Thursday, August 07, 2008

What An Experience! Cascade Lakes Relay Race Report

Hubby and I got the opportunity to join a team for the Cascade Lakes Relay, a new entrant in the PacNW stable of relay races. We've done the Hood To Coast, the first and most classic of relays, before. But it has gotten hard to enter (a lottery for the thousands of slots) and with thousands of vans and runners, it's really a zoo to get through. The Cascade Lakes had several appealing features - it was the first year, it's the longest relay in the U.S. (I think) at 217 miles, it goes through some of the most stunning scenery around (boasts 12 mountains and countless lakes that you wind around) and it is quite challenging as you range from 4,000' elevation to almost 7,000' and back down again. Our team, Worst Case Scenario (team motto: "It doesn't get any better than this, and it's not that great right now") promised to be a fun group of people to spend 30 hours cooped up in a couple of vans and running our legs off with.

Our team met for pasta the night before and to go over the considerable logistics - two vans, 12 runners, lots of schedules and very little sleep. We were in Van 2, and took off Friday morning to meet for the handoff from the last runner of Van 1, which had started at 8:30 that morning. On the way, we stopped at Subway and got a couple of foot-long subs for each runner. This would be our staple food for the next two days, and I'm not sure I'll darken the door of another Subway for a verrrryyy long time.

In a relay like this, each runner has three legs of about 5 – 8 miles each. After the last runner has gone from Van 1, they handed off to us and our first runner was launched. I had the 11th leg, which ended up being a hot and hilly 5.6 miles. Between the altitude and the heat (and maybe, just maybe, my lack of recent run training), I was really sucking wind. As it turned out, we had a pretty heated competition with another team, and we traded places frequently throughout the entire race. The runner on their team who had the same legs in the race as I did was a 16 year old girl. She got the first handoff in front of me and took off, and I set off to chase her. I never did catch her, but kept close on her heels, handing off the race bracelet to my hubby who had the last leg in our van. This photo is hubby chasing down a "roadkill" (runner from another team) on his first leg. We called his strange running shirt the "nuclear angel".

When we were done with our legs, we had to get to the next handoff, throw down our sleeping bags in a field and try and get an hour or two of shuteye, then it was up at 12:30 am to go meet Van 1 for the next handoff. As our first runner started his leg, we discovered that we were now over three minutes behind the team we were chasing. But while their runners, which seemed to be mostly ultramarathoners and all acclimated already to higher elevations since they were from Bend, had whupped us in the heat of the day, the cold (BRRRRR – 34 degree!) night air gave us a jump start. The runner who handed off to me passed their runner after an epic gain of over 3 minutes, and I took off with a scant 10 second lead. I widened that to 35 seconds and handed off to hubby who took us to a 2 minute lead. Running through the black forest at night with shooting stars streaking across the sky above me was a moment I will remember and cherish for many years to come, I’m sure. From conversations after the race, it seems that many runners from various teams apparently felt great trepidation at running through the dark forest and empty roads at night, but a few dozen years of camping and backpacking left me feeling more ecstatic than worried. Although apparently a badger chased one runner on this segment, I didn't see or hear any wildlife more dangerous than a few owls and field mice.

Then again, it was off to the next stage, throw down our sleeping bags (in the forest this time) and get another hour or two of scattered sleep. At the final exchange, it was mid-morning. Here, we entered the most challenging but also the most stunningly beautiful part of the course. Again, we were back to being behind our competition. But alas, now we were really up against some challenging elevation gains, and their star hill-climber pulled away from us on a leg that gained 1000’ of elevation in 4 miles, climbing almost to 7,000’ elevation. From the top of this leg, we could see the runs we ski on at Mt. Bachelor right beside us. Giving us inspiration, our oldest runner at 72 years old not only ran his own 3 race legs, but ran this toughest climbing leg alongside his daughter. Wow, now that’s an inspiring pair of athletes!! By the time it got to me, their runner again had a lead on me. My last leg was an excruciating drop of 1300 feet, which really punished my already stiff quads. This is not a leg I would choose to run again, and it earned its “Very Difficult” rating for sure. I saved myself some misery by running on the soft shoulder, and only lost a minute or so to the young runner in front of me. Though the rest of the team also tried valiantly to catch our competition, they ended up beating us by 2 minutes, over a course that took us 29 hours and 43 minutes to accomplish! That’s pretty amazing that our two teams were that closely matched over such a long distance and 12 different runners.

Still, we pulled a nice 9th place finish out of our race, all of us pushing ourselves to do our utmost on a very tough but incredibly beautiful and scenic course. Considering that many of our runners had never met before (we gained one runner from a conversation in a a doctor’s waiting room based on their Hood To Coast t-shirt, and another runner had been recommended by a friend of an employee of one runner), we coalesced nicely into a fun and supportive team. Even though we had a friendly rivalry going with this other team, we also talked with them and encouraged their runners along the course as well. All in all, it was a terrific experience.

The race director provided some really awesome technical race t-shirts, a wonderful BBQ dinner, and best of all hot showers complete with towels and shampoo at the finish at a high school in Bend. The team all ran in together for a photo, and enjoyed hanging out on the shady lawn and chowing down. Then it was off to a nearby town to stay the night, eat a whole mess of ice cream and share all of the details of the last 29 hours events. The icing on the cake was the next morning when we discovered that our very own team captain, veteran relay runner and enthusiastic teammate Bob Hawkins had graced the cover of the Bend Bulletin sports section on his very last leg, a tough trail run coming in to the finish line. We picked up a dozen copies of the paper en route to a morning breakfast and parting of the ways.

This is a race I would gladly do again, and I would totally recommend this kind of race to any triathlete or runner who wants to expand their racing repertoire into something really original, fun, and very challenging

1 comment:

travelin' nan said...

Hey Robin,
I didn't even see you in the race! You must have been in Van 2.
I saw most of your team during the race, and at the end, as I believe our teams started at the same time. I know the other woman who ran, but didn't realize you were on the team as well.
We'll have to talk when I see you at karate!