For the past three years, I've been a proud member of the Monkey Butter Express (MBE). As a team, they've conquered four Hood to Coast Relays (I joined them for the 2011, '12 and '13 events).
|Time to get out the blow-up monkey!|
Hood to Coast is such a popular relay, participation is determined by random drawing. Although Monkey Butter Express had been chosen for the past four years, this fall our luck ran out. We were rejected for Hood to Coast 2014. Bubble burst.....What's a bunch of monkeys to do?
Find another event of course! Enter the Epic Oregon Relay.....
|Brandi and her friend|
Brandi, our fearless head monkey, signed up MBE for a small relay that none of us knew anything about. To be held in mid-June, the Epic Oregon Relay traversed 187 miles of Willamette Valley farm country, from Beaverton to Eugene. Instead of battling with over 1000 teams that participate in Hood to Coast, this race was puny - only 60 teams total.
|Van two crew|
For those of you new to the whole relay thing, this is how they work: Most teams are made up of 12 people, split between two vehicles (usually large vans). The first six people each run a segment of the route, handing a baton off to the next person as they finish their leg. When all six van members have each run once, they pass off to the second vehicle. All six people in van two take a turn running a portion of the route, again handing off to each teammate in succession. When everyone in van two has run a leg, the torch gets passed back to van one, and the whole thing starts over again.
In most relays, every team member gets to run three legs of the route. The race goes on through the night, and into the next day. Midnight runs and lack of sleep are all part of the challenges of these crazy events.
|Eric gives us all monkey nicknames|
Race day dawned, warm and sunny. Assigned to van two, I got to sleep in and didn't have to meet up with my teammates until late morning. Meanwhile, MBE van one began their journey in a bowling alley parking lot on the outskirts of Beaverton.
MBE van two arrived at the first van exchange, located at a high school in the small town of St. Paul (famous for it's 4th of July rodeo). While waiting for our teammates to arrive, we passed the time by decorating our vehicle. Wacky decorations are a huge part of the fun of relays. In no time at all we had our black Tahoe adorned with paint, signs, and plenty of blow-up monkeys.
|Michael Bolton stopped by for a run|
Van exchanges are great places for people watching. It was fun to check out the other van's decor (most were pretty minimal compared to our team). One team had a Michael Bolton theme going. They carried a full-size Michael Bolton cutout with them wherever they went, and blared his music from their vehicle.
My vanmates included our team captain Brandi, Eric, a founding team member, and three newcomers we'd recruited - one at the very last minute. We had Myron, a tall lean running machine, his friend Denis, another blazing-fast runner, and Andrew, a triathlete and our newest team member. While hanging out in St Paul, we tried to acquaint ourselves with the people we'd be sharing a van with for the next 30-some hours.
|My van passes me by|
I was the first runner of our group. We got a phone call that Karl, van one's last runner, had started his leg. When van one pulled in to the exchange, I knew my time to run was near. It was almost one o'clock in the afternoon, and the day was starting to heat up.
My first leg was a relatively short distance of 3.8 miles. It followed straight down the main highway south of St. Paul. Hanging out with my teammates at the designated exchange point, we spotted Karl striding down the roadside. Showtime! Karl passed me the sweaty wristwrap that was used as a baton. Then, with a deep breath, I began my first leg.
Since breaking my rib in early April, I'd only been back to running for about three weeks. I was a little worried about how my body would fare. But my run was great. No side pain whatsoever. I passed through some gorgeous farm country. My vanmates drove by, horn honking, cowbells ringing and pulled over halfway through my leg to cheer me as I passed by. Although I did get a bit warm after the first mile (I ran by a field full of huge sprinklers, and was sorely tempted to run through them) the time passed quickly, and before I knew it the next exchange came into view. Happily, I passed the baton off to Myron. First leg in the bag!
|Myron hands off to Andrew|
Myron was an amazing runner. He ran for over 5 miles at a sub 7-minute mile pace, and made it look easy. My teammates and I marveled at his smooth stride. Although we stopped halfway to cheer and offer water, our van had to hustle to the next exchange, so we didn't miss the handoff.
|Denis awaits his handoff|
After Myron finished his leg, it was Andrew's turn to run. Andrew had a long distance, nearly 7 miles, and the weather was heating up. But he ran like a champ, crossing over I-5 to the east side of the freeway, where Denis was waiting to relieve him.
|Now it's Eric's turn|
Denis took off like a shot, blazing along the winding country roads. Our route followed lots of gorgeous farm country, winding through a small town or two. It was a quick run for Denis, and before we knew it, he was handing the wrist wrap off to Eric.
|A droopy monkey|
More backroads travel, chasing our runner. Every time we passed our teammate, the driver would honk the horn, and we'd all hang out the windows cheering and ringing a cowbell. Heck we did that for all the runners! It was very friendly competition. Because this was such a small-scale and unknown relay, our decorated vehicle got lots of funny looks as we drove along. But we passed one cop who smiled and gave us a thumbs up (totally made Eric's day!)
|Eric passes by a field|
Finally it was time for our last runner, Brandi. The exchange was at a gas station close to the town of Silverton. Eric, looking beat from the hot afternoon, happily passed off the baton to Brandi, and we all piled into the van, heading for Silverton. After this leg, we got a well-deserved break!
|The gang waiting for Brandi|
At Silverton High School, both MBE vans reunited. Ashely, van one's first runner was prepping himself for leg number two. It was near dinnertime, and all of my van two teammates were looking forward to finding some chow.
|There goes Brandi!|
Finally we spied Brandi rounding the corner, heading towards the school. She gratefully passed the wristband into Ashley's waiting hands. The torch passed, van two now had a break. Time for some food and rest!
|Both vans reunite in Silverton|
We found a great brewpub in Silverton. With two more legs yet to run, my teammates debated whether to drink a beer with dinner. In the end, everyone but Denis decided to imbibe. Checking over the beer list, there was even a special beer perfect for our team of monkeys! Do you see it on the photo below?
Although we all wanted to try the "Monki Love" our waiter said it was a stout with 11% alcohol content. Realizing this wasn't the wisest move to drink such a strong beer and then run, we all opted for the pale ale instead.
|This brewpub had the perfect beer for a bunch of monkeys!|
After a great meal and beers, we piled into our monkeymobile and headed to the next van exchange, located at the tiny town of Scio. The local high school opened their locker rooms, charging $3 for a shower. Oh, it was the best three dollars I spent! It felt great to wash the afternoon sweat off. Fueled and cleaned, my teammates and I spread our sleeping bags out in the grass and tried to get a little bit of rest. We were due to start running again around 10:30. It was going to be a long, sleepless night.
|Nap time in Scio|
It was still early, and the people around us were noisy, so I don't think anyone really slept. But as the sun was sinking low, our van two monkeys shook out their sleeping bags, and prepared for the start of leg two. I laced up my running shoes, and put on a headlamp and reflective vest (required for running at night). In addition, I adorned myself with lots of glow bracelets and necklaces. I'd be running down the shoulder of a highway, and wanted to be sure everyone could see me!
Then Brandi and I stood at the exchange trying to determine which runner was Karl. By now it was dark, and all we could see were headlamps bobbing in the distance. We thought one person was Karl, but after whooping and hollering until they came in, we realized the woman we'd been cheering at was definitely NOT him!
|Time to run again!|
Finally I spied a lone headlamp. I called out "Is that you Karl?" When he cheered in response, I readied myself for the hand off. Wristwrap in hand, I headed out into the cool darkness, through the town of Scio, and into the unknown night.
What adventure would leg two hold? Could we find our way through the dark countryside? Would our team of monkeys survive running through the night? These answers and much more fun photos await you in my next post. Go Monkeys!