Home News and Features Darragh Ellerson Inducted into RunVermont Hall of Fame

Darragh Ellerson Inducted into RunVermont Hall of Fame

black and white photo of a newspaper photo, young white woman in white tee and white shorts.
In the article that accompanied this photo, reporter Kevin Goddard noted that the then 48 year-old Ellerson was in a post-marathon "resting" week, and planned to run only 50 miles, rather than her usual 75 miles. Reportedly, Central Vermont Runner Newton Baker kept this photo on his refrigerator for years because he found her so inspiring.
If you look back at either photographs or results of running races in the 1970s, the striking observation is that the participants are almost entirely male. But if you look closely, you’re likely to spot Darragh Ellerson, especially in central Vermont events, but also in races across New England. 

Darragh’s inspiring legacy as a runner has been evident in running event results over the past three decades. Running results these days typically show that the largest cohort of runners are females in their 30s; overall, the gender balance tends to be even. The current membership of the Central Vermont Runners includes 128 females, 132 males, and three who did not disclose their gender. 

As part of this month’s RunVermont Marathon celebration in Burlington, Darragh has been inducted into the RunVermont Hall of Fame, joining fellow inductee Dot Helling in an expanding list of Central Vermont Runners recognized for their participation, coaching, or advocacy for running. The consensus among the running community is that in addition to persevering as an advocate and reliable volunteer for local running events, Darragh has been an inspiration for many.

At 92, Darragh regularly walks down — and briskly back up — the steep hill where North Street climbs to the prominent overlook where the home that she and her husband, the late Dr. David Ellerson, pediatrician, built in the early 1970s. Darragh designed the house herself, inspired by the years the Ellersons lived in Germany while David served as a physician in the U.S. Army. 

Up, Down, and Beyond the Hill

Darragh explained that she “returned to running” at the age of 42, after working to support David through medical school and having five children. She did persuade her daughter Deirdre (then a recent college graduate) to run with her “so long as we didn’t go downtown,” Darragh recalled. 

Sprints up and down North Street, with its spectacular views of the valley that channels the North Branch River and shelters the city, were a regular part of her routine — until she was counseled by Nordic Olympian Larry Damon, whom she had met at running events, “Don’t leave all your races on North Street!” She soon discovered she enjoyed longer runs, first running up Route 12 to Worcester and back to town. Then, to Elmore and back; Morrisville and back; and even the entire loop through Stowe, Waterbury, and Middlesex well before ultra-distances became a thing. 

“I was typically running 50 miles a week,” she said, with the qualification that people didn’t pay as much attention to mileage in those days.

“We didn’t have as many local races, or even that many races in Vermont, so we had to travel,” she said. In all, Darragh ran 17 marathons before she had a fall in which she broke her neck. While her recovery was considered successful, she decided to keep her racing distances shorter.

That didn’t mean she started taking it easy. 

Sam Davis, a central Vermont native (Dr. Ellerson was his pediatrician) who shepherded Darragh’s nomination to the RunVermont Hall of Fame, notes that he first encountered Darragh the runner when he attended local fun runs and entered local races while he was attending U-32 High School and running on the track team. “She left it all out on the race course, always doing the best she possibly could,” Davis said.

That effort and perseverance had its rewards. On a trip for a race in Massachusetts, Darragh outkicked the woman considered the fastest in the area to win the event. The race records maintained by the Central Vermont Runners Club indicate that in races at many distances, Darragh consistently won her age group — and often would have been on the podium (among the top three finishers) for age groups decades younger.

Girls, Women, and Advocacy

Noting that when her eldest daughter, Deirdre, entered high school, sports options for girls were still limited, and running was not among them, Darragh explained.

“I had the good fortune of going to a private school where my parents were teachers; that gave me lots of opportunities to participate in sports,” she said. In fact, because she was so fast on her feet, and reached her adult height at twelve, she was recruited to the varsity field hockey team as a seventh grader.

Darragh’s field hockey coach was taken aback to learn that Darragh was running several miles to her home — after practice. The coach requested a meeting with her parents, who, apparently forward looking, responded to the concern by saying that if Darragh was enjoying running, she should continue to do it!

By the end of the 1970s the local group of runners, which often traveled to events in other states, collaborated to create more local events, including the popular Fun Run on Tuesday evenings during the summer and fall. In 1980 they established the Central Vermont Runners Club. Darragh initially served as treasurer, then vice-president, president, and as race director for several events as the club grew through the 1980s. She, her husband David, and their kids, regularly volunteered to support running events as timers, at water stations, or managing the finish line. 

After David retired from his practice, Darragh reliably attended the weekly Fun Runs as the official timer when she stopped running them. The cadre of younger women, many of whom have become accomplished runners, regard Darragh as both an inspiration and a mentor. Fellow Hall of Fame inductee Dot Helling, who has run across the United States, Europe, Russia, and along the Great Wall of China, notes Darragh’s penchant for precise workouts. “You always had to do the exact, measured, and timed workout. No improv! No changing routes or cutting out miles. She loved Route 2 out and back for exactness,” Helling said.

While Darragh certainly was a pioneer during the breakthrough in women’s running, Helling added, “More importantly, she carried this significance through a lifetime of supporting running whether she was out there herself or not. She and her husband David attended virtually every CVR event, he as a medical volunteer and she as a runner or race volunteer. They were the billboard couple, dedicated to running in central Vermont not as participants but as supporters for all.”