Going Au Natural All Over Campus

A group of students keeps their spirits high and clothes off as they jog up Price Center’s stairs for the Undie Run, held quarterly during finals week. (Will Parson/Guardian)

It has been a couple of years since the last time I ran in
my underwear. My camera and I were there for the first Undie Run event, hosted
in 2005 by “UCSD Students for a Sexier Campus.” Its Facebook group is evidence
of the fact that I’ve held the title of official Undie Run photographer since
then, though I have neglected the position for all but the first couple of
runs. Last quarter’s finals week, however, marked my triumphant, scantily clad
return to the pastime.

The first Undie Run was a glorious response to this campus’
perceived lack of sex appeal. A dedicated crowd gathered at midnight near RIMAC Arena and began a new UCSD tradition
while wearing costumes that ran the gamut, from (relatively) conservative
tights with superhero-style underwear worn on the outside to the lone drunkard
running naked. The common desire to be sexy and proud united a humble swath of
students frustrated by their peers’ repressive study habits. Strangers running
in underwear carried away not just their clothing in crumpled piles, but new
friendships as well.

Undie Run participants cool down with some ice cream at OceanView Terrace, prompting laughs from other fully-clothed diners. (Will Parson/Guardian)

At the latest Undie Run, I didn’t see many of the old faces
I remember from years past; the original group, ephemeral to begin with, had
completely dispersed. I felt like an Undie Run veteran, and my role as an
impartial observer conflicted with a vague obligation to pass on the event’s
culture and show the new class how it’s done. The sights were still immediately
familiar: guys in thongs, lace mixed with sneakers, outrageous costumes running
side by side with sweaty co-eds in the same boring underwear they wear every
day. The crowd was also larger than I remembered. It appeared that the
tradition had survived a turnover in its constituency. Though I was troubled to
see a gender ratio that clearly favored males, what the crowd lacked in X
chromosomes they made up for with the eagerness to burn calories in various
states of undress.

My own vestment was, as it had been in past runs, a simple
pair of boxers. It was a choice I made to balance the requirement of taking
photos with my desire to not expose more than I was willing to while doing my
job. When I run in my underwear, I run around far more than any of the other
participants in order to get the shots I need. If I’m not stopping to crouch
for a low angle shot, I’m climbing on trashcans to better frame the crowd. With
so much positioning, I would rather worry about taking photos than adjusting my
small garment, lest I traumatize innocent bystanders.

This latest Undie Run used Price
as a staging area. I spent
the last minutes before launch figuring out my camera settings and dodging
drunken students demanding that I take their pictures while they make stupid
poses. I have no use for such photos, and so on top of the challenge of taking
pictures of fast-moving subjects in the dark, I had to focus my lens and take
the photo before people started to succumb to their seemingly natural instinct
to crowd together and make faces at the camera.

After an impromptu parade of men in thongs above Price
’s fountain, the flesh-colored
mass of students gained momentum, climbed the steps toward Price
and made their way toward Revelle
. My path ran parallel to
the group, so I could stop frequently without getting trampled. The joy of
digital photography allowed me to run with my camera on my side, shutter
clicking away and filling my memory card while I dodged eucalyptus trees. Every
50 yards I made sure to stop and try some panning shots before sprinting ahead
of the pack once again.

The group collected itself at Revelle fountain, where the SD
Board Club awarded free tickets to a male and female student, though I have no
idea what the criteria were for selection. Male thongs were once again
displayed proudly on top of the fountain. Shouts of “CLICS!” soon made their way
through the crowd, and it wound its way up to the library’s door. But the
shouting had alerted security, which successfully blocked the door. The mob was
resilient, however, and shouts of “Geisel!” made their rounds. A sweaty stretch
of students made their way toward Dr. Seuss’ namesake in a weary thin line that
took several minutes to pass a police car parked in Revelle

Geisel Library received the mob openly — there wasn’t much
the staff could do besides smile at the bare-bodied group navigating the first
floor. Stunned students making last-minute finals preparations either quietly
waited out the deluge or whipped out cell phones to take videos. The group
exited after a few minutes, and students started peeling off the main body amid
triumphant shouts.

The run was over, but a third wave of shouts halfheartedly
suggested OceanView Terrace as the next destination. The Undie Run thus gave
way to an underwear-walk to OVT with a smaller handful of students. I got to
know Christopher, a student I had come to recognize over the course of the
night from his thong and fanny pack. After 20 minutes of running, he had enough
fervor left to let a friend put out a cigarette on his forearm on the way to
the dining hall. Once there, his hairy ass visibly ruined the appetites of
several late-night diners, but still he managed to glean an ice cream bar from
someone’s meal points.

It was a priceless scene, but common in my experience with
the Undie Run. Some might credit the ability to run without shame in your
skivvies to the security of traveling with a large number of like-minded peers,
and others might say it’s the effect of a drunken fog limiting your
inhibitions. Whatever the source, the energy always lasts long enough for a
leisurely walk in public to cool off, even when it’s long after everyone else
has put clothes on and gone home. After parting ways with Christopher and his
friends, I walked back to where I had stashed my car keys. I was still in my
underwear, and passed a few people as it neared 1
By their confused stares, I assumed they had no idea what the
Undie Run is, and I’m sure they wouldn’t entirely understand its appeal until
they try it themselves.