The Mason City to Peoria St. Jude Run will celebrate its 7th run this year, with a lofty goal of a lifetime donation of $1,000,000 in 2017. In 2016 the small town of Mason City (which includes runners from neighboring towns and runners originally from the area who aren’t local) donated $168,000, an amazing amount from such a small community.
The run was originally started in 2010 in support of Jessie Baugher, a St. Jude patient who passed away later that year at the age of 10. Jessie’s older brother Zach and her mom Nancy now coordinate the run in Jessie’s honor. The team has adopted the nickname of “Jessie’s Team,” and also runs through the Mason City cemetery and stops at Jessie’s grave every year before saying a quick prayer and hitting the road again. “Go Cubs Go” is always played over the speakers as they enter the cemetery as the Chicago Cubs was Jessie’s favorite team!
The run meanders a bit through the rural towns between Mason City and Peoria, finally ending up at the telethon at the Peoria Civic Center — a total of 49.5 miles! The team is split into 5 groups, with the gold team being the long distance runners who can run as long as they want throughout the day. The 49.5 mile stretch is split into 1.3-3.2 mile segments, which is manageable for most runners! Each runner is asked to raise $750 to be eligible to run.
Holly Birch Smith has tagged along on the run 3 different years as the official run photographer. Holly believes she has the best view of the run because she is able to move around in all the different vehicles. She starts the day by leaving the Illini Central High School parking lot riding on top of one of the Mason City fire trucks, and then usually rides along in the Mason County sheriff patrol car for a couple of stretches. After the morning snack/rest break in San Jose, she will typically go back and forth between the lead vehicle/supply truck and the “sag wag,” the church van that is used to “catch” runners at the back of the pack who are having a hard time keeping up or just need a break/water/Gatorade.
There are also two charter buses that drive along with the run, transporting runners who aren’t currently running and providing restrooms, snacks, and air conditioning. It is a LONG day as the run leaves the school parking lot about 5:45am and then ends up in Peoria around 6pm.
Some runners stick around for the telethon and pasta feed at the civic center, and wait for Mason City’s total to be announced live on the air. And even though it is a long, hot, humid day, it is always a lot of fun, and the main goal is to make sure that no child or their families ever have to pay a dime for treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
This year’s run will be on August 5 and you can donate here on the official run donation page.
You can see more of Holly’s work on her website, Instagram, and Facebook.