FORT BENNING, Ga. -- The 198th Infantry Brigade crossed the finish line at about 3 p.m. May 26 as the first military team to finish the 260-mile Run for the Heroes, a trek across the state of Georgia from Fort Stewart, Ga., to Columbus. It was the Boomsticks relay team, however, who took the overall honors as the top military team with a time of 34 hours, 51 minutes. The Boomsticks began the race about two hours behind the 198th, which finished in 35 hours and 28 minutes. In previous years, the run started in Columbus and ended in downtown Savannah, Ga., but House of Heroes, the event's organizer, which benefits military veterans by doing free home repairs, decided to change things up this year. "We had a lot of individuals and relay teams run this the last five years and they asked us to switch it up," said Susan Gerkin of the House of Heroes' Chattahoochee Valley Chapter. Gerkin said House of Heroes surpassed its fundraising goal, which was set at $100,000, and ended up with $160,000 raised.
The 198th team started the race at about 4 a.m. on Saturday morning, said Thomas Nelson, commander of 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry Regiment. The 26 relay teams were given two days to complete the race while the nine individuals started Wednesday morning. Gerkin said each member of a relay team runs between 30-35 miles. "I've done plenty of marathons," Nelson said. "This is every bit as hard. You're not getting much sleep." The 198th finished as the top military team in last year's race and Nelson said only two members from last year returned. "We did a little bit of training, but not a whole lot because we were busy," he said. "The job we do on Sand Hill … directly applies to what we did here." The 198th started the race on the wrong foot, as one of the runners, on the first leg, took a wrong turn off course and ran an extra four miles, Nelson said. The solution: Less sleep and more running overnight. "We didn't stop," he said. "We made up a lot of time at night because it was cooler." Dane Talbert, a 30-year-old contractor from Smiths Station, Ala., was the first individual to finish and crossed the finish line early Saturday evening. Talbert said he only took up running three years ago and has always been one to accept big challenges. He attempted the run as an individual last year, but dropped out with 100 miles to go due to medical reasons. "The run was out of my league. I shouldn't have been doing it," Talbert said. "I wanted to get out there and see what would happen." Things were different this year, Talbert said, because he had a 100-mile run and several 50-mile runs under his belt after his failed attempt. It also helped that he trained with John Teeples, the founder of the event, who is known among the Columbus running community as "The Legend." Teeples finished the run about an hour behind Talbert. "I heard of all the stories of how far he's ran," Talbert said. "I just started copying him and mimicking everything." But what got him through the last miles, Talbert said, was the change of the finishing point this year from Savannah to Columbus. "I loved the direction this year and finishing in Columbus," Talbert said. "We had more family support this year. And I knew I wasn't out in no-man's land; I knew I was almost home. It motivated me a lot more." Kelly Brackin didn't let swollen knees or poison ivy on her ankles keep her from crossing the finish line Sunday morning and becoming the first known female to run across Georgia. That pain was something Brackin had to deal with for over three days. She picked up the poison ivy while at a rest area on Thursday, she said. "I felt low," she said. "I just wanted to quit and I hit rock bottom emotionally. "It was painful. Everything was painful." Brackin said the run got easier mentally after the second day when she decided to run the bulk of her miles in the morning and finish each evening with 10-15 miles, avoiding the afternoon heat. "I just wanted to finish it and not let anybody down," Brackin said. "(When I finished) it was a great feeling after how much training I did to accomplish my goal."