Carmel runner helps virtual team win national race

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Tito Downer wasn’t certain what to expect when his track club team embarked on a nationwide virtual race.

“I didn’t expect it to be as fun and entertaining as it was,” the Carmel resident said.

The Meshingomesia Track Club used its consistency to win the inaugural Great American 5000 (kilometers) virtual race from San Francisco to New York. The team of 24 runners won by more than 550 miles, or three days. The race, which is 3,106 miles, began June 14, featuring more than 250 teams and more than 4,000 runners.

“They gave you a cumulative 24 hours to run each day,” said Noblesville resident T.J. Dailey, who started the track club in 2016. “We crossed the line virtually in New York in a little shy of 16 days. We divided it up that each person runs an hour a day. We covered about 198 miles a day.”

Some teams included Olympians and professional runners.

“We were lucky to have a complete team from top to bottom,” Dailey said. “Most of the (teams with) professional athletes had four or five on the team and the rest were filled in with your average noncompetitive runner.”

The club includes Dailey’s two younger brothers, Todd (Westfield) and Trent (Marion), and several friends from Marion where the three brothers grew up.

Ten of the team’s runners were from Hamilton County. Downer was recruited to run for the club by another Carmel resident, Caleb Chambers. Downer, 41, said most of the team members are in their upper 30s and mid-40s.

“We were competing with teams with high performers, but they had guys that weren’t getting in as many miles as our guys,” Downer said. “I was surprised we finished that far ahead of the rest of the teams.”

Typically, Downer is one of the club’s stronger runners. He competed in cross country and track at Carmel High School and Purdue University. Yet, he wasn’t at his best during part of the virtual run.

“I had an injury pop up three or four days into the run, so I was down at the bottom of the list in terms of miles,” he said. “It was impressive to see guys step up and run a few extra minutes on the days I didn’t run my full hour.”

Downer said it was fun to keep track every day and see how they were doing. Working from home, Downer said he could roll out of bed and do his run first thing in the morning.

Downer said it would be near impossible to have teams of either 12 or 24 runners devote three to four weeks of their lives to run across the country.

“I don’t believe that would happen in the real world,”  said Downer, who spent several years as CHS assistant cross country and track coach under Chuck Koeppen and two years as an assistant under Koeppen at IUPUI.

“I spent most of my competitive career after Purdue doing road races in my 20s,” Downer said. “These days I’m just doing it for fitness.”

Anthony Bruns, who grew up in Marion but lives in Denver, was the No. 1 runner with 172 miles.


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