AYER -- As Ayer firefighters prepare for the 8th annual Thanksgiving Day 5K this Thursday, perennial race sponsors North Middlesex Savings Bank provided a generous cash donation towards the event.
"We've sponsored the race since its inception," said North Middlesex Savings Bank President and CEO William Marshall. Marshall presented Combination Company #1 with a $3,000 check last Thursday.
Marshall retires from his post after 26 years with the bank in December. "It's my last year as president," said Marshall. Asked if the bank will continue to sponsor the road race, Marshall assured, "Wally will continue that."
North Middlesex Savings Bank COO and Executive Vice President Walter Dwyer will succeed Marshall at the bank. Dwyer assured "We're committed" to partnering with the Ayer firefighters.
"The bank's been on since the get-go," said Ayer Fire Captain Tim Johnston. "They've been our main supporter. It's kind of a town thing. While the bank serves the Nashoba Valley community, we've got a real good crowd coming out on Thanksgiving morning.
Dwyer ran in the road race last year and will be running again Thursday morning before attending his family's Thanksgiving feast. "Bring your mittens," said Dwyer. "Last year it was chilly."
The Thanksgiving morning forecast looks clear but cold.
"We get done real quickly," said Johnston. "You start the run at 8 a.m. and you're done in a half an hour. Then you can go eat all the food you want for the rest of the day."
"Not everybody's done in a half an hour," joked Dwyer. "My over/under is a half an hour."
"It's really become a big community event," said Johnston. "It's a great thing for the firefighters, the bank, the town and the larger area community."
Money raised through the race has gone towards multiple local initiatives and outreach from the firefighters. A perennial offering has been CPR classes for the community.
"Starting with last year's race, we've started picking a fund each year. This year it's going towards breast-cancer awareness," said Johnston. "Last year, we made a donation to military families from all branches. Each year we try to pick a different cause."
There were 500 pre-registered runners as of last Thursday. There's no limit to the number of runners who may partake in this annual traditional Thanksgiving morning race which steps off at 8 a.m.
It's a 5 kilometer (3.2 mile) race. "Anybody can run the three -- it's the 0.2 that kills you," laughed Johnston.
The race steps off from the Ayer fire station at 1 West Main St. and heads eastbound on East Main Street before hooking right before the Carlton Circle rotary. "You weave and jog through the neighborhoods on the east end," said Johnston.
Runners then "head back over the East Main Street bridge, head down Mill Street through Moore's (Lumber), up by St. Mary's Church, back onto West Main before ending just where you started," said Johnston.
Race registration can be completed online through the Ayer Fire Department website accessed through the town's website www.ayer.ma.us. Also runners can sign up Thursday morning starting at 6:45 a.m.
The race starts at 8 a.m. Whether there's sun or rain or snow, the race goes on. The course is largely flat with several short hills. Marshals will be posted throughout the course, and a water station will be provided along the way.
Last year, 715 runners crossed the finish line. The firefighters hope to beat that tally this year. Results are posted on www.active.com.
The Ayer fire station serves as a drop-off location throughout the holiday season for nonperishable food items. Food collected will be distributed to local needy families served by the Loaves & Fishes Pantry on Devens.
Combination Company #1 is the nonprofit representative of all Ayer Fire Department employees, including its EMTs and full-time and call firefighters. Donations can be sent to: Combination Company #1, Ayer Fire Department, 1 West Main St., Ayer, MA 01432.