Leg 1, 4.8 Miles: Anne Milligan
The inaugural 12 Bridges Relay was my first relay, my first attempt at wearing a reflective vest, and was the first time I ever tried to run “with” people significantly faster than myself. I was assigned legs 1 and 7– 4.8 and 5.2 miles respectively, because my Run Oregon blogger buddies love me and don’t want to see me die. I’m kidding, of course, but after spending a month doing little more than running a mile to a studio class in the Pearl (Portland) and then limping home afterwards five days a week, I was prepared for a rough run of shame with relay companions who were three to five minutes faster per mile than my usual half marathon pace.
Come race day, I was the first goat out of the gate at the almost-ungodly hour of 6:30 AM. Different teams were assigned different start times that morning based on their projected pace. While I initially cursed this early start, as the day wore on and the thermometer continued to climb, I was grateful for the early morning start and– if I was to do it again next year– would almost consider seeing if I could leave even earlier (–almost–). Packet pickup took seconds, and my breakfast sandwich had barely digested before I was scampering after a flock of first leg relay runners much faster than me.
This first leg started off somewhat preciously with a small kindergarten boy who unilaterally decided to join the world’s smallest group run. One of the other runners turned back to the boy and asked him where his mother was and how far he planned on running that day. His answer knocked out two for one, with a simple “I don’t know” that stole the heart of all the runners around him who– that early in the morning– might not have known how far they were running that day either.
After the boy peeled off, the first turn arrived. A few runners made their way to the right, while others went left. The intersection wasn’t marked, but since our Team Captain Kelly had just made me look at the leg map five hundred yards ago, I knew I had to head to the first bridge on this leg– back towards Sunset Highway. The rest of this leg was fairly unmemorable– it was a scenic run along a busy two-lane road that– while it was not closed to traffic– was also not too hectic or disrespectful of runners at that early hour.
After the 6:30 pack of Leg 1 runners dropped me at the first and only gentle incline (the rest of this leg was flat as a pancake), I began to worry that I’d let my team members down if I took the walk breaks that are a hallmark of my running style. I focused on my breath, took in the sights of chickens and country homes, and finished two minutes per mile faster than my usual pace.
Leg 2, 5.2 Miles: Marianne Jones
I’d been so looking forward to this relay for a few months now… I was also a little nervous. At five and a half months pregnant, I’ve been running. But slowly. Very slowly. I was in luck that I had the most fun and supportive crew to run with. No one cared how fast I went, if I walked, or that I had to sit and eat Mark’s peanut butter pretzels whenever not running.
Anne handed off the slap bracelet to me after running leg 1 and off I went on NW Harrington. It was the perfect time to run, around 7:30am, not too hot and not too cold. The luxury about not feeling like you have to go fast is that you can pick up your head and take in the landscape.
Along the 5.2 mile leg, I saw blueberry and, I think, raspberry plants. I spied trees that looked like they were out of the Lorax. I passed farms, a school, and a cemetery. I *think* I went over one bridge. Despite having to run on the right hand shoulder of the road, the cars and trucks were incredibly respectful and encouraging.
The leg contained gently rolling hills and I was thankful I was not going to have to run the reverse of this leg. Fairly exposed, this leg would be tough in the high sun (Kelly rocked it during leg 11 though). I ran almost the entire way, getting slightly crampy about four miles in and not wanting to push my body more than I already was.
Finishing up the leg on Highway 47 before turning into the Banks Elementary School, I was so excited to be handing off that bracelet to Joe and to sit down, drink water, and eat peanut butter pretzels.
Leg 3, 4.8 Miles: Joe Dudman
The inaugural 12 Bridges Relay was an excellent experience. The start was friendly, relaxed, and low-key, the course was a peaceful out-and-back mostly on a paved path though the woods, the exchanges were well-staffed with alert volunteers, and the relatively small cap on the number of teams resulted in very little congestion, both with van traffic and with runners on the course. Those factors, along with the 6 runners, 2 legs each, 1 van format, made the whole thing feel like a scaled-down, much more mellow version of the established bigger relays like Hood To Coast.
Add to that the perfect weather (OK, it may have been a little hot on the least couple legs) and the great group of teammates that made up the Run Oregon team, and it all resulted in a fantastic day of running and getting sweaty with friends.
I was assigned Legs 3 and 9, which turned out to be perfect for me. Leg 3 was essentially the “out” section of the Banks Linear Trail Brave Run course, beginning in front of Banks Elementary School, running through downtown Banks, and joining the Banks-Vernonia State Trail at its southern end. Having run the Brave Run twice before, I knew exactly where to go and what to expect.
At that hour of the morning, the paved trail was gently bathed in dappled sunlight, the shade keeping it comfortably cool. I’m not the biggest fan of running on rails-to-trails paths (the long straight views and unchanging narrow surface tend to exaggerate the distances for me), but the shadows, the surrounding farm fields, and the gentle rural sounds of birds and breeze in the trees made up for that.
I handed off to fellow Run Oregon blogger Teresa and cheered her on her way, secretly thankful I hadn’t been assigned her uphill 8.4-mile leg (more on that in a minute).
Leg 4, 8.4 Miles (uphill): Teresa Wymetalek
In my relay experience, I’ve come to the conclusion that I either LOVE it or seriously regret registering for it in the first place. Fortunately, the new Twelve Bridges Relay is on my LOVE list and I can’t wait to run it again. I jumped at the chance to run with the Run Oregon crew, excited to get to know some of the bloggers, but also secretly (or maybe not so secretly) hoping to get some tips and advice from some of the speedy runners. While I didn’t get the constructive criticism I crave, I still learned plenty from this one day relay.
A relay isn’t just about the running. It’s the time in the van laughing, eating, calculating finish times, eating, supporting your runner on the road with some water and more eating. There’s also plenty of cowbell, since you can’t ever have enough cowbell. A huge part of a relay is the social aspect and the bonding related to this running thing we do. I was reminded of this at the Twelve Bridge Relay.
I have a couple endurance events coming up SOON and contemplated packing my bike and giving my teammates a little extra room in the van while I biked in between legs. My teammates would have had more room to spread out in the van and one less body stinking it up, but I would have missed out. Relays are a great way to meet new people and get to know each other in ways you can only experience during a relay. I was also reminded that people can be pretty awesome. It’s a given my teammates were awesome, but there were so many amazing volunteers out there donating their time to make this happen.
I scanned my assigned legs the night before the relay, and by scanned I mean I really just looked up the mileage and level of difficulty. Leg 4 was rated Hard with 8.4 miles and Leg 10 was rated Medium with 4.8 miles- didn’t seem too bad. The day of the relay, I decided I’d better take a closer look at the legs and try to limit my chances of getting lost. If there is a wrong turn to take, I will, without a doubt, take it.
My first leg didn’t appear to have any turns; it was pretty straightforward, just following the Banks-Vernonia trail for 8.4 miles. Joe was running the 4.8 mile leg that proceeded mine and I knew it wouldn’t take him long at all to get to the exchange point. Fast, as expected, he came in and passed off the bright yellow slap bracelet. I took off asking my teammates to meet me at the 3 mile mark to check in.
There were barely any runners on the trail. I saw quite a few cyclists, some walkers, a bunny, some birds and a few super cute dogs. The setting was perfect, so peaceful and quiet, only the birds chirping and me panting. The path was shaded so it was nice to have my tougher leg done before it got warm. Leg 4 is pretty much uphill. It’s not steep, but a solid, steady climb. I was grateful I agreed to have my van bring me water at mile 3, but there were water stations at miles 3 and 6. Around mile 8 there was a steep downhill with switchbacks to the next exchange point. I hate steep downhill, but was thinking of my teammate, Joe, who would be climbing that section on the return. I was suddenly grateful for the gradual climb, with nothing crazy. Glad to be done, I passed the bracelet on to Kelly.
Leg 5, 4.2 Miles: Kelly Barten
When I took over as captain, I wasn’t really sure if I was up to a relay. Fortunately, the Twelve Bridges Relay only has two really “hard” legs, and I had more than two superstars on my team willing to run those. So, I talked myself up and got ready to run whatever pace my legs would carry me on my two runs of the day.
Leg 5, my first run, started at the Tophill Trailhead that I know so well as the finish line of the ORRC Vernonia Half Marathon. (Earlier this year, I was brought in at the 11th hour to run the finish line when the original volunteer had something come up.) The exchange zone was right before the trail crosses Highway 47, so I asked the volunteer what the protocol was for vehicles. “Most people are being really considerate,” he said, adding that so far all vehicles had stopped when volunteers indicated a runner was coming.
This leg starts out with some fairly steep switchbacks, followed by 4.1 miles of gradual downhill. This is a beautiful section of the Banks-Vernonia Trail, almost like running through a tunnel of mossy trees, ferns, with short sunny sections. The every-half-mile trail markers were great, since I was out of cell service and without my usual MapMyRun friend giving me my progress and pace. At each marker, I checked my watch to see another five minutes elapsed.
The only drawback of this leg was that the entire time I had to use the potty. The bathroom at Tophill smelled like … well, something I can’t name on a family blog. Using it once was more than enough. So during the run, I needed to take a pit stop (also, I was feeling really good and didn’t want to interrupt my pace), fortunately. But, there’s nothing that RD’s Pattric and Tina Langley could have done about me needing to pee!
I was passed by nine cyclists. One pair didn’t announce “on your left,” and one pair did but didn’t say “two bikes on your left,” so if I would have been wearing headphones I might have had a little scare. The rest were all extremely friendly and considerate.
About 4 miles in – and 0.2 from the exchange, I saw the potty on my left. So I zoomed into the exchange, gave away the bracelet, and turned right around. It took me a minute to figure out the sturdy stick in the restroom was to bar the door (like Sully does in Monsters, Inc. when running from Waternoose – can you tell I have a toddler?), but I’m just proud I figured it out!
If you run this relay in 2015, call dibs on leg 5. It’s awesome.
Leg 6, 6.2 Miles: Mark Wilkinson
Leg Six started out at the Beaver Creek trailhead of the Linear Trail. The trail there was actually across a nice wooden bridge from a small parking area. As we waited for Kelly to arrive, we could make use of one of the “permanent lavatory facilities” available along the trail. This one had the added feature of extra ventilation from a door that wouldn’t latch or stay closed. Fortunately, fellow team members could stand guard.
My recollection of this leg from the race manual was that it was kind of rolling hills, a little over six miles in length, and ended with a lap around Vernonia Lake. I have to admit, I had never been to Vernonia or run on the Linear Trail before, so my expectations were vague. As Kelly arrived, I grabbed the slap bracelet and headed off down the wooded path. Actually, “down” isn’t the right word because pretty quickly, it became evident that this was a long gradual uphill. The elevation increase lasted for about the first three miles, but it was really pleasant and cool and beautiful along the trail. The road was never far away, but it was still quiet enough that I could actually hear the ends of my laces slapping on my shoes, something that never happens to me where I normally run.
About the time the course flattened out for me, I started to see the first runners from teams that had started in earlier waves heading back down the trail. Cyclists would occasionally pass by from both directions, but they were all friendly and let me know when they were coming up behind. Most of the time, though, I was running with no other runners visible in front of me. At this point, I looked at my GPS watch and realized that despite going uphill, I was actually running quite a bit faster than I had planned to, and this was just my first leg, so I tried to back it off a bit.
As you get closer to the end of the trail in Vernonia, the trees open up a bit, and you cross a lot of driveways for homes and businesses. At the point where the trail ended and I needed to get over to the lake, there were volunteers to make sure I knew I needed to turn. At this point there was a short segment, maybe half a mile, on some really uneven and rocky road, which was a bit tricky. But then I started to see the multi-colored flag banners ahead of me, and the lake. I turned onto the paved path along the lake, knowing that I had less than a mile to go now, and at that point I heard Kelly’s melodious voice from behind me yelling “We’re here for you, Mark!!” Vernonia Lake is kinda quaint – lots of people fishing along the banks. I rounded it quickly, and before I knew it, there was Anne Milligan and the exchange, and I handed off the baton so that she could take off down the rocky dirt road, and start heading back toward the finish. My first leg, done!