Five of us rolled into Redmond on Thursday afternoon, picked up the RV that would be our home for the next 3 nights and met our 6th compatriot at her house in Bend. We drank beers, jenga-fied coolers, water jugs, and duffle bags into the back of our moving home-away-from-home, and drove south for our last night of good sleep before the horn sounded on Friday morning. It was the second year in a row that 4 of us would be running Cascade Lakes Relay as an Ultra Team, a brutally amazing 216-mile race from Diamond Lake to Bend, Oregon. Our 2 new runners were psyched and ready to join us in our suffering- the kind of suffering that only ultrarunners know.
Our experience the previous year had left me feeling slightly apprehensive- if we could get through this race with all runners in one-piece and without anyone experiencing hyperthermia, I would consider this year a success. I silently crossed my fingers around my mug of coffee on the morning the race began and swallowed my butterflies… whole.
The starting line of CLR is like ground-zero for stoke- everyone left infected, grinning from ear to ear, muscles flexing and stretching in anticipation of the miles ahead. Music jamming, runners laughing and jumping around, race staff cracking jokes, it’s quite the experience. We watched our first runner take off in our start wave, cheers and bells accompanying him out of sight. We loaded into the van, settling into the route of 5-at-a-time for the next 29 hours.
We soared through each exchange, keeping our pace in check at first in an effort at conservation. It wasn’t nearly as hot as it had been the previous year and we could feel the difference. We dumped water on our runners, on other runners, on the ground the runners would be coasting across. We ate their dust, and the dust of other vehicles and slowly, slowly, began pushing up our finish time.
We sang to Marco as he finished his second leg, recruiting the entire population of runners and volunteers and the exchange point to bring him in with an echoing chorus of Happy Birthday and presenting him with a tray of chocolately brownies- the perfect treat for tired legs.
Driving through the marshes and battling mosquitos, we watched the sunset as we followed runner after runner into the night, mile times dropping with the temperature.
Some of us tried to sleep as the RV rocked and rolled and vibrated its way down miles of gravel road but the rest was fitful and mostly served the purpose of keeping the blood from pooling too heavily in our legs. We transitioned from runner to co-pilot to driver to sleeper like a well-oiled machine, rolling out our muscles with any extra energy we had and ate as much as our stomachs could handle.
By my 4th leg, nausea had settled heavily on me. I tried s-caps for the first time and found myself able to drain water and eat brownies with renewed relish, a feeling I always take for granted when I’m not running.
My final two legs left me feeling heavy and slow, my own legs rebelling against my request for turnover and my mind wandering away. Running an ultra-distance race with a team is a strange and wonderful experience. When I run long miles on my own, I’ll walk when I feel tired, let my legs regroup as needed, and then continue on. When you have a team of people relying on you to finish your miles as fast as you can, that luxury fades away and you’re left thinking of the 5 other people who have been putting 110% effort into each section of ground they’ve been asked to cover. Taking a break, even for a minute, becomes unfathomable until you’re literally running on fumes. That’s a lot of pressure but the reward when you run in from your final leg and have your entire team envelop you in an “amoeba hug” makes the fried muscles and dehydrated guts worth the extra effort.
We finished our race in 29:24, nearly 3 hours faster than we finished last year and over an hour faster than our projected time. After short naps on the grass at the finish line and a submersion or two in the Deschutes river, we drove back to our homebase for the night and began packing away the remnants of the last 48 hours, a bittersweet ending to a joyous and challenging weekend on our legs.
All photos taken by Corie Townsend and Allison Miles.