The Boilermaker

So, I ran the 5K training run (untimed) on Sunday morning and then stood near the finish line to watch the real runners complete the 15K. I am no runner nor am I an athlete but I have run the Boilermaker twice and will run it again next year or the year after and then, well, as long as I can. It’s a great event.

I ran my first Boilermaker, also my first race, in 1998 when I was engaged to marry my husband. His father had run the race since its inception and was running one last time with terminal cancer. In 1999, we married and a couple months later he died. In 2000, the race was dedicated to his memory and I ran it again. But it was too much for us: too much filial duty, too much training, too much of an extra challenge in summers that were often spent moving, gearing up for job applications, working on our books. Now, we’re back and I see once again why it was, for my father-in-law, the highlight of the year.

The Boilermaker is the largest 15K in the country. Over 9,000 people ran it yesterday. It attracts elite runners, who finish in 43 minutes (for Gilbert Okari, the male winner) or 50 (Sally Barsosio, the fastest woman), and striders like me, who run a 10-minute miles or slower. (I was proud to do the 5K in 34 minutes; in 1998, I finished in 97 minutes [that’s a turtle-like pace of 10’37’’/mile].) It is moving and incredible to be able to participate as a competitor in an event with Olympic-caliber athletes. But that is only part of it. This is the city of Utica’s cornerstone event. There isn’t a part of the course without music. Even on the 5K, which began at 7:30 AM, I ran past at least four small bands—from a 20 person pipe and drum corps, in kilts and all, to a five-man heavy metal band—and maybe a dozen huge speakers blasting inspirational songs: Shania Twain’s “Honey I’m Home,” as you round the final turn, or that perennial hockey-game instrumental, or, on a tinny boom box, the theme from “Rocky,” or, near the retirement home, really fast polka music. At one spot, four elderly Shriners, in fezes and all, were keeping time on drums to the beat some very young alt-grunge rockers catty-corner from them.

The race ends in the courtyard (really an enclosed loading dock) of Matt’s brewery (they make Saranac & Utica Club) with popsicles, orange slices, and free beer for runners. There were 38,000 people at the party yesterday, all dancing and drinking on a bright Sunday morning to a merry, serviceable cover band and then doing the guess-where-the-winner’s from guessing game as Kenyan after Kenyan came up to the podium to accept prize money (10 of the top 11 male finishers were Kenyan). The hangover from a morning of drinking free beer is fierce, but, once a year or so, it’s certainly worth it.