Special Report: Running Across Georgia

Special Report: Running Across Georgia
(Source: Jason Dennis/WTVM)
(Source: Jason Dennis/WTVM)
(Source: Jason Dennis/WTVM)
(Source: Jason Dennis/WTVM)

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Driving across the state is one thing, but how about running or biking 260 miles from Savannah to Columbus. More than a hundred people from the Chattahoochee Valley will do just that for the Run Across Georgia this Memorial Day weekend.

"It's an incredible feat, 260 miles in a day and a half," Run Across GA founder/director John Teeples said.

"It is a crazy endeavor and it's one of the things that's on your bucket list," Run Across GA 1st timer Lisa Shores said.

So, why and how are ordinary people are preparing for an extraordinary number of miles?

Shores, a counselor at Smiths Station High School, is an avid runner, but she's never done anything like this. She and 11 friends will work together to run across Georgia, splitting up 260 miles, all to benefit veterans through House of Heroes.

While Shores runs, she'll think of her father who served in the Vietnam War and many others who have fought for our freedom.

"My dad is a veteran, and I know he'll be there at the finish line," Shores said.

Teeples explained, "Most of the relay teams start between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, and when they start, they're non-stop until they finish."

Members of Team News Flash, which includes four WTVM employees like myself and Jose Zozaya, have been training, running when it's hot and when it's dark. Shores will run at least 4 times in 36 hours.

She told us, "6:20 in the morning (first leg), then I'll run again in the heat of the day, then I've got a midnight, then an early morning run."

"Each person will run between 4-6 miles during a leg," Run Across GA participant Torrey Wiley said.

This is the 9th year for Run Across Georgia founder and race director John Teeples to run the entire route himself, this time going some of those 260 miles with his dog Kevin, placing an American flag at every mile, a reminder of the purpose to honor our military. For the 20+ relay teams, the path is split up into 50 separate legs or transitions.

"We start in Savannah and we've got a route laid out across the back roads of the state of Georgia. Each team sets up a rotation, like a baseball rotation," Teeples added.

"We're on a competitive team where there's 8 of us out there, and you just rotate until you get back to Columbus," Run Across GA participant Rhonda Bechard said.

Wiley admitted, "It's always a challenge because first of all, it's hot!"

Along with high temperatures on South Central Georgia highways, other obstacles are hills that don't play, staying hydrated, and getting rest. A runner does his/her leg, then gets maybe a 4-10 hour break until the next run...and so on. Relay teams simulate that in training.

"Probably not going to get a lot of sleep so you have to get your body used to it, running twice a day, running 3 times a day, running in the heat and getting used to it," Shores said.

Meantime, Bechard runs with the co-ed Team Sacrifice. And they're focused on the sacrifices by our military, seeing that first hand at Runs Across Georgia that's done in past years.

"You think you don't have enough strength to run one more leg...and a lady walked up to me and has a picture of her son killed during his duty, it just makes you realize how important this is, and you pull the strength out and you go and do that run...because I can still run, but her son can't now," Bechard told us.

Wiley described, "Throughout these cities are American flags throughout the way, it just makes you think how fortunate we are.")

"Not only does it do good things for the House of Heroes, but it does good things for people getting out there and getting healthy," Teeples said. "You're running through rural Georgia, which is very picturesque."

And while running across Georgia at nighttime, there are safety requirements, like wearing headlamps and reflective vests. Teeples says running in the dark can be therapeutic - and scary, but everybody has been safe in the event's 8 previous years.

"You're running in the middle of the night, the middle of nowhere, 2:30 in the morning," Teeples said.
Bechard added, "Those runs are usually a little faster because it's pitch dark out there, you're hearing sounds, stuff in the woods."

Speeding up for this adventure also includes a lot of logistics besides running all those miles.

"You have to plan the RVs, support vehicles, food," Wiley said.

He helps to lead Team Darkside. Wiley is running in part for his dad, a retired military officer. And for all those running across Georgia, completing this challenge is worth it to honor heroes.

"I enjoy the challenge and adventure of it," Teeples said.

The 20+ teams have raised nearly $90,000 so far for the 2017 event, all of it going to House of Heroes. Runners will cross the finish line for Run Across Georgia this Sunday afternoon and night on the 1100 block of Broadway in downtown Columbus, with a party starting around 7:30 pm.

If you would like to donate for a good cause, click here.

Copyright 2017 WTVM. All rights reserved. | For more news, download the WTVM app here