Matt V. – River to River Relay

  2008 River to River Relay [Photos]

The Illinois River to River Relay is probably one of the more unique races in Illinois. Every April, the maximum of 240 teams made up of 8 runners make the 80 mile trek across the southern tip of Illinois from the Mississippi River Valley to the Ohio River. Each runner gets three sections ranging from 2.5 to 4 miles to complete. As part of the relay, while one person is running their section, the other seven (usually crammed in a sweaty, stinky van) drive up to the next transition, cheering for their teammate and other runners along the way. The most challenging aspect of this race is the “rolling hills” on roads made up of asphalt, gravel, dirt, dust, and sometimes mud and water. The Illinois River to River Relay is definitely one of the hardest challenges for any distance runner.

I was a member of the “Relay Renegades” this year. We were in the mixed division (at least three from each sex), comprising mostly of old friends from our days at Illinois College. Our start time was 8:45am, relatively late for this relay (we were worried about finishing by closing at 8pm!). The weather was cooler, in the 50’s most of the day with a light rainy drizzle the entire day. Because I had recently completed the half marathon in Springfield, I was chosen to run Section 4 of the relay. This comprised of three runs totaling 10.70 miles all together, one of the longer sections of the relay.

River to River 2008My first big mistake of the day was forgetting to bring my Garmin Forerunner! I was a little worried about pacing myself. I have run this relay before and the hardest part is not only pacing yourself for one hard run, but pacing yourself for three hard runs! My first run was Section 4. This section was labeled “moderate” and included several “rolling hills” according to the information packet. I quickly realized that “rolling hills” in southern Illinois are like mountains in central Illinois. There is nothing close in Springfield that even resembles what they call a “rolling hill”. Anyway, by the time my section started, I was ready to run. I felt great the entire section, and was actually pleased with my performance on the “rolling hills”. I finished the 3.65 miles in just over 27 minutes.

My second section was Section 12. This was labeled “moderate to hard” and includes more “rolling hills” and some running in Goreville, Illinois. This section was more of a challenge as I had to wind through the backstreets of Goreville away from the vans. One amazing thing about this relay, is the sudden boost of energy you get on your run, when your team passes cheering you on (it’s ok to walk after the van passes). This section was 3.80 miles and I felt really good again. Usually, on the second run you start to feel some soreness and fatigue in your legs, but I did not notice this a bit on my second run.

My last section was section 20. This was labeled “moderate” and was 3.25 miles in length. I was worried that, this being my shortest and last run, I would overlook it. Again, I felt good. My legs were fatigued mid-way through this run, but I was able to push through it. In fact, for the first time I ran an entire three legs of a relay without walking or stopping during any section. Again, I finished this section in just over 27 minutes. Not being a fast runner and a bigger guy, I was pleased with this time even though it was a shorter run.

River to River 2008Our team, “Relay Renegades” finished with an overall time of 10:07:29 good for 23rd place in the mixed division. We finished just before 7pm, well before course closure. We were excited that we finished the course in a much better time than we had anticipated. One of the greatest feelings of this race is running through the finish line in Golconda, Illinois together with all of your team members, while spectators cheer you on. At the finish line, there was a small fair with a party-like atmosphere. That evening, it was fun to drink a few cold ones on the steps of the courthouse in Golconda, reflecting the experience with my teammates as well as several others we had met throughout the day.

Overall, the Illinois River to River Relay is a fantastic experience! It’s one of the few ways to make distance running a team sport. It was great to spend the day catching up with old friends and making some new ones! If you missed out on the Illinois River to River Relay this year, you might want to check out the Illinois Valley Relay in Winchester, Illinois this fall.

– Matt Vortman

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