By the time Leg 7 came around, I finally felt like I was starting to get to know my teammates, having chased various members from transfer site to site in our Team Captain’s car. I waited at the windy lake for Mark to pass off the slap bracelet, and when he finally arrived, promptly headed the wrong direction. Thankfully, enough people yelled at me and I was moving slowly enough that I didn’t get far before correcting my mistake. This leg was a little longer than my last, and I was concerned about it. Finishing the first leg strong after a month of barely running was lucky. Finishing another in the heat of the day was a fool’s errand– or so I thought.
The entire leg was a gentle downhill through shaded forests on a proper, asphalt trail. I crossed no less than five wooden bridges, satisfying my bridge-envy after having only crossed a nondescript concrete bridge over noisy Sunset Highway on my first leg. While I did end up having to take a few walk breaks in the final mile, I still ended up running a similar speed and came in strong to my transfer point after hearing five miles of “good jobs” and high fives from fellow runners who were headed out in the opposite direction on Leg 6.
While I missed out on the food and medal because other obligations took me away after my last leg, I came away from the race with an unforgettable experience. Before my first relay, I was genuinely worried that I would hate relays and that I would let everyone down– that a relay would be just like high school P.E. class, where everyone bemoans the girl who can’t block the goal, spike the serve, or lets be real– successfully make any contact with a ball. Instead, I had a blast with new motivational friends who wordlessly edged me on to new successes in running that I didn’t think possible before. It was a great experience, and I can’t wait to do it again!
Leg 8, 4.2 miles: Marianne Jones
One of the many wonderful things about this out-and-back relay is that you get a preview into your second leg as your team mate is running the reverse on the way out to Vernonia. I have a tendency to not look at my leg before I run it … maybe because I’m too lazy to look up my leg on the “internets” before running or maybe because I don’t want to know. So I was pleasantly surprised when Kelly, running leg 5, the reverse of mine, told me it was a beautiful run.
I’ve never been on the Banks-Vernonia trail, so running along a gorgeous trail shaded a fair bit by tall trees was a nice introduction. Aside from the very end of the run, the whole 4.2 miles was along the trail, marked every half mile so I had an idea how far I was into my leg. Despite seeing only one other relay racer, I saw many bikers and a few runners heading the opposite direction. Most of the bikers were surprisingly respectful and encouraging of me – maybe because it’s hard to not support the preggo lady slowly chugging along. My only trouble was hauling an extra 10/15 pounds on an almost entirely uphill run.
Thankfully, the last quarter mile was entirely switch-backed downhill, eventually crossing Highway 47, to stay on the trail. I felt strong handing off to super speedy Joe, and happy that I didn’t have to run the 8.4 miles in store for him.
Leg 9, 8.4 miles: Joe Dudman
A relay with only six runners on a team goes by quickly. Before I knew it, Teresa, Kelly, and Mark were done, and it was time to begin our second rotation. Except for Leg 6, which did a loop around Vernonia Lake, and the finish, the legs on the return trip were the exact reverse of the legs on the way out. So after Anne and Marianne completed Legs 7 and 8, it was time for me to tackle the 8.4 miler in the other direction.
Boy was I glad I was heading south, because except for a short climb up some switchbacks right at the start, the rest of the leg was almost all downhill! The switchbacks were steep though, and for awhile I thought I might be gaining on a bike making the climb ahead of me. To keep my mind off the effort, I thought how funny it would be if I could catch up and in a rare role reversal call out “On your left!” as I passed. But of course it was an optical illusion, and the bike soon pulled away.
Once at the top of the final switchback (which came mercifully sooner than I expected) the shaded trail through the woods began a gentle descent, which increased in the next mile. I settled into a solid pace and tried not to think how much I was undertrained for the remaining distance. I was counting on the downhill, the shade, and the peaceful forest to make up for that, and for the most part it did, but the farther I went, the more Teresa became a hero in my eyes for cruising up that unforgiving hill on Leg 4!
To distract myself from the miles I had to run, I counted bridges crossed and runners encountered, and made a point of soaking in the surrounding forest views in Stubb Stewart State Park, the passing trees reminding me of Styx’s “Grand Illusion” album cover, but without the overlapping face/horse/rider image or pompous lyrics.
In the last mile-and-a-half, I emerged from the woods into a hot, flat, unshaded stretch across a field, and the downhill and forest became merely a fond memory. I tried to maintain the momentum I’d built up over the previous seven miles and gutted it out to the exchange, where Teresa was waiting to take on a much hotter return trip on Leg 10 (my own Leg 3 in reverse).
After solid final legs from Teresa, Kelly, and Mark, it was time to collect our finishers’ medals, cash in our meal tickets for some great post-race food, and celebrate a race well run, both by us and by the race directors and volunteers! Viva the one-day relay!
Leg 10, 4.8 miles: Teresa Wymetalek
Hanging out with the team – as opposed to getting in a bike workout between my runs – was a blast. So much better than more time on my bike. I loved getting to know everyone. I can still picture Joe in the backseat trying to get a connection to buy his Tom Petty concert tickets, people snacking on peanut butter pretzels and laughing while Mark and Joe performed their duties as Team Waterboys. I loved getting to hear more about Anne’s real job, get inspired with Marianne running her legs while 5 ½ months pregnant, listening to Kelly talk about future runs and pestering Mark for splits in between legs. Time flew by and it was time for my final run, leg 10.
My second leg was only a 4.8 mile stretch and Joe told me it was mostly flat and pretty shaded. He was right about the mostly flat part, but the sun had shifted, making this stretch a lot warmer than I had planned. I was grateful I slapped on some sunscreen and had agreed to have another team give me a little mist shower. It was a little lonely on the return. Some cyclists on the path, but I didn’t see another runner my entire leg. I practiced running faster in the sun and easing up in the shade to pass the time.
The leg finished back in town, along sidewalks with several turns. Fortunately, there were volunteers at each turn directing us so it was impossible for me to get lost. Along the flat stretch all the way in (dodging a couple of trucks that weren’t expecting a runner on the sidewalk) I was super excited, once again, to pass the bracelet on to Kelly.
Having kids and a job to get to Monday morning, I LOVE one day relays. I think they are the perfect way to get the relay experience without the added time commitment of a weekend event. Twelve Bridges was extremely well organized, had fun race shirts, great medals and, most importantly, Race Directors with a passion. The baked potato bar at the finish line was so appreciated, as well as the music and finish line party. This relay had a beautiful course and I can’t wait to run it again. I hope they open it up for more teams so it won’t be quite so lonely along the course, but it was the perfect way to spend a Saturday!
Leg 11, 5.2 miles: Kelly Barten
I started out leg 11 a little confused. I should have looked at the map before I left, because the entire day I kept having to remind myself the relay finished in North Plains, not Banks – and I was so used to the finish line of the Linear Trail Run that running AWAY from Banks Middle School just seemed weird. When I got to the first barricade with an arrow, I turned, but after another quarter mile I decided I was not to be trusted and stopped to call Marianne and verify the route. Thank goodness for cell phones, right?
Lucky for me, that first half mile was on track, so we hung up and I kept on down the road. It was HOT, and very, very sunny. I was not looking forward to this 5.2-mile run during the hottest time of the day with no shade, and concerned about traffic as there was no shoulder on which I could run. When MapMyRun told me I’d run my first mile in 9:15 I said out loud, “Well that’s just not right.”
I met my teammates near the 1.5-mile mark and decided to take the full bottle of water they offered with me. I had my Pandora going in my Armpocket (no headphones, just through the speaker – it’s safer), so I decided I’d take a drink at the start of every new song. It was too hot to stick to that plan, and I found myself chugging water every quarter mile.
Cars on the road were extremely courteous, perhaps in response to the frequent “Runners on Road” signs posted along the route. Nearly all of them gave me the entire lane and a quick wave as they passed. Cyclists were also out in force. At least three groups passed me with encouraging words that were the sole factor in me running the entire distance without any walk breaks.
Mile after mile ticked off and before long I spotted the unnatural blue-green color of the porta-potty at the exchange. I still had to run to a far off turn, making my route much longer than a direct line to the exchange would have been; I was probably watching it get closer for nearly a mile! The last stretch was tough, but there was shade for me when I was done and we zoomed off to meet Mark at the finish.
Leg 12: 5.6 miles: Mark Wilkinson
So, this wasn’t my first relay, but this was my first time being the “anchorman” to bring the race home by running the last leg. I was surprised to find that it’s very different to run the last leg.
Leg 12 started next to a farm on the outskirts of North Plains. Of course, this was exactly the reverse of leg one, but where Anne had a nice cool morning run before the sun was fully up, it was now decidedly mid-afternoon and warm and sunny.
When I was checking out leg 12 in the race guide, I was sort of dismayed to see that I would be required to wear a reflective vest–in the mid-afternoon? Really? But it did make sense, in fact, because this leg involved running along the narrow shoulder of farm roads, and also a bit less than a mile on Zion Church Road, which I now think of as a fairly major east-west highway. Still, the cars going by were fairly courteous and seemed to see me fairly easily.
Did I mention it was hot? I think the temperature was in the mid-70s, so it could have been worse, but it was plenty warm. And this leg was all sunshine, all the time. There was now a fairly stiff and warm breeze from the North, which made miles 4-5, running up a slight incline and directly into the headwind, a bit challenging.
My team was great and stopped a couple of times to make sure I was okay, but that last mile or so, knowing they were all at the finish and I was still out slogging — that was a different feeling.
The runners in the overall relay were still spaced out enough that when I finally made it up the last very mercifully short hill to the finish, I got the full attention of everyone at the finish line. Lucky me!
All in all, it was a great relay. A one-day relay, relatively close to home, and a great group of people to run it with — it doesn’t get much better!