Runners gathered to participate in a time-honored physical competition deeply embedded in their Boston roots Thursday night on the Boston Common.
“On your mark, get set, GO!”
They were off, barreling down the park’s walkway, none of them bothering to pace themselves as they sprinted to complete the .826 mile race.
The Half Half Half Half Half Marathon was fundraising money for 826 Boston, a nonprofit that works to teach and provide opportunities for students in underserved communities by giving them chances to write and publish their work.
The nonprofit predominantly works with youth in the neighborhoods of Roxbury, Dorchester and Jamaica Plain. Volunteers aid in after school programs, work as writing tutors and help publish student work in professionally designed collections.
More than 130 runners participated Thursday, and through fundraising leading up to the event, 826 Boston raised more than $29,500 for free youth writing and tutoring programs.
The Half Half Half Half Half Marathon was created last year through a partnership with a marketing agency. Carly Barnhardt, marketing and events specialist at 826 Boston, was in charge of organizing the mini-marathon this year.
She originally brainstormed the .826 mile race while reflecting on her own running capabilities.
“I thought I couldn’t run a marathon, but maybe I could run a half… a half… a half… a half… a half marathon,” Barnhardt said. “It was so close to 826 that we thought we might as well do a .826 marathon. I think it really captures our whimsy really well.”
Many runners fundraised thousands of dollars before taking their places at the starting line. They proudly wore their bright yellow headbands throughout the event, but apart from that, the dress code was fairly loose. Some were decked out in Nike attire while others wore jeans and skateboarded the course.
Jessica Drench, executive director of 826 Boston, said her organization always aims to plan events in the best interest of the students.
“All of us share the mission of amplifying student voices,” Drench said. “We have a lot of fun in our programs with students. We really value creativity. It is part of our work. This event brings adults into the fun and raises money for our programs that are free and recruits new volunteers.”
The average runner took about five to six minutes to complete the course that circled around the Boston Common. The applause was thunderous as racers crossed the finish line.
Jessica Eaton is a former volunteer at 826 Boston and helped to organize the Half Half Half Half Half Marathon last year. She showed her support by running with friends and family this year.
“It definitely brings the community together because the way it ties into the Boston Marathon is so special, and I think it’s great that they play into that,” Eaton said.
After the race, a small awards ceremony honored both top fundraisers and racers. Winning teams and participants won gift cards for fitness classes, restaurants and movie theaters.
Karen Sama, K-8 program director at 826 Boston, announced the awards. After the team “The Big Foot Bounders” won Top Fundraising Team, she proclaimed, “We’re bound together by our love of children and writing.”
The third place finisher was Ricardo Palau, a senior in Boston University’s Questrom School of Business. After signing up at the last minute, Palau was in for a surprise about the race.
“I transferred here in 2016 and used to play tennis, and I run more,” Palau said. “Since I came here I haven’t done as much, so I saw this event on Facebook, and I thought it was a half marathon, and I came here and realized it was not. But I still thought it was cool to do something like this.”