Diverse competitors inaugurate Running Festival

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WORCESTER — Music played, a crowd applauded and cheered, and food vendors did a brisk business.


It was a festive scene Sunday at Worcester Common, not unlike what can be seen when other festivals are held there. Except that it was just 9:30 in the morning, and matters had got off to a running start about two-and-a-half hours earlier.


The first Worcester Running Festival drew about 1,100 participants of diverse ages putting themselves through their paces over a half-marathon course or a 5-kilometer run/walk, as well as a youth 1-kilometer race, all of which began and ended at Worcester Common. There was competition, but primarily “this was a peoples’ race,” said event organizer Charlie Breagy. “Everyone has personal goals.”


For John R. “Jack” Sharry of Paxton, the intent was to run his first half marathon. It was one of several goals he set for himself when he turned 70 on Dec. 24.


“It’s a great Father’s Day,” said Mr. Sharry, a member of the Worcester County Commission before it was abolished, who ran the course in 2 hours, 53 minutes. “It’s a lot of fun but a bit more difficult than running for county commissioner.”


Mr. Sharry said he had always stayed in good shape, including playing tennis, but hitting 70 brought a new evaluation. “At my age, I want to be in the best possible shape,” he said.


It no doubt helps that his son, Andy Sharry, is wellness director of the Worcester Central Community YMCA and is in charge of the YMCA MultiSport Team, which had more than 70 runners taking part in the festival.


Jack Sharry said he’s been running at the YMCA three mornings a week. With a half marathon now under his running shoes, he’s taking aim at his first full marathon in Hartford on Oct. 11.


Karen Sharpe, 47, of Sterling was also running her first half marathon. “I couldn’t even run a mile last year,” she said. Her time on Sunday of 2 hours, 15 minutes and 3 seconds was “better than I thought.”


Previously, “in good weather I’d run a little bit.” Then in July “something happened where I got the bug,” she said. “Within five weeks I was able to do a 5K.”


She has also benefitted from the YMCA and its MultiSport Team. “Without them I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do this,” she said.


Like Mr. Sharry, Ms. Sharpe now has a marathon on her mind. “A marathon before I’m 50.”


Russell Smith, 46, of Paxton said he has been running for a couple of years, “just trying to get some weight off.” For Sunday’s half-marathon run, “I was just trying to get to the finish line. I did OK. I made it to the finish line.”


It was just before 10 a.m., so his plan was to go home, take a shower, then go to church. But first he could sit at a spot on Front Street near the finish line and savor the experience. “It was beautiful,” Mr. Smith said.


Mr. Breagy said he was “very pleased” with the first Worcester Running Festival. Sponsors included National Grid, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and Bay State Savings Bank, and “the cooperation from the city of Worcester was outstanding,” he said. Volunteers came from various groups. More than 50 volunteers were on the course, Mr. Breagy said.


The course started at Worcester Common and included parts of Chandler Street, Park Avenue, Salisbury Street, June Street, Mill Street and Main Street, with runners turning onto Front Street to the finish line.


The first runners set off just after 7 a.m. At 11 a.m. some runners were still out there. Everyone was given encouragement via a loudspeaker. An EMT said there had been no incidents save for “a couple of splints and scrapes.”


By 12:30 p.m. the festival was long over and Worcester Common gave little evidence that anything major had just been going on. It was now all in the memory, and perhaps some sore muscles.

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