A group of long-distance runners in Sioux Falls is putting a different spin to South Dakota’s tourism slogan “Great Faces, Great Places.” The women travel the country to take part in grueling 200-mile relay races to test their endurance and determination.
Keeping up with the hectic pace of motherhood and careers can leave a social life in the dust for many women. But that’s no longer the case for members of Great Faces, Great Paces.
“Being a part of this group has given me a social life again. I work full-time, I have three kids at home and this group has basically carved-out some me time with other women who are at similar places in their life,” team member Kristen DeBerg said.
The women have been running together for the last 10 years. But in 2016, they decided to kick into a higher gear by entering a long-distance relay race from Madison, Wisconsin to Chicago.
“It took a lot of strategic planning. We’re very Type-A women and so we wanted to go in as prepared as we could, which not only included training, of course, but also having the correct supplies, knowing what our route would be,” team member Rochelle Sweetman said.
All that preparation paid off. Hundreds of teams competed in the race, but members of Great Faces, Great Paces captured fifth overall among women. That was followed by a 3rd-place finish in a relay race in Minneapolis last year. This spring, they competed in a relay through Southern California, and finished second.
“We don’t put any pressure on ourselves to do well, we want to have a great time and we want to feel like we’ve done well, we’ve accomplished what we wanted to do,” DeBerg said.
Running these relays involves 12 team members riding in two vans, rotating shifts through a 24-hour course.
“Six runners per van, and you have basically runner one through six and seven through twelve in the second van, so the first runner might run 5-miles and they hand-off to runner number-two who might run 8-miles,” DeBerg said.
Fatigue becomes the biggest challenge in competing in these races.
“It’s hard to rest when you’re exciting and you’re kind of go, go, go all the time, so we do end this pretty tired,” DeBerg said.
Handing-off the baton is a crucial part of any relay, but members of Great Faces, Great Paces have a more relaxed exchange.
“The passing of the baton is important, but it’s not like a track meet per se, we stop and take a picture so we’re really having fun with it, we aren’t that competitive, but the baton has to be passed,” Sweetman said.
When you’re in the middle of a 200-mile relay, running in the middle of the night on a remote road, it’s easy to get lost. And you don’t have the luxury of stopping and asking for directions.
“You may have time to ask for directions, but you certainly don’t want to be late, because you don’t want to leave your runner waiting for you,” Sweetman said.
The runners say their competitors are often surprised to learn they’ve traveled so far to take part in the races.
“You came from South Dakota? They’re all very excited that we’ve made this effort to travel to new locations,” DeBerg said.
The women will have some time to catch their breath before they compete in their next relay sometime next year. In the meantime, they’ll do what they always do, getting together three to four times a week for a run, turning a typically solitary sport into a group effort, pulling for one another every step of the way.
“Women supporting women, it’s amazing what you can accomplish and once you do it once, you’ve got the bug and you want to do it again,” Sweetman said.
Not content to make a strong finish in this year’s California relay, the women also held a scavenger hunt among themselves as they ran, showing their truly competitive nature.