By John Dodds
Many of you are probably wondering about the state of the sport of ultrarunning nowadays. Some of you say might say that the good ol’ days are gone. Those were the days where ultrarunning was “low-key,” to use a familiar phrase. Those were the days where people just got together for a long run on the trails. But then someone thought it would be a good idea to hold races, publicize them beforehand to induce participation, and report the results to magazines and newspapers afterwards. Running clubs were formed (or sections of clubs were formed) for trail running, which is really nothing other than ultrarunning, given the distance of trail runs. There is even a publication called “Ultrarunning” not to mention an ultrarunning email list. To make matters worse, it seems that nowadays there is some ultrarunner “media slut” on the cover of some book or newspaper. Well, let me tell you about a trail run (yes, it is an ultramarathon as well) that is held every year on the Blue Hills Reservation just outside Boston. It’s called the Don’t-Run-Boston 50K, a moniker that seems to symbolize a certain snootiness toward the traditional roadrunners who aspire to such weird goals like running the Boston marathon. The run is held on Sunday, the day before the Boston marathon in April. I know that you are keenly interested in this run, so let me tell you how it came to pass this year that I intended to – but did not – run the Don’t-Run-Boston 50K.
Aunt Hulda. Many of my stories involve Gary, and this one is no exception. You see, Gary ran the Chicago marathon with the sole goal of qualifying for the Boston marathon. I know many of you are shocked by this “sell out” by an esteemed member of the VHTRC, but such is life. Gary did indeed qualify for Boston. He knows that I run the Boston marathon every year and that I am able to get a “good deal” on lodging and travel arrangements for the race, so we decided to drive up to Boston together and stay at a super-secret military installation while we were there. On the way up, we stopped to visit and have lunch with Gary’s aunt who is 92 years old and lives with her son John. Her name is Aunt Hulda. I learned a lot about the Kniplings in the course of eating a ham sandwich and potato salad; unfortunately, most of that information can’t be repeated here. However, I can share with you that the Kniplings were originally from Texas, that the families around here are referred to as the “Washington Kniplings”; and that the Washington Kniplings don’t pronounce the “K” in “Knipling.” That’s why we know Gary as a “Nipling”; in his case, the “K” is silent – like in the word “knucklehead” (if you know what I mean).
Plans for the DRB 50 K. The Don’t-Run-Boston 50K, being the low-key ultrarunning event that it is, has achieved such notoriety as to have its own abbreviation. The cognoscenti refer to it as the DRB 50K. Ultrarunners seem to have a knack (notice the silent “k”) for wanting to run as many miles as possible in a day, week, month (pick your own time period) to later impress other runners on the eve of some race by saying, “Last week I ran 534 miles; do you think I’m undertrained?” Anyway, the Boston marathon this year had ample time between the required Bull Run Run 50-Miler – this year it was 9 days; every other year, it is 2 days. With all this rest, I thought I might run part of the DRB, and in talking to Steve Pero, he gave me several mileage alternatives. I decided I would run the 16-mile option, and when I told Gary about it, he decided to do the same. We were told that Sue Johnston, a not-as-well-known member of the club, would also be running the DRB and, God forbid, the Boston marathon. I’m sure there are some of you who might be finding out for the first time that Sue actually ran the Boston marathon and are appalled by this fact. But it might help you to know that Sue ran as a bandit, so she didn’t really sell out (technically).
I think I ran the BRR 50 a little too quickly because my legs were sore for several days following the run. To make matters worse, by Saturday, the day we left for Boston, I had absolutely no desire or the energy to run at all, either the BRR 50 or the Boston marathon. This situation didn’t improve by Sunday morning. Since I was so fatigued, I decided I wouldn’t run any part of the DRB 50K.
DRB Pre-run Activities. Since the DRB is a low-key event, there are no scheduled pre-run activities. The photo at the right shows a spur-of-the-moment photo op for some members of the club with the RD. Note the matching jackets by Deb and Sue (isn’t that cute?). I think Deb is wearing her pajama bottoms if I’m not mistaken (she has such a flair for fashion). I’m smiling because I know I’m not running the race. In fact, I was soon headed out to a great local breakfast place for my traditional day-before-the-marathon breakfast of pancakes and sausage.
With the start of the run fast approaching, it was soon time for the runners to change into their low-key ultrarunning attire. In the ol’ days, that would have been an all-cotton outfit, consisting of a ratty t-shirt, torn shorts, and Converse sneakers (socks, although optional, would likewise be cotton). But check out Deb and Sue in the photo at right. When Gary first saw this picture, he said, “Nice logos” (if you know what I mean). But please don’t take away the impression from this photograph that ultrarunners would stoop so low as to promote corporate greed and profit. I’m sure they both have good explanations as to their wardrobe selections. Note the technical shirts, microfiber shorts, fanny packs with water bottles, technical gloves and socks, and the ubiquitous Montrail shoes. I just want to know if there’s anybody around here who doesn’t wear Montrail trail running shoes? Actually, I for one wear North Face trail shoes. You might recall that North Face is the official sponsor for some sort of run in California called Western $tates.
The run itself. Roadrunners, or “road warriors” as they are referred to by trail runners, are slaves to the clock. They are the ones who stop their watches at traffic lights during a run. You can always tell a new trail running convert when he stops his watch as he lines up in the queue to cross a stream. Ultrarunners, on the other hand, are simply just not into time (to borrow an expression from the ‘60s). Since the DRB 50K was just a low-key ultrarun with no start time and no cutoff time, I was a little surprised when all the runners “set their watches” at the beginning of the run. And I hate to share this with you, but the “results” were actually posted on the web.
I was glad to see the runners off because I beat a hasty retreat to the local restaurant where I had a very enjoyable and relaxing breakfast. I would tell you all about the run, but since I didn’t do any part of it, you’ll just have to ask Gary what it was like. He did indeed run the first 16 miles. You can get some idea of the run by looking at one of the photos Gary took. This looks like the perfect taper run for the Boston marathon the next day.
The next day. It was a nice warm sunny day (72 degrees). Not much really happened this day except Sue, Gary, and I ran the Boston marathon. Before the race, Gary and I were strolling around Hopkinton when we came across Sue sitting on a bench in front of a church. We all headed back to the local high school to hang out before the race. While there are many porta potties in Hopkinton, there are also a lot of runners. Hopkinton was swarming with cops to keep the runners from peeing in non-designated places, such as people’s yards or on the high school grounds. Below is a picture of Sue and Gary with what Sue called a “pee cop.” The biggest thrill of the day was when Sue and Gary were each able to pee behind a scrawny tree at the high school without being detected by the pee cops.
After that we headed to our respective corrals. Gary carried his mango bikini bottoms and managed to offend a number of women runners during the race by asking them if the bottoms were theirs (I guess they weren’t trail runners, who don’t seem to mind this kind of behavior). I ran a PR that day and would have run faster but there was some skinny kid ahead of me clogging up the course by holding a camera above his head and taking pictures backwards. I’d like to find out what running club he’s a member of and report him to the officials of that club. Sue used the DRB 50K and the Boston marathon as a springboard to a fantastic finish at MMT with a women’s course record of 22:39.
Final thoughts. Well, I hope that gives you some idea of what it’s like not to run the DRB 50K. Then there’s the matter whether ultrarunning is really a low-key sport (or should be). I think the jury is still out on that one.