It’s been a summer of firsts for me, including my first ever 5k in July and my first overnight relay. The Cascade Lakes Relay starts in southern Oregon at Diamond Lake and meanders through the Cascade mountains, past several more lakes and volcanic peaks, then up and over Mt. Bachelor to finish up in Bend.
This 216-mile journey is accomplished by a team of 12 runners in two vans (though we managed with 11), running through the night and two days of high desert heat and cold mountain temperatures. Our hottest leg was 103° and the coldest was 37° with elevations well over 5,000 feet; quite a swing for the body to adjust to.
Our team, officially “You said ‘For better or worse, not crazy!'” with the specific theme “Power Couples”, consisted of five couples and one 21-year-old super fast kid who we added on because we couldn’t find a sixth couple our age who was crazy enough to join us. He and his girlfriend, who took on the job of driver for our van, restored my faith in the next generation.
Among the older Power Couples, the women were the runners and our husbands were the not-so-much or not-at-all runners. This made for very low pressure for times, and our goal was to have fun. Of course, I wanted to use this weekend as a barometer of my fitness. I’d been putting in weeks of high mileage and quality workouts, and wanted to see if all that work was paying off.
Our team stayed at Diamond Lake the night before the race, about a three-hour drive from Eugene, right at the start. We decorated our vans the night before with lights, pictures, and middle school humor jokes.
Hearkening back to our Salty Running #NakedMoleRat collection, my husband and I went as Adam and Eve, the original power couple. We wore skin-toned running clothes (well, honestly we were both in skin-toned underwear because I couldn’t find nude running shorts), were adorned with fig leaves, and I had a snake draped around my neck.
The other couples included Barbie* and Ken, Baby and Johnny from “Dirty Dancing,” Daphne and Fred from Scooby Doo, and Trump and Putin from that terrible reality show that’s on right now. The young couple we just called the Young Punks. (*You might remember Barbie as my friend Kate whom I paced the last 33 miles of her first 100-miler last summer.)
Before the start we dressed up and took team shots by the lake; my husband and I got the most double-takes as we strolled across the starting area.
Running into loose acquaintances and crossing paths with a guy I briefly dated in 2000 in my Eve costume proved equal parts harrowing and humiliating (#sobrave!), but I pulled up my big girl Spanx and just went with it.
We were in Van 2, so we saw off our first runner from Van 1 and then faced down the next six hours until it was our turn to take over.
From my perspective, the relay was a lot of hurry up and … wait. We drove to the first holding spot where Van 2 runners waited until we got a text from our Van 1 people saying their second-to-last runner started. We had to show that text to a race official, then wait an hour to actually leave the
holding pen forested parking area. We lounged in the shade, napping, playing cards, and talking while the temperature climbed higher, and higher …
By go-time, the temperature read 103° on the van thermometer. My husband took off in that extreme heat, didn’t die, and handed off to the super fast kid. After downing a gallon of water and pouring double that over his head to cool down, we drove to the exchange point for my first leg.
Leg 1: 8.3 miles, 7:19 average pace.
The temp had dropped to a chilly 93° and I was filling the Buff around my neck with ice when I heard my name yelled from the road across the ditch from the dirt road we’d parked on. Fast Kid was early and traffic made us late, and with an “Oh sh*t!!” I took off like a bat out of Hell to leap over the ditch and then get in front of the fast kid, who was running in the low 6:xx’s, to the exchange point almost a half-mile down the road.
The result? A 400m PR on Strava! And my turnover started so fast that I just went with the momentum. My leg was just over eight miles, at over 5,000′ elevation in the mid-90s with some big hill climbs. The miles kept ticking off fast, I was passing people left and right (at least 15 this leg), and as the end of my run approached my feeling of badassery was peaking.
Another team, Magnum PR, consisting of dudes in cutoff jeans and fantastic mustaches seemed impressed with my speed and doused me with water several times, created an arm tunnel to run through, then proposed marriage in a drive-by as I flew along.
I finally saw the exchange point up ahead, slapped the bracelet on my friend Kate’s wrist, proudly proclaimed “That’s the way you get that effing done!” and strutted around a bit.
Lots of waiting. After all five of us in Van 2 ran and we handed off to Van 1, we drove to LaPine High School, which had opened their gym and filled it with air mattresses for runners to rest, shower, and sleep.
My insomnia was on high gear for the weekend; I’d slept less than three hours the night before and not at all in the van during the day. My husband and I made a sleeping nest with our bags and gear, he was snoring within seconds while I told myself “downtime” was just as necessary as true sleep. Yeah right. We gathered back at the van around 1:00 am to make our way to the next exchange point.
The van exchange points were a trip in and of themselves. Disco dance floors on the tops of vans, costumes, lights, makeup, port-o-potty lines — it was like a sober(ish) rave for grownups. We found Van 1, sleepily greeted each other and our first runner took off into the darkness.
Leg 2: 5.7 miles, 6:47 average pace.
My second leg was in the mountains at around 3:30 am. The vans were much more spread out at this point and we were in the middle of nowhere, and I was starting to feel a little loopy from lack of sleep. (That’s an understatement). The temperature dropped into the upper 30s, and I was freezing. Kate ran in and I took off and ran — fast. Although it was hard to tell what pace I was doing because it was pitch black and there was no one around.
The first two miles clicked off in the 6:30’s and I felt pretty elated but also pretty freaked out (was that a bear? a cougar? a crazy meth head?!) I kept telling myself that this leg was so, so short it barely counted as running. I looked at the stars and tried to ignore the noises in the woods and the flying things that dive bombed me a couple of times. When the lights of the exchange point came into view, as the eastern sky began to lighten, I praised the universe I was nearly done and could rest for another eight hours before I had to go again.
Lots of waiting… Our van finished up around 9:00am and after deliriously greeting and sending off Van 1, we drove to Elk Lake, a resort that had coffee, breakfast burritos, and a lakeside campground to sleep in while we waited.
Husbands went right to sleep, the youngins lounged and napped in their bunk bed hammocks, and I brushed my teeth, ate, and then settled down to convince myself that downtime was as useful as true sleep. Yeah right.
The temperatures started rising again and we left our lakeside forest oasis to drive to the top of Mt. Bachelor for our final legs. I was going first; a 5-mile dive bomb down from the mountain followed by one mile up again plus a bit. I knew I needed to conserve my legs for that last uphill mile, but mostly I wanted to be done running and out of the heat.
Leg 3: 6.4 miles, 7:27 average pace.
Our team captain and the last runner in Van 1 came charging up the mountain looking super strong, slapped the bracelet on my wrist, and then I took off down the road, telling myself to keep it in the 7:30s so I didn’t kill my quads.
Well, no, I didn’t do that. It was solidly in the mid-90s again, I was depleted in glycogen, sleep, IQ, and hydration (I didn’t pee for over eight hours after the race; whoops). I saw a 6:32 bleep across the screen of my Garmin. SH*T! I thought briefly, but kept it up.
Then the uphill mile hit and, although I was still passing people, the heat and lack of sleep rendered me a mess. I handed off to Kate again, then spent the next hour attempting and failing at simple addition to get us checked in with the official race app, but I managed to keep the tears in.
So, we finished. We met up with our Van 1 at the finish area, ran in our last runner in the brutal heat to finish up in 30 hours and 11 minutes, good enough for fourth place in our division. Van 1 had been done for hours, while we in Van 2 were spent in every way.
I hadn’t gotten more than a couple of cat naps in the last 48 hours and hit a bottom of the barrel exhaustion, not to mention my stomach was wonky from running in the extreme heat so the pad Thai and hard cider didn’t taste as awesome as I hoped. Kate and I fell asleep on the 15-minute drive to where we crashed for the night. (Thanks, Fast Kid, for documenting that!)
We slept at the house of one of our runner’s parents in Bend, and I passed out for 11 hours, waking refreshed and able to run to a coffee shop for breakfast and a chance to actually talk to the members of our team in Van 1 and hear about the experience of the race from their perspective.
All in all, my first big relay was a success: I got to have an extremely fun running adventure with my husband and I got to know some amazing people on my team that I’d never have met otherwise.
As for testing out my fitness, I consider CLR a success as well. I passed ~28 people (roadkill!) during my three legs and was passed by no one, according to Strava I got a 400m PR, my second best 1/2 mile and 1k times, my third best one and two-mile times, and my second best 5k time, all in non-optimal conditions as far as temperature, elevation, and restfulness go. My hard work seems to be paying off.
Hopefully, CLR will become a yearly tradition for us!
What’s your opinion of relay races?