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Coach's Corner with Greg Schrobilgen

Below you will find the ramblings, musings and advice from one of our most experienced team captains, Greg Schrobilgen. He coordinated four teams, and all of them finished, so he apparently knows what he is doing.

How many teams have you recruited for Relay Iowa?  We entered one team (Born to Run) in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Relay Iowas. The next year we brought two more teams (Thunder Road and Whippersnappers). The next year we brought a 4th team (Ghost Striders), a total of 55 runners.

Wow, that’s a lot of runners to drag across Iowa and back! What is your secret?  Friends with short memories.

No seriously, do you have any pointers you can share that will help me to captain my own team?  Yes.

(long pause)

Oh, you’re still here? Yes, I can. What pointers should I go on and on about?

Tell me about the runners who have run for you. I imagine they are a high-powered bunch–state champions, collegiate runners, marathoners, triathletes, and so on, right?  Ha ha ha! Good one, imaginary interview person! I’m afraid you are confusing Relay Iowa with an actual race. People who run Relay Iowa run it for the sheer joy of running. Although we have a number of accomplished runners on our team, every year we have one or two (you know who you are) who do little to no training and manage to gut it out–you can usually spot them on Saturday somewhere west of Independence, limping badly and hating life. The only criteria I have ever used in selecting runners is attitude. Fun people make for an enjoyable team. Our runners are men and women, high school and college and older, on up to our most “senior” runner, a 64-year-old, who would NOT want me to mention that he has run 49 marathons. Parents have run with their high school children, boyfriends have run with their girlfriends, and co-workers have even run with…me!

Is it OK to recruit total strangers to run Relay Iowa with me?  Several years ago, one of our runners, Ross, was talking to the guy behind the counter at Dunkin Donuts about running. The Dunkin Donuts guy, Daniel, when he heard that Ross would be running Relay Iowa, said, “I’d love to run in something like that”. Ross said, “Are you free two weeks from now?” Daniel has run with us four times now. Another one of our runners, Imal, has been accused of talking up everyone in the grocery line, even 80-year-olds with walkers. I have personally never recruited a total stranger, but friends of friends are the best way to build a team. Get a couple people hooked on Relay Iowa and let them do all the recruiting work–that’s my motto!

Once I have 10 or 20 (or 30 or 50) people interested, how do I keep them updated on team news?  Dinosaurs like me use email. The kids these days probably have a Snap-o-Gram account or an Insta-Chat page they would prefer to use. You’ll have to adapt to whatever communication tool your runners use.

Is it hard to captain multiple teams?  I don’t know. I have always captained just one team, and others have stepped up to “take charge” of the other teams. My daughter put together a team of just-graduated high school seniors (the Whippersnappers) two years ago, and I recruited parents to drive them and pay for stuff, but then I backed off and let them figure it out during the relay. This year the Whippersnappers re-formed, borrowing cars and driving themselves after their freshman year in college. We had 8 high school runners sign up as the Ghost Striders, so I merged them with 5 of my runners to form a team, with volunteer adult drivers for the 2 high school vans. The amazing thing is, with the majority of my runners saying they will run again this year, we are looking at the real possibility of bringing 5 or 6 teams the next year!

Why Iowa? Shouldn’t you be running across a really beautiful state, like Colorado?  Nothing against Colorado, but it turns out Iowa is the perfect state to run across. Rhode Island is too small, Tennessee is too long, and I don’t know what “across” means in Michigan. Iowa is flat-ish much of the way, with enough hills to be challenging and a major river on each side so you have an actual destination to start and stop at and not just an arbitrary dotted line to mark the border like Colorado (boo, Colorado!) has. And if the only time you have ever experienced Iowa is driving 85 miles an hour across it on the way to Colorado (boo, Colorado!), you need to slow down, get off the expressway, and see the beauty of Iowa. It ain’t mountains (who wants to run mountains?), but it is truly beautiful. Trust me.

What are your feelings about splitting up the miles?  Relay Iowa is unique among running relays in that it allows you to split up the miles amongst your teammates however you want. It’s also unique because it’s the longest relay run in the world, but this is not the paragraph where I brag about that. Personally, I favor having my runners run 6-mile legs, because I have no imagination and no desire to do complex math. On a 12-person team, that means everyone would run 6 miles 4 times, then finish with a 4-mile run on Sunday morning. Other teams prefer to run shorter runs during the day and longer runs at night. Sometimes a van will “go rogue” and take turns running 1 mile each, over and over, until their allotted miles are covered. This makes my head hurt just thinking about it, but who am I to judge? Be creative! Have each runner run 26 miles straight! Have your lefthanders run the uphills and the righthanders run the downhills! Have men run forward and women run backward! Do what you want, just complete the 339 miles by Sunday afternoon and enjoy yourselves.

What are your feelings about vehicles?  I am strongly in favor of using vehicles. Our teams have found it is easiest to use 3 vans per team, 4 runners per van. That way, after your van finishes a leg, you get to go goof off while the other 2 vans take their turn, giving you maximum recovery time. Other teams have used 2 vehicles, or an RV, or 1 van and a small car or two to shuttle people to/from the van. There is not one right answer, but there are some wrong ones, like using 6 vans of 2 runners–that would be very, very bad.

Where will we sleep?  You’ll be in Iowa, not Mars, so there are SOME amenities. Not a lot of amenities, but still. If you plan to sleep in hotels, Fort Dodge works best for Friday night, and we have used hotels in Manchester or Dyersville for Saturday night. Do make reservations ahead of time. Some of our runners have slept in Independence at the high school on Saturday night and found that to be comfortable enough. If you’re camping, good luck! It’s not for me, but there are some nice campsites along the way. And if you’re planning to sleep in your van, bring some Ibuprofen for the morning. Fortunately, wherever you decide to sleep, it won’t be for long. So, even if it’s not super comfortable, it won’t last long.

Where will we eat?  Definitely stop in Ida Grove for the spaghetti dinner. The spaghetti is not a gourmet meal, but by Friday night, after running the hills out of Sioux City and across the gravel coming into Ida Grove, it will taste like the nectar of the gods. The pancake dinner in Jewell on Saturday morning is a great place to talk to fellow runners and meet the Restoring Hope International folks that run the orphanage in South Africa that is supported by Relay Iowa. By Sunday in Dubuque you will be so exhausted that even if they were only serving hamburger-shaped cardboard squares you would devour them immediately, but the food provided has always been quite tasty. Otherwise, you’re on your own. Be adventurous. Check out a local eatery (a diner in Hudson, a steakhouse in Waterloo, or Subways everywhere you look)! Brown bag it! Forage in the woods!

Where will we pee/poo?  One of my proudest Relay Iowa moments was when my daughter learned from her cousin how to pee in the woods! Every cornfield is a bathroom, so feel free to explore!

Will my smartphone work?  Yes. Even Western Iowa has electricity in many cities, so in that sense your smartphone will “work,” but for large parts of the state, there will not technically be a “signal”. Especially for city-dwellers who can’t tell if it’s raining outside without consulting their phone, this will seem disconcerting. But embrace the chance to get away from technology! Talk to actual people with your mouth, without using your thumbs! Or touch nature (the non-smelly parts) instead of viewing it on a tiny little window.

What about night running?  What about it?

Is it, like, as awesome as everyone says?  Even awesomer! For most runners, the chance to be somewhere completely by yourself, in total darkness, just you and your headlamp and the pavement, is the most memorable aspect of Relay Iowa. Unless you are a coal miner, in which case it might be kind of ho-hum, I guess. But for us non-coal-miners, especially city dwellers, the night runs are most memorable.

What happens when something unexpected happens, like a lightning storm near Manchester, or a flat tire near Ida Grove?  The fact that you asked that question means these things are no longer unexpected, are they? Nice work, keep asking questions until you have covered everything! Seriously, there will always be something that comes up that no one expects. The most important advice I can give you before running Relay Iowa is to learn to roll with it. This isn’t some big fancy “corporate” event where volunteers will hand you cups of “Gatorade” and call out your “splits,” although you may be able to score a free massage in Ida Grove on Friday night. You and your team will be mostly on your own, and it will be up to you to form the van groups and read the maps and estimate the mileage before the next van starts and avoid angry farm animals, etc. It’s not for everyone, but of the 65-70 people I have had run on one of my teams, only 2 or 3 have ever said they would definitely not come back.

What is your favorite Relay Iowa memory?  There is a place on the gravel west of Ida Grove where we have stopped several times to wait for runners. There are farm fields all around, and it’s up high so you can see for miles. I remember being in that spot, on a perfect summer day, chatting with runners from our van and other vans, hitting a volleyball or throwing a frisbee, and it’s perfectly silent except for us. I realized then that Relay Iowa isn’t so much about the running–the running is just something to do to pass the time in between the memories of spending time with people I love, in a place that I love.

This interview seems like it has gone on forever. Will it ever end?  Yes.

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