A grueling 80-mile road race recently tested the endurance and mettle of some members of the Belleville Fire Department.
Seven firefighters and one civilian formed the eight-man team called Belleville Fire Department Roadrunners Local #53, which competed in the 18th annual River-to-River Relay on April 22 at the southern tip of Illinois.
The race -- which starts on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River in LaRue Pine Hills -- follows country roads through the Shawnee National Forest to its finish at the Ohio River in Golconda.
The Belleville firefighters finished 111th out of 240 teams with a time of 10 hours, 51 minutes, 26 seconds, but finished first in the civil service division, which included any team affiliated with federal, state or municipal government.
"It was something we threw together thinking it would be fun to do," said Randy Schield, an engineer with the Fire Department. "One of us heard about this race and thought it would be good for the Fire Department to try and do if we could get enough guys together. We got enough interest in it and decided to challenge ourselves."
Other team members included captains Dave Zahn and Mike Lanxon, engineer Brandt Maine, and firefighters Gary Frost, Joe Garland and Jesse Garnica. Dave Buxton was the only non-firefighter on the team.
"The camaraderie was the best," Schield said. "A Fire Department is all about camaraderie and brotherhood and that's what we are. We went down there as a team. Just being together and challenging each other as a team the whole race was very fulfilling to all of us. That's kind of why we did it."
The winning team -- St. Sebastian's Disciples of Chicago -- won the event with a time of 7 hours, 32 minutes, 38 seconds. They were 23 minutes ahead of the second-place team, Fleet Feet Racing of St. Charles, Mo.
The race --which attracts over 2,000 runners from all across North America -- is unique in that it's basically a team sport for runners, who often run in solitude.
Each of the eight runners completes three sections that range in length from 2.5 miles to four miles, starting at 6:15 a.m. The finish line closes exactly at 8 p.m. Each runner runs about 10 miles over a scenic but brutal 80-mile course that includes many hills.
"You can train around here the best you can, but you're not really prepared for the hills that present themselves down in that part of the state," Schield said. "The layoff in between is also challenging because usually when you run a race, you're done.
"Well, this is almost like running three races in a days time. You might have 2 1/2 hours before you have to run again, and it's hard to sit around for that time and stay loose and stretched out."
Among the firefighters, Schield said Lanxon and Zahn are serious runners. Buxton, who was an alternate but stepped in when one of the regulars couldn't make the call, is a marathoner.
Warnecke Building Restoration in Belleville and Local Union #53 donated money to offset some of the fees associated with the race.
Schield said interest is already building in the department for next year's race.
"We're going to try and do it again next year," he said. "We had such a good time this year, I think we sparked some more interest. We might need to have two teams next year."
Contact reporter Rod Kloeckner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2663.