NEEDHAM, Mass. — When Kiko Bracker and the Needham Running Club’s Bill Gallagher drew up plans for the Needham May Day Distance Classic, they thought around a dozen local runners would show up throughout the day to log some miles and enjoy camaraderie on the trail. As it turned out, the idea was far more popular than they anticipated.
More than three-dozen runners took part in the inaugural event on Saturday, May 1, which spanned a 14-hour and 5-minute timeframe. Runners had from sunrise at 5:39 a.m. to sunset at 7:44 p.m. to complete as many laps as they wanted on a 6.6-mile course that wound on dirt trails through Cutler Park, around Kendrick Pond and alongside the Charles River. The course was unmarked but easy to navigate, and runners were encouraged to follow a map.
The low-key, no-frills event was free of charge and open to anyone who showed up and wanted to run.
“We wanted to do something where people could run together, yet be distanced and keep it safe, and there aren’t a lot of options for that,” Bracker said, referencing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that forced most races in Massachusetts to be canceled during the past year. “This gives you a lot of chances to be as safe as you wanted to be or as cautious as you wanted to be.”
In addition to the course length giving runners plenty of space to spread out, the broad timeframe accommodated spacing, too. Runners were allowed to come and go as they pleased, and the completion of loops and partial loops was done on the honor system. The goal wasn’t for runners to line up and race, rather it was to provide a space for people to run in the same place, on the same day, during a time where so many runners are longing for community.
“We tried to focus on the distance and the enjoyment rather than the speed and running exactly the right trails,” Bracker said. “If someone does a few different doglegs somewhere, that’s totally OK; it doesn’t matter. It’s just nice to be outside.”
Participants in the run came with a variety of goals. A group of Needham Running Club members moved their regular Saturday morning run to Cutler Park for a change of scenery and a bit more time with the community. For some participants, it was simply a chance to run with others and enjoy a sunny day on a scenic trail. For others, ultramarathon mileage was the goal.
“What was cool was to see some people who were going to do a 50K and some people just wanted to get one lap in,” Bracker said. “One nice thing about ultras in general is it just takes all-comers, and this was very much catering to that. With everyone running the same course and passing each other and knowing that you were sort of doing the same thing, it did create that sort of cool community.”
Of the 38 runners who took part in the May Day Distance Classic, four logged ultramarathon mileage. Three runners — Somerville resident Fernando Salcido, Brighton’s Tess Harvey, and Boston resident Dylan Stevens — all finished five loops of the course for 33 miles. Additionally, Needham resident Ed Anderson finished 4.3 laps for 28.4 miles.
Both Salcido and Harvey used the run to help prepare for other ultramarathon events later in the year. Salcido was entered in the Vermont 100, set for July, which was canceled earlier in the week, while Harvey is training for the Idaho Mountain Trail Ultra Festival (IMTUF) 100 in Idaho in September. Both Salcido and Harvey also will run the Runamuck 50K in Vermont in October.
Given the positive response from runners and the fact that turnout exceeded expectations, Bracker said he would look into making the May Day Distance Classic a regular event in the years to come.
“There was a pretty good reception to this and people like that it had no cost and that it was low-key, so I think we’ll probably continue to do this on May 1,” he said.
Runners enthusiastically welcomed the format of the event, as well as the opportunity to simply run in a community setting.
“Last year was a bust; thank you so much for making this happen,” one runner said to Bracker upon finishing his miles on Saturday afternoon, likely echoing the sentiments of many others.
For Bracker, responses like that made the day worth it.
“It’s just nice to get people together and create enjoyment that way,” he said. “It was just so simple for us to do it. Even if five to 10 people came, we said to ourselves that a day in the sun by the pond, it just can’t be that bad. But it is very rewarding to see that. Clearly there is a desire to do this kind of thing; people are itching to come out and run with other people.”