It Feels Hard Cause it Is Hard: Cascade Lakes Relay 2016 Team No Expectations

by Jodi
Team No Expectations

Cascade Lakes Relay is something I look forward to all year. I can't explain why it's FUN because on most levels it sounds awful.

Teams of twelve run 216.6 miles - all at elevation through extreme heat, up and over mountains, from Diamond Lake to Bend. Participants sleep little (if at all), share a van with five other sweaty, smelly people, and run three different times over the course of 30+ hours, including through the middle of the night. Sounds fun right?  #not

But I love everything about this race. The land we traverse (in my opinion) is some of Oregon's finest. It's rugged and remote, vast and beautiful. It's hard to really absorb all the beauty and the constantly changing terrain. Much of the course is run on trails or dirt/gravel roads. Every single leg is run at elevation. For those of us Valley Dwellers, the elevation just complicates an already tough course.  

It's the fierceness of this course that I love. You can't approach it half-hazardly. You have to train. You have to respect the mountains. The heat. The elevation. You have to rely on your teammates. It feels hard, because it is hard.

Teams come together to cheer on and support not just their runners, but all the runners on the course. Each team carries extra water to hose down over-heated runners as they go past. Teammates start the race as new acquaintances and finish as friends. It doesn't make sense until you experience it.

This was my third year in a row running the Cascade Lakes Relay. The past two years I've talked Curt into running it with me. We train together on the weekends to prep for the race, then get three days together to run the race. He is my best friend and I love sharing this with him.  He doesn't even really like running, but he does it so we can spend time together on the weekends.  I mean seriously... he is the best.

Each of our vans had a Van Camera and we were supposed to take photos along the way.  Van 1 was very responsible for the first set of legs, then promptly forgot about the camera until we were almost done with our third and final set of legs.  OOPS.  We still got a decent album of everyone in our van taking their turn facing the heat, hills, trails, and beauty of CLR.   You can view our van album by clicking this link.

My training partner and friend Dawn is our team captain.  She runs our team like a well oiled machine and we can't thank her enough.  She's taking next year off (we're all so sad), but man did we all appreciate her organization and thoughtfulness.  She is a gem.

Our van consisted of me, Curt, Dawn, Dawn's college friend Mindy, my friend Chris, and Dawn's work friend Marc.  There wasn't one person in our van who knew everyone before we set off.  Our other van was also a mix of people who didn't know each other prior to the race: John, Mike, Camelia, Sydney, Kym and JoJo bonded too. I love that this race takes strangers and morphs them into friends over the course of 30+ hours.  It's so unique.
Such a pretty place to start a race
Van 1 at the start
Van 1 at the finish
Feeling weak was the theme of CLR 2016 for me individually.  I had the pleasure of kicking off the race for our team and running Leg One.  It was a 7.4 mile time trial on a paved path around Diamond Lake.  I had a loose goal to run this leg at a 7:20 average pace, but I got my butt kicked by the elevation and unexpected hills.  Each mile was a struggle.  It was odd to feel weak on the first leg, but I gave it a full race pace effort and finished with a 7:36 average. I passed Kathy, a runner on an ultra team, around mile two and we leapfrogged the remainder of the leg. It felt good to not be alone in our struggle.
Before Leg 1.  I love Portland Running Company. It's an honor to wear their race jersey.
The nighttime leg is my favorite.  The stars are ridiculous - shining brightly against a vast, stark sky.  Runners cross cattle guards and people on horseback patrol the road to keep runners safe.  In what other scenario would we be able to run in these conditions?
Taking off.  The bugs were swarming that light.
My second leg started around 10:30 p.m. and was a 7.5 mile run through the area around Fort Rock State Park.  This leg was mostly flat, and almost all of it was on a dusty, dirt/gravel road.  The vans drive past the runners on the way to the exchange, kicking up huge clouds of dust that the runners try to avoid inhaling.  I felt great at the start of this leg and was running a steady 7:30 pace until mile 3 when inexplicably, my energy just drained right out of me.  The next two miles were in the 8:00 range and I felt so weak.  Lisa, a runner from my friend Jarae's team, passed me while I was having my meltdown.  She was strong and steady, so I willed myself to keep her in my line of vision.  I chased her for the rest of the leg and finally passed her in the last 1/3 of a mile.  Thank you Lisa for getting me back on track. Average pace 7:46.

My last leg started at Wickiup Reservoir and was a long 8.6 miles with a ton of hills.  I woke up from our rest area with a sharp pain in my back and in my gut and (wait for it...) feeling weak.  My legs were shaking when we were waiting at the exchange and I knew it would take a lot of will power to get through the leg.  Curt put his arms around me and prayed for me just before I started running.  Knowing my teammates could offer assistance on this leg also boosted my morale.

I ran this leg like a training run, starting with a slow warmup until I found my stride.  The first two miles were on a gravel/dirt road with a lovely view of South Sister.  By the end of the second mile the pain in my back was mostly gone and I was picking up my pace.  But then the hills hit. They were steep and I was hungry so I walked up the first one  and ate a gel.  While I was walking I gave myself a little pep talk, "It feels hard because it is hard."  I tell this to myself often on my hard training runs. Somehow just acknowledging that what I'm doing is hard helps me regain my perspective. I was able to finish the leg feeling strong and even passed a guy in the last half mile.  8:13 average pace.

Curt's last leg was a six mile climb on the Cascade Lakes Highway up the back side of Mt. Bachelor.  He trained hard for it, but you can't train for 1,000 vertical feet gain in under two miles when you live in the foothills.  Curt set out and our van started driving his route to the exchange.  It was brutal. We were worried about him since most of this leg is unsupported. I had told him that if the climb got to be too much he could tap out and I would finish for him, but how can he tap out when the leg is unsupported?

We made an impulse decision to turn around.  I put on my running shoes and jumped out of the van to run with him.  I fell in line behind him, carried his water, and the two of us ran up that mountain together, stride for stride until he got to the exchange point. It was a joy to share that experience with Curt.  To finish a leg that tough is a huge accomplishment for any runner, let alone someone who only runs because it keeps him in shape and gives him time with his wife. Both vans from our team were waiting at the exchange cheering loudly for him as he crested the final hill.  It was a moment I will remember for the rest of my life.
That last little crest was steep.
Almost there Baby.  You can do it!
GIANT hug!
Can you believe you did that?
We did it!
All in all, I logged 26 (or 27 give or take on the Bachelor leg) at this Cascade Lakes Relay, most of it feeling weak and off my game.  It was a confidence boost to know that I can still get the job done even when I don't feel awesome.  Overall I was proud of my effort and I am (stupidly?) considering running this on an ultra team (six runners instead of twelve) next year since Curt is also taking next year off.

Thank you Team No Expectations for another incredible year. We finished 35th out of 203 teams with an overall time of 31 hours, 28 minutes, 15 seconds and an average pace of 8:39 per mile.  Way to go team.  You guys rock!
35th place overall.  31 hours 28 minutes 15 seconds. Average pace: 8:39.

Thank you Dawn for being such a capable captain.
Girls from Van One.
Thank you Babe for learning to run so we can do crazy stuff like this together.  You are my best friend. I love doing life with you and am so proud of you.
Another year. Another cool Race shirt.  Another cool medal. #boothang
Cascade Lakes Relay feels hard because it is hard.  And the "hard" is why it feels like such an accomplishment to cross that finish line.

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