36 Legs & 24 Feet of Fun
by Frank Mungeam
"Imagine 12 sweaty people stuffed in two vans for 20-30 hours with only a few hours sleep, hardly enough food to satisfy, and each running at least five miles, three different times. But don't worry - it will be one of the best things you have ever done!" insists relay veteran Brian Baker of Boise, Idaho.
Sound like a crazy way to sacrifice a perfectly good weekend? Not to the thousands of runners passing batons at relay races across the country.
Oregon's Hood to Coast Relay, now in its 25th year, has turned away as many as 400 teams after filling up on the first day of registration. In Colorado, the Outward Bound Relay has grew 300% in four years. "I think runners are looking for something different than the solo run," says Kate Borgelt, race director for the Outward Bound relay. "Relay races are a refreshing change."
"I really enjoy the team concept," says Seth Nickerson, a finisher of numerous Hood to Coast relays. "Running is usually such a solitary sport. In a relay, team members really help and push each other along, regardless of running ability."
The relay experience winds up being about much more than just running. "It is the people and the camaraderie of the event that I find so enticing," admits Adam Chase, who participated in the very first Colorado relay. "The laughs that my team and I shared, the punchy-ness of staying up all night to run and support each other was quite wonderful."
THE TWILIGHT ZONE
Running a relay is like entering the Twilight Zone. During a typical 24-hour race, you'll run at night, when you're used to sleeping. You nap when you're used to being awake. Meals and trips to the Porta-Potty become scientific calculations, carefully spaced between your turns at running.
Yves Teirlynck, a native of Holland and first-time relay runner, summarizes the experience this way: "Jump in a van. Wait a long time, Your turn - Go! Run as fast as you can! Jump into van. Wait. Drink. Eat. Cheer. No sleep. Repeat!"
Squeezing six people into a van to live for an entire day creates its own challenges. By the finish, you're all good friends, or else!
Relays are about navigating as well as running. The captain has to maneuver the team van along the race course in time to meet the finishing runner and drop off the next teammate. A route snarled with vans and runners is just another test in the relay adventure.
"The event challenges you in more ways than just the running, and being successful through all these challenges is very rewarding," insists Jennifer Dimoff of Beaverton, Oregon. "The feeling of accomplishment when you reach the finish is so fulfilling."
TYPES OF RELAYS
Relays offer participants the chance to run some of the most beautiful terrain in America. Hood to Coast and Ranier to Pacific enable runners to start atop snow-covered mountain peaks and finish with their toes in the Pacific Ocean. In Colorado, the Outward Bound Relay crosses three Rocky Mountain passes and includes miles of scenic trail running. On the East Coast, relay enthusiasts can enjoy the breathtaking fall foliage in New Hampshire, or cross historic battlefields in Virginia's Civil War Relay.
These events do more than offer great scenery, however. California's Providian Relay, for example, raises funds and awareness for organ donation.
THE NAME GAME
An epic experience requires a suitably epic team name. Relay entrants are famous for their clever titles, like corporate teams Board Feet (lumber company) or Megahurts (Tektronix). There are punsters like Fillet of Sole and Lost in Pace. Teams also pay tribute to the pain, like Blister Sisters or Advil Addicts.
By any name, the result is the same. Relays are a great way to be part of a team and add variety to your running.