MILTON, Mass. – A grin stretched across Howie Breinan’s face as he stood alongside 16 other runners a few dozen yards from Houghton’s Pond. It was 6 a.m., on Saturday, April 16, and a thin coating of clouds dusted the sky at this twilight hour.
At Breinan’s feet was a familiar sight, a starting line he dug with his heel – something he’s done so many times through the years on this very spot. Also familiar were the eager smiles and anxious expressions on the faces of the runners gathered around him. Some had been here before; others were newbies who had no idea what they’d gotten themselves into. They were about to find out – as would another 10 runners who would start from the same spot two hours later.
“All right, it looks like it’s going to be a nice day,” Breinan said as he gazed out over the pond before turning to his fellow runners at the starting line. “You ready to have some fun?”
After a quick 3-2-1 countdown, the runners unleashed a yeti howl and headed on their way.
With that, the 26th edition of the Trail Animals “Don’t Run Boston” 50K and 13th edition of the 50-miler were underway.
In the hours that followed, a typically challenging day unfolded as the runners took on the same course at the Blue Hills Reservation that Breinan designed more than a quarter-century earlier as the original Trail Animals Running Club event. The course remains nearly identical to its original version, save for minor re-routes when the Department of Conservation and Recreation has closed trails due to erosion. The route remains unmarked, requiring runners to carry a map, practice and memorize the route in advance, or stick with a veteran who knows the way.
In typical DRB fashion, several runners got lost and a few dropped after finding themselves too far off-course to confidently continue or finish before the reservation closed. Also true to DRB tradition, new friendships were forged as some runners teamed up to tackle the course together on the day-long adventure through the woods.
Runners enjoyed one of the driest years for DRB in recent memory with the swamp crossing easy to navigate around through holes in a fence and the swamp-before-the-swamp reduced to an easily navigable mud patch stretching about 50 yards across and equal distance wide. Paired with the dry trail conditions was one of the warmest years in DRB history and the warmest since 2012 when runners endured similar conditions and temperatures with lows in the 50s and highs in the low- to mid-70s. Runners also faced similar temperatures in 2002, 2005, 2006 and 2008. The 2001 DRB remains the hottest on record; runners had two weekends to run the course that year, and one weekend saw temperatures soar into the 80s.
The 50K race has always been the “main event” at DRB as it was the original distance and course. Of the 27 runners who took part in DRB this year, 22 successfully completed the 50K course. The top overall finisher, 38-year-old Boston resident Laura Ricci, nearly made DRB history with her performance. A year after finishing third overall and topping the women’s field in 6:19 during her DRB debut, Ricci returned to the race having done even more homework on the course. She started in the 8 a.m. wave, but eventually caught and passed several of the 6 a.m. starters on her way to an overall victory in 5:55. Despite making a few wrong turns and having to backtrack, Ricci missed matching Elise DeRoo’s women’s course record time of 5:53 from 2017 by just two minutes as she turned in the second-fastest women’s mark in event history.
Topping the men’s field and tying for second overall for 50K were 2021 champion Jacob Varekamp, 47, of Norwell, Mass., and 36-year-old Connecticut resident Joshua Cave in 5:57. Brenner Burkholder, 26, of Worcester, Mass., finished fourth overall in 6:12, followed by Carolyn Harper, 30, of Somerville, Mass., in 6:28. Breinan, 53, of Manchester, Conn. (6:57) and William McElroy, 45, of North Reading (6:58) were the only other runners to complete the 50K in less than seven hours. Sarah Kleinschmidt, 38, of Northampton, Mass., was the third women’s finisher in 7:11.
The largest pack of runners to navigate the course together was a group of five – Norwood, Mass., residents Alexandra Brinkert, 35, and Chris Wristen, 41; Julia Magnusson, 50, of Maynard, Mass.; Donovan Sullivan, 30, of Quincy, Mass.; and Frank Corrao, 45, of Franklin, Mass., ran the entire race together and finished as a group in 8:12. Long-time DRB veterans Kevin Mullen, 64, of Fairhaven, Mass., and Bob Najar, 65, of Portsmouth, N.H., also stuck together for the duration and finished in 10:01.
Ten of the runners who began the day started with the declared intention to run the 50-mile distance. Of those who had that aspiration, just five ultimately finished. Varekamp and Cave tied for the win in 9:54, with Varekamp playing tour guide throughout the day after mastering the course with months of preparation. Only three runners have finished the course faster (Josh Katzman three times, Scott Traer once, Ben Eysenbach once). Harper finished third overall and first among the women in 11:25; it was her fourth time finishing the DRB 50-miler which moved her into a tie for third for most DRB 50-mile finishes. Breinan followed in 11:27 for his record ninth finish of the 50-miler. Kleinschmidt was the final 50-mile finisher in 11:51.
No runners finished the 50-miler in 2021, and just one completed it in 2020 – Tyler Silverman, who did so over three days during the “virtual” year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, seven runners completed the 50-miler, led by Harper and Breinan who tied for the win. Harper and Breinan were the lone finishers of the 50-miler in 2018, and both were among the six to complete the distance in 2017.
DRB Supports Trailside Museum: Since its first running in 1997, “Don’t Run Boston” has never charged an entry fee, however runners have been asked instead to consider making a donation to the Blue Hills Reservation’s Trailside Museum to support its programs. That tradition continued in 2022 as runners raised $445 for the museum.
Harper Does the Boston “Double”: After finishing the DRB 50-miler on Saturday, Carolyn Harper completed the Boston Double by finishing the Boston Marathon on Monday in 4:10. Only a handful of runners have ever done the DRB-Boston Marathon double through the years, and Harper is the first to accomplish the feat twice. In 2019, she ran the DRB 50-miler in 10:31 and followed it up with a 4:00 finish of the Boston Marathon the next day.
Veterans and Newcomers: Of the 22 runners who finished DRB in 2022, 10 were DRB newcomers. Howie Breinan earned his 18th DRB finish, the most of anybody in event history, as well as record ninth finish of the 50-miler. Joining Breinan in climbing the all-time finisher’s board were Bob Najar and Dietmar Bago with their eighth finishes, as well as Kevin Mullen who finished for the seventh time. Additionally, Carolyn Harper, Chris Wristen, and Tyler Silverman earned their fourth DRB finishes; Alexandra Brinkert finished for the third time; and Laura Ricci, Jacob Varekamp, Frank Corrao, and Julia Magnusson became two-time finishers.