‘Don’t Run Boston’ 50K is TARC’s First In-Person Event Since Pandemic Began

MILTON, Mass. — Twenty-five years ago, Howie Breinan dug his heel into the dirt path near Houghton’s Pond and drew a starting line for the “Don’t Run Boston” 50K at the Blue Hills Reservation. It was the first official race sponsored by the young Trail Animals Running Club, and one of the earliest trail ultramarathons to exist in Massachusetts.

A quarter century after that inaugural event, Breinan once again drew a starting line with his heel on Sunday, April 18, and welcomed runners to the 25th edition of the classic event at the Blue Hills.

“It’s a great day to make friends,” Breinan said to the nine other runners gathered for the 8 a.m., start, moments before he joined them to run the course he created. Twenty-three other runners were already on the course, scattered over waves that started at 6 a.m. and 7 a.m.

A heel-drawn starting line marks the start of the “Don’t Run Boston” 50K. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra.

Much like “Don’t Run Boston” — or DRB as it is commonly known — was the first race TARC ever played host to, this year’s event held a similar distinction as being the first in-person TARC event since the COVID-19 pandemic forced races to be shut down more than a year ago. The last in-person TARC gathering was the TARCtic Frozen Yeti 30-Hour Ultra on Feb. 1-2, 2020, at Hale Reservation in Westwood, about six weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic brought in-person racing to a halt. DRB was among the canceled events in 2020. However, Breinan gave runners about a 10-day window to run the course on their own as a virtual option and 11 did so for the 24th edition of DRB.

At the start of April, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker moved the state’s reopening plan to Phase 4 which increased the number of people allowed to gather for events outdoors. That cleared the way for the Department of Conservation and Recreation to issue a permit for DRB so the 25th edition could be held in person.

DRB founder Howie Breinan leads the 8 a.m. wave of runners during a short loop before heading onto the trail to start the 25th annual “Don’t Run Boston” 50K on Sunday, April 18, 2021, at the Blue Hills Reservation. Photo by Alex Brinkert/MassUltra.

Snow fell on the Blue Hills Reservation 36 hours before race day, followed by heavy rain that washed away the white stuff but saturated the ground and left pools of water standing in several sections of the course. Still, as runners arrived at the Houghton’s Pond parking lot on Sunday morning, they were greeted with blue skies and sun that eventually turned the upper 30s/low 40s temperatures into a comfortable, 60-degree day.

Some aspects of this year’s DRB were different from years past, such as the mandatory mask-wearing at the start/finish line and aid station and scaled back aid offerings due to the ongoing pandemic. In other ways, the 25th edition of DRB shared many similarities with its original running, from the heel-drawn starting line to the small field size, to the unmarked course that required navigation by map or memory.

Another common theme was runners sticking together. Breinan typically advises newcomers to try to run with course veterans or others who’ve previewed the course in advance, hence his “good day to make friends” comment. That’s the best way to limit running bonus mileage by going off-course and backtracking, which is common for newcomers and veterans alike. The DRB founder took his own advice to heart on Sunday. He set an easy pace during the early miles and guided a pack of seven runners — most of them DRB newcomers — through the first 13 miles of the course while taking time to chat with each of them. The group slowly separated into smaller packs in the miles that followed, but most runners found at least one or two friends to stick with the rest of the way.

On his way to his 17th finish of DRB, Howie Breinan greets Norm Sheppard atop Buck Hill. Sheppard went on to finish DRB for the 10th time. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra.

Similar occurrences played out among the runners who started earlier in the morning. Many stuck together for at least the first few miles, and four of the 7 a.m. starters — Scott Baver, Chris Haley, Garrett Tietjen, and Greg Watson — spent the day running together and finished as a group in just over 7 hours and collectively tying for 12th place. Additionally, 8 a.m. starters Ari Ofsevit, Melanie McNally, and Chris Wristen spent all but about three miles together and finished as a group in 8:15, tied for 19th place.

While several runners ran in small packs throughout the day, four DRB newcomers broke free early and covered the course faster than the others. Jacob Varekamp, an 8 a.m. starter, and Jeff Beling, a 7 a.m. starter, both finished the 50K in 6:01, sharing the fastest time of the day. Meanwhile, after mastering the course during her training runs, Laura Ricci pulled away from the rest of the 8 a.m. starters within the first mile and went on to complete the 50K in 6:19, finishing as the top female and third overall runner. Ricci secured the seventh spot on the women’s course record board for her effort. Additionally, 7 a.m. starter Adam Wilcox completed his first DRB in 6:20, placing fourth overall, followed by Kevan Hauver in 6:41, both Eric Army and Adam Gallagher in 6:42, and Robert Sheehan in 6:43. Breinan and Mike Dunlop ran the full race together and tied for ninth in 6:53, followed by Dima Feinhaus in 6:56.

Of the 33 runners who started the day, 26 successfully completed the course.

DRB founder Howie Breinan leads runners up the rocky climb of Hawk Hill about 6 1/2 miles into the 25th annual “Don’t Run Boston” 50K on Sunday, April 18, 2021. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra.

Although DRB took place as an in-person event, it is unclear if the same will be the case for other TARC events in the coming months as the COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues. Given its format, DRB was uniquely organized for a socially-distanced environment when it was first created. April’s TARC Spring Classic and May’s Wapack and Back were canceled months ago due to the uncertainty of vaccine availability and the ability to obtain permits at the time. Notably, the Spring Classic typically attracts around 300 runners, at least double what would be allowed for an outdoor event under Massachusetts’ reopening plan. An announcement has not yet been made about the TARC Summer Classic, which traditionally takes place in August.

Ofsevit, Breinan Achieve the “Double”: DRB earned its name by taking place the Sunday before the Boston Marathon and offering a low-key, no-frills, trail ultra option to the highly commercialized, crowded, pavement-pounding event that draws thousands of runners from around the world. Still, a handful of DRB participants have pulled off the “double” by running DRB on Sunday followed by the Boston Marathon the next day. The marathon has been pushed to the fall this year due to the pandemic, but DRB newcomer Ari Ofsevit still managed to pull it off. After running DRB in 8:15 on Sunday, he completed a solo run on the actual Boston Marathon course on what would have been Marathon Monday, finishing in 4:15. Another “double” that some have pulled off is the Traprock 50K in Connecticut on Saturday, followed by DRB on Sunday. Breinan achieved that feat this year, running Traprock in 8:38 and DRB in 6:53.

Runners make their way toward the observatory tower on the Skyline Trail during the 25th annual “Don’t Run Boston” 50K. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra.

Newcomers and Veterans: Of the 26 runners who finished the 50K in 2021, 20 were DRB newcomers. Breinan earned his 17th DRB finish, the most of anybody in event history. Joining him in climbing the all-time finisher’s board were Norm Sheppard who notched his 10th finish (tied for fifth on the all-time list), and Haley — the TARC founder– who completed DRB for the ninth time. Additionally, Dietmar Bago secured his eighth finish, Garrett Tietjen finished for the fourth year in a row, and Chris Wristen finished DRB for the third time.

No 50-Mile Finishers: While Sunday marked the 25th edition of the DRB 50K, it also was the 12th running of the DRB 50-miler. Four runners expressed their intent to run the 50-miler, but only one — Todd Chiaramida — showed up to the starting line. He ultimately dropped after 26 miles. Only one runner completed the 50-miler during the 2020 virtual event, and Tyler Silverman did so over the course of three days.

Three-time DRB finisher Chris Wristen, left, and first-time DRB finishers Melanie McNally and Ari Ofsevit cross the finish line of the 25th annual “Don’t Run Boston” 50K on Sunday, April 18, 2021. Photo by Alex Brinkert/MassUltra.

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