The Long Ride: Teacher raises money for charities in 400-mile bike race

Although he had completed a 3,000-mile ride across the United States and several 160-mile treks across Indiana, a 400-mile race around central and southern Ohio proved to be a big challenge for Mark Yeaton.

But that didn’t stop the 54-year-old Columbus resident from winning his age group and finishing eighth out of the 13 competitors that did the Freedom 400 Ride. Winning, however, wasn’t his objective.

Yeaton raised money for four organizations — FAME (Fellowship of Medical Evangelists), IDES (International Disaster Emergency Service), Clarity of South Central Indiana, and Mission Resource, International. People still can donate by going to spokesforfolks.wordpress.com.

“My main purpose wasn’t to race,” Yeaton said. “It was as a fundraiser for the four organizations. My thinking is, ‘If you have something that can help people around the world, why wouldn’t you want to do that?’ Let’s face it, I’m 54; I’m not going to set the world on fire on a bicycle. But the Lord wants me to keep riding.”

Yeaton, who has biked to his teaching job at Southside Elementary on and off for 30 years, raised more than $15,000 for IDES with his ride across America in 2012. That effort helped fund a well for clean water in a Kenyan village.

Then in 2014, Yeaton raised $1,600 for the Columbus-based Christian ministry Mission Resource International, which provides loans to citizens in Ghana launching businesses for self-sufficiency.

The Freedom 400 Ride began at 5 a.m. Sept. 17 in Dublin, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus. Bikers went east from Dublin, then south to Athens, then west and back north to Dublin.

Yeaton started at 5:07 a.m. An hour later, it began pouring rain.

“The first hundred went by no problem,” Yeaton said. “Then, the second hundred, it started getting windy. It was a race of attrition.”

The race included more than 17,000 feet of climbing, mostly in southeastern and south central Ohio. When Yeaton found out the elevation was going to be more than 4,000 feet every 100 miles, he headed to Brown County to train.

In the Freedom 400 Ride, Yeaton experienced dark of night, rain, sun, wind, deer, sleep deprivation and a host of other happenings that made it more of an odyssey than just a long bike ride.

After 280 miles, Yeaton took a 10-minute nap. He ended up taking four naps totaling about one hour during his 35-hour journey.

“I had gone 200 (without stopping) before,” Yeaton said. “I had never gone 400. A lot of it depends on what you’re eating.”

Yeaton tried to keep things as all-natural as he could, eating anything without additives or preservatives. He consumed a lot of fruit, a lot of peanut butter and apples and bagels.

“It one point, I really wanted a chicken salad, sandwich and a Coca-Cola,” Yeaton said. “Sixty miles from the finish, I went by a McDonald’s and I wanted a chicken sandwich and french fries. After awhile, you just kind of need real food.”

Two of Yeaton’s brothers and a nephew served as his crew for the race. One of the responsibilities of the crew is to navigate while riding behind the cyclist.

Yeaton finished at 4 p.m. on Sept. 18.

“This is probably as fringe as it gets for ultra-endurance cycling,” Yeaton said. “Who shows up to race their bikes 400 miles?”

Mark Yeaton

Name: Mark Yeaton

Age: 54

High school: Columbus North

College: Milligan

Occupation: Third-grade teacher at Southside Elementary

Community activities: Youth sponsor for Junior and Senior High at Ogilville Christian Church

Family: Wife Sherry, two kids, three grandkids

Author photo
Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.