When you announce proudly, “I am running a 2-day relay”, there are few relays that elicit such a strong response form friends and family as does Cascade Lakes Relay. The heat, the hills, the elevation, and the mosquitos are among the warnings you may hear from loved-ones that have, like a game of telephone, passed to you, from runners gone before. But still, you will train, and run, because if runners are anything, they are great at ignoring sage advice to “not run”.
The preparation was like any other relay, just with a few more of the same stuff. We had to bring enough food for most of the 216.6 miles, since the race runs through a fairly remote part of the Oregon desert and grocery stores and restaurants would not always be there in times of caloric need. Safety was a big focus for the race directors, and because of that each runner (and driver) of the 12-person team had to have their own reflective vest.
The legs of this relay are tough. Touted as “Oregon’s most challenging running relay course”, the race starts at Diamond Lake Resort and ends in Bend. The longest is over 11 miles (you get a special medal after completing this leg) and one climbs to the Mt. Bachelor Ski Area parking lot, ascending 1,000 ft in three miles. It is not just the course that challenges the runners of this relay, but the elements as well. This race is notoriously hot, some years, the afternoon legs have seen temperatures in the 110s. Luckily this year, they were only in the upper 90s. I wore my fuel vest for all my legs, even those that were no more than 5 miles, and I drank about a liter every leg. At first it felt like overkill but it made those legs possible and a bit more enjoyable. There were vans that would stop on the side of the road with hand-pump misters (I think they were technically for fertilizer or pesticides) and would help cool down the runners as the trotted by. Van 1 ran most of their miles on gravel and sand, where van 2 was “blessed” with the highway (is there a lesser of two running evils?). The mosquitoes were also a force to be reckoned with. On a few of the leg maps a giant picture of one of these monsters altered team members this was a leg to bring out the deet. This was not a suggestion, but a warning of apocalyptic proportions. These buggers could get you through your pants and leave welts the size of your fist, and their numbers emulated biblical insect swarms signaling the end of times.
With all of this adversity, also come amazing camaraderie, and an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. This race, even all the reckoning forces, was one of the most enjoyable running experiences I have ever had. The event was relatively small, with only about 250 teams (the Hood to Coast relay has about 1,250). The organization and volunteers were top notch (one sleepover area had hundreds of pre-blown up air mattresses). All of the teams seemed fun and focused; the mosquitos were no match for that runner’s high.
I went home the Sunday after the race as I had expected to, tired and sore. What I hadn’t expected was that my belly hurt from all the laughing, and my cup runneth over from the understanding that adversity, when shared, can be life changing.
Details for 2020:
Date: July 31 – August 1, 2020
Time: Start times assigned before event.
Start Location: Diamond Lake Resort
End Location: Riverbend Park, Bend, OR