Sioux City, Iowa --
Perched high on the river bluffs overlooking an overflowing Missouri River, hundreds of runners anxiously gather at the base of the Sergeant Floyd monument in Sioux City, Iowa. The early June morning is cool but the sun is already high and the temperature is rising as runners are incrementally released to begin running Relay Iowa 2019.
The festive atmosphere doesn’t let on that these runners are beginning a 340 mile journey that is purposefully designed to test their mettle as the event begins.
The air is filled with the smell of bug spray, sunscreen and a tinge of regret. According to Iowa Army National Guard Maj. Randall Stanford this morning’s run is not for the faint of heart and the morning of the relay is not the time for second thoughts. Once runners begin, Relay Iowa has them on a nonstop trek that is hailed as the world’s longest relay.
“The fun thing is that is a continuous relay with no breaks so there is always a runner on the course,” explained Stanford, who is leading a team of runners from the Iowa Army and Air National Guard.
Beginning on Iowa’s west boarder, 40 teams and roughly 450 team members start with a single common goal of finishing the quest. Even though the event is celebrating its tenth year this is the first attempt at the Iowa crossing for the Iowa National Guard team.
At the prompting of a fellow teammate Master Sgt. Deb Verdi, Stanford said they helped muster a group of seasoned athletes who collectively agreed to take on the challenge of running the supersize relay this weekend. Stanford hopes his team will finish the course about 49 hours after they begin.
Stanford’s posse includes a wide representation from both the Air and Army National Guard. The Iowa guard team is made up of twelve runners who are all current members of the guard. Six members of the team are from the air guard and six are from the army guard. Team members are young and old, they include officers and enlisted and they are both active and traditional guard members.
“When you throw out, do you want to run across Iowa, usually only serious people reply to that,” Stanford commented when talking about assembling a relay team.
One of the members of the team is Army Sgt. Ayrin Hamner-Ripperger who is nearing completion of 50 half marathons in 50 states. The team also includes the deputy adjutant general of the Iowa Air National Guard, Brig. Gen. Shawn Ford. All of the members of the Iowa Guard team are best described as experienced runners.
As the first leg of the relay begins, the irony may have been lost on some competitors as they begin to stream away from the obelisk that honors U.S. Army Sgt. Charles Floyd. Floyd was the only person to die on his way up the Missouri River with the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Over the course of the next three days and two nights, participants are willingly punishing themselves with the hope of ending their excursion on the shores of the Mississippi River in Dubuque, Iowa by Sunday morning. Stanford and his crew have a solid plan, but as most soldiers know, plans often don’t last beyond first contact with the enemy. However, Stanford added that his crew is up for the challenge.
“I like hard things, the challenge, seeing if you have what it takes to accomplish the mission,” Stanford added. “I went to Ranger school for the same reason. You can think you are the best of the best, but you have to prove it!”
Organizers of the giant relay say the run is purposefully designed to try the spirit. The event has them, “stretching their limits of physical endurance, testing their mental toughness and drawing upon their emotional well place.” Stanford says finding that “well place” is exactly why he and his teammates are interested in the relay.
“I guess we are all crazy or like challenges or both!” Stanford exclaimed.
With the Floyd monument in their rearview mirror, runners are left with only their thoughts for the next few days and long stretches of rolling hills that make up the Iowa landscape.
Runners that are a part of the Iowa National Guard team from the Iowa Army Guard are Major Randall Stanford, Master Sgt. Deb Verdi, Sgt. Emma Meyer, Sgt. First Class Brad Mckinney, Sgt. Ayrin Hamner-Ripperger and Sgt. Nick Sisler. From the Iowa Air Guard, Brig. Gen. Shawn Ford, Command Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Fennell, Staff Sgt. Eric Peters, Chief Master Sgt. Joe Donovan, Lt. Col Adam Carlson and Maj. Jen Carlson. All of the runners from the Iowa Guard who are involved in the event are volunteering their time in order to participate.