Posted by: trevormeers | June 16, 2012

Runnin’ on Crazy

Teri finishing up a hot, dusty Leg #2 at the park in Ida Grove.

The text came in at 4:45am, roughly an hour before sunrise and only 90 minutes after I’d fallen asleep in the front seat of a Toyota Highlander. “Be ready to run in 45 minutes.” Next text: “Clay says it’s now 30.”

I tumbled out of the SUV with an empty water bottle and a squishy Ziplock that had outlived its duty as an ice pack. I shuffled through the city park of Manchester, Iowa, like the first zombie to take up distance running as anti-decay routine. To the left was my teammate Ryan, stirring on an inflatable mattress. To the right was my teammate Steve, sprawled on a camping mat next to the cinder-block bathroom. Teri was digging in the cooler for the back half of a turkey sub bought in Hudson. They had time to sleep off a few more minutes of our overnight run. It fell to me to run the first shift of our morning leg headed for the town of Epworth.

Right on time, the other half of our Relay Iowa team entered Manchester, a guy named Michael pumping for all he was worth through the final 100 yards of the run. Two-hundred eighty-three miles out of Sioux City, with 54 to go to Dubuque, he handed me the GPS belt like a Pony Express mailpouch, and I started east, carrying the dreams of Team Slo-Pokes.

A few blocks into town, an RV supporting the team called Idiots Out Wandering Around rolled slowly by, pumping fists out the window and cheering me on. Forty-eight hours into the run, here at the back of the pack, rivalry was a low priority compared to the solidarity of finishing the world’s longest running relay.

Ron kicks off Relay Iowa 2012 as the first runner overall to set out from the Sgt. Floyd Monument, bound for the Mississippi on the far side of Iowa.

Through the first quarter-mile, my quads were driven on an intravenous drip of pure will. My stomach growled, but simultaneously rebelled at the very concept of food. My knee was growing increasingly balky and demanding to know if I’d forgotten the concept of “overuse injury.” But my team needed 3.5 miles out of me on this leg, so I churned on, leaving Manchester and trudging forward into gently rolling hills. As I went, the pastures awoke and my legs unlimbered like the Tin Woodsmen after a nice shot of oil. It wasn’t long before I was pitying the poor souls who weren’t out for a run on a day like today.

“I figured you’d have to be a certain kind of crazy to sign up for something like this,” Doug the runner told us as we waited to start on Friday. “So I decided I’d be in good company.” Sure enough, you either get the concept of Relay Iowa or not. And in the third year of the event, roughly 150 people decided that running 30 miles over 5 or 6 shifts in 50-ish hours sounded like a pretty good way to spend a June weekend. It didn’t hurt that all proceeds would go to an African orphanage.

We met most of Team Slo-Pokes at the start line in Sioux City, under an obelisk honoring Sgt. Floyd, the only casualty of the Lewis & Clark expedition. (On the way up the hill to the monument, Clay, a veteran relay-runner from Indiana, told me, “I guess this cat died of an appendicitis!”) Most of the Slo-Pokes came from Iowa, a few from Indiana and Ohio, one from Ft. Lauderdale. Bonded by Facebook, we piled into a few vehicles stuffed with Gatorade and Cliff Bars and started leapfrogging our way east as a single runner at a time churned along the highway shoulder.

Savoring the Lake City nightlife as we wait for our midnight run to begin.

Our vehicle’s first night shift launched out of Lake City at midnight Friday. Various teams sat on the town square grass, killing time in the glow of a wondrous fountain that surely caused a contentious bond vote when it was built. A local kid asked, “How far are you running?” I said, “About 225 to go.” “No way,” he said. “Is that where Dubuque is?”

Michael showed up right on time and handed me the GPS belt. I flicked on my headlamp, clicked on the flashing red light clipped to the back of my reflective vest and tiptoed through the broken sidewalks until I could unwind my stride at the edge of town at the sign reading, “Lake City: Everything But The Lake.” Then the world suddenly reduced itself to a spot of bouncing light on the asphalt in front

of me, and a dome of stars bounded only by fuzzy horizons of calf-high corn. Sunset had sapped the power of the afternoon’s heat and wind. I felt like I could run most of the night. All of us did, and almost too soon, Steve was handing off the GPS at the Dayton rodeo grounds as we laid down for a couple of hours of sleep.

In Jessup the next night, a local cop pulled up behind me as I was fishing for a Gatorade from the cooler. “You guys oughtta’ be the officers,” he said. “You could chase down all the bad guys.” We talked for a few minutes about the night and the runners he’d seen who weren’t wearing bright enough lights. “You’re nuts,” he said with a smile. “I’ll try to keep the speeders down for you.”

Florida Tim logs an official “road kill” on Day #3.

One afternoon, a woman in an enormous hat and Harry Caray sunglasses leaned out of her SUV window and said, “What you’re doing is very admirable.” A guy in a park said, “How many miles? 337? I’d need 337 people on my team to do that.” We enjoyed our 15 minutes of Iowa fame, catching the locals’ attention by, for once in our lives, playing the role of extreme athletes.

For Team A, the run ended under the water tower in Epworth, just east of the Field of Dreams, where a ghost once asked, “Is this heaven?” and Kevin Costner answered, “No, it’s Iowa.” Teri, the last runner in our group throughout the weekend, ran the final yards. For the last time, she handed off the belt to Ron, who’s nearing retirement age, but didn’t seem a bit daunted at leading off the final, hilly 22 miles into Dubuque.

As the other team ran toward the Mississippi, we took their tip and headed in to try the Boy Scouts’ breakfast being served inside the American Legion Hall. “Six pancakes or 10?” a chubby kid in a kerchief asked as I went through the line. “How about three?” I said. He responded, “That wasn’t an option.”

Team Slo-Pokes gathers for the final quarter-mile to the finish–which is positioned somewhat sadistically atop a huge hill in Dubuque.

The pancakes were a little rubbery, and the coffee tasted like the inside of an aluminum pot. But on the whole, the meal shared the satisfying substance common to every dinner I’ve ever had in a trailhead town after a week in the backcountry. The five of us on Team A sat under a painting of Iowa soldiers fighting the Nazis in Italy and raised our styrofoam cups of orange juice. We toasted ourselves, our teammates running the final leg and an event that had risen above the name of another team in the relay: “It Seemed Like A Good Idea In February.”

“I think this is the part where we say we’re going to Disney World,” someone said.

“This is better than Disney World,” Teri said. Don’t ask her for an explanation of that. It only adds up if you’re full of Boy Scout coffee and runnin’ on a certain kind of crazy.

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Responses

  1. Another great story, Trevor.


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