Runner fuel varied widely (and strangely) during the second annual Palmetto 200 team race from Columbia to Folly Beach.

One van full of participants ate homemade Cajun fettuccine on a picnic table overlooking Lake Marion at Santee State Park.

A few miles down the road, another group dined on deep fried alligator bites at Coasters restaurant in Santee proper.

In between, the buffet at Lone Star Barbeque and Mercantile on State Park Road was slammed with sweaty folks seeking take-out.

Better hire more help for next year; Palmetto 200 II last weekend was bigger and better than the 2010 inaugural event and will grow again in 2012.

"It went great," Palmetto 200 co-founder Kirk Sadler said. "We had a lot of good feedback unsolicited as well as the feedback I solicited. Generally, the response has been extremely well received."

Sadler, a manager at Science Applications International Corporation, and Brian Malak, a software developer at Blackbaud, started the Palmetto 200 after taking part in similar races in Oregon and the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

Concept: 12-member teams split up into two vans apiece and leapfrog each other with each runner averaging 17.2 miles over three legs.

Country roads

The Palmetto 200 started before dawn Friday at the Columbia Speedway in Cayce and ended 206.6 miles away on Saturday afternoon at Folly Beach.

All through the night, to barking dogs and blaring music.

Along a course including Cameron, Elloree, Moncks Corner, Mount Pleasant, Isle of Palms, Sullivan's Island, Mount Pleasant (again), East Bay Street, The Battery and James Island.

Rolling hills, the Francis Marion National Forest, the Ravenel Bridge and Rainbow Row.

It works beautifully. Despite the economy, race entries are up around the country for all distances, running magazines are prospering and the Boston Marathon in February had to cut back qualifying times because of too much interest.

The lure of the Palmetto 200 is all that fitness enthusiasm and more. There were 53 teams this year, up from 39 in 2010.

This is something you and 11 friends or co-workers have to consider next year. If you can jog along at a 10-minute pace for four or five miles at a time, you're not going to be the worst runner on the course.

Sure, it's pitch dark on those country roads around Cordesville at 3:14 a.m.

But you'll be wearing a headlamp, a reflector vest, the course is marked with orange signs and your van-mates will check on you regularly. Theoretically.

"What I think is unique is that it doesn't require the same effort a marathon does and almost doesn't require the same amount of training of a half-marathon," Sadler said. "But you still wake up on Sunday morning and you know you just worked your butt off; your legs or some part of your body is screaming at you. So you have the same sense of accomplishment.

"But the thing that really sets this apart is the camaraderie. Because you're with these people non-stop for somewhere between 24 and 36 hours and you just develop a kinship that is very unique."

A sampling of team names: Sweat Hogs, Van on the Run, Tramps Like Us, Witness for Fitness and Dude, Where's My Van?

Many teams tracked "road kill" -- opposing runners passed in competition -- with chalk or markers scribbled on the sides of vans that would ride by plenty of conventional road kill.

Real teamwork: Last year, the Palmetto 200 donated $4,000 to charitable causes and Sadler expects a larger contribution this time.

Two-man team

"Exchange Zones" along the way turned into boomtowns. Rest stops included churches, boat landings, schools and fish hatcheries.

The Holiday Inn Express in Moncks Corner was popular with runners checking in at midnight and seeking 2:30 a.m. wake-up calls.

Most people liked the Palmetto 200 tweaks.

"We went around Eutawville instead of trying to go through it again," Sadler said. "We had a nice arch at the Columbia Speedway for the start, and everyone thought the fanfare at the end was a big difference."

Who doesn't like a live band, free beer and all the free Mexican food you can eat?

A team of Clemson University runners finished first, with a scoring pace of 6:40 per mile.

But Nick Osterfoss and Dan Hartley, both of Columbia, were by far the most impressive team.

Yes, just those two. Osterfoss, 22, and Hartley, 42, each ran 100 miles.

They left at 10 p.m. on Thursday and reached Folly Beach at 1:04 a.m. Sunday, 51 hours and four minutes total.

Without stopping for alligator bites.

Reach Gene Sapakoff at gsapakoff@postandcourier.com or 937-5593