Splashing through muddy rivers, crawling up steep hillsides, fighting freezing weather and bounding across miles of rugged terrain – just another day for a spirited cross country runner. But who is crazy enough to enjoy this type of sport, let alone pay money to race in such conditions? Apparently at least 7,500 runners, who travel from the far fields of North America to compete in the largest cross-country off-road race known to the odd species known as dedicated runners.
“The people that do this are totally dedicated runners,” said Washburn sophomore Evan Kavanaugh.
On Nov. 21, Kavanaugh and junior Sarah Patterson, will head north to Urbandale, Iowa to test their toughness in the wilderness. For seven miles, they will scamper, scuttle and sprint over uneven terrain in what will be the 31st year of the annual Living History Farms Race.
Starting in 1978, the race includes both an adult race and a shorter, child’s race for those under the age of 12. After the participation level reached almost 13,000 runners, a cap was placed on the number of entries at 1,700. Each runner who signs up before Nov. 7 pays $32 while later entries pay $45, if openings are still available. All the proceeds are donated to non-profit entities such as Help Stop Hunger, American Red Cross and Boy Scouts of America.
“The course is through creeks, up the sides of cliffs, through cornfields, over haystacks and through really, really rough terrain,” said Kavanaugh. “It’s crazy; you get completely dirty.”
As far as preparation goes, a smooth gym racetrack will only go so far.
“Extensive training,” said Kavanaugh, laughing. “You have to actually do quite a bit of training beforehand. It gets very cold in Iowa so it’s good to train in the cold.”
While increasing mileage each week, Kavanaugh and Patterson try to run outside on wooded terrain when possible. In addition to their runs they also participate in cycling classes at the Student Recreation and Wellness Center. All this is in combination with leg strengthening exercises and additional cardiovascular work.
“I try to stay in shape in general,” said Patterson.
Throughout middle school and high school, Kavanaugh was active in cross-country club and competed all seven years in various meets. His coach at Southern Cal High School in Lake City, Iowa, participated in the Living History Farms Race each year and prompted the students to take part. Now, as a member of the Washburn Running Club which meets three times each week, Kavanaugh hopes his new team will get involved.
Despite the tough terrain and frosty weather, teams arrive at the farm dressed for the occasion. One man who attends each race wears only a loincloth and runs barefoot. Incredibly, he usually places within the top 300.
Other characters come out of the woodwork as well. Teams have shown up as KIZZ, Bon Jovi, the Rolling Stones and even some local UPS employees carrying actual postage boxes. As part of his cross-country team, Kavanaugh flew past the finish line adorned in a classic Starsky and Hutch attire.
Just because the race is in good cheer does not mean it isn’t dangerous. “I’m just nervous because, for one finishing,” said Kavanaugh. “If I break my leg, there’s nobody out there – no paramedics or EMTs.”
Having completed the race on two previous occasions, Kavanaugh has vivid memories of past mishaps that tend to occur each year. During the 2007 race, a man Kavanaugh did not know was running alongside when the man stepped into a pothole. “I heard his leg snap,” said Kavanaugh. “You have to sign a waver at registration that says you won’t sue the Farms if you get hurt or die.”
While there are many dangers along the trail, it seems the goals and rewards outweigh the potential harm. “I expect to gain confidence in my running ability by knowing I can complete such an extreme race of 7 miles which I’ve never done before and knowing I can be on the same level as Evan (Kavanaugh),” said Patterson.
A goal for Kavanaugh is to place within the top 3,000 runners. Their main goal is to stay at a pace of 8-minute miles.
“Runners are constantly looking to raise the bar, to expand their goals,” said Patterson. “I think having that many people together at one time brings a lot of energy in itself and people want to be apart of a movement like that.”
“This is a great experience and if anybody is interested in doing it you should do it because there is nothing else quite like it,” said Kavanaugh.
For more information about the upcoming race, visit http://www.fitnesssports.com/November_races/LivHistFarms/lhf_index.html