Cascade Lakes Relay Race Report

Race: Cascade Lakes Relay

Runner: Brian Comer

Race Date: 7/30/2021

Location: Diamond Lake to Bend, Oregon


3 Bests – What aspects of the race did you like the most?

The camaraderie is top notch and really second to none. Something about running through the night while sleep deprived really brings out the spirit amongst teammates and other runners alike. Seeing all the creative costumes, van decorations, and team names is always a sight to behold as well. The team component is unique and gives the feeling of running for something greater, a sensation lost among many once a runner’s competitive scholastic days are over. The times while your van is on break can be both functional and fun. After our first cycle, our van made a side trip to Crater Lake, hiking down and sticking our feet in, which was a lot of fun. The finish in Bend is basically one big party which is always fun and the entire team meets their anchor runner at the end to run across the finish line together, which is pretty cool too. Running in the middle of the night is always a blast and there is picturesque scenery to enjoy throughout the race. I’d say CLR has a leg up here on Hood to Coast both in terms of scenery and in being less commercialized (and in turn, less crowded).

Not so much – Aspects of the race that didn’t do it for you

This was a unique situation this year due to the Bootleg Fire but the first 14 legs were all relocated to running laps around Diamond Lake, which was a very good and understandable reason to adjust the route but made for a somewhat mundane start that didn’t quite have the same relay feeling as it would have otherwise. Similarly once finishing at Diamond Lake, teams would then have a pause and would have an assigned restart wave at Fort Rock to resume the race. It was nice to enjoy Diamond Lake more than normal and while this wasn’t a problem for our team, other teams didn’t always make it to Fort Rock in time for their restart wave. However major props to the race organizers for closely monitoring the wildfire situation and taking precautions to keep everyone safe while still holding the race in person. Organizing and putting on an overnight relay race is no small task and is quite the feat to pull off in itself never mind factoring in the curveballs that were thrown this year due to the wildfires.

Weird factor – What’s the weirdest thing about this race?

Did I mention the fact that you are running through the night? Being an approximately 200 mile event (216.6 in normal years, 191.3 this year following course revisions), your team is typically running a full day if not longer in order to complete the race. Running in the middle of the night isn’t actually as bad as it sounds. It is actually pretty peaceful running in a rural forest area on a clear night. Some teams particularly embrace the weird as this year one van was converted into what resembled a double decker bus complete with lights and music blasting that resembled a dance party. One of the major van exchanges that usually occurs in the night also takes place with a backdrop of flashing lights with strobe lights across the night sky and of course music (this being the midnight rave at the end of leg 18 going into leg 19). Also expect to find other team’s stickers/magnets on your van, some truly outrageous costumes on the costume leg and your fair share of impromptu tunnels being formed to cheer on an incoming runner.

Highlights of your race – What did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?

Overnight relays are really a delight and a highlight on the yearly running calendar. Even on minimal sleep, you can do some pretty amazing things. I enjoy the unique challenges that are imposed in these types of races. We only had 11 runners on our team instead of a full 12 so myself along with 2 others were given the task of running an extra 4th leg for our team. Even though my training has lacked specificity, I was pleased that I was able to stay at a fairly consistent pace throughout the event regardless of various distances and terrain I encountered on each of my legs (not to mention the altitude we were running at was consistently around 5000 feet give or take a few hundred feet each direction). I was able to stay the course and stay tough even when it got hard towards the end as I knew we were doing really well as a team and I wanted to come through for my team. I also like how while still being competitive, there is a great deal of support around you from your own team and others. The volunteers are also amazing and the race wouldn’t be possible without them.

Lessons for others – Share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner

Definitely make sure to have a stash of snacks (both healthy snacks along with other snacks to satisfy hankerings your bound to encounter) and fluids on hand. Hydration is important not just during the event but in the entire week leading up to it. Keeping running clothes in separate Ziploc bags also help keep you organized so you’re not scrambling before your next leg and help mitigate the smell in the van of everyone’s sweaty running clothes. Sleep is hard to come by so get it while you can and also make sure that you are stretching and rolling out regularly. It doesn’t take much for your body to seize up and Charlie-horses to ensue from all the sitting in the van you’ll be doing. Likewise for sleep, take advantage of comfy settings if you have access to them or don’t be afraid to leave the van at designated sleep areas and sprawl out a sleeping bag or blanket to get more comfy. Just make sure you have a way to communicate with teammates or utilize the buddy system so you know when to head back and catch your van when it is time to leave.

Lessons you learned that will help you next time around

On the first leg, my back started to hurt midway through. I’m certain that this was because when camping the night prior, I was just in a sleeping bag with no sleeping pad underneath. This will help me rethink what I pack and the way I pack. Our team also had the experience this year of locking the keys in the van so make sure to know where “key” belongings are at all times or have someone in the area to ensure things aren’t left unattended. This happened as I was set to run next. Amidst the chaos, I nearly missed the exchange. Fortunately my leg was the last one in the cycle so we had a few hours to work with but a teammate had to get a ride from another team in order to find cell service to call Triple A (this all happened in a rural forest area around 2 AM where cell service was hard to come by). Despite being a Van 1 runner, I was adopted by Van 2 for a few hours in case I was needed to fill in to start the next Van 1 cycle. Fortunately, Triple A arrived and we got the problem resolved before our van was due up to run again. We didn’t get as much sleep on that break as we would have otherwise but it makes for a standout memory and something we can laugh at in hindsight (just not so much in that moment when it was happening). All in all, a memorable way to roll into the infamous rave exchange.

Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race

There are 36 legs and each van takes turns alternating in cycles of 6 legs (like Hood to Coast). Each leg has its own rating based on elevation profile, surface, and distance. Ratings range from easy to WTH (only one such leg this year as the other was scrapped due to the course revisions). There are only two legs in a typical year with the WTH rating. One runs up Mt. Thielsen then flies down the other side while the other climbs up to the west village at Mt. Bachelor. The last 6 legs coming down Bachelor have plenty of downhill coming down into Bend. Surfaces tend to be road, gravel/trail, or a mix. Not so much a problem this year since we had some rain but some of the trail legs can get dusty particularly in the heat.

Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?

Absolutely there is lots of scenery to be enjoyed throughout the event as it is a pretty course highlighting some of the finest nature central Oregon has to offer. There is a lot of picturesque mountains in the area while on the other hand there are plenty of lakes to enjoy as well (as suggested in the race name). The rural towns and the forested areas are also a delight to run through as well. Communities along the route really embrace the event and support it whole-heartedly.

Difficulty – Is it a tough course?

Depending on your leg assignments it can be a difficult course but it really varies. Even on some of the legs that have a moderate rating, there can be some deceptive climbs that can surprise those who aren’t prepared for them. I also firmly believe some of the ratings of the legs are given because of where in the race they come up. Towards the end, everybody is tired and that can make every incline seem more steep than it really is.

Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?

Yes I’d definitely describe CLR as a well-oiled machine as the event is well-organized. This was the 14th year of the race so they have logistics down pretty well and were even able to adjust on the fly when it came to making modifications as a response to the wildfires. During the Diamond Lake section, they had organized shuttles to take runners back and forth between the main start area and the other exchange zone along the lake. Course markings are always clear with signs and flagging, depending on where you are on the course and often have helpful volunteers around as well to offer support.

Competition – Is there a strong field?

Competition is usually pretty strong. An average year usually has around 200 teams. There were a little less this year but our team placed 4th overall (and 3rd in the always competitive Open Mixed division)! As a team, we averaged 7:22 pace (which would have met the cutoff of 7:30 pace for consideration in the Elite division). There was only one team in the Elite division and they were well out in front by a substantial margin until it dropped back to the group of three teams (us included) that were all relatively close to each other. Start waves are organized by projected finish time with faster teams starting later and slower teams starting earlier. The top 8 teams were all in the last start wave (which this year was 9:00 AM Friday morning).

Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.

There is a cap to the number of teams so it is recommended to register as soon as registration opens (usually October or November of the year prior). The race website does a good job of listing key dates along the way to be mindful of, such as when registration deposit is due, registration balance is due, deadline for timesheets, registering and submitting shirt sizes etc. so it is always good to review that so you aren’t surprised by anything. Most teams (ours included) usually camp at Diamond Lake the night before so reserving a campsite or two with plenty of advance notice is also helpful. Don’t rely on the resort where the start line is as that fills up quicker and has more limited space than the campground.

Aid Stations – Standard fare or anything special to know about the aid stations in terms of what’s available or when?

There are no designated aid stations with the exception of certain legs that particularly call for them. Carry water with you if you think you’ll need it or if the leg can be accessed by van, have your team supply you with water, energy chews, or whatever else you might want or need. Our team often asks our runner this question at least once, sometimes more if the leg is particularly demanding. More often than not we stop along the way in order to supply our runner with water or anything else they need.

Weather and typical race conditions

Usually it is pretty sunny and warm. We did encounter some rain this year, which was a welcome sight considering the wildfires in the area. There was even some fair share of overcast particularly in the morning which actually made for some pleasant running conditions. It would usually burn off in the afternoon but the cloud cover also kept in the heat we received in the day, which made for overnight temperatures that weren’t too cold as we were out running in the night.

Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next runner?

Everyone needs to have a headlamp/flashlight and reflective vest with them in order to participate. They ask for 12 vests and a minimum 2 headlamps or flashlights at team check-in on Thursday night. You may have designated vests with the flashing red lights that people swap around to run in but your personal reflective vest will come in use whenever you’re not running but you step out of the van. Not to mention you’ll run with your personal headlamp or flashlight. Like how it is recommended to have different running clothes for each leg, you may want to bring multiple pairs of running shoes (like a pair of flats or a trail shoe in addition to standard trainers), if not, then a minimum of one pair of running shoes and a pair of sandals for when you aren’t running (which is a good idea regardless of how many pairs of running shoes you bring).

Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?

Actually if you do your homework, this can be considered a spectator friendly race if the spectator is truly dedicated. While the race isn’t typically thought of as spectator friendly, the mother of one of our team members followed along with us this year in her own car and cheered us on. She car camped Thursday at the same place we were camping, then followed along the route meeting us at various exchange zones, then again at the finish. So I learned first hand this year that spectating for an overnight relay can be done with the right preparation.

How’s the Swag?

The swag is great, teams get shirts for every member after finishing along with a results ticket and finisher medal (we got CLR medals this year for 2020 and 2021 as our team was registered for the 2020 race as well). There’s also vendor samples (such as a CBD muscle massage oil this year) along with food and beer (finishers receive one beer token, after which you pay for yourself). Also Thursday night before the race, they have bins full of past year’s shirts that they give away for free. They also sell sweatshirts before and after the event as well.

The Overall Score – How many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it?

Five stars – I can’t recommend this race enough. While it may seem daunting or intimidating, it can be very achievable with a solid training base under your belt. Crossing the finish line and getting a team photo after any overnight relay is very satisfying and you’re also sure to make memories that will last a lifetime as this is more than just a race, it is an experience.

Brian Comer is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about him or to work with Coach Brian, check out his coaching page.

Photo: Linette Bethurum