The Run of the Charles does not have an identity problem. It has been around long enough - 30 years, to be precise - to know what it is and which way the water flows.
It’s a niche fit, a neat one, one worthy of more attention. It’s not the Head of the Charles, which borrows some of its space each October. It’s also not the Boston Marathon, which more or less uses the rivah bank as its guiding shouldah from Hopkinton to Copley Square.
The Run has elements of both those biggies, but is still rather humble by Hub standards.
Every year at this time, the Run of the Charles, staged by the Charles River Watershed Association, calls one and all to our revitalized serpentine jewel, inviting everyone to drop canoe, kayak, stand-up paddleboard, dragon boat, or bathtub and rubber ducky (not really) into the water for a day of fun.
Technically, it’s a competition, with $5,000 in prize money, but the 1,200 or so participants who’ll show up for the show next Sunday mainly will be there just for the float and frolic of it. It is a celebration of ecological triumph, a day to revel in the fact that, as a town, we loved the Charles even when it was dirty water, but we love it more now that it is Poland Springs South.
OK, we exaggerate, because who’s going to fill up a big plastic jug of the Charles at day’s end as potable goods? But thanks to a lot of hard work, a whole lot of love, and many millions of dollars, the Charles has been resurrected as a glorious body of water, suitable for swimming, boating, and everything else under the sun.
A river runs through us, and we should be happy about that. That’s really the essence of the Run.
Stef Komorowski will be in a boat Sunday. Now, when “row’’ is tucked cleverly into your name, is there actually a choice? She and her partner in paddle, Monica Briggs, will compete in one of the day’s more interesting events, the 24-mile canoe relay.
Komorowski and Briggs, joined by eight others on their Women Outdoors relay team, will race in the fourth leg, a 5.4-mile stretch that begins in Wellesley and heads east toward the finish line across from the WBZ studios in Brighton.
“It’s exciting to get in the race at that leg,’’ said Komorowski, 44, a sustainability professional who lives in Jamaica Plain. “There’s some running involved with the boat, so when you hit the water, your adrenaline’s really going. I’d say it makes it more fun, actually.’’
Leg No. 4 is spicier than most, because the stretch of land to be traversed is a healthy piece of Route 16 hardtop. Competitors are required to portage their boat from the endpoint of the third leg to the next put-in point a half-mile up the road. No one, to the best of our intrepid investigative reporting, ever has dipped into a local Dunkin’ Donuts while lugging a canoe, and Wellesley police officers are known to look the other way when canoe seatbelts are left unbuckled.
Parrotheads also are part of the show. According to Meg Schermerhorn, the event’s race director, a large contingent of Jimmy Buffett lovers each year get decked out in Parrotwear and take command of all the volunteer efforts at the event’s Moody Street site in Waltham.
It takes upward of 150 faithful volunteers all along the river to keep the show afloat, said a grateful Schermerhorn. No surprise, the flock of Parrotheads always seems to have the most fun. What better way to celebrate Mother Nature than to have a cheeseburger in paradise?
“They’re quite a bunch,’’ said Schermerhorn. “They’ve got their flamboyant costumes, with all the leis and beads, all of it. They’ve got food cooking, music playing . . . and let me tell you, they take charge. I check in once with them, and that’s it, they’ve got it covered.’’
As for what happens on the water itself, the devoted folks at Charles River Canoe & Kayak have full charge of that. Larry Smith and Dave Jacques make sure everyone is shipshape and sailing straight, and that no stow-aways are tucked in the belly of the dragon boats.
Of the 1,200-plus participants, some are professional rowers after the prize money, so decorum and fairness are essential even on a day engineered first and foremost around fun.
Skill and seaworthiness, on the other hand, aren’t necessarily prerequisites, nor is it essential that you’ve ever been in a boat, never mind know how to paddle, row, portage.
“We have our share [of novices],’’ said Schermerhorn. “You can tell it’s their first time, because they’ll grab an oar and it’s like, ‘OK, how do I make the boat go forward?’ Then they realize, ‘Uh-oh, you mean we have to row for 5 miles?!’ When it’s over, you’ll hear them saying, ‘Why didn’t I practice?’ ’’
Cost to enter the Run of the Charles ranges from $35-60 per person, and it’s OK to register right up to the start of the first races at 10 a.m. For more information about the cost and specific race categories, go to charlesriver.org. Participants can be as young as 12, and there is no such thing as being too old to get in a boat. Maybe old enough to know better, but . . .
“In fact, we’ve added a senior division and a veteran division,’’ said Marty Bauman, president of Classic Communications, the marketing and management firm that aids in publicizing the Run. “The seniors are ages 60-69, and veterans go from 70 on up.
“Some of the older folks didn’t think, that someone, say, 61, was old enough. They wanted their own division. So, you know, if someone wants to bring in a different boat, or open up a different age category . . . whatever.
“We find a way. The whole idea is just to make this a fun day, get people out on the river, shine some light on the CRWA.’’
It’s the Run of the Charles, and Old Man River is smiling. Why not? He has his own division, and his water is the same as it ever was.