Yes, it’s sexy to run through town in your underwear. It’s also good for the kids. 

This Valentine’s weekend, hundreds of people in Washington D.C. will strip to their underwear…and run down Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s the Cupid’s Undie Run, a Beltway tradition since 2010. Even though the sexy run looks like a college prank, or maybe a bizarre protest rally, it’s actually a highly successful fundraising event that’s raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Children’s Tumor Foundation. Okay, it’s also an outlandish party with a pre- and post-race bash where participants strip, drink, run, then drink some more, but mostly, it’s a charity run. And organizers may have finally discovered the secret to getting the masses involved in an important cause. Invite them to get PG-13 naked.

“We put the first run on in such a short amount of time, we thought we’d get 50 runners,” says run founder Bobby Gill, a biomedical engineer and ultra-runner living in Maryland. “On race day, 650 people showed up. We raised $8,000 just through the registration fees. It was the greatest day of my life.”

Last year, Gill and his fellow organizers tweaked the fundraising options (runners can now raise money outside of their registration fees), expanded the run to six cities, and raked in $300,000 on a single day for the Children’s Tumor Foundation, an organization that’s dedicated to helping individuals and families affected by neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow along nerves.

In 2013, Cupid’s Undie Run will expand to 13 cities, and Gill hopes to raise $1.5 million for research. It’s an astonishing success story that has been accomplished through one simple philosophy: less is more.

“There are a lot of novelty runs out there, which shows people are looking for something different,” Gill says. “They’re tired of the same old 5K. They want something memorable. Running through your city in your underwear in the dead of winter is memorable. That’s something you talk about a year later.”

College campuses across the country have hosted undie runs for years, mostly because college kids are looking for any reason to get together in their underwear. The cardio is just secondary. In Salt Lake City, runners ditch their clothes to help clothe the homeless in the annual Undie Run 5K. It drew 3,300 people this year. A totally respectable turnout that earned the Guinness World Record for “Largest Gathering of People Wearing Only Underpants/Knickers.”

Bravo, but they ran in September. These Valentine’s weekend events add an extra layer of difficulty to the race. Not only do you have to contend with potential public humiliation (if you’re like us, you’re still carrying a lot of “holiday weight” in February), but you’ve got frostbite to deal with. And perhaps shrinkage. Last year in D.C., it was 37 degrees. It started to hail shortly after the run was over. One of the newest cities to host a Cupid’s Undie Run is Minneapolis, a city with an average high temperature of 29 degrees in February. Those people really want to get half naked and run.

“We have requests from runners from all over the country asking us to bring a Cupid’s Undies Run to their city, but we have to make sure we’re not biting off more than we can chew,” Gill says.

Southern exhibitionists/runners have three options in 2013. You can run the D.C. run, a 1.5-mile course down Pennsylvania Avenue that passes in front of the Capitol Building, or you can run through the Virginia Highlands in Atlanta, or Nashville, Tenn., one of the newest additions to the Undie family.

Regardless of where you run, the real question is how will you dress. The Cupid Runs are relatively short (under two miles each), so chafing shouldn’t be a concern. As a general rule, sexy is good, but keep it PG-13. For dudes wearing boxers, apply safety pins to any openings. Ladies, keep the girls harnessed. And no thongs. Superhero undies are great, but capes are a copout, as they cover too much.

“The first rule is to make sure your underwear is clean,” says Gill, who runs the course carrying a bullhorn and spends much of his time trying to keep people from taking photos on the steps of the Supreme Court. “After that, think about your accessories. You don’t have a lot of clothing to work with, so it’s hard to be creative. That’s where accessories come in handy.”

DC Undie Run ’12, BY THE NUMBERS

1.5 – miles

37° – Fahrenheit

$300,000 – raised for the Children’s Tumor Foundation

13 – cities participating in the Cupid’s Undies Run in 2012, up six from last year

$1.5 million – amount organizers hope to raise in 2013

Do It!

Three cities in our region are hosting official Cupid’s Undie Runs. The D.C. run sells out every year, so register early, or look to Atlanta or Nashville, which will have better opportunities for new runners. It’s not a race, there is no clock. Think of it more as a parade with light cardio. Register for any of the runs at cupidsundierun.com. If you can’t make one of the official runs, go to the site to donate money, then run 1.5 miles through your own town in your underwear.