I wanted to reclaim a sliver of what I missed.
My plan was simple: line up and run my own Firecracker 5K in a mug-worthy time. Thankfully, my Thursday morning running group had no problem embracing my lunatic plan.
So, after a three-mile warmup, I reset my watch and lined up in the parking lot at Mall St. Vincent. I was wearing my planned racing outfit that went unused on Independence Day. Firecracker bib pinned to my racing singlet and USA socks to go with my usual race-day Brooks shorts, A&M hat and Adidas Boston Boosts.
I felt nervous, probably more so than I would have for the actual Firecracker.
With a solid pacing crew, I knew I would have to die on the course to finish slower than the mug cutoff of 21:56. Sadly, that’s almost what happened.
I felt good through the first half mile. My own private race start had its advantages, including no kids to dodge through the initial bottleneck.
Then came the first hill, on Ockley. It’s the hill that signals Firecracker’s true start. I was already struggling at the top but pulled everything back together on the resulting downhill. Then came another hill and the one-mile point, which I hit in 6:44, one second under my first-mile goal.
Mile two — like every other Firecracker I’ve run — was all about survival.
I fell off pace (mile 2 took 7:05). I questioned my resolve. I wanted to walk up the toughest hill, on Fairfield immediately after turning to head back to the start. But I embraced the struggle, pushed the negativity away, and lurched forward.
Mile 3 was my fastest, as it should be. A generous downhill allowed me to pick up my pace while breathing a little bit deeper. Still, I was spent heading into the final quarter of a mile.
My running group was awesome, though. Gary and Cameron paced me the whole way, and Steve joined in for the final mile (6:39). As my brain screamed at me to stop, all three of them yelled encouragement.
I’m fortunate to have some amazing running friends. They indulged my selfish need to run the Firecracker I missed. I’m sure they weren’t thrilled about running the Firecracker route again, a day after they all put in a hard track workout. Yet they were there to pull me through the finish.
My official unofficial time: 21:04 (Cameron even filled me out a #94 result card).
It ranks as my slowest Firecracker, by more than a minute and a half. But I don’t care.
I poured more into this morning’s run than I did in 2015, when my race started falling apart and I gave up and eased off.
Thanks to everyone who ran with me this morning. Firecracker means a lot to me. I will be living in another city when the Fourth of July rolls around next year. I might make it back for my favorite race, but I also might not ever run those dreaded hills on Independence Day again.
I’m thankful I have friends who will run with me, and celebrate with me (we may have completed a few post-Firecracker rituals even at 7 a.m. on a workday).
And I’m thankful I finished my Firecracker race and satisfied my OCD mind, so now I can concentrate on getting back on track training for the fall.