The race didn’t quite follow the original plan for the Meshingomesia Track Club, but COVID-19’s world-wide presence has changed a lot of plans over the past few months.
Club founder TJ Dailey, a 1997 Marion High School graduate, had plans in place to travel to Oregon with 11 other members of his club of avid runners to compete in the prestigious Hood to Coast – a distance running relay race, with 12-person teams, that was to start on the top of Mount Hood and conclude 199 miles later on the beaches of the Pacific Ocean.
That race scheduled for August was cancelled until next year, and Dailey with his club, will again compete. But upon learning of the postponement, he started searching for an alternative for competition for the Meshingomesia Track Club.
The answer was found in another running club Dailey was part of in Hamilton County, that trains together near his Noblesville home.
“There was a lady who run an event called track Tuesday, really just a bunch of middle aged people, and she found the event and posted in a group looking for members of our team to run this relay race across the country,” Dailey said. “Immediately I was like this is perfect for our squad. So as opposed to joining her team, we created our own and kind of took it from there.”
Where it took them was into the Great American 5000, a virtual cross country relay race, that started in San Francisco and finished in New York City. Nearly 250 teams, more than 4,000 runners started the race on June 14. Each man on the Club’s 24-man team was required to run for an hour a day, as fast as possible, to cover the 3,104.9 miles in as short amount of time as possible.
Sometime Monday afternoon, the Meshingomesia Track Club ran itself into history after running away with the event.
The Club finished the first-ever Great American 5000 in just more than 16 days. The second place team, Frank’s_Old_Boys, didn’t finish until sometime in the wee hours of Thursday morning. Still, only four of the teams have finished as of Thursday afternoon.
“We kind of knew by the time we were about halfway through that we kind of had it in the bag,” said Trent Dailey, a 1999 Marion graduate and TJ’s brother. “TJ’s relentless pursuit for perfection and setting records, this being the first year and not wanting this to be broken for years to come, continually was able to motivate us every day when we could have walked this into the finish line. We just continued to exceed expectations day-after-day even when we didn’t have to.”
TJ Dailey kept a daily journal and sent out an email each evening when all of the Club’s runners had completed their runs. Since the race was done virtually, the men could choose to run whenever they wanted during the 24-hours of each day as well as wherever they wanted to run. All the times and miles were tracked by GPS by teams and race organizer, Sports Backer.
TJ Dailey served as the motivational leader for the club and his daily emails included not only how the team progressed during a day, he would offer up tidbits of wisdom and inspiration.
The Club covered about 190 miles per day for the first three days and assumed the lead on that third day.
“Remember, we’re not only in a position to win this, we’re in a position to win the INAUGURAL event,” Dailey said in the email to the team on June 16. “On top of that, this has never been done in relay format before, whether it be virtual or not, so we’ve got a chance to set a record as well. … We end tonight 63 miles from Utah, right outside of Ely, (Nevada). … Let’s roll again tomorrow, do what you gotta do to get it in. Don’t be afraid to do doubles if you need to, whatever is the most comfortable and allows you to recover for the next day. We’ve got 2 full weeks left.”
The lead only continued to grow from there. On Day 6, the group crossed the 1,000-mile marker and were virtually into Colorado.
By the eighth day, which happened to be Father’s Day, the Meshingomesia Track Club had started to put the rest of the field well into their virtual rear view mirrors. But the end of the day also came with a motivational message from another competitor.
Professional runner Michael Wardian (member of Derechos team), who holds world records for running a marathon while pushing a stroller and also for running a marathon on a treadmill, commented on an Instagram post for the race.
“Halfway through the race, the organizers have an Instagram account and put out a congratulatory post for us being the first to hit halfway,” TJ said. “So this professional athlete comments, ‘Congrats. Derechos are coming and we’re not first half heroes.’ That became bulletin board material for all of us.
“We had planned on replying to his post after we finished but he was super cordial and congratulating us after we finished. It all worked out in the end.” he added.
The team continued to put in at least 190 miles per day. Another interesting happening occurred on day 10, June 23 in (physically) Aspen, Colorado.
Phil Dodyk, another Marion graduate from the class of ‘97 who now works in the personal aviation industry and travels for much of his living, was interviewing potential pilots for one of his clients, who ended up running with he and co-worker, Will Roach, for a day.
“It’s not unusual to see Phil in random different parts of the country. Day (10) his run uploads to Starva and we see he’s in Aspen,” said TJ, noting Dodyk lives in northern Indiana now. “You can edit titles for you runs and that day his was ‘GA 5K day 8 run with will and Lance the champ #7LA. ‘
“I was like cool he found a guy to run with out there. Then he posts a picture to our giant thread and we quickly realized they had run their run with Lance Armstrong,” he continued. “Granted, he’s had his issues, but it’s like playing golf with Tiger Woods. Lance was interviewing private pilots for his jet and Phil and Will went out to help him. They spent the day with him and talked about the race and he got up and ran with them in the morning.”
Perhaps the most memorable day of the event, other than maybe the finish, was day 11, June 24, when Todd Dailey, another brother of TJ and Trent, welcomed his third child to the world, a son named Grant. The birthing process was somewhat planned to fit in time for him to run.
“Todd running on the morning his son was born five hours after he finished his run was unbelievable,” said Trent Dailey. “He took his wife to the hospital and was trying to get her comfortable. He dropped her off at 6 a.m. then at 9 a.m. he went out and ran and came back by about 11. They had the baby at 2 (p.m.).
The most amazing part of the team’s performance is that every runner seemed to get stronger and faster as the days clicked off. The team hit the 200-mile mark for a single day on June 25, which ended up being its top day for the entire race. They finished the final few days at over 190-miles per day and collectively logged an average time of under 7-minutes and 30 seconds per mile for the entire distance.
“This event is completely counter intuitive to run it in general. You train for a race, you run that race you’re done,” TJ said. “You don’t go out after you run a marathon or after you run a hard race and run a hard race the next day. If you do, you’re in cross county high school or college and you have to run back-to-back days in track that’s fine. But you definitely aren’t going out third day and doing it.
“In training it’s kind of similar, as a high-level athlete, a pro or DI collegiate athlete, you might have three hard days a week, two or three hard days a week with easy days in between,” he continued. “This race is 16 hard days in a row. It’s unbelievable. You’re told as a runner throughout your entire career that your body is not supposed to do that. To see people get fast, the Bruns run was on day 15. It was unbelievable. He ran 11.2 miles in an hour, a 5:21 pace.”
TJ was referring to Anthony Bruns, a former all-state runner as a Marion Giants and another class of ‘97 alum. Bruns, who recently turned 40, was the ring leader for on course performance, leading the Meshigomesia Track Club with 172.9 miles over the 16 days.
After high school, Bruns ran mostly recreationally, but started following a running plan developed by TJ Dailey and has set some incredible personal marks in just that last year, incluning running a marathon in under two hours, 40 minutes. Bruns also ran his best half marathon, best 10-kilometer and 5-kilometer times of his life.
“He always had a natural engine and could just go out,” TJ said of Bruns. “He wishes now that he had the mental toughness that he’s developed over 40 years when he was 18. What he could have done if he’d run through college. The skies the limit.
“He’s a world class talent right now at 40 years old with one knee,” he continued. “We have that advantage in late 30 and 40s being mentally strong because we’ve gone through so many other things. I think that’s why we’ve seen people, especially in this group, be so successful getting there because we’ve dealt with so much where a lot of kids haven’t. I think that gives us an edge in a lot of events like this.”
What’s next for the Meshingomesia Track Club? Nothing much anytime soon.
“I slept in. I slept for 10 hours (Monday) night and it was the greatest things ever,” Trent Dailey said.
TJ said it would likely take two full weeks for everyone to fully recover from the 16 days of hard running. But he has given some thought to the future and potentially includes a race called the Speed Project in early September.
“(The Speed Project) race is a little different because it’s orchestrated in a manner that’s one after another. You have to run sequentially,” TJ said. “Still virtual, but you have to run relay style as fast as you can run and as far as you can run in 31 hours and 15 minutes. That’s a completely different ball game.”
Local members of the Meshingomesia Track Club and their mileage in the Great American 5000: Anthony Bruns (1997, 172.9 miles), Caleb Chambers (‘98, 151.2 miles), TJ Dailey (‘97, 147.5 miles), Todd Dailey (‘03, 144 miles), Phil Dodyk (‘00 , 133.7 miles), Christopher Bruns (‘04, 132.5 miles), Matt Dodyk (‘97 131.3 miles), Scott Shanks (‘95, 129.2 miles), Jeff Clark (IWU men’s basketball associate head coach, 119.7 miles), Trent Dailey (‘99, 117.5 miles), Donnie Loeffler (‘97, 111.8 miles), Jonathan Faust (‘99, 106.5 miles), Alec Dailey (Mississinewa ‘01, 98.7 miles).