There are many things about the Boilermaker that make the race unique. From the anticipation that comes with standing in the crowd at the start line on Culver Ave., the crowd lining the course, the challenge of the hills, the post-race party and of course, the heat!
One thing that cannot go unnoticed when it comes to the Boilermaker is the huge undercurrent of patriotism that seemed to ooze from every part of the race. Of course, the race is always held on the second Sunday in July (barring the pandemic), so naturally, that is fresh in everyone’s minds, but it goes so much further.
From running underneath a huge flag that covers the entire street, held by a fire department tower truck, to runners carrying a flag through their entire race, to the Pratt and Whitney Military Mile (mile 7) where both sides of the street are lined with military members, veterans and equipment, you simply cannot run the Boilermaker and not feel proud to be an American. If a runner somehow made it through the course and wasn’t impressed by the patriotic display, the flyover, whether by an F-16 Jet or a Blackhawk helicopter is sure to get you there!
Unfortunately, our active-duty servicemen and women who are out on deployment, miss out on the race day fun through the streets of Utica.
Those same servicemen and women have been using their ingenuity to adapt and overcome obstacles and hold their own races.
“Shadow Runs,” are the original virtual runs, held in remote locations in and around military bases across the globe. The races will often be held on the same day as the actual race and feature everything from official race swag and race bibs to homemade versions when the real thing isn’t available.
Retired US Army veteran Jennifer Williams, who knows a thing or two about shadow runs, explained the process as well as the importance of Shadow Runs.
A native of New York State, Jennifer had always dreamed of running the Boilermaker and was sent off on a deployment before she could sign up. Initially sent to Korea, she joined a running club and amazed herself by turning out a 12-mile run to celebrate her daughter’s second birthday. After that day, she realized the power that running had over her to give her a sense of purpose and belonging. Her running friends became her running mentors.
After being sent to Baghdad, Iraq, in 2008, Williams continued to run and caught wind of a Boilermaker Shadow Run at nearby Sather Air Base. Using their adaptive skills, Williams and her friends “found” some vehicles and wandered to the base, found the race start and completed the race in temperatures that reached over 110 degrees despite starting before the sun rose. Next time I complain on a sunny 85-degree training run, I’ll think of those running a Shadow Run!
Jennifer’s Iraq Boilermaker was such a great experience that it inspired her. She started her own run club and began reaching out to stateside races for their help in organizing more Shadow Runs. It was something she would continue to do throughout her military career because of the many benefits she saw for herself and the others that were deployed overseas.
Aside from the physical aspects, running and having a race to look forward to each weekend gave her a sense of belonging and even a connection to her family and friends in the US. During her deployment, it was a chance to brag about finishing a race on a hot day, to joke about who finished faster and who was going to prevail in the next one.
Now retired, Jennifer works for American Corporate Partners (ACP), an organization that helps ease the transition from the military to the civilian workforce. ACP is the only nonprofit organization engaged in national corporate career counseling for our returning veterans and active-duty military spouses. For more information, please visit: www.acp-usa.org or look for them on social media.
On this Veteran’s Day, we’d like to thank everyone who has served our country and sacrificed everything from participating in America’s Best 15K to missing family milestones like birthdays and weddings to help secure our freedom. I’d also like to thank the organizers of Shadow Runs across the globe for bringing road racing to our active-duty military members.
Check out Jennifer’s story below!