Thursday, June 2, 2011

Run For The Heroes - Run Across Georgia Report

This past Memorial Day weekend I joined a seven other runners and three of the best support crew members a relay team could ask for in the Run For The Heroes - Run Across Georgia. Together we made our way from Columbus to Savannah, pushing our physical and mental limits in the name of raising awareness and funds for the House of Heroes.

After most races of significance I'll post an after report talking about the event itself, how I fared and lessons I took away from it. But this wasn't most races. Unlike others, I was able to post my progress along the way on dailymile (legs:1/2/3/4/5/6) and get feedback from family and friends. By the time it was over I felt like I'd worn out my welcome, and figured there was no point in rehashing it all over again in my blog. So, instead of doing that I'm going to attempt to recall some of the highlights instead.

Eat like a Kenyan, Run like a Kenyan?
Race weekend began for me late Friday afternoon when I got to Columbus. Andy and his wife, Kellye, invited me to stay the night at their house, so I took them up on the offer. I arrived around 5:30 and after unpacking a couple of things Andy and I drove over to our team captain Dorothy's house for dinner. A native of Kenya, Dorothy had offered to cook us a meal of ugali, curried beef stew and cabbage. When it was ready she instructed us to wash our hands, a motherly nudge which sounded a little odd coming from someone I didn't know very well. A few minutes later the reason became apparent - we were expected to eat with our hands like a Kenyan! Famished, I happily dug in and made short work of the meal and even went back for seconds. It was excellent, and secretly I hoped it would make me run like a Kenyan over the weekend.

The Miracle Runners
The alarm went off at 4am Saturday after a fitful night of little sleep. We got to the race start line at the National Infantry Museum at 5:15am and I was introduced to Mike and Ashley, teammates I had yet to meet. There was a lot of commotion and a last-minute briefing to attend to, so we didn't get to talk. There was a short prayer, an incredible a capella rendition of The Star Spangled Banner by the husband of a racer, and lots of photos taken. Before I knew it it was 6am and time for the race to begin. Andy, our leg # 1 racer, was visibly nervous as he toed the line, and within a few minutes he and runners from eight other teams took off. The hunt was on to catch seven other teams that had departed earlier at 4am!

This is the point of the report where it gets tricky. If I attempted to recount the next 34 hours 25 minutes of our race this would be the longest post in history. There's just too much, so here are some of the things that stand out in my memory.
    Me and Mike Buteau
  • I had the good fortune to finally meet Mike Buteau in person, a guy I knew through dailymile. I easily recognized him at transition # 3 from his picture and introduced myself. He proved to be every bit the engaging personality and crazy fast runner I'd expected, and it was great seeing him throughout and after the race. I hope we're able to run into each other again in the future.
  • The hills in west Georgia were long, relentless and humbling. I think our # 4 racer, Chelsea, drew the worst legs, but everyone got a taste of them. Looking back at my GPS data I see they ranged in grade from 2% to 4%. That might not sound like much until you realize each one seemed to be a half mile to a mile long, and they kept coming one after another.
  • At the Red Hill Baptist Church we had our first opportunity to sit and talk with another team. We met Hannah, Stephanie and Beth from the Sweaty Sistas and got to know each other while swatting away the gnats. Speaking of which, they, like the hills, were relentless. The only place to escape them was under a curtain that had been sprayed with DEET.
  • Transition # 15 at Elko Boggin was where I fell in love with a lab retriever. She was the friendliest, most gentle dog I've ever come across. She came when called, ate up the attention and appeared to have a perpetual smile on her face. If it weren't for the collar around her neck I might have coaxed her into the van.
    Me at the end of leg # 5
  • My most challenging and rewarding leg was # 5 from the Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church in Collins to the United House of Prayer in Bellville. After unsuccessfully attempting to locate a bathroom I had to hustle to the transition point because Chelsea was within sight. She handed off to me and I saw the runner from Team Sua Sponte in the distance, maybe a half mile ahead of me. It didn't take but a few steps before I experienced a sharp, stabbing pain in my abdomen. It hurt so much I winced and was afraid I'd have to stop and walk. I slowed my pace to about a 9-min/mile and breathed in as deeply as I could, hoping it would go away. I did this over and over the first mile and a half, watching the other runner pad his lead. Eventually the sharp pain was replaced with an ache and I was able to speed up. I hadn't had the opportunity to chase anyone down on the other legs, so I knew I needed to take advantage. I slowly reeled him in over the next few miles and finally passed him at the 5-mile mark. After a quick fist bump of respect I pulled away and put a few minutes between us over the last couple of miles. I later learned from one of his teammates that not only was he an Army Ranger, but one of their best. And if you're wondering, Sua Sponte is the Ranger motto. It means "Of Their Own Accord" in Latin.
  • I had just finished my final leg at the Chevron in Poole and was standing by the van trying to cool down. An older model car pulled up and a woman got out. She approached me and Ashley and asked if we were running for the House of Heroes. I was still in a bit of a fog, but replied that, yes, we were. She then handed me a $10 bill and thanked me for what we were doing. I quickly asked her name, and she said it was Sharlene. She went on to tell us that her brother-in-law was a disabled veteran and that he and her sister had been helped by the organization. For this encounter to occur at the end of my last run really reinforced what we were there for. I frequently thought of the vets we were helping throughout the race, but seeing Sharlene look me in the eye and express her gratitude like that resonated with me.
  • The morning after the race Tim and I got a chance to sit and have coffee with John Teeples and his wife, Melissa. Not only did he run the entire 260 miles across Georgia, but he's the organizer of the race and champion for the House of Heroes. It was a pleasure to speak with him and hear about trek across the state. I was taken by how gentle a man he was. Or maybe he was just really, really tired.
To wrap this up I'd like to say I truly enjoyed getting to know all of my teammates and our support crew. Even though I was the outsider of the group I never felt like one. I started writing things about each of them that stood out, but quickly realized I would be adding a couple of pages to this post. Instead I'll just say I was impressed with each and every one of them. Going into this thing you know you're going to run the gamut of emotions, but witnessing it happen and how pure exhaustion reveals true character was something to behold. Were there trying moments? Sure, but I don't believe for a minute anyone forgot why we were there and how much we depended on one another. It was a privilege to be included in this group, and I'm grateful I had the opportunity.


One last thing. If you ever decide to participate in a long-distance relay race like this here are a couple of tips.
  • Bring along The Stick. If you don't own one, get one. It helps squeeze out the lactic acid buildup in your muscles and speeds recovery. I recommend the 20" Marathon Stick for runners.
  • If it's expected to be hot (or even not) make sure you have a way to replace electrolyte loss. I'm a fan of Succeed! S! Caps, and members of my team appreciated them.
  • Again, if it's hot you absolutely must have sponges soaked in freezing water on hand to pass out every mile.
  • I brought a towel for each leg of my race, which wasn't necessary. Everyone gets so gross that it doesn't take long for a few towels to be shared over and over again.
  • If you're going to use water coolers that don't have screw-on tops, make sure the driver knows about them. :)
  • Yes, bring more than one pair of shoes and socks. And at least a couple of extra shirts/singlets to change into.
  • Car chargers with multiple USB ports are good for powering multiple phones at once.

And here are a couple of more photos from the race. I'll post others as they become available.

Andy handing off to Tim


  1. Great race report, as always! It was great keeping track of you and the team through Daily Mile and to share vicariously the great performance!

  2. Drew, your gift for capturing an event in words is eclipsed only by your gift for running. Thanks for sharing the weekend with our team. You were definitely not an outsider.

  3. Drew, Andy shared your post with me(hisDad) and I found it very interesting! Thank you for what you and all the other runners did for House of Heroes!