Each year in October, hundreds of running teams from all over the Midwest gather to participate in the annual Market to Market relay.

Teams of six to eight runners start the race in Omaha and run through 78 miles of trails, streets, gravel, sidewalks, and cornfields, eventually finishing in Lincoln. This year, several CLS employees made the commitment to run the 2012 edition of the race together.

My team, Team Northstar Black-Ops, consisted of Todd Clarke (CLS CEO), Bill Wostoupal (CLS Sales Director), Rusty Vanneman (CLS CIO), Courtney Suarez (CLS Marketing Manager), Tavis Hein (CLS New Business Manager), Sarah McKito (CLS Trading Specialist), Dan Schriever (from our sister company, Gemini), and myself (CLS COO). We trained for months and met for a 5:40 a.m. race start the morning of October 13.  We ran and cheered each other on as we raced throughout the day. When it was all said and done, we ran across the finish line 12 hours later feeling tired, sore, and tremendously accomplished. We had the time of our lives.

What no one knows is that it almost didn’t happen.

As the captain of team Black-Ops, I was entrusted with bringing the team van to provide transportation to and during the race. I was anxious about this responsibility as I was almost single-handedly responsible to make sure my team started on time. On top of that, storms were coming. Daylight the day before gave way to violent thunderstorms in the early morning hours before the race began. Thunder ripped across the plains caused by lightening that lit up the sleeping city. Already nervous and with thunder echoing through the night, I simply did not sleep well the night before. I tossed and I turned in a futile attempt to capture even a few minutes of fitful sleep. Ultimately, I decided to give in to my anxiousness, so I got up even earlier than necessary so I could be sure to get the van to the meeting point well in advance of our start time.

As expected, when I got to the parking lot there was no one there. I waited for my team to arrive and, ironically, started to doze off in the driver’s seat. Then, it happened – an event so strange and frightening that I could just barely resist the urge to drive away and abandon my team and the relay in absolute madness, the van nor myself never to be found again. An experience I have not had the courage to share with anyone, not even my teammates, until now. A surreal tale I can only tell in the verse of Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem “The Raven”:

The Runner

By John ‘Edgar Allen’ Ludpoe

Once upon an early morn dreary, while I waited for the strong but weary
Over many a quaint and curious volume of relay running lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of a runner gently rapping, rapping at my driver’s side door.
‘tis some runner,’ I muttered, ‘tapping at my driver’s side door –
Only this, and nothing more.’
Ah, distinctly I remember it was on the 13th of October,
And each separate dream of rest wrought its ghost upon the van’s dark floor.
Eagerly I wished for the morrow; – vainly I had sought to borrow
From my long day ahead of sorrow – sorrow for my legs would soon be sore
Restless here for evermore.
And the silken sad uncertain rustling felt his presence all but certain
Thrilled me – filled me with dramatic energy I had never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I sat retreating
‘Tis a runner entreating entrance at my driver’s side door –
a long dark runner entreating entrance at my driver’s side door; –
This it is, and nothing more,’
Presently my heart grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
‘Sir,’ said I, ‘or Madame, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my driver’s side door,
That scare was sure I heard you’ – here I looked about the parking lot floor; –
Darkness there, and nothing more.
Deep into the thunder peering, long I looked out, wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no runner ever dared to dream to dream before
But the silence was unbroken, and the lightning gave to token,
And the only words there spoken were the whispered words, ‘You’ll be sore!’
This I whispered and an echo murmured back the words, ‘You’ll be sore!’
Merely this and nothing more.
Sunk into my van chair turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
‘Surely,’ said I, ‘surely that is something at my windshield lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this long-day relay race explore –
Let my heart be still a moment and this long-day relay race explore; –
‘Tis the cold wind and nothing more!’
Open here I flung the door, and looked in earnest across the floor,
Up stepped a hooded runner of the moonless days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not an instant stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, stood abreast my driver’s side door –
Lurked below the street lamp shining just abreast my driver’s side door –
Lurked, and stood, and nothing more.
Then this gaunt being beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance he wore,
‘Though thy head be shorn and shaven, thou,’ I said, ‘are sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and somber runner wandering from the muddy shore –
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Platte’s dark and muddy shore!’
Quoth the runner, ‘Nevermore.’
Much I marveled this ungainly shadow to discourse so insanely,
Though his answer had great meaning – many relevancy bore;
Yet I cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was cursed with seeing lone morning runners abreast his driver’s side door –
Man nor beast below the street lamp shining abreast his driver’s side door,
With such a name as ‘Nevermore.’
But the runner, standing lonely deep into the placid morn, spoke only,
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further did he utter – not a flinch or sign of fluster
Till he scarcely muttered ‘Your relay team will soon be sore’ –
On the hour will he leave me, as runners race and test their core.
Then the runner said, ‘Nevermore.’
Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
‘Doubtless,’ said I, ‘what it utters is its only thought, no more,
Caught from past years races’ failure whose unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his maladies ones burden bore –
Till the dirges of hope that flees when runners race to test their core.
Of ‘Never-nevermore.’
But the runner’s eyes ere spanning found my weary soul into damning,
Straight I spun off my seat in front of man and street lamp and van’s dark floor;
Then, upon the black morn sinking, I betook myself to my heart’s deep sinking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what the runner of long-past races yore –
What this grim, ungainly, gaunt, and ghostly runner of long-past races yore
Meant in groaning ‘Nevermore.’
This I stared engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the man whose fiery eyes now burned into memories of running lore;
This and more I gazed divining, with my head held low, declining
On the grid and pavement that the cold colour light gloated o’er,
But whose grid and pavement with the cold colour light gloated o’er,
‘I shall run the relay, ah, nevermore!’
Then, methought, the sky grew darker, thundered from an unseen marker
Swung by angles whose faint footfalls rapped across the hard stone floor.
‘Wretch,’ I cried, ‘thy runner’s master hath lent thee – by God’s angels he has sent thee
Respite – respite and deemed from thy visions of tested core!
Relieve, relieve me of my fourth position, and forget my weak and untested core!’
Quoth the runner, ‘Nevermore.’
‘Runner!’ said I, ‘thing of evil! – athlete still, if he or devil!
By the black expanse that bends above us – by that relay we both adore –
Tell this soul with legs heavy laden if, within the distant land of Lincoln,
It shall clasp a sainted timer from runners’ past with legs so sore.
Clasp a rare and radiant timer from runners’ past with legs so sore?’
Quoth the runner, ‘Nevermore.’
‘Be that word our sign of parting, athlete or fiend!’ I shrieked upstarting –
‘Depart from here into the west fields and the Platte’s long and muddy shore
Leave no footprints as a token of that relay thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! – and give us strength that we be not sore!
Take thy gaze from out my heart, and take thy form from off my driver’s side door!’
Quoth the runner, ‘Nevermore.’
And the runner, never flinching, still is standing, still is standing
Off the street lamp shining just abreast my driver’s side door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s dark soul lost in dreaming,
And the cold colour light o’er him streaming throws ten shadows on the concrete floor;
And my soul from out those shadows that lie floating upon the concrete floor
Shall run the relay – NEVERMORE!

Happy Halloween from Team Black-Ops and all of CLS!