GROTON -- The thundering crunch of more than 2,000 running shoes on the roads surrounding Groton-Dunstable Middle School echoed through the air. The Groton Road Race went off without a hitch Sunday as Boston pride and American spirit were on full display.
For 22 years, the town of Groton has transformed from your typical rural New England town to a pilgrimage for many in the local running community. The sun was shining down on Groton for the running of the Tots' Trot 2K, 5K and the 10K events.
Susan McKenna lives near the starting line of the race, and she said that Sunday was a "Norman Rockwellesque day."
"It's really kind of a special day for a small town," said McKenna. "It is a family event, and it brings a lot of people together, especially after the Marathon tragedy."
Police from the surrounding communities of Billerica, Winthrop, Belmont and many other towns were on every corner performing routine bag checks to make sure the day was safe and enjoyable for all.
Groton resident and Squannacook River Runners Association member Howard Hersey finished his first Boston Marathon two weeks ago and was in the medical tents receiving treatment when the bombs went off.
"It was my first time running the Boston Marathon," said Hersey. "I had a memorable experience finishing just before the blast and was actually in the medical tent when they brought the victims in. I saw the whole aftermath firsthand, and this has been a really difficult period for the whole running community."
Hersey completed the 10K alongside Squannacook River Runners Association president and Shirley resident Kerri Chartier, who ran with a sign that read "Runners united for Boston." Chartier said she received loud applause from fellow runners and spectators.
"Neither of us really felt like racing today," said Chartier on her and Hersey's decision to race in the wake of the Marathon bombings. "Carrying the sign was a little bit cathartic. It was really great to see the response from the people on the sidelines, and seeing all the police officers on location from neighboring towns who were actually in Boston. It gave us an opportunity to express our gratitude."
Hersey said the Groton Road Race is an important tool in reassuring the running community that the sport is still safe in the aftermath of the April 15 tragedy.
"(Squannacook River Runners) are trying to provide support and reinforcement that the sport is healthy," said Hersey. "No one is going to stop us from doing what we love. As a show of solidarity and strength, we decided to carry the banner for the entire 6.2 miles of the 10K course. If we can show support for the law enforcement professionals and emergency workers who have done so much, that's what it is all about."
15-year-old Jarryd Wick of Ayer has been competing in the race since he was 9-years old, and said running the race is a tradition for him.
"I am running today because it is one of the first races I ever finished," said Wick while wearing a blue and yellow Boston Strong T-Shirt. "My plan is to do the Boston Marathon when I am 18 years old. I was at the half marathon point, and I had gotten home about 20 minutes before the bombs went off. We turned to the news and I was devastated. It is the Boston Marathon. That's not supposed to happen."
In the 5K event, Gardner's Sean Duncan took first place with his time of 16:02. For the women, the top finisher was Taryn Sleger of Luenburg with a time of 18:13.
The 10K overall top finisher was Lowell's Peter Omae Ayieni with a time of 32:49. In the female race, Katie Moulton of Providence,R.I. strode in with an impressive time of 38:15.
"This is our signature event," said Chartier. "With this being the first major event after the marathon, it was really important for us to bring the community together. It was a great day, and I don't know how it could have went any more perfect."
To see where you or your favorite runner placed in Sunday's 5K and 10K events, visit coolrunning.com and search Groton Road Race.