We all have that one friend that possesses a particular skill or knowledge that comes in handy at times. In a pinch, you know you can call them for assistance. When it comes to finding car parts, or a lot of vehicle related questions, I am that friend. I have even been asked questions about training from my more casual running friends. But my ability was truly put to the test last week. Seven days ago was the 65 mile 12 Bridges Relay, an amazing event northwest of Portland. 10 days ago was just another day at work with plans for a local 5K and maybe some paint ball after. But then I got a call from the living legend Chuck Coats….
It was just another day at work when Chuck got in touch with me. I was a bit suspicious when he asked me about my plans for Saturday, which was only a few days away. I was planning to run the Stoller Vineyard 5K, and then enjoy some paint ball with coworkers. Nothing too strenuous, just another fun weekend. He started asking me about 12 Bridges and I confessed I knew little about it. The he dropped the news. The plan was to run it with a friend, as a two-man team. When the friend found out he was injured and potentially out, Chuck now had limited time to find a replacement. Somehow, I was a logical option. At that point, it was just an idea, but I was quite skeptical. Fast forward a few hours, as I was preparing dinner, and a long phone call took place as I was now option number one. His friends injury was too serious to try undertaking this endeavor.
Now I needed to know the details. We were supposedly marked for 8:00 pace ( a fact I still doubt, Chuck is a bit of a goal setter) and the plan was to trade every other leg with me starting. The total distance to be run was 32.5 miles, with the longest break going to be about 50 minutes. Quite the challenge, and one I was extremely skeptical about being able to accomplish. I had successfully run Eugene Marathon a couple of weeks before, and wasn’t sure how my body would react. But I rarely step back from a challenge and couldn’t let Chuck miss this opportunity so I agreed to step in.
Fast forward a couple of days and I was up at 5 am, enjoying the back roads on the way to North Plains. It was a beautiful morning, and promising to be a great day, providing the temperatures didn’t climb too high. I felt as ready as I would ever be, and excited to try something new. Check-in was easy, and going through supplies was much quicker with only two people to worry about. Then it was just a matter of saying hi to the many people we knew there and staying relaxed before our start.
With 6 legs and just over 32 miles in store for the day, pacing was definitely a goal. At no point did I want to be breathing hard, or dipping too low into the sixes. The plan for leg one was to just loosen up and under no circumstances was I to run away from my heat. So I spent 4 miles running through the countryside, chatting with the second fastest guy in our group. It was fun and very entertaining. I made it a point to run slightly behind him and not seem like I was pushing the pace at all as we enjoyed the casual 4 mile leg and discussed other relays and races.
Leg 2 was from Banks High School and after a jaunt through the small town we were on the amazing Banks-Vernonia trail. This section was mostly shaded and flat. I passed a handful of people including my Epic Relay captain, Howard, managing to scare him in the process. I still felt really good, as this was another short four mile leg.
Sometimes, the most promising thing about a leg in a relay is the altitude map, as my third leg was a tribute too. A short, tough climb was followed by a long gradual downhill that had me coming in three minutes faster than the projected time. By this point, we were fully in the country and the solitude was amazing. Our only contact with civilization was a quick glimpse of the highway or a house through the tress, other than the gently winding blacktop under our feet.
Reality started to set in at leg 4, heading back the way we had come. This was my longest so far at 5 miles, and hunger was starting to set in. Snacking only does so much for me, and my body was ready for a meal. Other than that I felt great and had fun chatting and exchanging greetings with the other participants. At this point, Chuck and I were both flagging a little bit, but determined to keep going, one leg at a time. It was starting to get warm, and muggy, but not oppressively so.
The worst part about this leg arrangement is that the longest leg was my 5th, at 8.5 miles. Even with a general downhill bent, it was not an easy one. It started with a short, sharp climb with a few switchbacks that actually felt good. After that point it was a combination of GU and plain old stubbornness that had me adopting a run/walk plan that gave me the quickest motion without putting me in the hospital. This is one of the best parts of the relay, as it goes over a long and high bridge that gave an amazing view of the forest. During one of my walk breaks, with over two miles to go, a lady passed me. This was the first time I had been passed in the entire relay and I had not seen anyone in a couple of miles. I quickly finished my GU and ran with her to have company. We chatted a bit and I thanked her for giving me the motivation to run again. As the trail reached the bottom of the hill and leveled out, we exited the trees and got our first real taste of the heat of the day. Personally I was not a fan. Luckily it also was where we saw the blessed and dreaded ‘one mile to go sign’.
No amount of rest, food, or various invigorating substances was going to make the last 5 miles enjoyable. It was now 2 in the afternoon, and the 5 mile leg had a few small rolling hills as it passed between farms. With little shade or company, it was going to be a test. Mindful of the heat, I ran with a water bottle. Still using the run/walk method to keep my hamstrings from getting too tight, I just focused on finishing the leg. The views were still amazing, but i only saw two participants on this stretch. A friendly team gave me an extra water bottle while I was walking, which definitely helped after I finished mine. I was definitely relieved to see the exchange point and finally be done with this ordeal.
I have to give big thanks to our drive and assistant, Stacie. I don’t know how Chuck convinced her to come out on such short notice but to have someone to fill the role that she did. More than just a driver, she was coach, assistant, motivator and head at logistics. She even brought her son along and he did a great job helping us with food and drink when necessary. A lot of our success that day was definitely due to her support and I can’t thank her enough.
Even though I was invited by Chuck, it was ironic that we got to spend very little time together. It was impressive to see him run the way he does. He was a very thoughtful and efficient team-mate, and we lacked nothing in this endeavor. He is a madman for choosing this ordeal, but at least he is a well-organized one. A relay is very different from other team sports, but we definitely worked together to make this a success.
How much of a success? Well aside from the lone madman running the course on his own, we were the smallest team. Competing against 4, 5, and 6 person teams, we somehow managed to take third overall. This was my first experience with a one day relay, and Double Dog Dare U Events made it a great one. The course was well-marked and the exchange points easy to use. I would rate it as one of the most user-friendly relays I have ever participated in. I would definitely return, but maybe not as a two-man team.
As far as that friend in need…..I’m going to be screening all calls from Chuck for the next few months.