Each month, we put the spotlight on a great local race. This month, our feature is the 2nd running of the “Robert Burns 10K”. Last week, we had the honor of interviewing Co-Race Director, Edward Swain. This week’s post reflects that conversation.
Honoring a Hero
“My Scottish heritage certainly played a factor. The date for the race doubled as the birthday of Robert Burns, a national hero of Scotland who was writing and publishing in the Scottish vernacular at a time when the English were trying to suppress the culture. This was partly a way to honor his work.”–Swain on the story behind the race name
Whether you prefer the high school track for speed work, the rolling country roads into downtown Windham for a long run, or you want to hit the trails for oneness with nature in the Presumpscot Land Preserve, the Westbrook community has a lot to offer runners.
But in the depths of a Maine winter, understandably, not a whole lot is happening on the running scene. Some switch to the skis or the snowshoes, while others see it as a precious downtime and recovery period. For the diehards, of course, the running never stops. They brave the tight, slush-covered shoulders of the roadway or throw some spikes on to handle the snowpack and hit the trails.
With all of this dispersal, Edward Swain felt it was important to organize an event that brought people together during the off-season.
“I’ve had a history of putting on some kind of unusual, wacky celebration at this time of year for that purpose. But the idea for a winter race really evolved after moving to Westbrook and running around town to get to know the neighborhoods, the business district, and the rural parts. I saw potential for a great course.”
Swain has been a fixture in the Maine running scene for quite some time and has volunteered for original races like the MDI Marathon, so it’s no surprise to see talent at the starting line (the top 3 runners crossed last year’s finish in under 33 minutes) or his creativity at work on the Robert Burns course. After a downhill loop from Bridge Street through the neighborhoods, you climb back up for another descent toward the downtown and the mill buildings, before following the golf course road back to the community center.
“It’s not grueling for the sake of being grueling, but it’s a particularly technical, challenging 10K course. For runners who know the area and get a chance to preview the course, there is certainly some strategy to be employed–you can use the terrain at various points against your competitors.”
Supporting Alternative Education
Swain is passionate about equal access and opportunity in the education system, which is why the Robert Burns 10K doubles as a fundraiser for the Alternative Education Program at Westbrook High School.
“I’ve always been a big supporter of education in general, but I wanted to help channel investments for kids that tend to get left out of a system that functions on the ‘here’s what works for most people’ model That’s where the support for the program at Westbrook High School came into the picture. When I learned about their focus on equal opportunity through alternative education, how they kept these kids engaged and steered away from dropping out, I realized, at the same age, how that easily could have been my situation. I was excited to use this race as a means to support their efforts.”
From last year’s event, they were able to donate over $2,000 to the program.
The Westbrook Connection
While Swain wondered about the influence of the obscure namesake, last year’s event exceeded his expectations, especially in terms of grassroots support throughout the Westbrook community. Municipal government was immediately on board with the proposal and the community center graciously donated space for runners to congregate before and after the race. Within the business community, the Frog and Turtle Restaurant donated gift cards as prizes for the age group winners, while the Owner of the Catbird Creamery played the bagpipes as part of the opening ceremonies. Swain was also proud of the Maine running clubs who got the word out and of the individual support–especially from Westbrook runners that he frequently saw around town.
“A lot of people run here. I see them at the track, on the loops into downtown Gorham, and on the rolling farm roads. Finally, it’s cool to have something in town for the running community to unify and organize around.”
This Year’s Race
This year’s edition takes place on Sunday, January 22nd and starts at 9:30am. The course begins and ends at the Westbrook Community Center, which is located at 426 Bridge Street.