Palmetto 200 means lots of deodorant

Gene Sapakoff

Signing up for the Palmetto 200 seemed like a good idea at the time, sort of like my decision to say "no" to Microsoft after college. Or that sorority incident during college.

But there is no turning back.

No matter how painful, no matter how gross.

Team pride must conquer fatigue, wild animals and body odor.

This noble quest exists because avid runners Kirk Sadler and Brian Malak of Mount Pleasant came up with the concept of a 200-mile relay race in which 12 people on a given team divide 36 legs averaging approximately six miles each. The course is along back roads stretched from Congaree National Park near Columbia to Folly Beach, from Friday morning on April 30 to Saturday afternoon on May 1.

All through the night, rain or blazing sun. Each runner will average almost 18 miles of running split into three shifts over some 40 hours.

Sounds like a blast, huh?

Our scrappy squad, Press On, is made up entirely of Post and Courier staffers.

Did I mention that each 12-member team breaks up into two groups of six to ride around together in vans all this time? Apparently without showering?

That we have to ride from Charleston to Columbia just to get to the start line?

That we have a captain?

And practice?

The reaction from friends and family members is always the same: "Are you nuts?"

I haven't been more excited and frightened at the same time since my cousin forced me to ride The Twister roller coaster as a first-grader full of fried dough.

Malak says almost 40 teams are registered, and he hopes for more in 2011.

Already, some of the other captains are picking on Press On.

"We're going to kick your butt," one captain told me. At church.

Press On pride

Go ahead, dude.

Brag.

And then compare rosters.

Ours includes:

A Boston Marathon graduate.

A veteran hockey player.

A racquetball tournament champion.

A two-sport star (marathons, pickleball).

Hey, and the men on our team are somewhat athletic, too.

Still, there are some real concerns about running long distances alone on country roads at night. Palmetto 200 guidelines insist runners after dark wear lots of lights and reflective gear.

"My runners will be lit up like Christmas trees," said Greg Shore, captain of a Palmetto 200 team dubbed Happy Feet.

Malak said team vans are allowed to "leap-frog" runners closely during night legs.

"We are not concerned about night safety but if the teams are concerned, they certainly can ride very near their runners, as long as everyone obeys the rules of the road," Malak said.

Shore has prepared team Happy Feet with training runs that start at 4 a.m.

"It just gives the team a lot more confidence when they have done some night runs together," Shore said.

It also will help that kids and staff from Charleston's Cannon Street YMCA, the official charity of the Palmetto 200, will work some of the runner Exchange Zones.

"We have been working closely with Kirk (Sadler) on the Palmetto 200 for about a year and we are glad to be associated with it," Cannon Street YMCA Program Director Craig Schmitt said. "He really took this idea and ran with it."

Pardon the pun.

And sun.

Raccoon warning

You know how hot and steamy it can get on a spring afternoon in South Carolina.

Even if you are not, say, running 18 miles over 36 hours while wedged into a van with several fellow humans (luckily for my teammates, I typically smell like lilacs long after long runs).

Add time and distance to the equation … To date, the most miles I have traveled in an automobile with any Palmetto 200 teammate is -- rough guess here, folks, on the space between our office and a certain Mexican restaurant -- three (3) miles.

So there is a decent chance I get thrown out of the van before we reach Ashley Phosphate Road or soon after uttering, "Anyone know any show tunes?"

Specifics on the really cool course are on the palmetto200.com web site. As advertised, the general route covers "the midlands of South Carolina into the Francis Marion National Forest" and includes "gorgeous cotton fields."

In other words, probably not a lot of good Chinese food. But possibly some interesting reptiles and nocturnal mammals.

It is never too soon to start a travel gear checklist:

--Deodorant.

--Breath-freshening gum.

--Air freshener.

--Rescue flares.

--Raccoon bite kit (on order).

--Extra deodorant.

Reach Gene Sapakoff at gsapakoff@postandcourier.com.