No Expectations - Cascade Lakes Relay 2014

by Jodi
Team No Expectations starting the drive to Southern Oregon
Van 1 at the start on Diamond Lake.  Not excited at all... 
Well I can officially cross that one off the bucket list!  The Cascade Lakes Relay did not disappoint.  It was everything I hoped it would be and a bag of chips.  Well maybe not the bag of chips, but we did win a case of beer.

Hood to Coast 2011 was my first relay experience.  There were totally epic moments and lifetime memories were made, but overall it felt too big and too congested.  I'd heard the Cascade Lakes Relay (CLR), set in Southern and Central Oregon, was smaller, more scenic, and more challenging.  Plus it covered terrain I've always wanted to visit.  What better way to see an area than to run through it?  I added CLR to my Bucket List.

This spring I was invited to join my friend Dawn's Cascade Lakes Relay team.  With three friends in my van, it was really tempting.  But relays take up a lot of time away from home and are expensive. I'd have to leave for the race four days after getting home from a cross-country, fifteen day, road trip with my family which is not ideal for training or racing. Add to the mix that my Sole Sisters were contemplating a triathlon the same weekend. I hemmed and hawed for weeks, but finally decided that CLR made the most sense so I ponied up my money and joined the team.
Ruth was one of my friends on the team.  She is so inspiring, encouraging, tough and strong!
216.6 miles run continuously and split between twelve teammates separated into two vans.  Each runner covers three "legs" of the race.  The average mileage is between 15-20 miles per runner and each leg varies in difficulty depending on the terrain.  (My overall mileage was 22 total). Van 1 starts the race.  When all six of their runners have completed their legs, they tag off to Van 2.  The runners and vans leapfrog each other across the entire 216.6 miles and run across the finish line together.
Van 1 gets to start
We all finish together
CLR starts at Diamond Lake and finishes at a park along the Deschutes River in Bend - central Oregon's playground.  Racers run through some of Oregon's most remote and beautiful country.  The few small communities that we ran through welcomed us with open arms providing places to sleep, food and gas to purchase, and much needed encouragement.
Diamond Lake - the start of the race
a wetland area at one of the exchange zones
The entire race is run at higher elevations - most of it above 4,600 feet or higher - and through extreme daytime heat and the cooler, pitch black of night.  There are no street lights, just the light of your headlamp and the quiet of your thoughts to guide you from one exchange to the next.

We slept on grass bordering the lone highway that went through town and on the floor of a high school gym.  Wore crazy costumes.  Cheered each other one.  And had an incredible time!

The camaraderie and friendship that come out of an event like this are more than worth the lack of sleep and physical effort.  You start the race as strangers and finish as friends.  What's not to love?
This photo captures the spirit of the relay. Ruth excited to see our teammate Layla approaching the first exchange.
I was in Van 1 and assigned to run Leg 4, 16, and 28.
Cause we all know how much water I drink... #fabletics (new running gear) 
Leg 4:  My first run was 7.14 miles and rated moderate. Since it was completely flat I was hoping to run 7:30's, but the extreme heat and elevation totally humbled me.  I didn't even come close and finished this leg averaging an 8:14 pace per mile.

It was in the mid-80's when I started this leg in the early afternoon.  All seven miles were run on a trail consisting of a sandy gravel, making it hard to gain consistently good traction.  It was fully exposed to the sun and unsupported, meaning I had to carry my own water and my team couldn't drive alongside me to spray me down with water or offer encouragement.

The first six miles were brutal.  I couldn't find a rhythm of any sort.  The elevation and heat made me wheeze like crazy.  My side hurt.  My stomach hurt.  I worried about getting dehydrated.  Overhyderated.  Getting lost.  Getting eaten by a wild animal.  Wondered what was wrong with me as each mile clocked in slower than the one before.  All of them, except the first mile, were in the 8 minute mile range.

Finally at mile six I shook off all the negative mental noise and settled into a pace that felt decent.  In the quiet stillness of that remote trail I realized that this race is not about time, but adapting to the elements, giving your best effort with what you're facing, and soaking up the unique experience. It was a really valuable lesson to learn.
tagging off to Dawn.
Getting sprayed down after my HOT leg 4.
Leg 16:  My second run started just after midnight.  It was 6.73 miles long, all on gravel,  rated moderate, and had a steady elevation gain of 200 vertical feet.  The night had cooled off nicely into the mid-50's by the time I started running.  I was ready for redemption, but not at all focused on time.  I made it my goal to run this leg steady and strong and not pay attention to the numbers on the watch.

I found a rhythm instantly and stayed in my zone even as I climbed hill after hill after hill. Thankfully the grade of the hills wasn't too steep and most of them weren't too long.  It felt so good to run well after the disaster earlier in the day. The elite running teams caught up on this leg and two guys flew by me like I was standing still.  It was so impressive to watch them run off into the night.

I LOVED this leg.  How often do you get to run in the middle of the night, in pitch black darkness on a gravel road with sheriffs on horseback manning the way?  NEVER!  The vans drove alongside the runners kicking up boatloads of dust as they passed.  My headlight illuminated the gray cloud of dust that I inhaled as I ran.  That part wasn't amazing but as Clark W. Griswold says, "It's all part of the experience honey."  I finished this leg with a 7:53 average pace.
About to start Leg 16.  John was too speedy coming into the exchange zone and he caught me in the porta-potty!  OOPS!

Leg 28: My last leg was the hardest. 6.07 uphill miles gaining 404 vertical feet.  I can't believe it was rated moderate.  It felt really hard.

Earlier in the morning one of our teammates was having some breathing issues so we tagged her out in the middle of her last run and I finished the last two miles of her run for her.  It gave me just enough time to jump in the van, grab a snack and get ready to run Leg 28.

By this time I was overly tired and my stomach was a hot mess. I will admit to cutting to the front of the porta-potty line TWICE before my teammate tagged off to me.  Ready or not, I had 6 miles of uphill facing me and it was starting to heat up for the day.
One of the many hills I climbed on this leg, but don't feel sorry for me.  There were many legs worse than this one.
My teammates were incredible.  They leapfrogged me along the course, spraying me down with water to keep me cool and cheering me on.  Even though I felt sick physically, I found a good zone for running almost immediately.  I ran at a pace that kept the wheezing at bay and gave me enough energy to climb the never ending hills.

I was totally spent by the time I tagged off to my teammate, but really pleased with my effort. I finished with an 8:45 average and gave it all I had in the moment.  It felt really satisfying.

Our team name was No Expectations.  We were a corporate team, sponsored by Providence, because half our team worked as nurses in Labor and Delivery.  Because of the heat, most of us ditched our time goals and just ran as fast as we could under the circumstance.  Ironically, our team won the corporate division!  Our reward was a case of Silver Moon Podium Pale Ale, specially labeled for Cascade Lakes Relay winners, and we earned guaranteed entrance into next year's relay. (Make sure to read the label.  It's hilarious!) Yee-haw!
"Finishing the grueling Cascade Lakes Relay is impressive enough, but you won your division too?  Maybe you should drink more Podium Pale Ale, so the rest of us have a chance at making the podium."  LOL!!!!
Our team also made it into the final round for Best Costume.  One of our teammates, Camelia, is a ton of fun and a great costume designer.  She put together a Wizard of Oz theme for our van and outfitted herself in a Wicked Witch costume, including painting her face, hands and nails green while we were driving down bumpy gravel roads.  Now that takes talent!  Dawn dressed up as Dorothy and as I approached the exchange zone, they acted out the melting scene from Wizard of Oz.  Dorothy threw water on the Witch.  She took the baton and chased Dorothy down the road screaming, "I'll get you my pretty."  Then ran two, uphill miles in FULL costume.  It was super fun!
"I'm melting!"

"I'll get you my pretty!"

Camelia loves photography as much as I do and she lugged her camera out of the van at every stop.  We took turns with the camera and ended up with an awesome photo journal of the race.  We both agreed that it was fun to see ourselves in a few pictures too since we're usually the ones behind the camera.
Van 1 done and headed to the finish line.  Poor John - the only guy in our van.  What a good sport!
I might have crossed Cascade Lakes Relay off my Bucket List, but I'll be back.  I can't wait for next year and have even talked my husband into running with us!
Done and done.  Cool finishers shirts and medals too.
Thank you Cascade Lakes Relay staff and organizers for putting on an incredible beautiful and well-run event.  Coming from a team that had No Expectations, you exceeded mine!

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