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Reliving the longest relay road race in the world

Published: Monday, June 10, 2013 12:43 p.m. CST

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It was 4 o’clock in the morning. I drove van two into a valley east of Manchester looking for van one. With no moon, the night was dark and cold. 

Occasional raindrops slapped the windshield. I glanced in the rear-view mirror at the occupants of my van. The ones that were awake looked like zombies.

One of them said, “This is like having your second child. Now, why am I doing this again?”

But then I saw the flashing lights of parked support vehicles tucked into farm driveways and field entrances. It looked like Christmas in June. We were on the last leg of the world’s longest relay run. 

Only, this year, I was a driver instead of a runner. My running days are over, thanks to a foot and ankle that says, “Enough is enough!”

This is the fourth year for Relay Iowa, and the second year that the team I’m on, the Roadrunners, has participated. The first two years, there were four teams for the event. Last year there were 11.

This year, a whopping 18 teams made the 336 mile relay run across Iowa, from the Sergeant Floyd monument in Sioux City to Eagle Point Park in Dubuque. Television crews from Des Moines were even out covering the event.

It has grown to the point that Relay Iowa is taking on the feel of RAGBRAI, with some runners dressing up in costumes and pulling shenanigans on other teams. Also, it is not a race.

Relay Iowa (www.relayia.org) is a fundraiser for an AIDS orphanage in Africa. Organized by Bill Raine, Relay Iowa is for runners of any ability. Depending on team size, it can be a great challenge for ultra marathoners, or the occasional runner.

For example, our team, the Roadrunners, had 12 runners. Running in 6-mile increments, each runner accumulated 28 miles over two-and-a-half days. GPS is utilized to track runners as they progress across the state.

Sleep deprivation is the biggest challenge, with runners able to grab only a few hours of sleep here and there in parks and shelters along the way. Stinky bodies in cramped vehicles might be the second biggest challenge.

The Roadrunners team was organized by Lori and Roger Griswold of Ft. Madison. Most of the members are from Ft. Madison, but there are also runners from as far away as the Des Moines area and Clinton.

A distinguishing feature of the Roadrunners: we were the only team with a barefoot funner. Yep.

Like last year, some of the team names are hilarious and creative. There’s “It Was a Good Idea in February,” “SUX 2 DBQ,” “Cocky Roosters,” “Ding Dongs,” “Chiller Whales” and “Slo-Pokes.”

Funny events along the way: Red-wing blackbirds dive bombing the heads of runners. We couldn’t find one of our runners, and it was time to meet the other van. The runner was discovered asleep in a portapotty.

While sleeping in the van, I awoke to find my glasses missing. We tore the van apart. They were in my shirt pocket. Not real funny to a pack of sleep starved, hungry runners.

However, cooler temperatures blessed Relay Iowa this year. Most of the runners on our team lost weight. The event wore me out, and I wasn’t even running!

Will I do this next year? Yep. Seeing all those runners hardly moving at the end of the event, and knowing all I had to do was drive the van to the next point, made me smile. That, and knowing Relay Iowa is helping AIDS orphans in Africa.

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