As I stood in a lengthy porta-potty line in preparation for a race I was about to run, several women behind me were commenting on a 178 bumper sticker on a car and were wondering what it meant. I noted it referred to the Reno Tahoe Odyssey – a 178 mile relay race. They questioned, “Why would you want to run a relay race? Chances are you have to climb into a van with a bunch of people you barely know and everyone stinks and that doesn’t sound like much fun, does it?” I just smiled. Well….umm…yes it actually is an epic adventure. Don’t quite understand the lure? Maybe this video will help explain it.
The truth is relay races are fun – especially the ones that last over 24 hours. My stomach still hurts from all the belly laughs from the Hood to Coast 2014 Mother of All Relays. [link to race] http://htcraceseries.com/
Never heard of a relay race? Well, here’s how it works: There are typically 12 people per team – our team was Dude…Where’s My Van? There are two vans each carrying six people. Each runner runs three different “legs” of the 36 “leg” race. After all the runners run a “leg” in Van 1, then Van 2 takes over, then Van 1, Van 2, and finally Van 1 and Van 2. In the end, you probably end up running between 15-20 miles. There are lots of logistics involved but the bottom line is you need a good leader and incredible teamwork to get it done.
This Hood to Coast adventure started at the Timberline on Mount Hood. People with skis and skateboards greeted us on the snowy mountaintop in late August. But, let’s back up. Some of us had to get to Mount Hood from Reno, NV. Our rental van ride to Portland took about eleven hours. In that crowded van something magical happened. We became a team.
Want to be on a winning team? Well, there are some essential ingredients:
- You need a good captain (leader). We had two captains – one from Reno and the other from Portland. These two amazing women planned everything down to the last minute detail. Determining who will run which legs is a science in itself. You want your strongest runners doing the toughest legs. Leg 1 begins at the top of Mount Hood with a steep 2,000 feet drop in just three miles would send most people into a vertigo induced coma, but not our girl Katie. She flew down that mountain. The response to her speediness? “I just let my legs go!”
- Don’t depend on having cell phone service. Although it was frustrating not being able to communicate between van 1 and van 2 without cell phone service, we learned to adapt. And something amazing happened. We actually just talked to each other and had some meaningful conversations. We told secrets. We laughed. We cried. Although we all had different interests, we all had one thing in common – we love to run!
- Bring your own nutrition and embrace the porta-potty. As luck would have it, we had a pastry chef on our team and she made some scrumptious treats for all of us. We also were fueled by fig bars generously donated by Nature’s Bakery. Due to circumstances beyond their control, Van 2 was unable to go to a restaurant during the 32 hour ordeal so they literally survived on those scrumptious fig bars and sweet treats. When there are 1,049 teams competing with 12 people per team – let me do the math – that’s 12,588 people who need to share porta-pottys. And that is a lot of sharing! Our captains made sure we carried our own toilet paper.
- Encourage each other. Cheer loudly. Appreciate each and every member on your team because each of the twelve runners plays a crucial part in the journey. And you don’t need to be a wicked fast runner to be on a team (unless of course you are in it to win it which we were not.) One team wore unicorn outfits and had signs stating they farted sunshine and pooped rainbows. Our goal was simple: to do the best we could, to finish, and most importantly have some fun along the way. We succeeded in all three of these goals!
- Be open and honest. I hadn’t run a relay race for a couple of years since I got heatstroke during one botched relay race. And quite honestly I was a little worried that it might happen again. I told my story as I began to prep for my first leg which was eight miles of scorching sunshine with no shade. I had no shame in pulling out my portable ice chest. What’s an ice chest? A Ziplog bag stuffed with ice that can be handily carried in your sports bra. It’s genius! When it was time for my last leg and it was again hot and sunny and we didn’t have any ice, Jen talked to a medic and got a cold pack for me to carry as a replacement for my ice chest. At that moment, it felt like the best gift I’ve ever received.
- Be comfortable in your own skin. It doesn’t take long to be comfortable with each other when you’ve got six people practically sitting on each other’s laps in a crowded minivan. What started out with a handshake just two hours before soon turned informal as we began taking swigs out of each other’s water bottles, watching someone apply moleskin to bleeding feet, and then a whack on the leg when somebody (like me) began snoring.
And this is precisely why I like the adventure of this 197 mile relay race. Relay races aren't for everyone, but it's something you might want to try at least once. I'm not sure when I'll see my team members again, but that doesn't matter. I do know I could call any one of them up in a heartbeat and they'd be there for me. These types of (sole) friendships are truly good for the soul.