Friday, February 6, 2009

The Twenty Four Hour Relay

Note - All photos can be viewed larger by clicking on the thumbnail image. Also, thanks to Shane, my blogging mentor, at the Greet Machine for help on the image html code.

Back Row r-l, Steve Braunberger, Ken Aune, Tim DaBill, Eric Olson, Robert Wilson. Front Row r-l, Tom Ohe, Lenny Beard, Brian Maas, Lee Erickson, Larry Wilson

It was cross country teammate Larry Wilson's idea. Larry was an odd duck, you must understand. He went through of all high school without missing a single day of running. Remember, this was North Dakota in the late 1970's. Back then winters meant a global ice age and often the temperature would find us bundling up to protect against wind chills of minus 60 below.

One winter day, the wind was howling so fiercely that Larry and I decided the best approach would be to hitch a ride out of town so we could run with the wind. As I recall, the temperature with wind-chill was minus 45.

We had learned from our coach, Russ Schmeichel, that during the summer you ran with the wind to start and against to finish. You did the opposite in winter. Schmeichel knew his stuff, both as a runner and a coach. He still holds the Jamestown College indoor track records for the 600 and 800 meter runs. Both were set in 1969.

He was NDHSCA Coach of the Year four times (1977-1978, 1988-1989, 1990-1991, and 1991-1992). In 1998, Schmeichel received the Special Achievement Award from the North Dakota Associated Press Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. It is the association's highest honor. Schmeichel had built a cross country dynasty at Jamestown High School during his tenure.

In 24 seasons as head coach, Schmeichel led the Jamestown Blue Jays to 17 state championships. During my high school career, we won back-to-back titles. While other cross country teams would arrive at the meets in a small bus carrying perhaps 10 runners, the Blue Jays would show up in two full-sized buses with over 70 runners.

My favorite race memory had to be the Teddy Roosevelt Meet in Medora, North Dakota. The 7-8th grade team won. The 9th grade team won. The girls’ team won. The Reserves team won (I placed 4th, the Blue Jays finished seven runners in the top 10). Then the varsity won. The Blue Jays had swept all five divisions.

The Junior Varsity team took the first six places.

Fourth place trophy 1978 Junior Varsity

But back to Larry and me. It was cold. We wanted to run but to try and be smart about it. So we ran a few miles to the north-bound area of Highway 281 and got a ride in a semi. We asked the driver to take us five miles out of town. We jumped out and started the run back into Jamestown. Shortly into the run, the wind shifted. It was now coming at our right side. We had three miles to go.

Suffice to say that Larry and I did complete the run. We showed up for school the next day. But we each had a right ear the size of Delaware. A bright red, excruciatingly painful right ear. But that's how hard-core we were.

This same Larry had a bright idea one summer day in 1980. Larry was also the one who read Runner's World like it was some kind of damn bible and then held a mass and preached from the pulpit to us after each new issue. There was a new challenge for us. Something called a 24-hour relay. Larry had decided he would assemble a team of 10 runners at the local track. Each runner would then run one mile, hard, and pass a baton to the next runner. That would leave each runner a 'nine-runner' rest period before his turn was up again. We'd do it for 24 hours. Our goal: to set a new North Dakota state record.

Larry planned it all out. We'd run on the college track at Taylor Stadium (Jamestown, North Dakota). He picked out the crème de la crème from available local runners. Larry had asked the assistant high school cross-country coach, Jim Stage, to be on the team. Larry recalls, "I later learned that he thought we couldn't do it and bailed out." The thing we all recall about Coach Stage was that he was a fore-strike runner....always on his toes. And fast as hell. He had also had quite the party life in college and always talked about 'horking up a bit of black lung' from his smoking days. Especially when we, as Tim Dabill recalls, "were chatting up a storm on a 12-mile run turned 16 on a Schmeichel miscalculation."

There was also a senior wannabe, Joe Bennett, who Larry would have loved to have had on the team. But Joe was on a family vacation in Montana and not available.

No matter, the team was put together anyway. It was quite a heady list. The core of the team were members of the '77 & '78 North Dakota state XC championship teams.

State Meet Results from Jamestown Sun

State Meet Rehash from Jamestown Sun

State Meet Rehash from Jamestown Sun

Brad Braunberger: 1981 Men's Outdoor Track & Field All-American; 3,000-Meter Steeplechase National Champion (Division III - 1982). His 8:52.95 in the steeple ranks as 10th fastest all-time. He was also runner-up in the '78 state championship XC meet.

Eric Olson, Robert Wilson, Lenny Beard: The core of the Jamestown College cross country and track teams.

Lee Erickson, Ken Aune, Tim DaBill, Tom Ohe, Brian Maas, & Larry Wilson: In 1980, this core was one year removed from a second straight state cross country high school title in which Erickson had finished 47th, Aune 41st, Joe Bennett in 5th, and DaBill in 3rd. Maas had been named Hardest Worker in '78 and Ohe had “most miles in a week” for the '77 season at 107 miles and had the biggest full heel blister ever known to man to prove it. Maas surpassed that mark in '78 running 119 miles in one week and 770 miles for the XC season.

Jamestown Sun, June 7, 1980

Larry was also finding local sponsorships. Ken recalls, "Paul Lunde from Goodroad Sports donated some sweat socks. Pavement Pounders, I believe." The local crowd was starting to buzz.

A few days before the scheduled event....disaster. Brad would not be able to run. Larry did not have to look far for a tenth runner. Instead of the younger Braunberger, the team would have the older son. Steve Braunberger was brought in. At the time, one could argue that Steve was the faster runner.

The day of the event came. Larry recalls, "The day was really windy and some people wanted to postpone. I thought if we did that, we would never get everyone organized to try it again, so we went for it that day."

So at 1 p.m., the race for the record began. We decided to call ourselves the Ernest Hogg Track Club, an idea floated by Ken and agreed upon by the team.

Lenny Beard

The order of the runners would be:
  1. Lenny Beard
  2. Eric Olson
  3. Robert Wilson
  4. Tim DaBill
  5. Steve Braunberger
  6. Ken Aune
  7. Larry Wilson
  8. Lee Erickson
  9. Tom Ohe
  10. Brian Maas

It was very windy. But the advantage of a 400-meter outdoor track is that you are only facing the wind on one stretch. On this day, that meant we had to bear down on the back-stretch. And we got a little help.

We had groupies in those days. Chicks, to be more exact. Our all-powerful state championship cross country teams had more 'pull' with the girls than the football team. And they came to help.

On the backstretch there was now a steady rotation of girls serving as wind rabbits. They ran in front from corner two to corner three and aided each runner in blocking the wind. Oh, we remember the names all right. I just choose not to list them here out of respect. You see, it was like running for 100-meters behind the likes of Jennifer Lopez. It was hard to focus on the task at hand. We had to work on safely getting the baton from runner to runner!

Tom Ohe hands the baton to Brian Maas

The day wore on and the wind began to die, thankfully so. By Saturday evening, the difficulty of the task had yet to set in and spirits were still high. Had the wind held, it may have been a different story.

Brian Maas & Lee Erickson during a lighter moment

Brian Maas late afternoon on the first day

As dusk came, we decided to pitch a tent so we would have a place to change and grab 40 winks. And then the sun finally dropped out of sight and darkness set in.

The infamous tent

We resorted to flashlights to light the corners as we ran, but I recall it was fairly bright out that night, and darkness was not a big deal except for corner three. And we had the music.....sweet, sweet late 70's keep us focused and going. Yeah, we may not have had iPods yet, but we did have 8-track, cassette, reel-to-reel and speakers. And we had it blaring.

Ken remembers, "I brought my cassette player from home and hooked it up in the old press box. All I really had was Chicago..."Feelin' Stronger Every Day" went over well, whereas "Colour My World" almost sent Lenny on a killing spree.

I recall songs from the Donna Summer "Hot Stuff" album. My favorite at 4 a.m. Sunday morning was "Dim All the Lights".

Taylor Stadium is within ear-shot of a local neighborhood. So the inevitable happened. Somebody called the cops about the 'noise' and they showed up. Larry recounts what happened:

"The cops came. They talked to me and said, 'We are here to tell you to turn down the music, but we don't care if you do or not. So if anyone asks, we told you. That way we won't get in trouble.' I thanked them, they left and told me 'good luck'.”

The night really started to drag and eventually a few guys started to break down. Tim and Ken were having a tough time of it. Ken recalls, "I ran out of steam during the night and considered quitting. Steve Braunberger convinced me to stay and just slow down. I am grateful for that."

Eventually, the old, grizzled vets started to encourage the young dogs. It was Lenny, Eric, Robert and Steve who told us to dig deep and to keep going. But there was a lot of groaning.

The other depressing sound: the unzipping of the tent. Slowly, a runner would crawl out and stand, quadriceps aching, wincing with stiffness. Fifteen hours into the event...4 a.m....and running yet another leg seemed impossible. A slow warm-up was like rocking a car out of deep snow.

But at the exchange zone, there’s cheering and waving as the approaching runner came into view. There are smiles as the baton is given over, and suddenly, there’s joy: this effort, this drama is still going and the energy is renewed.

And best of all, the sun did come up the next morning. Just having the sunrise was like a B-12 shot in the butt and invigorated everyone.

Eric Olson awaits his turn as Ken Aune and Tim DaBill sleep

Brian Maas early morning on the second day

Our fastest splits, as memory serves up were in the low 5:00's. Our slowest was just under six minutes a mile. Some of the fastest splits came within the very last legs as the crowd at the track began to fill up the stadium.

The crowd on the final day

Lenny started running sub-5's again. Eric and Robert were running 5:11, 5:06. Tim ran a 5:11 when the record was broken. Steve, the last-minute replacement, ran a 4:47 at 11 p.m. Ken came back down to 5:40's. Larry, the Pacing Guru, ran a 5:38 for his first split and a 5:38 for his last. Lee's last lap, a 5:22, was his fourth-fastest split. Tom, like Larry, was also consistently running 5:40's for his first and last laps. Yours truly cooked a 5:18 on the energy from the crowd who came to their feet for each runner.

We ended up setting the North Dakota state record at 263 miles and change. That was a group 5:27 per mile pace over 24 hours. But even that came with controversy and a challenge before our record officially stood. More on that in a bit.

Robert Wilson - the man who made the measurement

I lost 12 pounds during the effort. I fell asleep at the movies later that night. I ached for days. But we 10 were all walking in proud agony. Even today there is a swelling of emotion to go along with the memory of fatigue, accomplishment and camaraderie - the memories runners hold on to.

The next day, we had a huge spread in the Jamestown Sun to announce the achievement.

Jamestown Sun, June 9, 1980

And that's when the controversy started. It seems Runner’s World didn't have the most recent record. Apparently, another North Dakota runners club out of Bismarck had run 263 miles, 1,630 yards in July, 1972. We knew we had run 263 miles and change. But what of the yardage?

Jamestown Sun, June 10, 1980

A week later, Robert Wilson went to Taylor Stadium with a steel tape measure. Tim recalls, "When I went past the three-quarter mile mark during one of my last legs, we were, according to Larry, miles ahead of the Bismarck group record (the one we all thought we needed to break). A number of our team told me to just 'stop' but I was feeling decent enough to run it out. Everyone else decided to carry on as well."

Larry remembers, "I was the one who told Tim to stop at the three-quarter mile mark to make it easy for me to calculate the total distance. Good thing Tim is a prideful and competitive person and went the ‘full monty’, because that set the stage for breaking the record."

Per the official measurement, the Ernest Hogg Track Club had run 263 miles, 1,664 yards eclipsing the state mark by 34 yards.


Jamestown Sun, June 11, 1980

This was one of those once-in-a-lifetime events that one doesn't readily forget. It becomes the stuff of legend. Heck, when first starting to do research for this article, I was certain that we had all been running 4:30's per mile. Funny that as we age, the epic events take on more meaning.

What I enjoyed most was the team. You really got to know each other. Memories of running, no sleep, less than perfect food, the smelly tent, the wind on the backstretch - those all fade. What remained is the friendship.

The Splits by Runner

Team Splits, Page One

Team Splits, Page Two

Ten-Year Anniversary Announcement in Jamestown Sun

Jamestown Sun, June 8, 1990

Podcast Information

Audio Description: An audio telling of the 24-hour relay story.

Material Source: Larry Wilson, Ken Aune, Tom Ohe, Tim DaBill, & Lee Erickson

Songs Used: Old Days by Chicago; Colour My World by Chicago; Dim All the Lights by Donna Summer; Take the Long Way Home by Supertramp; Fat Bottomed Girls by Queen; Couldn't Get It Right by the Climax Blues Band; Flip, Flop & Fly by the Blues Brothers; Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man) by Styx

Duration: 20 minutes, 21 seconds

Date Last Updated: Fri 06 Feb 2009 10:17:47 PM CDT

File Size: 19.1 MB


Brian said...

Per Larry, the list of the TOP 10 Things I got wrong..

#10-Kevin was on the initial roster, but was still feeling fatigued after the Kruegs/Radish 100 meter "sprint" on the very same Taylor Stadium 6 months prior.

#9-Steve Davis was one of the "wind bunnies" but easy to mistake for a "groupie chick" for he did have one nice ass.

#8-Brad did actually run the relay, to this day I believe him and Steve B are the same person for you never saw the 2 of them together at one time.

#7-Joe Bennett was never considered for the run, I was still pissed he was dating my old girlfriend , Lori Swanson.

#6-We never did measure with a "steel tape" that was just trying to make the garden hose we actually used to sound really official.

#5-Lee was also not on the official roster. I mean , really , does anyone want to be with Lee for 24 consecutive hours??

#4-Tim was always on the official roster. Because if someone dropped out, I knew that he would volunteer to run their leg as well as his own.

#3-The cops did come, but not about the music. They got a report that Eric Olson was smoking a "dobbie" while he was running.

#2- Ken never had a "bad Patch" during the night , He simply realized the absurdity of it all and was looking for a gracious way out of the mess I helped put him in.


#1-I had asked Bruce Johs to run instead of you for the simple fact that he would not have brought this whole affair up after nearly 30 years. He chose to decline due to a Talking Heads concert in Fargo that weekend.

MHarks said...

Bahahahaha, thanks for that comment! I have accepted that life gets busier, but a 2012 gold medal, AND a full time student, my face would be everywhere. Thanks again man, also- do you facebook?

Brian said...

Yep, my Facebook badge is on the right navigation area about mid-way down.

trimybest said...

those are fast splits for being sleep deprived!