Running relays are in a category all by themselves. They are different than running a 10K where as they usually involve more miles, take place over approximately 30 hours, and your part as an individual participant is often blurred into a large “cog” of runners working together as a team. But that team is the strength, support and sacrifice you all depend on to get through approximately 200 miles of running.
My first relay experience was in 2001, up in Washington State. A bunch of college alumni decided it would be fun if we ran from Mt. Rainier to the Pacific Coast. I was excited – how hard could it be? Running a few legs between three and nine miles each? No problem. But I had never run one before, so what did I know?
When we began the first leg, our team consisted of five members (most teams were running with 11). We had confirmation we’d be meeting two others along the way, at some point, but nothing is ever “for sure” and this was before cell phones were common. I ran my first leg, which was about seven miles, and I did not want to run again, any time soon.
We were fortunate to find those last two teammates – somehow – in the midst of relay chaos. And the rest was history. My memories of that day/night/morning include running past a casino in the middle of the night, almost hitting a dog who was loose at 3am (in a Jetta), the funny glow of the sky that isn’t quite dark-but the sun is no where close to appearing at 4am, running through quiet the coastal range with the sound of chainsaws in the distance early in the morning, crossing the finish line at the beach and feeling so incredibly sleep-deprived at the finish and only a curb to hold us up. With just a burger to fill our tummies, we headed home after what I might describe as a surreal experience. But a fun one, at that.
This year, I was invited to participate in the Cascade Lakes Relay. I had never considered doing another relay since Rainier to Pacific back in 2001. My focus had always been on my own races, and therein lies the significance. After I confirmed I would be able to participate, I was genuinely excited to embark on this virtually unknown adventure. Running on the back roads of South Central Oregon had an appeal that seemed oddly refreshing – a change from the road runs I had been used to, coupled with a team who would be supporting one another throughout each leg.
Our arrival at Diamond Lake Resort the evening before the start of the relay was relaxing – just as seven people (six plus one support crew member) continued to make small talk and get to know one another as the sun set and the campfire burned bright. Soon enough it was time for sleep – of which we all got none – and alarms soon chimed at 5am. Our first runner was off at 6, and away we went. Runners passed, we cheered, chatted and continued on in our van until our first six legs were over. Seemed quick enough with a nice, long break at a park in the middle of a sleepy Southern Oregon town. Sleep evaded me, as I am not one to sleep outside in the middle of the afternoon, and soon enough it was time to run again. This time the sun was setting as our first runner pounded the gravel through the fields of cows. He had injured himself on the first leg, and so I gladly stepped in to help finish his second leg. Night slowly fell as van after van and runner after runner became a flurry of red tail lights and reflective figures bouncing ever so steadily. My second leg ran along forest roads populated only by said vans and runners, but also kind individuals on tame horses who “watched over the night” as we ran past. This is where I failed to think intelligently, and did not dress warm enough – so after my leg my body began to shut down as my core temperature dropped. It took a good two hours in a sleeping bag (since a hot shower was not available) for it to get back up to normal.
Our night drive was dead silent after our exchange with Van 2. Mad props to our driver and co-captain who kept his eyes open for that long, half hour drive to our next area of rest. One hour of sleep later, and it was off and running once again. And while I was typically the fifth runner, I ran first that morning due to our first runner being injured. An early six miles for me – and a lack of fuel – but I survived. My final leg included donning a costume – as it was relay’s official “costume leg.” Two miles of wearing a heavy, Pointer Sisters-style wig on my head was all worth it, as I was done. WE were done. Van 2 was now in charge of bringing us to the Finish Line. A quick shower and reunion with my family was in store.
As my van dropped me off at my house – it was a simple, yet physically / emotionally hard departure as I had been traveling with these people for over 24 hours straight. In fact, it was almost 48 hours. We had been working together as a team, and now it was over. The bond you create with your Van is one that I had really never experienced. Each team member worked and ran as hard as they could, to get us through the relay. We all worked hard together. I must have exhausted my family and friends with my continuous chatter about what a great time I had running in the Cascade Lakes Relay. How much fun my teammates were – how I am planning more runs with them because they are just a great bunch of people.
When I was unable to run a marathon in June, due to illness, I could have never imagined that my frustration (and in turn, desire to run every race possible), would lead me to this awesome experience. The Cascade Lakes Relay was just what I needed to pull my head out of the sand, and become a happy runner once again.
I am looking forward to running my 10th marathon next weekend (avoiding illness at all costs, KNOCK ON WOOD), thanks to the Cascade Lakes Relay and my wonderful, awesome and amazing “We Thought They Said Rum” teammates. XO.