None of us were thinking about tying or setting a record when we assembled Friday, June 7 for Relay Iowa, a fundraising run across the state that bills itself as the “World’s Longest Relay Run.” All we were thinking about was making it through the upcoming two-and-a-half days of heat, wind and pavement. Approximately 400 runners on about 40 teams gathered in Sioux City, IA at the starting line for the tenth annual Relay Iowa. The finish line was waiting 341 miles away in Dubuque, IA. The course was supposed to cover 339 miles but road construction forced a few extra steps.

In between those two points, I would get to know my four van mates intimately. We spent the 56 hours from start to finish running and driving, seeking places to eat and sleep and get a shower. I was the new guy on the team. With a small amount of hazing I was accepted into the group.
Our team, let’s call us The Ducks or the Speedo Van, had a second vehicle as well. Most teams use at least two vans. One takes a shift of running while the other group finds a place to rest. That could be at a park, a school, a community center or a nice bed and breakfast-type spot. Like someone’s favorite fishing hole, I cannot reveal the location of the B & B. (And I will neither confirm nor deny whether I ran in a Speedo, photographic evidence not withstanding.)

It’s hard to believe that a sleep-deprived, hunger-inducing, leg-defeating, gnat-filled trip across the hilly (yes, hilly) county roads and state highways of Iowa can be such a fun time! Running in a variety of two-mile to four-mile shifts, each runner in our van averaged about 30 miles or more for the two-and-a-half days.

The goal of Relay Iowa is to support charities, including Restoring Hope, an orphanage in Africa, Drew’s Crew for Kids which offers enrichment activities to youth in Iowa and Camp Hertko Hollow for youth with diabetes. This year a check was also presented to an Iowa law enforcement organization that supports families of officers killed in the line of duty.

Considering the rather heavy-hearted charities, the mood in the vehicles is very light with a we’re-in-this-thing-together attitude.

Towns along the way welcome us with open arms, open pools, showers (some with hot water) and food. My mindset is very much focused on the food. The first stretch ended with a great brat and delicious rhubarb dessert. That was followed by a spaghetti dinner, a pancake breakfast, a baked potato bar and capped by a pulled pork feast in Dubuque.

As I was lifting myself off the wrestling room floor at Independence High School after a sketchy three-hour nap at 1 am Sunday, I was thinking maybe I’m too old for this. Then I saw a 60-something guy digging through his pill box in the locker room preparing for another shift! I think he was on the Coffin Dodgers.
I can’t say enough about how my van-mates made the weekend an unforgettable experience. Kris-our captain who kept me on my toes, Tina-our lead-off runner delivering a solid start to each shift, Bryce-who provided a colorful and upbeat run each time and Jamie-a Minnesota high school track assistant coach, who misses the state meet to run this event.

The other Ducks included Eric, Amy, Randy, Heather, Keri, and Steve. As I look back on pictures, I see we are almost always smiling. I wonder how that’s possible as we each take turns slogging along on 90-plus-degree days with the sun beating down on us, trucks zipping by feet away at highway speeds, and occasionally with the smell of a hog farm hanging over us.

The Relay Iowa website describes the event as, “a metaphor for a life well lived. It is not a race to the finish, but an extended relay of individuals journeying closely together, sustaining each other as they stretch the limits of their physical endurance, test their mental toughness and draw upon their emotional well in a place beyond their comfort zones, for the sole purpose of improving the life of another human being.”

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