This is a guest blog post from Boilermaker enthusiast Ron Ayers. Good luck this year Ron!
I grew up in Upstate NY, never ran more than a mile in high school, which is a fun way of saying, I had no idea I grew up with the Boilermaker in my backyard. The concept of going out for a run was not a natural thought that ran through my head. I always associated it with a penalty, or a gym class test. I actually only started because my company had sponsored a local 5K and my colleagues agreed that we would all run it. I agreed to walk it, they emphasized “run.” So… I ran.
I found running to be a great outlet for me both socially and competitively. I joined a local running group, the Waltham Trail Runners, and a local racing series, Race Around Waltham, and became immersed in a vibrant running community. Waltham is just outside of Boston. It’s about Utica-sized in population. For having 60,000 people, we certainly have a lot of people who enjoy running. Our running group has 4-5 group runs a week. We have anywhere from 7-10 5Ks, the largest of which draws over 1,000 runners. Being slightly over a mile away from the Boston Marathon course certainly helps, where we are used to the fanfare and runner support.
As it goes with runners, we often look for “experiences.” Which led me to the Boilermaker. I specifically remember my Facebook feeds exploding in March with “who is running the Boilermaker?” posts, mainly from my Upstate NY friends. Those posts never stuck out in the past, because, well, I didn’t run. Now they were intriguing, and so I signed up for my first Boilermaker in 2014.
Arriving in Utica on race day was a bit surreal, as my largest race at the time may have been a few thousand runners. But it’s not just the runners that make a race “large”, it’s the community. At most races runners are lucky to have a couple of neighbors out there giving us a hardy clap, or maybe a college student attempting to sprint across a crosswalk in front of us.
The Boilermaker was a bit different. I remember entering the corrals as a slightly faster runner, and being ushered toward the front of the pack. I also distinctly looking back down the hill at the start and seeing about 14,000 other people behind me. It was truly the first moment, I felt like a “runner.”
For me the things that make the Boilermaker truly a moment for many runners, are the little things I appreciate along the way, all driven by the community. At the start, I look forward to taking a quick glance down the hill to see the sea of runners ready to go. I enjoy the Mayor giving his “pump up speech” about the greatest race in the world. About 0.1 miles in, we’ll hear the Rocky theme, and then glimpse 9.2 miles to go sign at the right hand side. A long run up the hill into the golf course with a band on the top of the hill signaling the end of the long climb. I look forward to free popsicles around Mile 5, waving to the man on stilts around Mile 7.5, and the long sprint to the finish line at Saranac. All along the way, it’s clear… Utica turns out for this race. It’s the only race outside of Boston that I’ve experienced that have people lining the entire course, cheering the entire way. It’s a runner’s holiday, capped off by a really fantastic party at FX Matt Brewing Company.
Since I’ve started running six years ago, I’ve now run over 100 races. I’ve completed four marathons, including Boston three times. This will be my 5th Boilermaker. My fastest Boilermaker was a respectable 1:06:15. I’m very involved with my local running group as an organizer, and I actively recruit our runners to join me in Utica every July, successfully winning a few of them over every year. (six already for 2019!)
To give you an idea of what the Boilermaker means for me as a runner these days, my running season is typically geared around two days: the Boston Marathon and the Boilermaker. That is high praise for a 15K in Central NY!