The next time you enter or attend a 5K, observe all the moving parts involved and pay attention to all the behind-the-scenes activity. You’ll notice that it’s not an easy undertaking. Now move all that effort out to the middle of the woods in early November. That’s what Steve and Penny Radakovich, co-owners of the Radakovich Cattle Company, have done with their annual RCC Run the Woods cross country race for the past 17 years.
But for the Earlham couple, the race has been a labor of love. Combining their passion for running, agriculture, and rural spaces, their vision has been to create an event that gives people the opportunity to not only run a race, but experience a beautiful, natural setting and hopefully raise their awareness and appreciation for the healthy, pastoral lifestyle that they cherish.
“This is a way that we can promote fitness, beef and agriculture, and open space. Try to do our part,” said Steve. “It’s hard to realize how many people have lost track of where our food comes from; other than a grocery store. So, we try to connect that. Our society has evolved into urban and less rural. There’s less understanding of farming, even here in Iowa—which is as good as it gets. There’s still a great misunderstanding about rural America.”
Steve and Penny bought 180 acres of mostly hilly, wooded land adjoining Goeldner Woods from Mel Bricker in 2002. At that time, there was a motocross course that ran though the property, extending to Winterset. An annual motocross race was held there, but once that ended, Steve and Penny moved some of their cattle in and decided that the course would be perfect for running. They connected the trail on their new land to an existing walking trail that ran through Goeldner Woods and the RCC race course was born.
“The race is just a way for us to share what we have, which is fun,” Penny added. “It’s nice to get these people that live in cities to come out. Sometimes we still have the cows there, which is nice. They can see that they’re there and can run right by them. Or they’re jumping over cow pies.”
Forty-four runners braved a race-time temperature of 19 degrees at the first race in 2003. Undeterred, Steve and Penny lit campfires to help keep everyone warm—and even roasted marshmallows, as suggested by one of their granddaughters. The next year, the temperature was 72. Since then, there has been everything in between, but the race has generally enjoyed good weather luck. Last year’s race was the wettest, but people still came out.
“That was one of the most refreshing years we had,” said Steve. “Entries were running slow, but we normally pick it up on race day. But it was raining and blowing and 40 degrees and we were thinking there isn’t anybody going to drive out here and register in the rain so they can run in the mud. But they did. And they loved it.”
The race has cultivated a dedicated following. Most of the runners that try it get hooked and many competitors have been signing up for years.
“We have some people that have been with us for a long time,” said Penny. “For a lot of people, it’s their favorite race.”
Eighty-seven-year-old Alvin Ravenscroft of Ames is a race regular—so much so that he signed up one year when he actually couldn’t make it. He had good excuse. He had been riding his bike and got hit by a car. He wasn’t injured badly, but just enough to keep him from running.
“He felt bad,” said Steve. “He called and said, “Steve, I’m sorry I can’t make. But I’ll send in my registration anyway.’ He’s a good guy. That kind of person is inspirational to everybody. A lot of people see him and think, ‘Boy, I hope I’m that way when I’m that age.’”
Sixty-eight-year-old Rick Hagen of Des Moines is another long-timer.
“He’s been to every one. He even postponed a trip to the Himalayas one year so he could run,” Steve laughed.
The event is equal parts race, reunion, and picnic. The coffee mugs that are given to the top three runners in each age group have become a legendary prize and collector’s item. One runner who has a mug from every race even built a custom case to display them. The Iowa Machine Shed brings a mobile unit to serve a delicious post-race meal of beef stew, biscuits, cake and apple cider. A pull-up competition was added a few years ago and has grown in popularity.
“That’s really evolved,” said Steve. “The first year there were a few people that did pullups just to see if they could. And now they’re actually training for it. Last year we had 50-some people that did pullups and they averaged over 10 apiece. Men and women. So that’s pretty commendable.”
Cool swag like gym bags, ball caps, stocking caps, and shirts have been given away though the years. With all the fine food, awards and gear, though, it’s the camaraderie shared by the competitors that keeps everyone coming back year after year.
“It’s a great group of people. It’s getting to be like a reunion,” said Steve. “You see the same people and compare notes. It’s a lot of fun. A lot of interaction.”
But the run itself is not for the meek. The words ‘cross country’ only begin to define it. The four-mile race leads through thick woods, pastures pocked with the famous cow pies, an insidious rocky terrain, and muddy creeks with slick, steep banks. The most daunting feature of the course is the hills. There is one long steady ascent of almost two miles that includes three inclines that are so precipitous that you expect to find a herd of mountain goats at the top. The challenge of such a difficult race is the reason that many people sign up in the first place, but it is undoubtedly what keeps some folks away.
“That’s a double-edged sword,” said Steve. “But it’s amazing to us how people enjoy running through cow manure, creeks, and mud.”
Part of the race proceeds will be going to #MooseStrong to help the Canyon Hopkins family. Like last year, the race will donate $1 for every mile run and each pull-up by all competitors. That amounted to $1,000 in 2018.
The 2019 race will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 9, beginning and ending in Goeldner Woods, six miles southeast of Earlham. Sign up online at https://secure.getmeregistered.com (search ‘RCC’) or get a printable form at http://www.rccgenes.com/Internet_2019.pdf.