Sunday, April 26, 2015

Mother Nature Beat Me to the Finish Line

After the relay with a rainbow behind
By Kevin Hunsperger
@kevinhunsperger  & @my123cents on Twitter

About two weeks before the annual River to River Relay here in southern Illinois, I was asked to be a substitute on two different teams. I'd never done the race before, but was excited about the opportunity.  The River to River is an 80 mile relay race that extends from the Mississippi River in Wolf Lake, Illinois to the Ohio River in Golconda, Illinois.  There are 24 legs of the relay, so each runner has three legs to complete.  Runners from around the country compete.  

Running with the baton
Yes I took pics and video as I ran
The race starts early, so my team met at 4:30 a.m. to travel about an hour to the start line.  Runner one takes off and the rest of the team gets in a van and drops off runner two at the exchange and picks up runner one.  The process continues throughout the day.  I was an alternate for my team, so I was only running two portions of the relay as runner number eight.

My first run was at about 9:30 a.m.  By then the misting rain and cooler temperatures were leaving and it was starting to warm up.  I huffed and puffed my way up at least two intense hills.  I don't even remember if there were more than that.  I don't do a lot of hill training and since I hadn't planned to run the race this year I wasn't as prepared as I could have been.  My portion on that first leg was right around 3.6 miles.  My time wasn't horrible (for me), with a pace of 8:49 per mile.

Our captain in action

Then it was time to relax for a while, as I wouldn't run again until the very end.  I sat in the van with other teammates as we joked and laughed and shared stories.  With the exception of one of them, I'd never really met my team before Saturday.  I had a good time as we would get out and cheer for our team at each exchange.

My favorite van of the day
The other fun thing about the relay is seeing my other friends who have become runners.  I'd have a chance to chat before climbing back in the van and driving to the next stop.  Because I was drinking so much water too, hitting the port-a-potty each time was almost a necessity.  Some stops even had folks at them with homemade treats and water for the runners.  That was pretty awesome.

What the hail?!?
Taken safely from inside the van
All day the threat of severe weather loomed.  As we arrived at exchange 21, our number five guy got out (without his beloved poncho) and waited for number for to pass the baton.  Moments after he had it in his hand, the skies opened up and a torrential rain followed.  He was soaked as he handed off to runner number six.  Then Mother Nature took it a step further, with two rounds of pounding hail.  Our guy bravely moved on and handed off to runner seven.  That's when things got even worse.  Lightning filled the sky, but our runner carried on.  Our captain joined him too.  The two ran for a while before wisely deciding safety was more important and climbed back into the van.

It was up to me to decide if I wanted to finish the race.  According to the rules, I could continue the rest of 23 and finish up at Golconda.  I'd talked with Ashley Smith, the meteorologist at the TV station where I work.  She'd also just completed the race (her team won first in their division). She said the lightning would pass soon, so I decided I'd wait a few minutes and continue. Little did we know race officials had already called the relay.  I made my way up a small incline with a lit rain hitting me along the way.  For the record, I hate being wet, but my pride took over as I wanted to finish this race.

When I got to the exchange where I was supposed to officially start running, a friend of mine was walking to his van and said they'd closed the course.  I continued up the road where a sheriff's deputy was blocking the rest of the course. Disappointed, I got back into the van with our captain who had joined me to confirm the news.  We drove into Golconda and got out together and ran the short distance to the finish line to claim our tee shirts and get something to eat.  We capped things off with a picture at the Ohio River and a faint rainbow behind us.

After the rain
I am disappointed I didn't get to officially finish the race, but I applaud the tough decision made by race officials.  Not only did they have to think of the safety of the runners (many were still behind us on the course), but also the hundreds of volunteers and the law enforcement along the way.  I was told this is the first time in the event's 28 year history that they've had to cancel.  I'm going to assume I'm not bad luck and hopefully get a crack at it again next year.



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