Monday, 8 August 2011

Cascade Lakes Relay - 216.6 miles touring Oregon

Diamond Lake the night before the race

These two didn't manage any legs and looked sorry and deflated by the end.

Since I moved to Oregon and changed my race schedule, I've been able to get some last minute entries to races. That includes the 216.6 mile relay around Central Oregon which starts at Diamond Lake (near Crater Lake), weaves round a whole lot of other lakes then ends in Bend. The Cascade Lakes Relay is only in its first few years but has a great reputation as a more scenic, fun and relaxed version of Hood 2 Coast, its more famous Oregonian cousin.

I've never run a long distance relay and was lucky to be able to get a last minute place on the Pace Invaders team due to one of them being unable to get the time off work at the last minute. All I knew in advance of the race was that some of them had run it the previous year and a spreadsheet of the predicted times on each of the 36 legs, showing roughly a 35-hour finish time and about a 9:30/mile pace. I've never been in a race for that long so I knew it'd be a totally different experience, plus the team element would make it feel more like crewing for Mike Wardian at Badwater than running a race solo.

I met the guys the Thursday evening before the race at Diamond Lake after a day of hiking and walking round Crater Lake with Amy. We were split into two vans with me in van one with Gillian, Mary Beth, Katie and Lauren then the other van had Toni, Lynn (the boss), Terri, Corban, Eric and another Lauren. The first van runs legs 1-6, 13-18 then 25-30 and van two does the other legs up to 36.

Everyone seemed ready to have a good time and there were plenty of beers around but since I'd be sleeping in the car with Amy and getting up really early for our 6:20am start I thought I'd wait til the running was over. There's always a little risk joining a new group, especially when committing to sitting in a car with them for a day and a half and working up a stink on the roads and trails. But there's a self-selection in ultra running and this counts as that type of race, which tends to mean only kick-ass people bother turning up. The rest do triathlons.

After some car decorating (in an alien-related theme for Pace Invaders) we got a relatively early night and were all bright-eyed and raring to go around dawn. Well, mainly sleepy and glad that Lauren was doing the first leg so we'd get some time to wake up and let the temperature rise from around 40F. Most legs would be supported by the van but a few trail sections were inaccessible, including the starting 8.5 miles round Diamond Lake so we had to wait and have no idea when we'd see Lauren come through the mist.

I loved the way on each leg we had the stream of teams coming through, some in costumes or at least a team theme. Unlike Badwater where I was running at some point in virtually every hour of Mike's run, here I was scheduled to run basically once every 12 hours. In the end I got more runs in than just my scheduled once per grouping of six legs, but unfortunately that was due to Kurt's knee not holding up from an injury he's been suffering from.

Kurt while his knee still held out.

Our first section took close to the predicted eightish hours but most of us ran a little slower than we expected due to heat, soft trails and altitude of 5,000ft. It was certainly toasty out on the soft red dust trail for my 8.7 miles and I wished I had one of the road sections since I fancied a fast run to stretch out the legs. In temperatures around 80F, I was fairly happy with keeping just under a 6:30/mile pace but it did feel hard.

Gillian finished off our sixth leg then we drove to the van switching point in a small town called Silver Lake where we'd pick it up from van two after leg 12. Teams were laid out in the shade in a field and we had several hours to chill and chat to other teams, including the favorites and winners every year, Team Rebound/Footzone. I knew about half their team given they're from Bend and they were running solidly with some wicked fast times (they won it with an average pace of 6:29/mile). I'm loving the choice of races I'm getting now I'm back in Oregon - this one is definitely a gem.

Mary Beth and Katie relaxing at Silver Lake.

The scenery along the first stages involved roads straight through the forest but in legs 13-18 we were more out in the open in cowboy country. It was also sunset and after the first few miles we were in the dark on dusty double-track trails which all the passing crew vans turned into a choking mess. However, the vans did entertain too with music, comments and their lit-up decorations. I remember the pirate ship on top of one van, in particular - I think their team name was Chasing Booty, which was about a typical name (many involved either the words 'ass' or 'beer'). Kurt had suggested the raunchier name for our team of 'The Third Leg Is The Hardest' which was certainly a good one given the third leg for each of us probably would be the hardest after little sleep and general fatigue.

Through the dark we had plenty of softer surfaces to run on while in the middle of nowhere due to a lack of paved roads. It was difficult to judge pace at night and all of us thought we were running faster than we were and that our sections went slowly. I had my Garmin to help me and enjoyed most of my 7.1 miles of gently uphill track (plus most of Kurt's leg an hour earlier). Then by around 2am Gillian anchored home leg 18 and we headed to LaPine to get a couple of hours rest in a cabin that had been rented. It was a reasonably high spec place but we were all ready to drop and didn't even shower first. Some of the girls did wash in the morning but I stayed asleep until the last second.

Our final legs were generally shorter and prettier back in the woods with views of the Cascade Mountains and finally seeing some of the lakes too after going within a short distance of many more in earlier stages. It was hot again by the time it got round to my final runs (a 7.5 miler from Kurt then my own final 2.1 mile sprint) but I hammered them out for a bit more speed work. It felt a lot harder than the day before, but at least I didn't have to slow down during each run.

Unfortunately Lauren joined Kurt on the injured list and Gillian picked up her leg after a couple of miles. We all gave a lot to the race and the team and were exhausted and mosquito-bitten (some times we seemed to get attacked by entire swarms) by the end of our part, leaving the final six legs to van two to finish in style.

Van one's final leg - straight uphill for Gillian with help from Katie.

The finish in the west side of Bend was almost an anti-climax since we stopped running at 1pm but had to wait until almost 5:30pm for the proper race finish as we finished it as a group of twelve in 35h9m. The beers tasted good in the sun after that much time on our feet. Full results available on the CLR website.

Pace Invaders were a fun bunch and I was so glad to be able to join their team - thanks guys! We came 128th out of 153 finishing teams, 12 hours after the winners. But it's not a whole lot different being on a fast or a slow team since both involve supporting the team and pushing yourself. The main difference is just the expectations of times and places are altered, but the fun is still basically the just lasts longer :) I love the variety of different types of terrain, distances and event styles. But I also enjoy having some races where everything is hyper competitive while in others it's more about just taking it all in and enjoying the experience. I try to mix both together often but it's most important to get good experiences and just have fun. Otherwise I can't see the point of running or any endeavor, really.

Next up is a fun jog around Mt Hood on Tuesday for 40 miles with friends. Will be my longest run ever outside of a race and almost equivalent in terms of altitude gain per mile to UTMB.

Lauren and Katie at Devil's Lake after our last leg.

Devil's Lake.

Mt Bachelor, the ski mountain for Bend.

Most of van one (L-R: me, Gillian, Katie and Mary Beth).


  1. the rest do triathalons...ha!

  2. You forgot to mention your prowess as a mosquito killer. It makes me chuckle to think what the folks thought of the black stains on the roof of the van.