Crossing Cardinal, Trail Relay

Guest Author, Derek Knabe | Published on 4/23/2024


Date: April 12-14, 2024, Northbound

This is the short story of 6 runners who packed in to an RV rented from Road Adventures and made the journey to run the entire Ohio to Erie Trail.  Starting on Friday evening in Cincinnati, passing Columbus that next morning and finally arriving at Edgewater Park in Cleveland on Sunday morning. Finishing in 38 hours and 37 minutes, covering 321 miles with an average pace of 7:12 minutes per miles.

For the people plugged in to certain running subcultures there’s a relay that runs 300-miles from Los Angeles to Las Vegas known as the Speed Project. It’s been around for a decade or so and when it started was hailed as the most punk rock thing you could do in running. Unfortunately, a few years ago some of the footwear and apparel brands caught wind of it and started showing up to shoot their next season’s catalog while models and professional athletes run the relay. Our opinion was that it had become over commercialized and in turn wasn’t the type of thrill we were looking for. Instead of paying tons of money and flying across the country, it was cheaper and easier to just make our own!

The planning process consisted of a single excel spreadsheet housing the route I cooked up while off work a few days over winter break, a single zoom call and a lot of good faith. It was polished enough to pitch to some friends and secure resources to help offset the expenses in exchange for some social media promotion. It was enough to get the five other runners, photographer, and drivers bought in. From there we pieced it together and made more on-the-fly calculations than I care to admit getting all the way across the state.

Originally, we thought that we could start at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning, run the entire way and arrive in Cleveland before the sun had faded on Sunday evening. Knowing now what our finish time was, that could have happened.  Anticipating a slower pace and building in time for delays on the way meant everyone had to leave work early on Friday and try to beat the rush hour traffic. We were unsuccessful at beating the traffic and beating the storms. A storm had hung around longer than we’d hoped and so at approximately 6pm we started running in the rain hoping it wouldn’t last long. After plenty of soggy miles on the forefront by Saturday morning it was all dry and sunny arriving in Columbus. Slightly ahead of schedule and having conquered the first night the spirits were high for a beautiful day of running the trail. Spirits faded dozens of miles later as the sun began to set and the headlamps came back out. My personal all-time low of the journey was right before a 9 miles section on the open road. By this time the cumulative fatigue of 30+ miles and the minimal sleep set in. It was like pulling teeth to get myself out of the RV and running again. Everything ached and my legs were so heavy. Built up lactic acid was restricting my range of motion to what felt like a shuffle. That segment ended, and so did the one after that until we saw the first rays of the sun rise on Sunday morning. The sun brought a new sense of energy, enough to carry us all to the finish. Jogging up and along the pier of Edgewater Park at approximately 8:40am, we grabbed a few pictures and had a spray of champagne to celebrate the accomplishment!

The mission was accomplished. Though I anticipated a more conservative finishing time, life is full of surprises. Grateful that I have such amazing friends willing to give up their weekends to support me and my hare-brained schemes. Grateful to have brought along an amazing photographer to document the run. Grateful to the other crazy people willing to push their bodies into an unknown realm for a unified purpose. On Instagram (@CrossingCardinal) you can find our entire catalog of images and updates along the way. Similarly, on the account @CrossingCardinal houses all the mileage, segments, paces and whatnot.

As a closing remark if anyone is interested in attempting this run, please look me up, Derek Knabe. I will gladly give you the spreadsheet with all the information and even some recommendations on what food stops worked and which didn’t along the way. The choice to do this ourselves in Ohio instead of entering someone else’s event was to go against their gatekeeping of information and resources. I’ll gladly give it away in hopes that someone of some group of people can someday cross the cardinal state faster than we did.

– Derek Knabe