The Story of the Belt Line Boondoggle 150 km Fun Run by Scott Eppelman
Once the seed of a goal is planted, it can be hard to uproot. Such was the case with the inaugural Belt Line Boondoggle 150 km Fun Run, held January 24-25, 2003. The idea came from an unlikely source: one of the couch potato on-air personalities from The Ticket, the so-called “all sports” radio station in Dallas. He drove the entire Belt Line Road (BLR) loop, broadcasting from time to time at stops at establishments along the way.
At first my plan was for a solo, unsupported run. I would rely on my legs and my wits, fast food joints, and convenience stores as I meandered around the city. Now, we’re not talking about the kind of rugged individualism required from those who pioneered the American West, but this is a worthy challenge, with manageable risk. I knew there could be danger, not limited to drunk drivers, wannabe road racers, gangbangers, weather, wild dogs, and injury. So I prepared the best I could, starting by driving the entire loop and documenting the distances and cross-street locations of useful landmarks such as 24-hour convenience stores, hospitals, and police stations. Two sections were of greatest concern: the Mesquite/Garland area, from I-30 almost to where BLR turns west, as I saw various unsavory looking characters loitering about, and the badlands across the south side of the loop, through De Soto and Lancaster in South Dallas. This second stretch worried me because of the potential for encountering unfriendlies who might enjoy hassling a skinny guy in tights, and due to the distances between fluid sources.
I pitched the idea for making the run a broadcast event to The Ticket. I thought it was a surefire winner. It had it everything (or so I thought). They could broadcast from bars and restaurants on the loop, have a Ticket van follow me around, and even encourage listeners to join me for some miles. Maybe some of the “Ticket Chick” babes would be involved…the station turned me down, so I was on my own again.
My attempts at researching the history of BLR via the Internet were a failure. I was looking for history to help better acquaint me with my future companion. I have heard that it is the original loop road around Dallas, which makes sense. There are at least two places, one in Richardson and the other at the intersection of BLR & Pioneer in Balch Springs, with a sign saying “Belt Line Road, Dallas County” and a map of the road. During the research period I happened to speak with an old gentleman who was a lifelong Dallas resident. I probed him for info on the construction of BLR, but he had nothing to offer. Clearly he didn’t share my passion.
So why do it? Why not? It would be fun, challenging, and a good long training run. I told my wife Kelly about the plan, and she was not happy. She was rightly concerned about my safety. The dream would have to wait. Later I recruited Arlington ultrarunner and NTTR member Blade Norman. He is usually up for a good ultra stunt, and didn’t require any convincing by me. Now I had a co-conspirator, and the safety element was improved, as we could back each other up if a situation arose, plus Blade would carry a “protection” piece. Still, Kelly was not convinced. She told me that if this was something I had to do, then I should go ahead and do it, but she didn’t want to know until after it was done. This meant running on a weekend when she was out of town. The plan went back on the shelf, and was put in super-secret status (one level above Guys Night Out secrecy).
BLR is about 93 miles long, and (going counterclockwise, starting at the northwest corner of the loop in Coppell), goes through Coppell, Irving, Grand Prairie (past I-30), Cedar Hill (past I-20), De Soto (after Rt.67), Lancaster (after I-35), Wilmer (before I-45), Seagoville and Balch Springs (near Rt. 175 and I-20), Mesquite (Rt. 80 and I-30), Garland, Richardson, Addison (Dallas North Tollway0, Farmers Branch, Carrollton (I-35), and back to Coppell. My pre-run reconnaissance drive also documented areas where trouble seemed more likely due to the lack or a shoulder, road construction, and other reasons.
Some months later, NTTR member Mark Dick heard about the idea. He enjoys a good adventure, and offered immediately to provide crew support using his van. I figured this meant he would meet Blade and me at pre-determined key locations on BLR. Paul Tidmore, also in NTTR, volunteered to join Mark. This was evolving from a shoestring operation to a near-professional level of support: Dick would outfit his van with “Caution: Runner” signs, a flashing light on top, a side light for the door, and even offered to let us carry a radio for constant communication. Further, his intention (and Paul’s) was to stay with Blade and me for the entire distance. This meant giving up almost a whole day, driving at mind-numbing slow speeds, and a lot of sitting around. I was touched. This is what a great club is all about – helping fellow members achieve goals. And if that wasn’t enough, NTTR’s Letha Cruthirds would catch a very early flight on Saturday morning from New Orleans back to Dallas, and would meet our merry band somewhere on the course. Her incredulous daughter dropped her off, and it was a role reversal: the kid thinking the parent was ridiculous as she took her to the event.
Everything was in place. We’d be safe, and finding fluids and calories was removed as an obstacle. Blade and I would also enjoy the luxury of having all the clothing and gear we could want close at hand. We wouldn’t be stopped. It was just a matter of when we’d go.
At last a window of opportunity appeared: Kelly would be away the last weekend of January skiing with friends. Quick phone calls confirmed the availability of Blade and the crew. This was it! Mark let Antje Spethmann, who was on the trip with Kelly, in on the plan. She was told to keep Kelly in the dark, which she did. Enough time had passed since I drove the loop that fresh recon would be valuable. Blade did the driving this time. He picked up most of what I saw before, but also noted a potential trouble spot that I missed, in the final miles in Carrollton and Coppell, west of I-35. There are several small overpasses with no shoulder and nowhere to go but over a concrete barrier and down twenty feet or so to the creek bottom below.
The weather forecast was for cold overnight, cool during the day, with a chance of rain. Decent conditions for a long run. Everyone arrived at the Eppelman casa in Coppell at around 11:30 Friday night. It was kind of weird to think that this was actually going to happen. All that was left was to cover 93 miles. Nothing to it, right?
After a few photos, we took of from BLR & Moore Road in Coppell at about 12:20 AM Saturday. Paul had brought a digital camera to capture the craziness. Blade and I were dressed for cold weather, with warm hats, gloves, tights, headlamps, and reflective vests. We started out heading west, and almost immediately came to the northwest corner of the loop. We turned due south toward Irving. Conversation was flowing freely, and with so much time to burn, no topic was too inane. Before clearing Irving we had our first minor incident. I stumbled over a concrete median and fell hard on my left knee. I was able to walk it off, and we continued running.
Mark and Paul were keeping close to us. They would drive a short distance ahead, then park and wait for us, making it easy to get what we needed. In Irving we had about the only encounter of any kind with a vehicle, and it was so minor it isn’t worth mentioning. Someone laid on the horn and swerved toward us a little just to mess with us, but not enough to be a threat. That this was as bad as it got tells you we were not at risk.
By Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Blade fell on his face. We were on grass and he was okay. Here was where one of the silly themes we used to stay entertained was begun – roadkill counting. Blade had spotted a huge beaver. Later we saw birds, snakes, a dog, mice, an armadillo, squirrels, and a variety of other unfortunate creatures.
After crossing under I-20, we were in the area of Joe Pool Lake (or is it Lake Joe Pool?). It was the wee morning hours, and pretty cold. We had been running more or less continuously. I was expecting regular walking, but Blade was setting a strong pace. We decided to keep this going until after sunrise when it would warm up.
At BLR & Rt. 67 there was a funny situation. I was in need of a bathroom, so we stopped at a convenience store. It was dark, just before sunrise, and the store hadn’t opened yet. Blade and I were wearing almost full facemasks. The nervous look on the clerk’s face was priceless. I removed the head covering to look less threatening, and she let me in.
From here to Wilmer is a straight shot. With daylight came energy, and Blade continued to push the pace. Those walking breaks were nowhere to be found. I felt very good and was happy to follow Blade. However, I began to wonder if he was trying to wear me out. A few times he fell back and told me to set the pace, only to move ahead a short time later.
Somewhere in this stretch we came across some stray dogs that were running loose. I was carrying a small air horn, leftover from the Bar-H Breaks Boondoggle 8-Hour night run that I put on in 2002. It must have bled out, because I have farted louder than the weak whistle that came out. The dogs were not impressed. Fortunately they did not get too close, so we didn’t have to make a dash for the van.
During one of my countless roadside pee breaks, Blade found an adult magazine. Figuring Paul and Mark could use some reading material, he tossed it into the front of the van. This find led to what at the time seemed like a high-larious idea: to turn the Belt Line Boondoggle into an annual no fee, no aid urban fun run in the mode of The Barkley. The Barkley uses books left out at various places on the course as controls for documenting that runners made it to there. A page is ripped out as evidence. The BLB could use publications like the one Paul tossed back out of the van.
Letha found us somewhere between Lancaster and Balch Springs. Let me tell you, she was a sight for sore eyes. The energy level of our crew went up a notch. I guess staring at each other and two sweaty guys running wasn’t cutting it.
BLR turns north as it passes through Seagoville. Reaching this corner of the loop was a mental milestone for me. We had a long stretch ahead to where we’d start westward, but I knew that once we did we would be in very familiar territory. We stopped at a Burger King for breakfast sandwiches, which were good. I was also able to take a “Number 2” potty break, which had been on my mind for hours. I was feeling better and lighter.
The run up to the northeast corner of BLR was uneventful. It started raining through here, and the temperature began to drop. I could tell that Mark and Paul were getting a little punch drunk from lack of sleep, as they were having way too much fun considering what they were doing.
All this time we kept up a good pace. Walking was limited to coming out of stops at the van and answering the call of Mother Nature. Somewhere before we got to Richardson I became convinced that Blade was indeed trying to wear me down. I decided to strike back and moved ahead, increasing our pace. There was no shaking him, and he stayed right with me.
From here things really got fun. We had miles to go, but we could begin to picture the finish. To add to the festive atmosphere, other friends began to meet us. NTTR members had been calling the van for updates throughout the run. Tom Crull showed up on one of his Harleys. Monica Burt, Julie Bryant, and others came out too. Julie gave us a full frontal “flash” on BLR near Addison.
From here we needed to concentrate on the task at hand and get back to Moore Road safely. There were lots of busy intersections to cross. Those overpasses did cause a couple of hairy moments. Finally the finish was in sight. I took one last hard fall at BLR & Mockingbird Lane. I had to shake this one off but got going again. I wanted to get under 19:00 and was watching the time closely. As we approached the end we were excited to see a big group of NTTR friends there to meet us. It was great. Blade and I finished with arms raised together.
This finish was a little emotional. We were grateful for the sacrifice Mark, Paul and Letha made for us. It was also touching that our friends would come out to meet us. NTTR is a great group. Thanks to everyone!