Run Report: Relay Iowa 2014 (Part 1)
There are some running experiences that you simply can’t sum up in a blog post, and this past weekend certainly qualifies as that. I’ve debated how to organize my thoughts and provide something resembling a summary of the Relay Iowa experience, and I’m sure I won’t entirely capture the essence of it, but I’m going to give it my best shot. Relay Iowa is very intentionally not described as a race. The director gauges anticipated finish times for teams, and then spreads us out with staggered start times so we hopefully finish around the same time, and see each other out on the course as much as possible. The “course” for this relay just happens to be the entire state of Iowa. Relay Iowa bills itself as the longest non-professional relay in the world, and comes in at a whopping 339 miles. There are a few checkpoints along the way, but ultimately teams of between 4 and 12 runners set the segments for themselves and head out on an incredible journey across the state, always moving, GPS chip in hand.
I’ve been hearing about this relay for the better part of the last year from several friends. After their experience last year, they simply couldn’t stop talking about it, and my anticipation for the weekend grew with each additional conversation, random story, or “you just have to be there” comment. In many ways, you really do need to “be there” to truly understand an event like this, so I feel very lucky to have been a part of it. The entire experience took place over a 4-day period, so I”ll attempt to break down the run by days. I should add upfront that memories tend to blur together when you are constantly running or riding in a van, operating on very little or no sleep, and alternating between consuming caffeine and “other” beverages. That unique combination of mental and physical stimuli is what sets this running experience apart from most other events (and why I’ll be happily returning to do it again next year!). Thus, I give you the antics of team Make It Weird!
Thursday, June 5th
Our team of 12 converged around 4pm to load up our two minivans with the various supplies necessary for a weekend of running and “caloric intake”. The energy was high, and we all seemed to click incredibly well together despite not everyone knowing everyone else all that well, and in some cases, meeting for the first time. There are moments when personalities just mesh well instantly, and this group was a case study in that phenomena. We finished packing and headed out for the drive to Sioux City, IA, where the relay would be beginning the next day. We had hotel rooms reserved for the evening so we’d at least have a solid night’s rest heading into the experience. We caravanned westward, exchanging stories and offering plans for weekend antics. We weren’t in any hurry, however, so stopping at a random small-town liquor store to use the restroom and make friends with the quirky owner seemed like a logical move. A few more pit stops for drinks and dinner at various watering holes gave use a taste of the local flair along the route. Pizza, beer, and a few games of pool is the best pre-run routine I can come up with- how about you? 🙂
We arrived in Sioux City and got checked into the hotel, and then headed down to the pool to test out the pool noodles that had made the journey with us. I’m sure we got some great looks from other drivers with pool noodles strapped to the top of our van. We weren’t scheduled to begin running until 11:20AM, so we were able to get plenty of sleep and still have time to get ready.
Friday, June 6th
We woke up around 6:30 and headed down for a nice breakfast, complete with plenty of coffee. We were the last team to begin the relay, based on our anticipated pace, so we had time to putz around in the morning before heading to the starting line a few miles away. We made it to the starting line early so we could cheer on other teams as they began their journey, and we could relax a bit before the start. We had plenty of music, frisbees, and other entertainment for the weekend, and the starting area had the feel of a community picnic or block party, which was great! We took our team photo at the Sergeant Floyd Monument, and then counted down to the start. I was tapped to run the first leg through Sioux City and out into the country, which I happily accepted. I was eager to get my legs moving, and I always love the energy at the start of events. I knew I needed to make sure I didn’t go out too hard, especially because the sun was already high in the sky, and it was shaping up to be quite a warm day. I took off comfortably, and planned to run about 6 miles and then meet the van to hand off the GPS chip to the next runner. We broke down the running into 6 hour segments, since there were 6 of us in each van. This meant that the van not running could enjoy some down time, and later on, a little sleep before returning to the course.
I headed out down the road, and almost immediately got a sense of just how hilly Sioux City can be. I had a sense that the western and eastern parts of the state would have a few more hills, and the 28,000 feet of overall elevation gain certainly wasn’t going to come from the center of the state. However, I knocked out 4 or 5 hills in the first 6 miles that were all larger than anything in Ames. The hills, combined with the midday sun, left me plenty tired and ready to pass off the chip to the next runner! Our van had the first leg until 5:20pm, and we eventually worked out a routine for running, even if we hadn’t planned it ahead of time. It worked out well to drive down the road 2 or 3 miles and check on the runner, offer water, and cheer them on. We aimed for hour-long segments during this first six-hour shift, and hit them pretty accurately for the most part. The hills of western Iowa certainly had an impact on all of us, and we were plenty tired. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and this would prove to be the hottest segment of the entire relay. We met up with the second van around 5pm, and were plenty ready to hand over the running duties to them and give ourselves a nice 6-hour break. We knocked out around 42 miles in those first 6 hours and were moving at a pretty good clip.
We drove up to a checkpoint town a ways down the road, and enjoyed a hot spaghetti dinner, a dip in the pool, and a shower. These simple pleasures became all the more enjoyable as the weekend wore on. After a brief rest, we decided to head to a local bar to relax for a bit before we met up with the second van for our next shift, the first of two overnight (11:20p- 5:20a) running shifts. We were tired from what had already been a long day, but not enough to bother searching for some sleep. We all knew going in that it would be a sleep-deprived weekend, and it certainly proved to be just that. However, we enjoyed our time together, played some pool, and properly “hydrated” before picking up the GPS chip at 11:20p. We met up with the other team a bit after 11pm, strapped on our reflective vests and headlamps, and the journey continued.
I’ve always been a fan of running at night. The peacefulness, lonely open roads, and cool temps are a welcome respite from the hot daytime sun and busier open roads. However, as I headed down the road in the dark, with only my headlamp to light the way, my mind quickly began to generate a variety of scenarios. I envisioned everything from wild dogs to deer to drunk high school kids jumping out of the corn fields and attacking me. Every little sound drew my attention, and my pace quickened just a bit 🙂 I knew the van was going to be a ways down the road, and I had to get my miles in, so all I could do was just keep pushing ahead and staying aware of my surroundings. This was easier said than done considering how tired I was already becoming, but I managed and was quite happy to see the van up ahead, and hand off the chip as Friday night bled into Saturday morning. The rest of the evening was rather long and tiring for all of us, and I’ll pick up my story there…next time!