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Hanging Out with the Cool Kids

Meet the Cool Kids (and semi-charming older guy)! Left to right: Brenna Strawhacker, Caleb Brose, Jake Robertson, Tim Ives, me, Sam Hall & Mandy Ives

Who doesn’t like to hang out with the Cool Kids? I certainly do.

Not only do they make whatever I'm doing seem as though it's the best thing possible, but they almost make me look cool.

Case In Point: The 2024 Market-To-Market Relay.  

One of Iowa’s most popular races, this one begins in the small town of Jefferson with teams of six to eight participants journeying to Des Moines, each running legs - or “stages” - that range between three to six miles in distance.

Yeah, I can already hear you. 

“Sure, Rick.  That sounds like a thrilling way to spend a Saturday in May.”

But it is when you spend that day hanging out with the Cool Kids.

Meet the Cool Kids

You want proof?  Let me tell you a little about The Iowa Body Project team that put up with me.  For starters, we’re all clients of The Body Project, a business devoted to personal fitness, training everyone from elite athletes to people just wanting to get back into shape.  One of our team members not only owns The Body Project but is also the head coach of a high school cross-country team that has won the state title for nearly the past decade.  

Note the sparse crowd at this early exchange with most teams have already passed this point.

If that's not cool enough, how about a member who just competed in the Boston Marathon?  And we have another successful high school track and cross-country coach on our roster.  What about our two fastest guys? One's a recent Iowa State grad whose times blazed past all of us, even though he took it as was a quiet day at the park. Then there’s a young father who balances training with work and spoiling his two lovely young daughters.

Still want more? What about one of my teammates participating after having recovered from Lyme disease and the loss of thirty pounds?

The coolness doesn't stop there. During that same day, first runner I met when we arrived was a local runner who I'd also talked with prior to the Eugene Half Marathon two weeks earlier. Speaking of Eugene, I also chatted with a runner who did that same half marathon last year only weeks from having her first child. Then there’s the guy who ran an outstanding half marathon six days earlier and had to run not two or three, but four legs for the race with a root canal scheduled just a few days later.

Are runners totally cool or what?

Of course, like most uncool people, I totally overcompensated by providing my vehicle, a cooler and water for everyone - just so they let me hang around.

Cool Kids are also considerate. They not only laughed politely at my "Dad" jokes and left my chocolate milk alone but were also totally cool when I took a wrong turn and ran into a road closure. Instead of freaking out like I wanted to do, they went to Google maps and we made our exchange with plenty of time.

What's the Market-To-Market All About?

Market-To-Market differs greatly from my other races.  Since the Cool Kids on our team are also fast, we have limited time to get our runners from one exchange point to the next - particularly on the shorter legs.  Because of that, there's not much of an opportunity to warm up and stretch before you start running.  And when we finish, we're hurrying to a vehicle to hustle to the next exchange which doesn't allow any cool-down stretches.

The State Champion Cross Country Coach is ready to hand off to our Boston Marathon runner.

Racing itself is also significantly different.  Instead of a start with all runners taking off together, a Market-To-Market leg officially begins when you take the metal wrist band from a teammate.  You have to check your watch to know if you're going out too fast or too slow.

Then there are “kills.”  This is a fun aspect of Market-To-Market. You keep track of the number of people you pass or “kills” as they're called.  In order to have teams finish within a few hours of each other, the start is staggered with slower teams going earlier and the fastest teams going last.  Since we’re in that final group, we don’t pass many runners in the first few stages.  But as the race progresses and the exchanges become more crowded, we accumulate a larger number of “kills.”  For example, one of our top runners amassed 45 kills on the 13th Stage!

Running Market-To-Market

My assignment for this year started with Stage Four, an exchange near a lonely barn and a swampy pond where the bicycle trail led me past empty fields and through sparse wooded areas, all culminating in just under five miles of a gradual uphill climb before finishing near two massive grain elevators in the sprawling metropolis of Yale.  At a 6:51 pace, I’d run a bit faster than the previous year and gained four kills. Not bad.

As we wait for the exchange at Stage 13, the crowd has grown noticeably larger.

With gorgeous blue skies and warm temps, the weather could not have been better. For the morning. As I joined my teammates in hurrying to our respective modes of transportation (a bad-ass crew cab pick-up and my boring SUV), I knew that as the day progressed, the mercury would not be our friend.

That prediction proved true when my turn came again at Stage Eleven, a grueling 4.6 miles on a boring-as-hell straight path alongside a busy highway with nary a scrub for shelter that moved us into "da ‘burbs" with temps that had now that climbed into the low eighties. 

If ever there was a moment that called for my carefully prepared playlist of awesome alternative music from 1979, this was it. Devo, David Bowie and Elvis Costello played their parts well, urging me past those runners succumbing to the heat. By the time I handed off to my next teammate, I'd earned 19 kills and maintained 6:56 per mile (still ahead of what I’d ran last year).  My chocolate milk afterwards never tasted better!

A Totally Cool Finish

The Cool Kids delivered on the final six stages. Despite a mishap with one of our team members not being informed of a turn, the Iowa Body Project team made it through the finish line on the Court Avenue Bridge with fourth place overall - and the first team with both men and women to finish!  

While savoring a tasty local IPA at the post-race celebration, I glanced around the table at my teammates. Definitely a collection of impressive individuals. But then I took a quick look at the table on our right. Several other individuals enjoying time in the shade and talking about their races. No question they'd worked hard this day as well. It was the same thought when my gaze shifted to a table on our other side. As well as to the assortment of runners walking around us, talking about their experiences this day.

That's when it dawned on me. Each and every one of us shared a special experience this day. One that makes all of us - at least for today - one of the Cool Kids. (Although I immediately lost that coolness when I failed to chug the rest of my beer when it was time to take our group pics.)

What about you? Any similar experiences or thoughts to share? Feel free to respond below or on Facebook.

This was taken about halfway through M2M. Of course, I'm the geek in the Oregon cap.

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