Boston filmmaker runs with the Big Men to chronicle annual race

It sounds like a goof, cooked up by Animal House frat boys on a bender: "Yo, let's have a foot race through Somerville on a hot summer day where we gotta scarf hot dogs and beer along the way. No fair barfing, either."

Indeed, the annual Big Man Run is a goof a five-mile run each July over the unforgiving sidewalks of the Boston suburb of Somerville, with stops at three bars where participants must chug a beer and wolf down a dog. Furthermore, this race is open only to large guys Clydesdales in road-race parlance or men who weigh more than 190 pounds. Size does matter.

But when the going gets goofy, the goofs turn pro. They train. They practice. Most of all, they strategize. How best to eat a hot dog quickly? Dog first, then bun? Or dunk the bun in the beer and drink-chew to victory?

Because, as a new documentary on the Big Man Run reveals, there is no competition too wacky or too weird for the male psyche.

"I tried to film it as a straight sports documentary,'' said Barbara Moran, producer and director of Big Man Run, a 35-minute independent film about the race.

Big Man Run chronicles the 1999 event, a grueling contest for 113 men who braved 90-degree heat, the Winter Hill incline, a hot-dog shortfall and warm beer. Moran, a Brookline, Mass., resident and producer at Pinball Productions in Boston, focused on the top competitors men like Matt Corcoran of Weymouth and Vinnie Kotowski of Worcester, both serious runners as well as champion chuggers.

She captures the anticipation: the weigh-in, where the combined weight of all the competitors is totaled in tons. The agony a panting Corcoran arrives in a bar before the hot dogs are cooked. And the thrill of letting it all out yeech! when the contest is finally over.

"I don't think I've eaten a hot dog since,'' Moran admitted.

When you meet the tow-headed, 6-foot-tall filmmaker, you can't help but utter, "Wow, you're tall.'' The 29-year-old has a degree in science journalism from Boston University and has worked as a science writer and as a filmmaker for the Discovery Channel.

More importantly, she's a runner and a "filly'' (women more than 140 pounds) in the New England Clydesdale and Filly Racing Federation. In 1998, she volunteered to help out at the third Big Man Run, an event dreamed up by local runners Paul Collyer, Derek Mess and Glenn O'Connor.

"I had no idea,'' Moran said. "These huge men coming by and looking green. I thought, this is the weirdest thing I'd ever seen.''

The Big Man Run was conceived four years earlier at 1:58 a.m. in Khoury's State Spa, an East Somerville bar, when Collyer, a Clydesdale runner, and buddies were discussing various "beer run'' races.

"What if we added a hot dog?'' And then: "Why not just have big guys?''

"It was more of a joke,'' Collyer said. But within two weeks, the first Big Man Run date was scheduled. Now "it's mushroomed into something we never expected.''

Every year, more men run; one flies in regularly from Arizona; another man came in from Scotland. Runner's Worl has covered the race; NECN filmed last year's event. Moreover, serious runners and triathletes show up. "It's the toughest race in the country,'' Collyer insisted.

But "everyone sticks around until the last man who runs it comes in, or you're not invited back that's part of the creed.''

Moran was amazed by Big Man veterans such as Jeff Durso-Finley of Glendale, R.I., a 6-foot-5, 250-pounder who runs 25 to 35 miles a week. He comes for the camaraderie and the challenge and the beer.

"Some jog for fun, others take it pretty seriously,'' he said.

The 31-year-old associate director of admissions for Brown University has his own Big Man strategy, such as bolting immediately after downing the beer and dog.

"You got about 200 to 300 yards before your body knows what you've done to it,'' he explained. "It works better to get back on the horse when you get out of the bar.''

Moran just knew she had to make an independent documentary about the event. So she pulled together $30,000, called in favors for equipment and relied on friends and an understanding husband to put the project together.

Of course, lots of her film buddies regarded her subject with skepticism: "I'd tell them this was an anthropological study,'' she said. Women friends wondered why she was bothering with a suds-and-studs topic. "It is a complete guy thing,'' she noted.

But she believes she brought an unusual perspective to the event. "I think as a woman I paid more attention to personality,'' she said.

She could have wallowed in the wackiness, reducing the film to a let's-make-fun-of-the-fat-guys spoof. Instead, she mixed respect with the humor.

The finale, when the last runner rolls in amid wild applause, crystallizes her point. Elsewhere, "You never see anyone cheering for a 320-pound guy,'' she said.

Moran plans to submit Big Man Run to a host of independent film festivals and to try for a public television airing as well.

So far, women have not clamored to join the run. "It could be because women are smarter than to do something as bizarre as this," Durso-Finley said.

For information on the Big Man Run or related running events, visit www.clydesdale.org


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