Race Against Homelessness

Alex Taylor, 32, awoke at a time on Saturday morning most people pretend doesn’t exist on the weekends. He donned a pair of running shorts and a bright yellow tank top, a stunning choice considering the chilly weather outside. He made his way to Davis Square and signed his name on a piece of paper and began to walk around, anticipating his first race since a year and a half, when he injured himself for overtraining for marathons.

A couple hours later, Taylor finishes first in the 17th Annual Somerville Homeless Coalition 5K Road race, with a time of 15:14. “I’m really happy about [my time],” he said. Taylor runs in many faux marathons, ran the Boston Marathon five times, and even travels around the world to run in races. But he continues to run this particular race ever since he first saw a flyer years ago. “I think it’s the cause,” Taylor said. “It’s a great cause to help the homeless.”

Mark Alston-Follansbee, the Executive Director of the Somerville Homeless Coalition, said this race is one of the three largest events the coalition puts on every year. Seventy-five volunteers work to help with registration and the popular brunch offered at the end of the race, and almost half of the 35-staffed SHC working on the event, preparing as early as May to get sponsors involved.

Seventeen years ago a bar in Somerville called “The Bullpit,” began the event to help out the coalition. The bar was eventually shut down but the race was continually supported by other businesses in the area. The 5K now averages about 1,000 runners a year. This year about 900 runners were registered, and with most of the revenue coming from sponsors, the SHC raised about $14,000 to put toward the $600,000 they need to raise each year.

Though Alston-Follansbee wasn’t able to work on the day of this race, he’s worked in the past 12. “What’s fun about runners is that they have their own mentality,” he said. “Some are very goal-oriented, while others come and want to be supportive.”

John Byrd, 39, is a bartender for two bars in Boston and has a hand in speed-racing and also made this 5K his comeback from an injury to his leg during endurance training. “It’s a nice thing to do for the homeless,” he said, but also was influenced by the professional timing mat the race uses to give runners their exact time.

Nelly Do, 24, a med student at Harvard Medical School, heard about the race on racewire.com. She’s been in Boston for just one year, but has run several races, including one to fundraise a women’s softball team and another to promote suicide awareness. With runners paying registration fees for multiple races a year, the costs can get pretty steep for a recreational runner. “It does get pretty pricey,” Do said, and then laughed. “Sometimes it forces you to get up that morning.”

As for the winner of the 5K, Taylor, he plans to come to the race again next year, and if the SHC has their way, there will be a thousand more runners following him.

-Sarah Black

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