After two jam packed weeks of conferences, travel, and go, go goooooo, you’d think I’d spend my first free weekend (hell, my first free weekday!) taking naps and lounging around with a good book. But it seems that relaxation just isn’t in my vocabulary these days. In fact, I did the very opposite of napping and lounging; I ran the Cascade Lakes Relay as part of an ultra team.
If you’re not already familiar with the Cascade Lakes Relay, it’s a 216.6 mile course that starts at about 5,300 ft. elevation at Diamond Lake (south-central Oregon) and then winds around toward Bend, letting you take in beautiful lakes, trails, cinder roads and through tree covered highways. It is by far the most challenging and beautiful relay course I have ever run.
It is also by far one of the best, most organized relays I’ve ever run. The exchanges were really well run and easy to get to, the volunteers were top notch and best of all, the costumes and the energy are unlike any other relay I’ve ever participated in. I mean, the Mad Max Fury Road van?? And the costumes? I kept thinking…relay or Burning Man? Either way, AWESOME.
My team, the Beyond Bro team, consisted of 6 runners: Ehren (El Capitan), Evan (the Unicorn Beast), Casey (the dirtbag with the best stache ever..aka my husband), Cindy (Sin Dawg), and Me (the old hag)….oh yeah, and Travis (#wherestravis or Grumpy Runner, take your pick). Our costumes were a mix of bro tanks, floral hats, and unicorns. All the bro. And some rainbows and unicorns for good measure.
A couple of days before we had received news that one of our runners (Travis) was unable to take Thursday and Friday off of work and when I woke up at 5 am on Thursday morning to teach HIIT Yoga at Flex & Flow, I was growing increasingly nervous about how the lack of sleep and increased mileage was going to affect me. I taught a good and sweaty class, stayed for another sweaty class (you know, to stretch the legs) and then returned home to frantically pack (and of course way over pack).
Casey, Evan, Cindy and I left Portland on Thursday afternoon in a clown car stuffed to the brim with running gear, snacks, unicorn costumes and much to my husband’s dismay, my unicorn floaty. We arrived in Bend in the early evening and met up with Ehren before heading over to my family friend’s house where we’d stay for the night and enjoy a lovely dinner.
We got up and around 5:30 am and were in the van en route to coffee by 6:15 am. We grabbed some Backporch Roasters and then made our way to the start line.
We painted the van…..
checked in, took some photos….
…and eventually (at 9:40 am, to be exact), we saw Ehren, our very first runner off. He was flying right out of the gate.
Given we were still only 5 runners, we took some time to look at our plans for each of the legs and began to shuffle things around so that we could fill in for Travis who was supposed to arrive later in the evening. Looking at the sheet and feeling the morning air turn into hot, sizzling temps, I started to get a little nervous.
And just as the day really started to heat up, I realized it was nearly time for me to start running. I grabbed my Aftershokz, filled my water bottle, poured some ice down my shorts and in my sports bra and basically stripped out of all my bro gear, down to a sports bra, shorts, running shoes and ponytail. We waited out in the exchange area for what seemed like just a few minutes and suddenly it was time to run.
Leg 3, 7.7 miles:
Almost instantly I could feel my lungs. Whoa altitude. Whoa dust. And whoa, whoa, whoa, HEAT. Knowing that I had 7.7 sweaty miles to go – mostly on a soft, almost sand like dirt road, I turned up my music, got focused on my breath and started to let my legs get warm and loose. And despite the heavy lungs and the heat, I was feeling pretty damn good. My legs felt strong and conditioned and my pace felt pretty good and fast.
My team had been joking with me right before I went out that I needed to catch up to a woman in blue tights. She had left a long time before our runner had even come in so I shrugged them off. In the first mile, I had already passed two runners, gave them both a wave and a good job thumb’s up and carried on. Around three miles in, I saw the woman in blue tights just ahead and kept my eyes on her until I passed her. I was feeling pretty good. I wasn’t even halfway through the first leg and I had already managed to gain on three runners.
It was getting hotter and the trail had become more exposed. I was doing my very best to stay hydrated while simultaneously strategizing how not to run out of water (it was an unsupported leg). I was taking small sips as frequently as possible and attempting to keep my core temp as cool as possible by weaving in and out of the shadier spots on the trail, even sometimes going in the less packed sand to get more shade.
Around 5 miles in, we came to a crossing and left the dirt trail for a 2.9 mile slog on the highway. There was a significant amount of traffic and exhaust which made me feel like I’d gone from sucking dust on the trail to sucking fumes. I kept chugging away, dancing along as I ran on the highway (getting lots of honks from cars and trucks) and even managed to pass two more runners on the descent into the exchange. I felt good as I approached the exchange but was ready for some cold water and an air conditioned van. HA!
When I checked my watch, I was thrilled to see that I had done that 7.7 miles in 1:00:41 (a 7:53 /mile pace!).
The next several legs were getting increasingly hotter. We were all doing our best to stay hydrated and cool when we could. Evan’s next leg was a hot, exposed, 8 miler on a dusty cinder road which he just totally crushed (thank goodness for ice bandanas!). Casey’s first leg – about 7 miles – was also totally exposed and the heat had really picked up by the point – by the time he came into the exchange, we knew he had suffered a little heat exhaustion. He was pale and looked like he’d been beaten up out there.
I started to worry about all of the miles we still had before our 6th runner arrived. And of course…the heat.
A couple of hour passed and then on to the next leg…
Leg 7, 5.5 miles
It was the middle of the day – meaning the hottest part of the day – and I hadn’t eaten very much so I knew I was going to have to dig a little deeper for this one. To help keep me cool and mimic Evan, Casey made me an ice bandana by cutting a whole in my buff and stuffing ice in it which I wore around my neck.
Thankfully, the leg was mostly flat and on a very pretty tree lined highway with very little traffic, other than honking vans.
Knowing that I’d be needing a little extra oomph to get going on my second leg, I grabbed my Aftershokz and jammed out to my bootcamp jams playlist (lots of Usher, all the Beyonce…). While I wouldn’t normally run on a highway, much less at night with earphones, Aftershokz makes that possible – I can still hear everything around me and enjoy my music (or podcasts) at the same time. SCORE!
Anyway, I finished this leg in 47 minutes (an 8:20 /mile pace) and had 4 roadkills. BOOYA!
As the evening wore on, I could tell that everyone was getting a little tired and dehydrated. We were all complaining about stomach issues – myself included – it was that time of the relay when your stomach feels like crap, your body feels stiff and tired and you can’t help but think, what was I thinking?
We all did our best to keep spirits up, get out of the van and cheer and keep everyone cool with ice and water which we were already running low on. We had received an update somewhere along the way (whenever we had service for a few minutes) that Travis was en route which really helped the overall morale. We re-examined our planned legs and had him jumping in at leg 15…or at least we hoped.
Leg 11, 7 miles:
My next leg started around 6:45 pm. I was the first runner to go out with reflective gear and a headlamp on. It was a fun ordeal just trying to find everything I would need for that run. The good news is that it was a little cooler out than on my previous leg, the bad news is that even at that hour, it was still warm enough for shorts and a tank top.
Knowing that I was going to be running 7 miles on legs that had already run over 13, I scarfed down a few Cliff Shot blocks, ate some almond butter and bread, and drank some SOS Rehydrate. I felt as ready as I could feel and once the runner came into the exchange, I was off again.
This leg was a quad burner – half of it was on a relatively flat road and the other half was a pretty decent descent – I ended up passing 5 runners during this leg and was feeling pretty good about my pace at the finish.
I finished this leg in 59 minutes (pace: 8:30 / mile).
After this leg, the sky started to get a little darker and we were all appreciating the slightly cooler temps. Somewhere between leg 11 and 15 we found a convenience store and picked up extra ice and water since we had been going through it so quickly and tried again to get some food in our bellies – mostly in the form of bagels and nut butters.
While we were pulling into the exchange for leg 13, Travis showed up – and it was perhaps the best feeling in the world – it was almost as if the air got a little lighter in the van – like you could practically feel all of us sighing with relief. And lucky him, he got settled right in to our extremely disgusting, extremely sweaty, stinky van. We got him all caught up on the adventure thus far and then it was his turn to hit the ground running with leg 15.
At around 11pm, I decided to try and lay down in the back for a bit. I was 20.7ish miles in and feeling drained and knew I’d be running again around 2:30 in the morning.
Leg 18, 5.2 miles:
This is one of the two legs that I honestly barely remember. It was around 2:30 in the morning when I started running and I had been laying down for about an hour beforehand – I definitely hadn’t been sleeping but I had definitely been trying.
It was during this leg that I started to really feel all of the miles – my quads were tight and the sleeplessness and lack of food was starting to take its toll on me and my pace. In fact, without even looking at my watch, I knew that I had slowed down considerably.
The best way I can describe this portion of the run is that it was dark. It was on a dark, quiet road. And I was in such a fog and starting to get into a bit of a dark place. And to make matters worse, I had forgotten to carry my headphones so I just ran in silence along the side of the road, getting lost in my thoughts.
When I finished, all I felt was cold.
The air, much to my surprise, had turned chilly and I had been running in shorts and a tank top. My arms and hands felt frozen and my whole body felt chilled. I stripped off my sweaty clothes and threw my “squirrel suit” (aka my owl onesie) over my running clothes, curled up in my Rumpl blanket and snoozed in the back.
I ran this leg in 46:43 (8:54/ mile pace).
Leg 22, 5.2 miles:
I had been sleeping in my squirrel suit, all crumpled up with a blanket and pillow in the front seat, when I felt Casey nudging me, asking me if I was ready to run. I was supposed to run the leg before this one but Evan had switched with me to give me a little extra time between.
I was in a complete fog. Without even thinking, I stripped off the squirrel suit, grabbed my waterbottle and made my way out to the exchange. It was around 5 am (I think?). It was just light enough that I didn’t need any lights or reflective gear which I was pretty happy about but still a little chilly, making me wish that I still had my squirrel suit on.
I took the bracelet from Evan and all of a sudden as I was running away from my van, realized that I had no idea what this leg was even about. I wasn’t 100% sure of the mileage. I didn’t know the route. I had never even looked at the map.
In the first few minutes we had to cross a big intersection. Thankfully there were volunteers there to tell us which way to go. I followed the directions and ended up on a road that had a nice paved bike trail running parallel to it. Seeing the bike trail, I figured that’s where I was supposed to be and made my way to it. As the bike trail turned off though, I started to get a little nervous and glanced back in the direction of the road where I was able to faintly make out what looked like vans and decided to make my way back to the road. I had passed a runner some ways back and waited a minute for him to catch up so I could point him back on to the road as well….since I’m probably the reason he was on the bike path to begin with!
I tried to pick up my pace a little to make up for some of the lost time but it wasn’t doing that much, to be honest. I was feeling the 30+ miles and then some. Somewhere along the way, I found myself running alongside another guy and we began chatting. He had done the relay for the past 9 years and we talked relay legs, made jokes about running and of course about what we looked forward to eating when we were finished…for me, it was SWEET POTATOES…which I’m pretty sure I talked about non-stop for 12 hours in our van…. (oops).
At the one mile to go mark, I was feeling all kinds of emotional and tired and just charged ahead, eager and anxious to see my team…..and ok, let’s be honest, to get in a nice, warm van.
I finished this leg in 46:40 (8:56/mile pace).
At the exchange, I learned there was hot chocolate, coffee and real restrooms inside and got super excited. Like way too excited. I practically ran away from my team to make myself a coffee with a packet of instant hot chocolate in it (yes, I’m serious). I used the bathroom and scrubbed my face, hands and arms a little too long in the sink. It all felt luxurious. By the time I made it back to the van, it was time to go. I did a quick change while we were driving and started to mentally prepare for my last and longest leg.
Leg 25, 8.6 miles:
With only 3 runners between legs, I was barely ready to move again when all of a sudden it was time for my longest and last leg of the relay. The day had started to warm up again but there was a slight breeze as we made our way to the exchange.
I noticed how funny my stomach was feeling and also how badly my legs were burning – especially my quads – and wondered how ugly this leg was about to be. When our runner came in, I grabbed the bracelet and set off for the leg that I knew was going to seem to take forever and then some.
The first part was uphill on a dirt road. I almost immediately got passed by three guys who looked fresh and peppy and almost immediately I hated them. HA. Kidding….sort of…..I tried to get into a groove but everything felt labored – my breath, my steps, thinking positive thoughts – it was all hard.
As I came to the crest of the first climb, nearly 2 miles in, I decided I would try to channel my inner Evan. I forced a smile, turned up my music, and tried to again find my groove. For a little while, I fell in step with another ultra runner. He too was on struggle and it helped me feel a little better about myself after being passed by 3 more runners. We walked/ ran up a hill together and then came upon our respective vans and lost one another while refilling water and ice. I grabbed a swig of cold water from my van and told them to go ahead and go to the exchange because I really didn’t want them to witness anymore of my suckfest. And they obliged (thankfully). The next nearly 4 miles were a mental battle. I would tell myself to run the hill and my legs would tell my brain to walk the hill….and I would meet them both somewhere in the middle. I was counting 350 running steps and then allowing myself to walk 100 steps and up, up, up, and down, down, down the hills I went.
Despite my legs being trashed and mind being jumbled, it was a BEAUTIFUL leg. Had I been fresh, it would have been my very favorite leg. It was rolling hills, scenic and mountainous. And….coming into mile 40.7, it was challenging.
I finished in a whopping 1:30 (10:30/mile pace) – womp, womp, womp – and almost immediately gave myself a thorough french shower (thank you ShowerPill), changed out of my sweaty clothes, brushed out my hair (and my teeth!!!), and got ready to be the best damn cheerleader Beyond Bro had ever seen. I was mother f*ing done!
The rest of the relay, at least for me, was a blast.
I ate goldfish crackers. I got to watch Evan charge two hot, sweaty miles in a full on unicorn costume (at a 7:00/mile pace no less) – hence his name, unicorn beast.
And then I watched him go out and conquer the Mt. Bachelor climb – passing runners like he had fresh legs – seriously, inspiring!
I watched Ehren and Travis both crush their last few legs – chasing alongside them to replenish water and / or ice.
And I got to watch Cindy just absolutely crush her last few legs and officially become an ultra runner. WOOT WOOT.
And I got to see Casey finish his last leg strong – after his heat exhaustion (a slight scare for all of us!) – I was so glad to see him come in looking like the strong runner that he is.
When Evan finished the climb up Mt. Bachelor, I knew we were truly almost done. We enjoyed a beer at the top and got excited for our last few runners to go out and do the damn thing.
At the finish line, we waited anxiously for a sight of Cindy. When we finally saw her coming around the bend, we were waving our arms around like crazy, willing her to finish. We all ran across the finish line and I could not have been prouder or more inspired by my badass team.
We ran all the miles. We shared all the laughs. All the smells. And all the peanut butter.
A big, heartfelt thank you to our studly runner and team captain, Ehren for getting us there, keeping us organized and being a straight boss when it came time to run (hellllooooo, speed demon!).
Thank you to Evan for being the unicorn beast that you are – you continue to inspire and amaze me with your unbreakable spirit and superhuman runner strength (not so much your balance though…)….
And thank you to Cindy for being such an awesome and fearless friend – I love that you just jumped into running as an ultra team without even so much as a second thought (badass…)!
And to Casey for always staying positive even when things just totally suck…and for running your butt off even when you felt like poo.
And to Travis…for showing up and running like a bat out of hell…#wherestravis :).
Wake up. Drink coffee. Eat brunch.
Drink more coffee at Thump Roasters.
Drink beer at Boneyard Beer.
Wash the van.
Go stand-up paddleboarding
….see one of the best, slow motion back flops EVER (thank you Evan..)
….do some paddleboard yoga.
Eat all the food (and mustard).
Say goodbye. Drive home.
I cannot say enough amazing things about my team. They are the most inspiring, amazing, and fun bunch of people I know. I can also not say enough about the other amazing teams out there who battled the heat, miles and stinky vans…and of course cannot thank those vans with the high pressure sprayer things enough for helping to keep us cool out there!
And of course, thank you to all of the lovely people who made Cascade Relays possible – it was a blast!
Stay sweaty friends!