The thought strikes me about 10 minutes into the event, as the humidity begins to wrap itself around me like an oversized, wet blanket. As far as family traditions go, the Firecracker 5K in Sebring, Florida ranks as one of our more interesting.
As a life-long distance runner, waking up at the crack of dawn on July 4th to participate in a road race while battling stifling heat and humidity doesn’t faze me much. I’ve finished the famous Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta a few times, granted it’s a 10K, 6.2-mile race known for brutal conditions.
Several years back, my sister-in-law discovered a 5K race existed about 20 minutes from my in-laws lake place and floated the idea of including it in our annual weeklong July 4th family festivities. The race fit right in with our typical boating, corn hole and ping-pong tournaments, egg toss, sack race, trying to blow ourselves up with fireworks traditions.
I’m not sure we greeted the idea with 100 percent approval, but we did it. And for the better part of the last seven or eight years, some grouping of our family has participated in the race.
Let me get this out of the way first. It’s not Peachtree.
The Firecracker 5K is only 3.1 miles. It also exists in South Central Florida where hills are about as common as snowflakes. The course winds around Highlands Hammock State Park where racers are given phenomenal views of hardwoods and pines, palm trees and scrub trees as they wind their way through sandy and paved paths.
The typical race start temperature hovers around 78 to 82 degrees and is often accompanied by humidity of what seems to be about 2,000 percent. Roughly 100 to 150 participants tackle the event each year and over our run (pun intended) at the event we’ve sometimes supplied double-digit participants.
Over the years our core group of myself, my wife, Tara, brother-in-law, Matt, sister-in-laws, Lena and Luciana, has competed multiple times. And while none of us have set the course on fire, we’ve often had at least one or two of us bring home age group trophies or medals.
The fun parts about the race aren’t the course or the conditions, but the camaraderie it builds. Like when one of us declares very loudly that, “I’m not going to run that darn race ever again. Why do we even run it?”
This usually happens sometime on July 3rd and on July 4th at about 5:30 a.m. as we drag ourselves out of bed. No one is brave enough at the time to remind my sister-in-law that she started the tradition.
One of the most enjoyable aspects has been having extra family members join us in the endeavor. Both of my daughters have run it, as has my niece Mellu. My mother-in-law and aunt-in-law have also participated, as has a family member from Spain. All three of them brought home awards when they participated.
Numerous cousins have run as well, although three male cousins, including one who played collegiate basketball, have been conspicuously absent. They participate in all other July 4th festivities but have yet to be part of the race.
Perhaps the greatest feat of any of us at the race came from my wife’s cousin, Kenny. Kenny isn’t a runner and probably wasn’t in great shape at the time, but he and his youngest daughter decided to join us in the event one year.
Before the mile mark his daughter had had enough. The problem was the course doesn’t allow an easy way out. Once you get past the mile mark it’s almost faster to finish the course than retrace your steps.
Undaunted Kenny, who was wearing a non-traditional running outfit of cotton t-shirt and blue jean shorts at the time, hefted his daughter on his shoulders and ran/walked the rest of the race even outkicking a few people near the finish line.
While he didn’t win an age group award that day, I feel like his effort should go down in race history as one of the most heroic.
One year, I ran a decent time, grabbed an age group medal and had the race director congratulate me on my outstanding time. Too bad the time was almost two minutes slower than I recorded the previous year.
Another key staple of the race is to make sure we dress up in as much red, white and blue, star-spangled goodness as possible. I’m talking sacs, shorts, tank tops, sweat bands, bandanas, face tattoos, etc… The idea is to get as many compliments as possible on our festive attire, because honestly we may not get many comments on our times.
And grabbing the post race photo with the family members, who braved the race, is a necessity. So each July 4th our Facebook pages are swamped with photos of our group dressed very patriotically while looking tired and sweaty. But the key aspect of those photos has to be the huge smiles on our faces.
No matter how much we whine and complain leading up to the race or the morning of the race, we always come together and finish it. And although we may all say never again somewhere before, during or even after the race, we know we’ll be back the next year. Because that’s with you do with traditions, even the odd ones that not everyone fully embraces.