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    A running start toward some life lessons

    From left: Lance Laird, Charlie Harper, Theresa Brennan, and Daquan Cater neared the end of Sunday’s 2.62-mile race.
    Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe
    From left: Lance Laird, Charlie Harper, Theresa Brennan, and Daquan Cater neared the end of Sunday’s 2.62-mile race.

    Brandon Desilva’s curly mohawk bobbed through crowds of runners along the edge of the Boston Common.

    Desilva glided with long strides, pumping his arms steadily as he rounded the corner near Beacon and Charles streets. He breezed past other racers as spectators cheered him on.

    Just 14 years old, Desilva looked like a seasoned runner, but the race around the park on Sunday — the 2.62-mile Common Man’s Marathon — was his first.


    The race, organized by the Downtown Boston Rotary Club, was a noncompetitive event, but Desilva placed third out of all boys, clocking a time of just over 16 minutes.

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    “Since it’s my first time running, I’m really proud of myself,” he said.

    But for Desilva and more than 60 other participants, the goal of the program is more than just a speedy time. Sole Train pairs kids from different Boston neighborhoods with adult mentors, aiming to build community and show teens how they can achieve daunting goals. The young runners practice two or three times a week, and they participate in multiple races, building up to either a half-marathon or 5-mile run at the end of the year.

    “If we can bring people together in a supportive, safe environment to run together, we can bridge the divides that exist across different areas of Boston,” said Jessica Leffler, Sole Train’s executive director.

    Quinton Hurd Jr., 17, of Quincy said he has worked with Sole Train for about four years, not so much for the running, but because he likes meeting new people and making friends.


    “I feel like we’re all in unison; it doesn’t matter if you’re from Roxbury, Dorchester, Hyde Park,” Hurd said. “I feel like here, we’re all a family.”

    The Common Man’s Marathon took place just blocks from the Boston Marathon finish line, where three people died and scores more were wounded in bombings two weeks ago. The attack was on the minds of some Sole Train runners on Sunday, but it did not loom over the event.

    David Delmar, 28, of Jamaica Plain is a mentor with the program who ran in the Boston Marathon two weeks ago. The young man he mentored last year joined him near Coolidge Corner for part of the Marathon.

    “It was amazing,” Delmar said. “He was telling me the same words of encouragement and stuff that I was telling him back in October.”

    Delmar wore a blue-and-yellow Boston Marathon jacket Sunday and said he has relished the outpouring of support that followed the bombings.


    “Sometimes I wish that the sort of camaraderie that came out of the Boston Marathon lasted a little longer or extended to other parts of the community that needed it,” Delmar said.

    Programs like Sole Train can help bring people together, he said.

    “Everybody in their own way, I think, has been shaken by the events two weeks ago,” Leffler said. “We’re saying we’re going to come together and remember that running in a community should be a safe, supportive, invigorating, fun thing.”

    Sole Train works to expand the running community by attracting students from a number of local schools as well as juvenile offenders through the state Department of Youth Services, Leffler said.

    Part of the program’s mission is to raise awareness about and prevent the violence that some of the city’s teens face daily.

    The runner that Delmar mentored last year was involved with Sole Train through the Department of Youth Services, and he is now out of custody and working on a degree at a Boston technical college.

    “I got to see him discover talent that he never knew he had,” Delmar said.

    Desilva, the 14-year-old first-time racer, said the program has in some ways already helped him to become a mentor himself. He said he lives in a section of Dorchester that is “kind of a bad neighborhood,” and Sole Train offers him a chance to be a leader for his peers.

    “I can set an example,” he said. “I can get out of that neighborhood. I can be a runner, be a part of a family, a group, a community. Just have fun.”

    Zachary T. Sampson can be reached at

    Correction:Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story misidentified the organizer of the Common Man’s Marathon. It was put on by the Downtown Boston Rotary Club.