I’ve participated in plenty of evening and overnight runs, so the basic premise wasn’t all that daunting. However, it had been quite a long day already, so I was rather tired when I handed off the GPS chip just into the new day. As a team, we had been running for over 12 hours at this point, and our group had the GPS chip until just after 5AM, so we had many miles yet ahead of us!
We continued to trade-off, attempting to stick with close to hour time blocks. However, the darkness and quiet of the country roads started to play tricks with our minds. It’s amazing how creative your mind can become when you are out on the road by yourself, with nothing but the light of your headlamp to guide you. Every sound takes on new meaning, and the possibility of finding yourself on the pages of one of the worst-case scenario books becomes real. We began pairing up for some of the miles just to keep each other company and hear the sound of something other than far-off rustling and howls. I’m sure that was just the wind, right?
The wee hours of the morning passed us by in a bit of a haze, and we were rather subdued on this first overnight shift, but we kept our energy up. It was fun to occasionally pass other teams as we made our way deeper into the pack, and nice to cheer on other runners, our voices echoing out of the van into the darkness. We met the second van around 5:15AM, and wrapped up our shift, happy to pass off the GPS chip, and ready to catch a few hours of sleep. We found a local park to stop at and shower, and the warm water was offset by the insidious gnats and ticks that accosted us while we cleaned up. We were near the middle of the state at this point, and were lucky enough to head down the road a bit and catch a few hours of sleep at a teammate’s house. The sleep wasn’t great, but we were so tired that it didn’t matter. We walked into the house silently and collapsed on the floor.
We awoke to overcast skies and much cooler temperatures than the previous day. We made a pit stop on the way out-of-town for some breakfast/lunch at a gas station, and caught up to the other van for the GPS handoff. I led off our shift again, and was still rather tired, but food helped to perk me up, and the cool weather was delightful. Our entire afternoon shift was much more energetic, in large part due to the cooler weather and random sprinkles that we seemed to be outrunning. I managed to pick up some coffee along the way as well, which my body was crying out for at this point. The rest of the afternoon went quickly as we played around with our speed a bit, and had some fun chasing down other teams along the way. As a team, we were moving at a rather good clip, and were on pace to finish in under 48 hours, which was exciting!
We passed off the chip once more, and headed into a nearby town for a shower, dinner, and a nap. A local high school opened its doors for us to shower and nap, and it was refreshing to shower in a cleaner, more contained area. The warm water woke me up a bit, and we headed to a nearby PizzaHut for a quick dinner. At that point, we were all a bit punchy and sleep-deprived, so everything was that much funnier. Dinner was a calamity of errors, and we may not have left fed well, but we had some great anecdotes to remember our time. The high school opened up their wrestling room (soft mats on the floor) for folks to nap in, and it wasn’t the most comfortable situation, but we all still managed a few hours of much-needed sleep. The alarm went off far too quickly, however, and we are once again packing up to go meet the other van for the handoff in the dark. Overnight shift #2 was upon us.
We got more and more loopy as the weekend wore on!
I bought a few Starbucks frappuccinos to perk me up, and the first one did the trick as I led things off. We decided to break up this shift a bit more, so we began by carving out the runs into two-mile segments. This meant doing some speed work, which was a welcome change-of-pace (pun intended!) and we alternated quickly. I was able to get my mile times into the low 7’s, which I was quite happy with considering the miles I already had on my legs, and the sleep deprivation. We were able to pass the GPS chip to a teammate to run as the clock struck midnight and marked his birthday, which was a blast. We filled the void with jello-O shots and other proper overnight running supplements, and our energy was much higher!
I’m awake…I swear!
The rest of the morning went by rather quickly. We were running 1 and 2 mile segments, stopping along the way, and dancing and cheering other teams along the road. I’m sure we woke up at least one clueless farmer with our antics in the dark, but it made for plenty of laughs and celebratory memories as we ticked off the miles. I’m not sure if it was the small amount of sleep, the cooler weather, or the knowledge that this was our last official shift, but this second overnight running segment was a blast!
The final morning awaits us…
We were about as wired as possible when we met up with the other van for a final handoff, and we cheered them on as they began the last segment of our relay experience. We headed into Dubuque, the final destination, and found a Perkins restaurant to feed ourselves. I’m sure we seemed quite slap-happy to the waitress who was finishing a 12-hour shift at 5:30AM, but we definitely enjoyed a hot meal and a bottomless pot of coffee. Our post-meal energy lagged a bit, and there may have been some random napping. We hopped back in the van and tracked down the other team so we could all finish the relay together.
Iowa wildlife along the route…I’m pretty sure this cow was wide awake!
We found them less than 10 miles from the finish, and each of those miles were completed by multiple teammates. The length of distance and time of the relay had begun to sink in as we neared the finish, and we all found our third and forth winds. The final miles were just as hilly, if not more, than the opening miles, and we tackled them all together. At one point, I found myself flying down a steep hill, rather unable to stop, and logged my fastest mile of the entire weekend (6:37). Three of us tackled one of the final hills, thinking it was the last large incline, and were thoroughly disappointed to realize it wasn’t the last hill, but we kept pressing forward. By the end, we are alternating after 1/4 segments and moving as fast as possible. We had been alternating back and forth with a nearby team throughout most of the relay, and we were committed to maintaining our small lead on them. We arrived at the final hill, leading up to Eagle Point Park, and the finish line. This was by far the steepest hill we had encountered, so it was fitting that we needed to summit it before crossing the finish line. We pushed hard, one foot in front of the other, and gathered as a team to cross the finish line.
Team “Make It Weird”!
Other participants formed a human tunnel to welcome us across the finish line, and we were all smiles as we finished! We ended up finishing third, in a time of 46 hours and 25 minutes, and we were mighty proud of ourselves! Everyone looked dead tired in the post-race photographs, but the BBQ and time to relax at the park with all of the other participants was a welcome reward. We were presented with team pictures and key chains, courtesy of Restoring Hope, International, a nonprofit organization that benefited from the profits of the relay. The beer tasted great, and we made sure to take in the view of the Mississippi River before departing.
All smiles at the end!
In the end, I really can’t compare this running experience to anything else I’ve done. The opportunity to see the state on foot, with its widely varied landscape and communities, was only surpassed by the time with an amazing group of friends. We began this run across Iowa as a group of friends, and we returned as a new, unique, quirky, often outrageous community. I may have managed a tad over 41 miles on foot, but I traveled much further in memories! Team “Make It Weird” has certainly carved out a unique corner of my consciousness, and that is a journey I’ll have with me forever 🙂
Keeping it weird!