About the Firecracker 5K

The 2021 Firecracker 5K, hosted by PR Races, celebrated its 12th anniversary on Independence Day. It was my 9th consecutive year of running what has become one of my favorite races, and it was fabulous running it live this year after having to complete it virtually last year. I can’t think of a better way to kick off the celebration of our nation’s birthday than with a fun morning of hanging out and running with my friends. Race organizers made a donation to the USO-Metro with proceeds from the race.


Holding Out on Registering

It’s always something, and this year I held out on registering for the race until after seeing my dermatologist to have a squamous cell carcinoma removed from the top of my left shoulder just two days prior to the event. I was concerned that he wouldn’t want me running for fear of pulling my stitches, but he gave me his blessings as long as I didn’t pump my arms too wildly. I think his words were, “as long as you don’t swing your left arm.” LOL


Packet Pickup

One of my sons goes to a gym in Reston Town Center so I asked him to pick up my packet while at the gym. Luckily for me, he had stopped by for a visit on Saturday afternoon and dropped off my shirt and bib.

For once I guessed and ordered the correct size and didn’t have to exchange it after the race. I love the women’s cut and appreciate it when a race makes the effort to please both men and women.

Shirt front…


Shirt back…


Ready to Run

I arrived at Reston Town Center around 7:30 for the 8 AM race. Somehow in the process of pinning on my bib and spraying myself thoroughly with sunscreen, I set my sunglasses back in my car and didn’t miss them until I’d walked several blocks from the parking garage to the race venue. Even with my visor pulled down I knew the sun would bother me, but decided to suck it up and not go back and get my sunglasses.

After a quick trip to the line-free indoor restroom, I bumped into my friend Erin as I was making my way back to the designated spot for our MRTT pre-race picture. Somehow I lost Erin, but found the rest of our chapter’s ladies for the picture.


As I walked from behind toward the starting line of the race I couldn’t help but notice that the crowd of runners didn’t reach back nearly as far as in recent years. I self seeded back slightly farther than in previous years based on my goal of running an average pace of 8:45. Once the race started, though, I realized I’d made a mistake because I was immediately dodging walkers who had placed themselves near the front.

A local high school Army ROTC marched to the front of the race start arch with the American and Virginia flags for the singing of the National Anthem. It’s a nice touch that this race does every year.


And We’re Off!

Promptly at 8 AM with the temperature a delightful 67°, we officially began our Independence Day celebration with the start of the 2021 Firecracker 5K.


Once we’d spread out slightly, I pulled out my GoPro (affiliate link) for the first of only a few pictures I’d take along the course.


The Course

This is not only the course for the Firecracker 5K, but also for the Run with Santa 5K – over the years I’ve run it 13 times. I’d describe the course as rolling hills and not too difficult; however, the race does finish on a gradual uphill and that always makes things a little interesting! The fact that I’ve raced this course so many times certainly helps in not having any surprises along the way.

Map credit: PR Races


The following elevation chart makes the course look extremely hilly; however, when the hills are squished into a 3.1-mile chart they look a lot steeper than they really are and our total elevation gain was only 91 feet.


The First Mile

Despite the appearance of steep hills on the elevation chart above, the first third of the first mile seems relatively flat, followed by a short uphill section and then finally a more rolling hill section.

Early into the first mile I saw my friend Erin and pulled out the GoPro for the only picture we’d get of the two of us that day.


I finished the first mile with a time of 8:34 and feeling pretty good. I definitely started out slower by being farther back in the pack.


Moving on to Mile 2

I’d describe the second mile as starting out with a few gently rolling hills followed by the majority of the mile being on a comfortable downhill grade.

I knew to look for my friend Cheryl who had told me she’d be taking race photos at that point. She caught me swinging my left arm a little too much. Shhh, don’t tell my doctor.


Before we knew it, we were at the water stop and I immediately noticed that instead of water cups, mini water bottles were set out for us – another change due to Covid. As I mentioned earlier, I know this race course well, and look forward to this water stop that’s located near the halfway point.


After the water stop, we headed down my favorite section of the course, a nice long downhill. I finished mile two with a time of 8:22, taking advantage gliding down as much of the downhill section as possible.


Continuing Along Mile 3 and To the Finish Line

The third mile continues as mostly flat, but at the halfway point of the mile, it starts a noticeable uphill climb which always annoys me. I was really feeling tired as we started up the short hill so I mentally divided the rest of the race into sections. I found a few people to pick off as I closed in on the end of the third mile and as soon as we turned onto Market Street, we could see the finish line in the distance. As we climbed that gradual, but noticeable hill, we passed the 3-mile marker and with a glance I noted I’d slowed slightly to a 8:44 for the third mile.


After passing mile marker 3 I focused on running my fastest, but without pumping my arms too wildly and finished the final .1 mile at a 7:20 pace. That little guy came out of nowhere and flew past me. Had I not been focused on keeping my arms in check, I would have at least tried to keep up with him.


My official time was 26:31 (8:32 pace) and I finished 3rd out of 21 in my age group. The second place finisher beat me by just 2 seconds with a time of 26:29 – argh! My Garmin (affiliate link) was spot on with the mile markers; however, I didn’t turn it off until I had taken a few steps across the finish line. According to my Garmin, I ran 3.12 miles with a time of 26:34 (8:31 pace) and my splits were…

  • • Mile 1 – 8:34
  • • Mile 2 – 8:22
  • • Mile 3 – 8:44
  • • Final .1 mile – 7:20 pace


Post-Race Fun

After the race and while milling around looking for my friends, I saw Ecris, a staple in the Reston running community. We’ve known each other since I worked at The Health Club of Reston and we estimated that we go back about 30 years.


Next I ran into Allison who was in town visiting family. It was so nice to see her and meet her daughter! We hadn’t seen each other since we ran the 2014 Reston 10 Miler together.


Planning Ahead for Medal Monday

Because the race could also be run virtually, medals were included in our race packets, but I’d planned ahead and brought my medal with me just for this picture to post for #MedalMonday on Instagram. After chatting with my friends, I cooled down by walking back to the parking garage to retrieve both my medal and my sunglasses.


Hopeful that my pace had placed me in the top three of my age group, I hung around for the awards ceremony. After focusing so much on cycling and not running more than 3.1 miles a couple of times a week all spring, I was thrilled to snag third place! The third place award is a $10 gift certificate to Potomac River Running Store.


Shoutout to the Winners

Finishing while I was still running my second mile was Gregory Mariano from Alexandria, VA who won the race with a time of 15:39 (5:03 pace). Winning the women’s division was Hannah Kellogg of Alexandria, VA with a time of 17:53 (5:46 pace). Congrats, Gregory and Hannah!


Final Thoughts

After virtually walking last year’s race due to an injury and the pandemic, it was fun to start Independence Day off in person and with a bang at the 2021 Firecracker 5K. If you live in Northern Virginia and are looking for something fun for the morning of the Fourth of July, join me in running this great race next year. Potomac River Running never disappoints!


  • • Did you run a race on Independence Day?
  • • Do your wear themed outfits or colors for holiday races?
  • • How did you celebrate our Nation’s birthday?


Disclaimer:  This post contains affiliate links which means if you click on the blue product link and then make a purchase, I will receive a commission for referring you. You will pay no more or less for the product; however, Amazon will show their gratitude for my referral by paying me.