Relay-izing You're Where You Belong

Like artists, runners have their mediums. We settle into our preferred distances, terrain, and race environments. Some people are sprinters and run 5ks and 10ks. Some thrive on the energy of crowds and the openness of the road, running half marathons or marathons. Some people love being part of a team and run relays. I have run short distances and long distances. I have run as part of a team and I have run for hours upon hours on my own. I have run on the open road and I have traversed narrow, overgrown trail. I am an ultra runner. I thrive on the pain of endurance, of constant forward motion. I derive energy from the solitude of the mountains, the trees, the water, the quiet breeze, and from the dirt beneath my feet.  

CLR team van.

CLR team van.

In 2010, I ran the Hood to Coast relay. It was a fun experience, but I found the magnitude of the race to be draining and the distance covered by an individual team member unfulfilling. So, when my friend, Sarah, asked me to join her Cascade Lakes Relay team this year, I was reluctant. Sarah assured me, however, that the race was smaller than Hood to Coast (approximately 175 teams as opposed to over 1,000), that it was scenic, and, most of all, that her team would be a 6-person ultra team rather than the standard 12-person team. We would get to run more!

The Cascade Lakes Relay begins in beautiful Diamond Lake, OR and ends in Bend, OR. Never having been to Southern Oregon, I was taken aback by the breathtaking beauty of the area, surrounded by the Three Sisters and Mt. Hood. 

Diamond Lake.

Diamond Lake.

As an ultra team, our team had the earliest race start at 6:00 a.m. Though we started early, my first leg was not until late afternoon. By that time, the temperature had soared into the low 90s. Consequently, I knew that my first leg would likely be my most challenging. The sun beat down on all 8.7 miles of exposed, red cinder that I ran. I started off at a comfortable and conservative 9:20 pace, but that quickly slowed as the heat took its toll. When I was half way through my leg, my team met me on the course and took the layers of clothes that I had shed and sprayed me down with with water. I pushed forward. 

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As I slogged through my leg, I got slower and slower. My body felt surprisingly good after racing MH50 six days before, but the heat made me feel like I was running underwater. When I reached the end of my leg, I was breathing hard, I was shaking, and I was dizzy. I am not a stranger to running in the heat; I fueled and hydrated appropriately. I did not push my pace. Still my body could not withstand the temperature. I did not know how I would run the remaining 32 miles I had committed to run. I could tell that Sarah was worried. 

For the next several hours, we followed our teammates as they ran their legs, spraying them down with cool water and monitoring their hydration, ensuring that they did not suffer heat stroke like some of the other runners we observed along the roads. Our team was exhausted, but few people were able to sleep due to the heat. 

My second leg was a block leg (two individual legs run back to back), totaling 13.3 miles. Beginning around 9:30 p.m., temperatures were much cooler. Terrified of the dark, I was comforted by the full moon and the sky blanketed with stars. I met Sarah at the exchange point: "Enjoy the cool weather," she said. "Live in the moment." I ran along gravel road and pavement in the peace of the night, occasionally passed by another runner, but typically alone. In the moments when I started to fear being alone in the dark, I glanced up at the stars and imbibed the breathtaking beauty that enveloped me. "Live in the moment," I repeated to myself. When my leg was over and I saw my team, I observed the look of relief on Sarah's face when she realized that I was recovering. 

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After my leg, I slept for several hours in the back of the van, occasionally waking to use the restroom or check on my teammates. I awoke just before dawn the next morning and began to prepare myself for my next leg, which would begin in early morning: 13.2 more miles. In the early hours of the cool morning, my leg began on pavement and soon transitioned to soft dirt and sand. Suddenly, I was away from the cars and the road and surrounded by trees, a river, and, eventually, a lake. The leg was so secluded, in fact, that there was no team access. I paused for a moment and, in my head, thanked Sarah for giving me another block leg that she knew would play to my strengths and that I would enjoy.  

It was not long after I finished my leg that I was fast asleep once again, at least until the temperature increased. Several hours elapsed before my next leg. It was hot again, but the excitement of nearing the end fueled the teams with relentless motion and enthusiasm. Teammates yelled to their runners from the vans, random people rang cowbells as they drove down the highway, and runners pushed as hard as they could, all with the excitement of nearing the end. I pushed uphill and downhill for 5.5 miles in the heat, battling the side stitches caused by breathing hard in high altitude, but comforted by the mist of the spray bottle held by the caring hands of my teammates. 

When I reached the end of my final leg, I was elated. I was tired, hot, and a little sore, but I had finished relatively unscathed. I was not injured and I had just raced two big weekends in a row. 

I was glad to have participated in CLR. I spent time with good friends and I got in some quality night training, altitude training, heat training, and sleep-deprivation training.  Running the relay also confirmed for me that I am not a relay runner. I do not like crowds, no matter how small. I find attention and hype utterly draining. I do not enjoy pounding pavement for mile after mile, regardless of the beauty of my surroundings. While I did not enjoy the event, I did learn something about myself and there's something to be said for realizing that you're right where you're supposed to be. I am hanging up my relay shoes.