One of the best things to do in January, when the weather is usually crummy and there is no thought of warmth and summer, is to sign up for the Sawtooth Relay. It’s a 62-mile, 6-person running relay that goes from Stanley, Idaho to Ketchum, Idaho in mid-June. While this isn’t a Hood-to-Coast level of relay, it is challenging enough for Gary and me.
The relay takes us from the very small and beautiful town of Stanley (elev. 6253), up and over Galena Summit (elev. 8701), and then back down to Ketchum (elev. 5853). Stanley is known for the fabulously beautiful Sawtooth Mountains and its alpine, subarctic climate. Ketchum, on the other hand, is where Ernest Hemingway killed himself in 1961, and this happened even before the Relay was being run.
With minor exception, the entire race takes place on a 2-lane highway with limited pullouts that are large enough to handle huge numbers of vehicles, so the race is limited to 320 teams. The race start is staggered, based on the estimated speed of the teams’ members. The first poor bastards start around midnight and the fastest teams start closer to 5:00 am. We have started at 1:45 am and 2:15 am, so we’re not exactly expected to win. Hell, finishing is enough of an accomplishment for me.
Gary and I have done this race twice in the last three years and this year will be our last running of the Relay. Here are some highlights from the 2012 and 2013 Sawtooth Relays…what a difference a year can make.
2012: We arrived in Stanley late afternoon the day before the race, to driving rain, sleet, and 40 mph winds. The traditionally religious members of the group started praying; the rest of us started drinking. The precipitation stopped by dinnertime, so hope had returned. Looks like a bluebird day, doesn’t it?
2013: We arrived in Stanley, where the temperature was probably 65 degrees, the sun was shining, and we basked in the glorious weather:
For teams like ours, with start times in the middle of the damn night, sleep isn’t something you really count on. Adding insult to sleeplessness, you have to show up a half-hour ahead of time of your assigned start time to prove that you have a reflective vest and two flashlights (duh), and to get race numbers and the wearable “baton” to pass from runner to runner along the race course. It’s time to down a Starbucks Doubleshot, pray to the porta-potty gods, and hit the road.
The outlook for our race start is always the same: DARK.
And in 2013:
I had no idea that I could be awake enough at 2:00 am to be dressed and actually run in the dark. Who knew? Of course, you could argue, who would want to…
Right around dawn is the most beautiful time. In 2012, I got to run during first light and enjoy my chilly surroundings before everything turned ugly:
Dave stretched out, wondering how he got talked into this, as the snow started to fall around him.
He wasn’t alone; we all were wondering what the hell we were doing here. The most difficult leg of the Relay is from the valley floor up to Galena Summit. In 2012, Travis rocked it in to the checkpoint after a fantastic slog up the long hill, passing a multitude of staggering runners and a few who pushed it too hard and were throwing up near the summit. Here he is, recovering at the top with his dad, Dave.
Another shot of the ghastly weather at the top, as we huddled in the truck and our race volunteer, Lionel, stood at the ready.
In 2013, it’s probably significant that no photos were taken of Mike’s arrival at the summit checkpoint; after all, there was no snow/rain/sleet falling, the sun was out, and well, we forgot. We do have video of his arrival, however. He did a helluva job running that big-ass hill.
As I was about to start the downhill leg from Galena Summit down toward Ketchum, I stripped off my jacket at the last minute and soon thereafter wished I had worn a lighter-weight shirt. It was HOT. And it was only around 8:30 am. Again, no photos…
At the end of the race, there’s usually a big party, with a band, lots of food, beer, and long lines at porta-potties. In 2012, however, the band never even thought about setting up. Something about it being dangerous to play in the driving rain, sleet, and hail. Those pussies. Here we are at the finish line. For perhaps the first time in my adult life, I didn’t even come close to finishing my post-race beer. I wanted nothing more than a long, hot shower, a nap, and a large glass of very good, single-malt Scotch, neat.
But in 2013, the post-race party was in full-swing and the porta-potty lines were long and colorful. Team Happy Feat kicked it up a notch before leg cramps set in:
Some teams even run in costume. In 2012, there was even a bridal-party team that dressed up for the event:
Anyway, we leave tomorrow morning to drive to Stanley and run the Relay for one last time. We have a great team again this year, with one new member, Kristi, and, amazingly, five returning members. I feel badly that Mike has an injury that will keep him from running/walking more than one leg. He’s always game for anything, but his “good knee” had other plans.
We start at 2:00 am and the weather outlook is clear, around 40 degrees at the race start, and expected to be hot by the end — 75 degrees in Ketchum by noon. Regardless, I’ll still pack my down coat and sleeveless t-shirt. And probably everything in-between. You just never know. I always have my doubts.
Of course, conquering doubt is what the Sawtooth Relay is all about. I doubt that I’ll get any sleep before the race and, so far, that has proven to be true. I doubt that I can run in the dark without falling, and, so far, happily, that has not been true. I doubt that I can run a third leg of the race and, somehow, my adrenaline level has been able to mask the screaming of my legs and lungs pretty well. Hopefully it will this year too.
But this year, I’m entering the race with a new doubt: I doubt that I can survive my wardrobe choice.
One of our returning team members, Wendy, convinced me that I should try the CW-X performance capris, so here is a photo of my usual capris on the left and the CW-X instruments of compression and torture on the right:
As you can see, my border collie, Claire, has her doubts too. I look at the size differential and wonder how Wendy, the loveliest and thinnest Nordic running goddess I know, talked me into this. I am not into compression. I am into expansion and comfort, ask anyone. How the hell are my hips and legs going to fit into those little tights? Can it be done?
After a few minutes of struggling, swearing, and whining, the compression tights were in place, as you can see. So, THIS is how a 59-year-old woman gets a thigh gap back! Kind of. So there’s that…
I’ve only run a few miles in these tights. They feel OK, but they’re weird. You can bounce a quarter off my butt and it’ll bounce at least fifty feet, I think. Nothing is moving under these tights. Nothing. I wonder if I can really endure them for about 14 hours on race day, from pre-race through to shower time. Yep, I have doubts. But, hey, I’m just glad we are all showing up for this last Relay.
I don’t know why I do it. Hemingway would have thought it was a stupid thing to do…sober.
But hey, how can you beat great company and great weather? Oh, yeah, and some great single-malt scotch, too.
I’ll report back when I can, once I get the damn compression tights off. Just another reason why I would make a lousy superhero.
Thanks for reading. I know how busy you are.