Mush! Urban Iditarod Benefits Food Charity

By Dana Hatic
BU News Service

BOSTON — Six men ran down Lansdowne Street on Saturday morning, pushing a shopping cart and singing along to music blaring from a speaker. Each bared his arms and legs to the cool day, wearing only gladiator-like smocks made from old newspaper and just long enough to cover tighty-whities underneath.

They took off from Lansdowne Pub at 11:30 a.m. along with 101 other teams participating in the Boston Urban Iditarod 5k race to benefit the Boston Medical Center Food Pantry.

Tim Jones and Kevin Doran founded the Boston Urban Iditarod three years ago after seeing the success of similar events in other cities, including Chicago, San Francisco and Portland. The race occurs on the first Saturday of March each year—to coincide with Alaska’s Iditarod—and combines a run, costume contest, bar crawl, and food drive.

Jones, 33, said he and Doran wanted to bring the concept to Boston, but had to modify the format to suit the city.

“Most of the others don’t support charity,” he said. “We wanted to put on an event that had a little more than a typical scavenger hunt. If we were going to get this many people together, we wanted to give back to Boston. There needs to be a bigger mission behind it.”

Each team pays an entry fee and must donate canned foods for the pantry. As an incentive, Jones and Doran, 36, present a trophy to the team that donates the most cans. Jones said the 2012 Boston Iditarod raised about 4,000 pounds of food from a much smaller participant field. Saturday’s participants totaled over 600, and by the end of the day, volunteers had helped collect about 7,000 pounds of food, Doran said.

“We keep growing,” Jones said, and added that someday he hopes to be as big as Chicago’s race, which draws more than 800 people. “Give us a chance. We’ll beat them.”

The Boston race requires teams of four to six people to develop a theme for their “sled” (shopping cart) and costumes, and the teams are then tasked with racing to four bars, where there is a mandatory rest period of 20 minutes. This year the teams stopped at Whiskey’s, Jerry Remy’s, Kings, and An Tua Nua.

“We break the teams up,” said Jones. “From here they go four different directions and it ends up with people crossing at all points.”

At each location, teams competed in “Minute to Win It” style games, like “How’s it Hanging,” where a participant wears a belt with a banana dangling from string and must use the banana to push an orange into a hula hoop on the ground.

“There’s also pole dancing at An Tua Nua,” said Jones. “But it’s more like pole shenanigans,” he said, because costumes and klutzy movements interfere with any potentially skillful dancing.

The event founders joined in the costume festivity. Jones and Doran, clad in matching white and black tuxedos, dressed as Spy vs. Spy, the black and white cartoon from Mad magazine.

Jones said they also had about 40 volunteers spread across the race course.

“Most of them are actually dressing up,” he said. “They had such a good time volunteering they wanted to come back and do it again. It’s nice to have that consistency.”

The volunteers helped collect the food donations, oversaw bar activities and made sure teams properly lined up the shopping carts outside each bar on the sidewalks.

One team pulled a homemade cart and dressed all in black, with the exception of yellow and orange cardboard signs on each person’s back, displaying phrases like “You Shall Not Pass” and “Caution: Men Working Overhead”.

“Our theme is loosely interpreted as a bad sign,” said Meera Modi, 31, of Cambridge. Modi said she and her teammates joined the race because there were costumes, dogsleds, and drinking involved.

Three women in gray sweat suits, sunglasses and mouse noses carried white canes resembling the legs of a table and stood alongside a man in a blonde wig with pigtails.

“We are the three blind mice and the farmer’s wife,” said Linda Carter. This is the second year she and her team of Maureen Willy and Peg and Joe Michaud competed in the Boston Urban Iditarod.

“We had so much fun last year we wanted to come back and do it again and try not to humiliate ourselves,” Carter said. Michaud added that they were not there to win.

“We’re planning on blaming it on the fact that we’re the blind mice,” she said. “We’re just in it for the fun.”

One five-member team all wore plush hats shaped like squid heads, ranging in color from lime green to purple. Verity Clark, dressed as a purple squid, said their team came from western New York just for the race. Clark lost her father to cancer, and her teammate, Kristin Pike, has a family member currently battling cancer.

“It’s for a good cause,” Clark said. “We liked the idea of the medical food pantry.”

Second-year volunteer Brandy Sprague and newbie Josh Rubino manned the U-Haul truck where participants dropped off canned food donations.

“I want to pull a team together next year,” Sprague said.

“What I love about this is meeting new friends,” said Andrew Choly, 27, who was dressed as Superman along side other DC Comic team members and challenged another group representing Marvel Comics. “You have a good time and at the same time donate to charity. It’s a win for everyone.”

Choly said their team donated more than 200 cans.

“The good news is we’re doing it for charity,” said Nicholas Gibeault, 34, who dressed as the Green Lantern.

Teams started finishing around 2 p.m. at Lansdowne, where Jones, who had donned his spy mask and hat, shepherded teams and sleds across the finish line on the sidewalk where electronic tags on each team member’s shoe registered a finish time.

“Eventually the idea is to get the street closed and get a tent,” Jones said, as some teams failed to cross the finish line, instead just parking their carts and heading into the bar for post-race festivities.

Other teams included Mario and Luigi’s Riverboat and Casino, The Crew of Brew, and Treasure Trolls, but none could catch the champion Mighty Ducks.

The Ducks competed in last year’s Urban Iditarod and finished second, but were determined to win this year, said team member Charles Cimet, 26.

“And the charity is a good cause,” he said.

Overall, Jones and Doran said they felt this was the most successful year.

“The start was epic, we got tons of food, and people are having a lot more fun with it,” Jones said.

“I don’t know if you can have more fun with a good cause,” said Andrew Feyock, a member of the Mighty Ducks team.

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