JEFFERSON — More than 2,500 runners from 20 states will be competing on 350 teams this Saturday, May 7, when the fourth annual Market to Market Relay Iowa holds its 75-mile-long relay race on the Raccoon River Valley Trail’s original “south loop,” and then on other trails on to the East Village in downtown Des Moines.
The runners start from the courthouse square in Jefferson, the north trailhead town of the RRVT. They go off in waves, with the slower, less-serious teams starting at 5:45 a.m. Other waves begin every 30 minutes until the last wave — with the fastest, more-serious teams — starts at 9:15 a.m. Teams can have six, seven or eight runners, and there are nine racing divisions — “open,” “mixed,” “women,” “masters” and so forth.
There are 17 relay exchange zones on the race route, with the finish line being at the east end of the Court Avenue Bridge over the Des Moines River in downtown Des Moines. The championship teams are expected to finish soon after 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, with the slower teams continuing to cross the finish line until 8:30 p.m. The awards ceremony will be held there at 8:30 p.m.
After they finish, most runners will continue east a couple of blocks to the “post-race shingdig” being held outside the new Iowa Taproom at 215 E. Third Street in the East Village.
The relay is one of several racing events owned and operated by Pink Gorilla Events, a Lincoln, Neb.-based production company co-founded in 2008 by Ben Cohoon and Jason Bakewell, who have been pals since boyhood and played soccer together. Their other major ultra relay races include Market to Market Relay Nebraska, with its ninth running from Omaha to Lincoln set for Oct. 8 this year, and Market to Market Relay Ohio, with its third running set for Sept. 10 this year from Cincinnati to Dayton.
The odd name of their company comes from a pink gorilla costume which they came by years ago. It’s now become a tradition that Bakewell acts as official starter at most of their runnning events, donning the startling gorilla costume and, instead of firing a pistol, blowing a long blast on his old battered trombone. Then he sprints out ahead of the runners.
That gives you a good idea of how colorful and fun these events are. Though the elite running teams take the competition very seriously, most of the teams are groups of friends who run in costumes, have intriguing team names and even decorate up the team shuttle vans they use to get from one exchange point to another. In other words, the running is good, but the spectating is great!
Last year’s relay had a thrilling finish. Two teams made up of former college trackmen battled all day long, trading the lead two or three times, almost always running within eyesight of each other. And after 75 miles, “Team Nebraska” beat “Team Run.DSM” by 11 seconds! You can read about that dramatic race by clicking here.
The exchange zones are operated by volunteers — about 250 of them total — working for their non-profit organizations. Those organizations are compensated by Pink Gorilla Events, which this year expects to pay the groups a record total of about $18,000. Since Market to Market Relay Iowa started in 2013, the non-profits working the race have received a total of $44,000.
In addition, Pink Gorilla Events makes significant donations to two other organizations — the Raccoon River Valley Trail Association, which markets & promotes the RRVT, and the Des Moines-based Above and Beyond Cancer.
Packet pick-up for competitors is from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday, May 6, at the Running Room in West Des Moines, or on Friday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Greene County Courthouse in Jefferson.