Ninety-Nine Marathons in 99 Counties

May 20, 2015

Dennis Lee (left) and Daren Schumaker near the end of a 26.2 mile run across Adams County
Credit Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

 Two runners are nearing the finish line on a goal to complete a full, 26-point-two mile marathon in each of Iowa’s 99 counties.

On the way to Corning in the southwest part of the state, 49-year-old Dennis Lee stops at a sandwich shop to load up for a long run into a strong head wind.

“I’ll have a foot-long sausage, egg and cheese on flat bread,” he orders

The temperature is unusually cold for early May, and there’s a threat of thunderstorms, so Lee knows he’ll need energy.

“Typically we burn about 35-hundred calories during the run,” he says.

Dennis Lee (left) and Daren Schumaker are running 99 marathons in support of the American Heart Association
Credit Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

  That’s what he and his buddy Daren Schumaker will expend while navigating more than 26 miles of hilly terrain along U.S. Highway 34 in Adams County. The two decided during a Christmas party conversation some years back to begin running marathons across Iowa’s counties as part of their regular exercise routine, and as a way to raise money for the American Heart Association. The 34-year-old Schumaker says a few days after they talked, they took on Benton County.

“On that very day, there was a blizzard the night before," he recalls, "and Dennis’ wife, Chris, drove us out in a four-wheel-drive truck, in a blizzard, several inches of snow, and dropped us off 26 plus miles from home, and drove off like it wasn’t a big deal.”

Chris Lee has since regretted she abandoned the two for the warmth of home. But she’s been kept on as the pair’s one-woman support team and chief worry-wart.

“I worry about injuries and I worry about traffic," she says. "They’re on a pretty busy highway, so I worry about traffic.”

The back of Chris’ vehicle is loaded with Gatorade, candy bars and other snacks. She’ll dole them out to Dennis and Daren at periodic rest stops along the course. Four miles into the run, the two marathoners are cautiously optimistic.

"Feels good," Lee says. "It’s early though," Schumaker replies. "There are still plenty of things that can go wrong, yet. Such as that giant hill in front of us." "And the clouds behind us," Lee chimes in. "And the wind in our face,” Schumaker adds.

Indeed, the next five miles are killer.

That big hill was terrible," Lee pants. "What was that, a mile-and-a-half long, two miles?" "A mile-and-a-half," Schumaker confirms. "It was long enough and fairly steep," Lee responds. "I didn’t much care for it.”

But they’re looking forward to some sightseeing as they enter Corning, birthplace of a noted TV star.

Dennis Lee (left) and Daren Schumaker take a time out for sightseeing at the birthplace of Johnny Carson in Corning
Credit Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

"We’re heading for the courthouse," Lee says. "We’ll probably stop and snap a few pictures there. And then, we’re off to Johnny Carson’s house.”

The long anticipated rain storm moving in from the south finally catches up to them.

"I think this will blow over," Schumaker says. "I’m not too worried about it right now. It’s not hailing yet, Dennis, so it’s not too bad."

Except for a playful dog, which won’t leave them alone for a stretch, the rest of the jaunt goes without incident. They arrive at the Adams County border with Union County three hours and 47 minutes after they started.

“Another one down," Lee says.

"One of our common statements when we finish is I can’t believe we just did that,” Schumaker adds.

Seventy-seven counties are now behind them. Dennis Lee and Daren Schumaker hope to finish their trek by early summer 2016. 

Dennis Lee (left) and Daren Schumaker celebrate the end of a marathon across Adams County. Only 22 more counties to run.
Credit Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio