The Thrill of Running Relays
This guest post was written by our running friend Teri, a runner with arguably the most enthusiasm we've ever seen for relay races. She's pouring her heart and soul into her new site related to relays and we admire her relay passion. In this post, Teri discusses some legendary relays and we can't help but wonder how we can find our way on a relay race soon.
Perhaps you’ve heard of a little tiny race we have out here in Oregon called the Hood to Coast. Every August, 12,000 runners converge on the slopes of Mt. Hood and start a 197 mile journey over the highways and byways of Oregon, through sleepy towns with names like Jewel and Mist, to finally make it to the Oregon Coast at the town of Seaside. Runners begin their journey during the heat of Friday afternoon and run through the night into the next day, before finishing in the late afternoon. For many, the Hood to Coast is a race on their lifetime must-do list, and for good reason. It is the “Mother of All Relays” after all. Competition to get in to this race is so fierce that entries are chosen by lottery in October; it has filled on opening day for the past 11 years.
The Secret About Relays
But let me let you in on a little secret. The magic is not in the Hood to Coast event. The magic is in the relay race itself.
When Running Becomes A Team Sport
The Hood to Coast is wildly successful for two reasons: it was one of the first overnight relays, and it is a whole lot of fun to do. Established in 1982, the Hood to Coast isn’t the oldest relay (that honor goes to the DeCelle Memorial Lake Tahoe Relay, founded in 1965), but it was one of the first to go long and overnight. As new runners were introduced to the event over the years, they became the event’s biggest cheerleaders, often starting their own teams in their enthusiasm to spread the word about this fun new way to run together.
I think it is in part that relays provide the runner a unique experience. In a sport where you are often alone to face the miles, relays offer a chance to take on a race as a team. Your individual performance matters, but only to a point. In a relay, you become part of something bigger than your own mile split. You spend your time cheering on your team mates, swapping running stories, meeting new friends, and creating a lifetime of memories. Any time you spend 24 hours in a van with your friends (old or new), doing the thing you love, while battling the elements and sleep deprivation, you’re going to have a few stories to tell. I have not yet met anyone who hasn’t loved doing a relay. I have met plenty of people who decided to try one on a whim and who return year after year because they had so much fun. It’s the nature of the race.
But What Is It Really Like?
A typical relay will have a series of legs – usually between 3 and 8 miles long – that travel along roads and trails much like a typical road race. Many relays capitalize on scenic highways and less traveled sections of road through areas that typically don’t see many races. In a 12 person relay like the Hood to Coast, teams are split in to two vans, so that one van does their set of six legs, swaps off with van #2 and takes a rest, then does their second set of legs, rests again and then does their final set of legs before hitting the finish line and waiting for their team. As a runner, that means you will be running between 13 and 16 miles over a 26-27 hour period. Training-wise, it’s a lot like training for a ½ marathon (if you want to be serious about it!!!).
But the best part of the relay is the team camaraderie that develops while spending many long hours in a van with fellow runners. Along the way, many inside jokes, crazy stories, and general nuttiness ensues. Your individual time becomes less important to you; it’s just a fun way to go out for a competitive run. For seasoned teams, decorating the van, dreaming up creative team names, and developing costumes becomes paramount. It’s also not unusual to develop long-standing rivalries with teams you see from year to year. In fact, my running group was founded by a two groups of runners who met many years ago at the Rainier to Pacific relay. That just doesn’t happen at a typical road race.
As one participant in the Wild West Relay (Colorado) said, “I just have to let you know that this was the very best race I have ever run in. I usually bypass races because I get too nervous, but this race was so much FUN that I am going to run it every year until I keel over.” That’s the kind of magic you find in a relay race.
Because I am such a big fan of running relays, and I realized that I actually knew a bit about them, I decided to start a blog dedicated to running relays. One of my first tasks was to start compiling a list of relays across the United States. I knew that there were a few besides the Hood to Coast, but I was shocked to learn that there are at least 37 other long distance relays (over 150 miles) and 54 mid-length relays (27 miles – 150 miles) currently on the race schedule, not to mention countless marathon length and less relays. They take place in every month of the year, except for December. The options for running a relay are plentiful. There are even several choices for those who would prefer to walk a relay. And the race docket continues to grow every year as race directors realize how popular relays have become.
Are You Excited Yet?
If running a relay sounds like something you’d like to do, start checking out the calendar of events and see what races might be in your area. Most races have a bulletin board where teams post their need for runners (which always happens at the last minute) – this can be a great way to learn about what a relay is like and give you the confidence to start your own team. You can also check in with the local running clubs; many will send teams to the races in the area, and you may be able to join the club and get on the team. If you are a great salesperson, you can round up your own team and go for it. You can always use the relay forum in the Runner’s Lounge to ask your questions and get more information.