September for the beer nerd may herald the welcome return of fresh festbiers and pumpkin beers (presuming you weren’t already tripping over them in the shops in July or August), but for me, it just means one thing: it’s Dogfish Dash time.
Now in its tenth year, the event has grown from a casual, friendly run around a portion of the Junction-Breakwater trail and a stop in Dogfish Head’s Rehoboth Beach brewpub afterward, to quite a competitive event beginning and ending at the brewery in Milton – and the competition starts with simply scoring a bib. I ran my first Dogfish Dash in its second year, and will be back this time for my eighth; I had to break my nearly-perfect streak last year as I was Far Too Pregnant to run. Despite missing a year, I seem to have amassed a larger-than-expected collection of Dogfish Dash ephemera: not just t-shirts and race bibs, but semi-forgotten unredeemed coupons, water bottles and the odd blog post (or two, or three).
It seems strange to think now that it was possible to fit most of the runners and their friends and family into the brewpub, with (relatively) minimal waits for beer, but as the Dogfish Dash has grown, the art of getting an ever-increasing number of runners to their beers has evolved and improved over time. Yes, some years had very long lines, but that’s simply incentive to try to finish in good time, and it’s clear that lessons are learned and applied to line management the following year. The other advantage of staging the race in Milton is the opportunity to tour the brewery; it seems there’s an entirely new portion each time, and the organization of the mini-tours has been top-notch. My now-10 year old looks forward to the race every year just for the tour; while he’s probably toured more breweries around the world than most adults, Dogfish Head is the one he sees annually, so he enjoys noting the changes (and donning the safety goggles). The staff members do an amazing job of moving large groups of people safely through the brewery, and the volunteers keep the beer flowing outside with plenty of enthusiasm. It’s also great to see the returning runners, both before and after the race: there are regular groups of costumed teams who seem to have better beer-related themes each time out.
I’ve developed my own strategies around registration and packet pickup over the years – though it’s worth noting that while it seems it was ever thus, there was no great rush to sign up for the first few years; you could take your time and see how you felt a few weeks out. It’s true you do need to schedule yourself to register and collect your bib and other goodies, but given the popularity of the race, it’s to be expected. That said, it’s quite reasonable to cap the number of runners, even with a race for charity; anyone who has ever run in a huge event like the Broad Street Run or one of the many Rock & Roll half-marathons knows that a huge wall of people in front of you, fast or slow, isn’t the most inspiring running experience. And given that the race goes through Milton, which no one would accuse of being a large town (though it is a town of considerable architectural interest), there’s only so much room on the course. And I hear rumors that the backlog at the bridge – a familiar, if minor, issue for anyone who has run this race in the past – won’t be an issue this year with the change in distance and route.
That brings us to another point; when those changes were first announced, there was the expected grumbling on Twitter about the loss of the 10K, while others lamented the lack of a 5K – it was too short for some, while too long for others who had hoped to make it their first race. For both, I’ll offer my perspective: the Dogfish Dash is what made me become a ‘real’ runner, and it can do the same for you. Prior to my first Dogfish Dash, I was a novice runner who could barely manage a few yards without stopping, though I was a keen and seasoned beer drinker. But after that first race, it became an annual part of my calendar, and I began signing up for other, longer races, just to be ready to run a ‘good’ (by my standards) Dogfish Dash – anything that would make my wait in the beer line shorter. I began doing all sorts of other fitness-related things that would have shocked and horrified my teenage self, but it has always paid off – I’ve exceeded my 10K PR each year in the Dogfish Dash, and I can’t avoid setting a PR (personal record, for all you couldn’t-care-less-about-weird-runner-jargon folk) for this new, ‘off-centered’ distance. And while I’m still not back to my pre-this-baby speed, and I realize that calling what I do ‘speedy’ would inspire laughter with certain stripes of runners who take things a bit too seriously, my prep races have convinced me it’s returning. So whether it’s a stretch for someone who is just starting out as a runner (welcome – there’s beer at the end!) or a shorter race that a distance runner can use to push their pace, it’s good, well-organized fun for all.
So, if there’s a moral to the story, it’s that beer is good for you, and makes you a fitter, faster runner. I’m living proof.
See you there!