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“I love everything Pioneers Run Crew has done for me,” says Frances Ramirez, holding her forearm up to the camera, showing off the club’s logo tattooed in thick, black type.
Like a first love, she wanted to commemorate the crew she dedicates so much of her life to, enough for it to easily be considered a part-time job. Ramirez is one captain of five, who are dedicated to showing Bostonians that healthy living doesn’t have to be expensive; that running is for everyone; and that running is a way to make friends and join a community.
“I didn’t know there was a running culture until I was in it,” says Jeremy Guevara, another of Pioneers’ co-captains.
When you talk about running in Boston, where the crew is located, it’s hard not to think about the Marathon. It brings thousands of people to the city every April (or October, as was the case in 2021). But Ramirez and Guevara note that the Boston Marathon isn’t really running Boston.
If you’re familiar with the course then you already know that the race starts in the neighboring town of Hopkinton and runs East. Runners don’t enter Boston proper until the final quarter of the marathon.
“Boston is home. It’s where I want to be,” says Ramirez. But it’s not always seen in the truest light. The picture portrayed by the Boston Marathon can look homogenous and largely inaccessible through cost and qualifying standards.
The PRC captains know the city has more diversity to highlight. Ramirez will hear people remark that BIPOC people don’t live in Boston, a statement that really gets to her. “I hate when my Black and brown friends say there are no Black and brown people in Boston,” says Ramirez, whose parents are originally from Nicaragua.
Showing off Boston through a true lens of what it is and who lives there is what the PRC hoped to accomplish when they launched 26.True.
26.True is an unsanctioned marathon that actually traverses the streets of Boston, similar to how the New York City Marathon tours the five boroughs.
The first race was put on during the pandemic as a way for people who were going to run the Boston Marathon virtually to still gather and celebrate, but also learn something new.
This year, the second iteration of the event will take place on April 16, two days before Marathon Monday. “Come experience our city our way,” writes Barak Soreff, another PRC captain in a poem on the event page.
The route will be the same as last year, only run in reverse, starting and finishing at Malcolm X Park in the Roxbury neighborhood. It highlights what they as locals call the hidden gems of the city, their favorite running routes that are often overlooked.
“Why is no one running on them?” asks Guevara. You’re more likely to find runners downtown near the Charles River—areas that are perceived to be safer.
Highlights of the route include Jamaica Plain, Hyde Park, Dorchester, South Boston, Chinatown, Back Bay, Allston, and South End neighborhoods.
The unsanctioned marathon will not have streets blocked off, but will still have many of the amenities you want in a race, including course marshalls ushering runners in the right direction and hydration stations every 2.5 miles. Still, coordinators of the event will tell you that it is more than a race: It is a storytelling experience along every turn through the historic neighborhoods.
While Guevara was helping put on the first event, Ramirez had an opportunity to run it. “Personally, it’s very emotional for me,” she says. “It told my story. How are we going to relate to people if we’re not telling our own story?”
Her favorite portion of the race was running along Dorchester Avenue, which the locals call Dot Ave.
But don’t get them wrong: Boston Marathon has its place in the local running culture, too. After all, it’s been around for a long time—126 years. And PRC has a presence there, too, with runners representing, a cheer zone at mile 21, and hosting a pre-race shake out and panel discussion on Sunday.
The Pioneers Run Crew is a testament to the importance of place and how connecting to our space can help us feel a sense of belonging—that the things you want aren’t necessarily elsewhere. And for runners, you don’t need to go searching for a group of runners elsewhere. “You don’t have to leave,” says Guevara. Instead, you can build that group (or the race) you want right where you are.