Monday, May 29, 2023

Market to Market Relay 2023 - Rockin' the Flock

What happens when seven fun-loving runners team-up for a 76ish mile relay across Iowa?

A flock-rockin' good time is sure to happen! 

After all...we had the van, the fuel, the water, the body balm, the matching sequins-enhanced hats, and an unassuming flamingo mascot. How could it not be a good time?

This all happened on Saturday, May 21st, at the Market to Market Iowa Relay. We departed at 5:00AM, arrived at the start line (Jefferson, IA) around 7:00, crossed the finish line at 7:41PM, and made it back to town around 11:00PM. Yes, it made for a long (and exhausting) day of busyness, but our flock of seven had no regrets. 

ready for the start line

This wasn't my first M2M Relay experience. In previous years, I had been on a team of co-workers (2014, 20172018 and
 2019). M2M had to go virtual in 2020 and 2021 (#Covid). Last year (2022), as M2M returned with all its glory and fanfare, I joined the Grinnell Girls Gone Running team. We had to swap a few runners around this year (due to scheduling conflicts), but I was excited to reunite with most of last year's GGGR team.

Similar to a Ragnar relay (but on a smaller scale), M2M incorporates an approximate 76-mile route. There are 18 exchange points along the course where the teams rotate runners and swap out each team's running batons (in this case, each team has a slap bracelet). Each team is comprised of 6-8 runners, and there are various team divisions based on gender, age, co-ed, collegiate, and corporate. Many of the teams have their vehicles decorated and many of the runners are in costume. It's quite an event!

With our team (#257) of seven, I was the fourth runner (thus, my bib number was 257-4). That meant my first leg wouldn't be happening for almost two hours, giving me plenty of time to stretch, eat and change into my running shoes. Mind you, there isn't much downtime between the running legs, since we have to drive ourselves to each of the parking spots near the exchange points. The runners are on the paved Raccoon River Valley Trail (for most of the course), but the vehicles are off-course (and given maps, with detailed directions).

yes, several of us had matching flamingo-patterned shorts (I even had the matching arm warmers)

Stage 4 - and so I go!
My first leg had me receiving the "baton" from Allison at 9:27AM. Truth be told, my tummy had not been feeling fabulous those first few hours. I'd had some toast (around 4:30), and had to force down a PB&J rice cake before running. The temps were still a cool 57F (it had been 47F at the start line), but the sun was bright and the wind almost non-existent. Surprisingly, the run went pretty well even though my tummy still felt a bit off. I tried to just run with an easy pace since I had two more relay legs to run (mid-afternoon, and early evening).
My stats: 4.85 miles; 45:16 (9:20 pace)

the green route is the running route; the orange is for the drivers

I was grateful I had my water bottle with me as I ran. I warmed up pretty quickly (but the arm warmers stayed on because they looked so cute, LOL). After handing-off to Nicole, I had a few minutes to stretch and by then I was legit hungry. Throughout the morning, all of the team took turns running, handing-off, and high-5'ing. Our flamingo-inspired theme proved to be a hit...we got a lot of compliments on our bedazzled hats!

Stage 11 - back on the trail...
My second leg of running didn't start until 2:19, so I had plenty of time to swap out my sweaty socks, have some lunch, and rehydrate. Although I have run this relay numerous times, I had never run any of these three legs before. That said, I had biked several parts of the Raccoon River Valley Trail (side note - it actually was the trail where myself and three others had ridden our century ride last summer). This particular leg proved to be laden with frustration. The elevation wasn't anything steep, but from the 1.5-mile and on it was a gradual incline to the exchange point. Also, it had a slight continuous curve, so I could never see very far ahead, thus not knowing if/when the trail would ever level-off. But, I did see an adorable baby bunny shortly after grabbing the baton from Allison, and I got to enjoy the aroma of lilacs for most of the run.
My stats: 4.03 miles; 38:17 (9:30 pace)

again - green route is for the runners; orange is for driving

After finishing this leg, I was a major hot and sweaty mess (the temps had risen to 68F and the sunshine was beautiful, but strong). I not only changed out of my socks, but also swapped-out my saturated turquoise tank and running bra (sorry for the TMI) for a much drier pink tank (and fresh bra, LOL). My water bottle (again, a life-saver!) was depleted and I felt a little light-headed and loopy. 

so many fun moments! Can you tell the flamingo was a hit?

Stage 18 - the grand finale!
As the afternoon had wore on, I couldn't seem to shake my fatigue. I was having serious doubts as to whether I'd be able to summon the mojo to run my final leg...which was ALSO the final leg of the day. Just after dropping Barb off (for Stage 16), I saw a convenience store as we were driving to the Stage 17 exchange point. I ran in and bought a bottle of Pepsi, hoping the caffeine (and extra sugar) would work some magic on me...and (spoiler) it did.

About an hour later, Allison handed me the baton at 7:02PM, and I took off. Within the first 1/2-mile, I was already feeling better. My mind had lost its 'brain fog," my legs felt strong, and my energy was refreshed. This part of the route had all the makings of potential confusion, though, because there were numerous non-runners on the path around Grays Lake. The M2M signs were plentiful, but difficult to spot from a distance. I'd made my way about 2/3 around the lake when I saw a sign that said to "loop twice." Having run this path around the lake numerous times (in previous races), I knew that would add another two miles to my current (almost) 2-mile distance...and this final leg was supposed to be four total miles. In other words, I knew I was still a ways from the finish line and "looping twice" couldn't be right. I kept going, and (thankfully) saw another sign (a short ways later) that indicated I needed to turn a different way...and that took me to another path which looked correct. Whew!

 As I made way along the path, I was amazed at how good I was feeling. We're talking a total 180 from how I'd felt not even an hour prior. The route then took me across the Raccoon River. A short while later, I saw my team waiting for me (and Minga, our flamingo mascot) was with them. We made it across the final bridge, together, and crossed the epic finish line as a team.
My stats: 4.08 miles; 38:43 (9:29 pace)

(L-R): Tina, myself, Nicole, Nikki (with Minga), Rebecca, Barb, Allison

Words cannot explain how fantastic this finish felt! 

This event is top-notch. The orchestrating of an entire day (and partial evening) of non-stop action is amazing. There were 174 teams this year! Many of the teams are in costume, most have a theme of some sort, and the majority of the team vans are decorated.

The swag is always nice, and this year was no shirts, socks, instruction books (with detailed maps of each exchange point), and medals that double as bottle-openers!

A few things to note:
***While there are numerous volunteers (and law enforcement personnel) monitoring the traffic, the relay course is an open the runners really have to pay attention to signage when the route enters the final legs in Des Moines (there's a lot of pedestrian traffic, non-relay runners, and cyclists are in abundance).
***Each team is self-supported...we have to provide our own food, fuel and drink for the entire day
***This does make for a long day. We had a 7:30 wave start, but some teams started as early as 5:30 (based on projected finish times, etc.) 
***We had a blast with our flamingo theme. We kept cracking "flocking" jokes ALL day. Minga was a hit...a lot of people wanted selfies with her!

So yeah. You can bet your flock, I'll be returning again next year. 

Have you ever taken part in a team relay? Ever heard of Market to Market Relay? Would you (could you) ever wear a flamingo hat or flamingo-patterned running gear?

I'm linking this with Kim and Zenaida for the Tuesday Topics Link-Up

By the way...are you following me on social media? 
Let's connect : Facebook Instagram  Pinterest Twitter


  1. This sounds like TOO much fun! The race itself but also all the added bits like organising logistics, fun costumes, and just spending time with good friends! BTW - that 180 turnaround you made should be a Pepsi ad!!! LOL!

    1. The Pepsi was pure magic in a bottle! I don't drink much soda these days, but when I do, I drink the real stuff ;-)

  2. I've never run a relay! But I want to... it sounds like so much fun. Once again, I'm with you on the Pepsi (or, Coke for me!). It's somehow this magical drink that gives you a whole new lease on life... who knew?
    Congratulations on a great race. Oh and I would definitely wear the flamingo gear- why not ramp up the fun?

    1. I prefer Pepsi over Coke, but both would suffice for the task at hand, LOL. I probably should have had some of it in the morning hours...

  3. Nope... it does sound fun. I love running with friends and dressing up.
    Mot of the relays are Ragnar and they are multiple days... UGH! There's one I'd like to do Seneca 7 = 7 runners andin one day...

    1. I have heard of the Seneca 7...definitely sounds like another fun one!

  4. OMG the flamingo sunglasses and hats are awesome - you know I love a good theme, lol.

    1. Ha ha, we may have been a bit obnoxious with the flamingo stuff, but it was so much fun! We even had people (that we'd seen throughout the day) say stuff like "Way to flockin' go!" Everyone was speaking our language, LOL.

  5. 100% I would wear flamingo gear. I'm a big fan of relay racing. It's fun and you have a special bond with your team.

    Congrats to your flock!

    1. The bond with one another is strong, no doubt! It was such a fun day ;-)

  6. Relay races are so much fun! The camaraderie of being a team and cheering each other on through the whole race is something special. Looks like a really fun time!

  7. It sounds like too much fun and the swag is beautiful too.
    Congrats on a great race and running with good friends is priceless.
    I ran only 1 relay in July 1986!!!!

  8. Way to go, Kim! You did great!

  9. Congratulations to you and your team! I did one Ragnar Relay years ago and keep saying I would like to do another one. It isn't convenient to me since most take place during the school year but hopefully one day.