GROTON -- Sunday morning the quaint little town of Groton will turn into an arena of physical might and mental fortitude as the Squannacook River Runners Club plays host to the 22nd annual Groton Road Race.
The Groton race is the first competitive racing event in the region following the Boston Marathon, and race director Chris Russell admits that he wondered if the numbers would dwindle following the bombings.
"I was in the Boston Marathon on Monday," said Russell. "Right after that, I had the thought that maybe we should order less shirts and that sort of thing." But he said of registration numbers that "It is right on, if not a little bit up."
Following the Marathon bombings, Russell got the Groton Police, Fire and EMT departments on the phone to see what their plans were for the upcoming race.
"We have over 100 volunteers for the race not including police, and EMTs," said Russell. "I reached out right away to the Groton Police Department and EMTs, and said OK, what are we going to do? Never once did anyone say cancel the race."
The field for the road race is the equivalent to about 10 percent the total field of the Boston Marathon, with around 2,200 participants across the 5K, 10K and the Tots' Trot events.
As the racers toe the start line at the Groton-Dunstable Middle School track, they will soon weave their way through the scenic downtown area, where they will stride past Bob and Carol Wright's Main Street Café. Each race starts and finishes at the middle school after looping through the picturesque Groton countryside.
Bob Wright believes the Groton race is a fundamental part to the healing process. Wright's business welcomed the Squannacook River Runners Club after their tribute walk/jog/run event that was held last Sunday in honor of the marathon bombing victims.
"They got together Sunday for a tribute race," said Bob Wright. "About 100 of them stopped by afterwards. (The runners) aren't going to let an instance like what happened in Boston stop them from doing their thing. Runners are like any kind of group -- when something happens to one of them, they feel it. When people come out to support them and cheer them on at the finish line, they will feel as if they are connected (to Boston) in that way."
Town officials believe that the Groton Road Race has taken on an even greater significance in the wake of last week's tragedy. Groton Selectman Jack Petropoulous feels that the road race embodies what the American spirit is all about.
"The race is about celebrating the spirit of it all," said Petropoulous. "These events show who we are. You get a community together that are ready to gut it out, whether it is a marathon or something shorter. This is about a community, and is about individuals making a statement about this is who we are. The attitude of the runners remains reinforced and not inhibited at all."
The town held their annual town cleanup day last week to ensure that the course was spotless and enjoyable for all parties.
"We take a lot of pride in hosting the race," said Petropoulous. "We typically coordinate our cleanup day to be ahead of the race to give the runners a chance to run on clean New England roads. There is tremendous support for the runners and it is celebrated."
Ayer resident Claire White has been participating in the event for the last seven years, but this will be the first year she will have run the course. White, like many in the running community, felt a little leery about how this Sunday's race would be following last week's tragedy.
"I am nowhere near capable of running a marathon yet," said White on the impact of the marathon bombings. "I do run 5Ks, and I was wondering if this was going to impact what we do. It was scary, but I am not going to let it stop me."
Groton police were unable to comment at the time of publication on the security precautions they are taking for Sunday's race, but White wants people to rest assured that they will be safe.
"One good thing about the Groton Road Race is that security has always been up," said White. "You have always had the motorcycle cops from every town you could imagine. I find that comforting, because in a lot of the places I have run, there hasn't been a lot of security."
Racers who have not yet registered can do so online at grotonroadrace.com. The event is open to all runners in the surrounding communities, and registration fees range from $8 to $23.
A $2 late fee will be assessed for those who register on the day of the race at the Groton-Dunstable Middle School. The action begins at 10:45 a.m. with the Tots' Trot, followed by the 2K at 11:15 p.m., the 5K at 11:50 p.m., and it all wraps up with the 10K at 1 p.m. Sunday's race is family friendly and open to runners of all ages.
Proceeds from the road race are donated to national and local-charities and help fund the Groton summer youth track and field program.