Saturday afternoon, police officers parked along Pennsylvania Avenue, blocking traffic for a one-mile stretch near the Capitol. Crowds gathered along the sidewalks.
“Is everything okay?” a pedestrian asked a group of photographers stationed on the corner of Independence Avenue and First Street, Southeast.
Seconds later, 500 runners came charging down the road. As the group approached, there was something noticeably different about their attire.
“It’s the Cupid’s Undie Run,” a photographer said, as the runners—dressed in nothing but Valentine’s Day-themed underwear—ran toward the Capitol.
Women giggled and shivered as they jogged, wearing bright-pink sports bras in the 45-degree weather. An unabashed guy stood in front of the Capitol, showing off his biceps—and more—in a red Speedo.
For the past two years, those wandering along Capitol Hill on Valentine’s Day weekend have witnessed Cupid’s Undie Run, the brainchild of 26-year-old Brendan Hanrahan. What started out as a random e-mail to a group of friends last year has become a successful and entertaining way to raise funds for the Children’s Tumor Foundation.
“Last year, we thought we’d get 50 people and break even,” Hanrahan says. “But with Twitter and Facebook, it took on a mind of its own. It was controlled chaos.”
The event was so unexpectedly popular that this year the run started gaining interest around Thanksgiving and registration had to be capped at 500 runners. Through registration fees and participants’ own fundraising, this year’s event raised more than $50,000—five times the amount raised last year.
Although drinking at the sports bar Pour House and ogling scantily clad bodies are big draws, organizers say that’s not the point of the run. “We didn’t come up with the idea for the Undie Run and then go searching for the charity,” says co-organizer Bobby Gill. “We knew we wanted to do something for the Children’s Tumor Foundation.”
Gill and Hanrahan have close ties to the foundation, which supports research and development of treatment and cures for neurofibromatoses (NF), three disorders that cause tumors to grow in the nervous system. Drew Leathers, the younger brother of one of the organizers, suffers from schwannomatosis, a rare form of NF that affects one in 40,000 individuals.
The disorder usually appears during puberty, Hanrahan says: “He had no issues; he was a normal kid. Then they found a tumor in his calf and took it out. When they started taking MRIs, they found that his body was littered with these tumors.”
Leathers is now living with a cantaloupe-size tumor pressing on his heart, lungs, and spine. Some days, when the pain is overwhelming, he’s bedridden. “He’s really the reason we got together,” Hanrahan says.
But why the underwear? “We chose the Undie Run because there are a million 5Ks and walks,” Hanrahan says. “The only way we were going to get any real legs behind this was to make it unique.”
The 1.1-mile run begins at the Pour House near Fourth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, Southeast, then makes a pit stop in front of the Capitol for push-ups, squats, and jumping jacks. It ends back at the bar. “This is a great opportunity to get all kinds of people excited about a cause they’ve probably never heard about,” Gill says.
The idea may soon go national. The organizers have been approached by people who are eager to bring Cupid’s Undie Run to other cities.
“It’d be great to have Cupid’s Undie Run happening in DC, LA, New York—wherever there’s interest,” Gill says. “That way we can really spread the message all over the country.”
Until then, the organizers, who are also endurance athletes, are already planning for the next run in their skivvies. “Sticking to a one-mile run isn’t the greatest challenge we’ve ever had,” Gill says. “But doing it in your undies is a unique challenge we all enjoy.”