A couple weeks ago, I was able to participate in the longest relay in the United States.
This was my second year running in Relay Iowa, a 339-mile relay that stretches from the west side of Iowa to the east. Running in the relay is an amazing experience – it’s grueling and exhausting, but it’s so so worth it.
Relay Iowa is a fundraiser for a great cause, so I wanted to take a break from bookish/writing-type posts to share the purpose of the relay and some things I reflected on during my time running.
What is Relay Iowa?
Relay Iowa is a 339-mile relay that begins in Sioux City, Iowa, and ends in Dubuque, Iowa. Teams composed of people from all over the U.S. begin the relay on Friday morning and cross the finish line on Sunday afternoon. This year there were 44 teams that participated – roughly double the number of teams that ran last year.
The proceeds of Relay Iowa are donated to Restoring Hope Village, an orphanage located in Welkom, South Africa. This year $60,000 dollars were raised, and a check $25,000 was presented to Brian Niehoff, the director of the village, one of my teammates, and a friend of mine.
For more information about Restoring Hope, check out their website here.
How Does Relay Iowa Work?
The best way to truly explain this is to describe my team and how we run the relay. Each team strategizes a little differently, but the gist is the same – a runner from your team is running 24/7.
My team was made up of twelve different people (the total amount of teammates you can have is twelve, but a team can have less). Our team was split into groups of six in two different vans. One van would be assigned a roughly 30-mile leg of the relay while the other van took a few hours off to rest. Each van decided how they wanted to run each leg, but typically, each team member would run 2-2.5 miles, then pass the GPS to the next runner.
During the couple of hours my van had off, we typically found food (highest priority!), then we’d shower (if a place was available), and sleep for a couple hours. We slept in parks – some of us slept in the van, some in sleeping bags, and I slept in a friends hammock.
When you look super gross all the time (and probably smell bad), when you walk around in a half-daze from lack of sleep, and when at least a hundred people who all look that same way pass through the same area, people ask you questions. Amazingly, a couple pulled up to me while I was running and asked me about the relay and how they could donate.
So. You Basically Spent 3 Days Running and Sleeping?
And while it sounds super tiring and maybe boring, it truly does allow a lot of time for reflection. I thought I’d share a couple thoughts I reflected on with you guys because I’m super nice and I know you all are just longing to know what happens in my head.
Being in Your Element
There are some things you’re just good at.
Think about it. It’s true.
Running has always been something I can do. I’m not incredibly fast, but running has always been very natural to me. However, with teaching this year, I let running fall from the wayside. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal – I just wasn’t exercising like I used to.
But as I was running Relay Iowa, I realized how much I missed the freedom running brings. When I’m running, I can completely tune out of everything – I don’t need to worry about notifications on my phone, I don’t need to worry about how to respond to that email. When I’m running, that stuff doesn’t matter.
I feel like running lets me be the most real version of myself (which I get I should be all the time, but I mean – society, guys) and that’s something I’m really working on. But honestly though, when I’m running or working out, I’m not worried about the opinions of anyone else – I’m only worried about running comfortably and what my body needs.
I think not making time to run this year took away some of my free-spirited nature, because I was in work-mode almost 24/7. I never let myself have that hour of time where I turned completely off.
Anyway, I say all this because I think that whatever you’re good at is where you can be completely in your element. And that’s where you’re you. I would challenge you to find that thing, that passion, that hobby, whatever it is that allows you to be completely yourself, away from the judgment of the world, and make time for it.
Running Just To Run
One amazing attribute that I have is that I’m competitive.
I’m sure it’s super cute and never annoying at all.
The first time I ran Relay Iowa, I was in probably the best shape I’ve been in my life. I was working out every day (sometimes twice a day) by running and weightlifting. I drank protein at least twice a day and was hooked on my BCAA/energy supplement (it tasted like Bomb Pops, so . . .). I ran the Kansas City Marathon in the previous October and had just beat my personal best for Des Moines’s Dam to Dam Half-Marathon.
So, you can pretty much imagine my ego was pretty huge when we geared up for our first run.
And that got in my way so much!
I was frustrated with breaks. I was frustrated that my time wasn’t good enough for me (when the heat index was 112 degrees, so I needed to pull back anyway). I honestly just spent large portion of the weekend completely frustrated.
But this year was totally different!
I was running just to run. I wasn’t worried about pace or obsessing over nutrition – I just ran because I loved running. And I finally understood what everyone meant when they kept saying, “It’s a run, not a race.”
Relay Iowa is about the kids at Restoring Hope Village. It’s about making life better for people; it’s using your God-given abilities and resources to help those who need it. So no – Relay Iowa is not a race.
It’s a way to give back.
Doing hard things always reveals something about yourself. It may be something you forgot or something you need to work on, but it’s always beneficial. And doing something hard that helps other people adds an entirely new level to that self-discovery.
Running Relay Iowa might not be for you (but if you think it is, you can find out more information here), but I strongly encourage you to find something that challenges you but also reflects your passion. Once you have that narrowed down, look into ways you can use that to benefit others.
I truly believe we have our abilities and our strengths for a reason, something greater than ourselves. Use them.