The German immigrants who founded Schuetzen Park in west Davenport in 1870 might have been shocked by what happened there over the weekend.
From 8 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon Saturday, about 100 people wearing skimpy clothes ran up and down trails in the hilly, forested park — literally in circles — to see how many .85-mile loops they could complete in a nine-hour period.
With music blasting from an amplifier, and bananas, egg rolls and other food laid out on tables for nourishment, runners going solo or in relays huffed and puffed, sweated and panted, pushing through an elevation gain of 125-150 feet per loop. The weather wasn’t as muggy as earlier in the week, but it was still hot under a full sun and within the thicket of trees where no air moves.
“We’re all crazy, right?” one man said as he made his way on the trail.
Up on the lawn of the park, about 20 colorful tents, some pop-up and some camping, were pitched side-by-side offering shade for people taking a break or cheering, coolers at their sides.
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The event was the Schuetzen Nein! Hour Endurance Race — a word play on the German word for “no” — and it is one of thousands of “endurance” races held worldwide in the growing sport of trail running.
For people who are familiar with road racing such as the Quad-City Times Bix 7, it may come as a surprise that there is a whole separate set of runners whose goal is to run through natural landscapes on mostly dirt or rock trails, focusing on endurance rather than speed. They cover long distances over long periods of time.
The International Track and Field Federation says the sport has had an estimated 20 million participants since 2010, making it one of world’s fastest-growing.
The Schuetzen run is the brainchild of Joshua Sun, a Davenport endurance runner, who put together the first informal race in 2015 and launched an official event with registration and T-shirts in 2016 under the auspices of Sun Trail Running LLC that he founded in 2013.
Who does this type of running? Sun, 36, a data specialist for the Davenport Community School District, says participants ranged in age from teenagers to people in their 50s, and that the gender split was about 50-50. Distance running “used to be more a men’s club, but it is getting more and more balanced,” he said.
Some people pick it up because it is easier on the body’s joints than running on pavement and because they like being in nature.
“Trail running is very hard,” he said. And Schuetzen “is a masochistic kind of race.”
Still, registration filled up by the end February with 20-30 people on a wait list, he said.
A majority of Saturday’s runners were from Iowa and Illinois, including the Quad-Cities, but also Iowa City, Des Moines and Strawberry Point in Iowa and Franklin Grove, La Grange and Rock Falls in Illinois. Registrants also came from Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Among them was Eileen Yi Ni Tan, 34, of Davenport, a process engineer for an area chemical plant.
For her, the appeal is to challenge herself.
“I want to be able to do hard things,” she said. “It’s a sense of accomplishment to prove to myself that I can do hard things.”
She also likes running in nature, and she loves the camaraderie of the running community called the Quad-Cities Trail Ultra Runners (TUR) that Sun organized via personal contacts and Facebook. Members add a “d” to the end of the name and become the Quad-Cities TURds.
The group has 1,500 to 1,600 members in the region, Sun said. Those in the Quad-Cities run through Davenport’s Sunderbruch Park every Monday, no matter the season or weather.
“The community is your friend,” Yi Ni Tan said. They are very welcoming.” Running great distances “really sucks when you’re doing it, but it’s fun at the end.
“I am really, really thankful that I met this group, knowing that there is this community. It really changed my training because I can see my friends.”
In the past she did road running including six full marathons of 26.2 miles, but she really didn’t like it.
“Back in the day I would say, ‘I hate running.’ I don’t say that anymore,” she said.
Steve Lutz, 35, of Davenport, was another Saturday participant. He said he’d been preparing by running every night during last week’s muggy heat and turning down the air-conditioning at his home office where he does accounts payable for UnityPoint Health, Rock Island.
“I’m OK with a certain amount of pain in my life,” he said. “I love running, I love trail running, I love getting into nature. It’s beautiful.”
Sun attributes some of popularity of trail running to the 2009 bestselling book “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen,” by Christopher McDougall. The book explored the sport, spirit and science of endurance running and inspired a lot of people.
The first race Sun organized was at the Mines of Spain in Dubuque in 2013 when there were probably “one to two trail races in eastern Iowa,” he said. “Now there are 40 to 50 a year.”
In addition to wanting to put on high-caliber, low-key events, Sun is dedicated to making substantial financial contributions to the groups that preserve natural beauty. That has meant a contribution of $5,000 to Schuetzen over the years, he said.
Participants don’t have to run a specified distance — it’s all up to them. They can do one loop and quit or push themselves to their limit. Many want to earn an engraved wood paddle called the “Schuetzen spanker,” and for that they have to run 50 kilometers, or 37 laps.
The race is nothing like the more leisurely “volksmarching” of Germany, but both foster fun and friendship. And can end with a beer.