This summer has been a seemingly endless stream of events, namely in the form of sweating and running. And I’ve loved it! It’s been one of the best summers of my life, and despite the excessive traveling, late nights, early mornings, and chronically fatigued legs, it’s all been worth it. I feel like I broke out of my comfort zone a lot over the past three months, and along the way I learned a lot about myself as an endurance athlete.
The Spokane to Sandpoint Relay, furthermore, was sort of a grand finale to all the summer hoopla. Both in the sense that it was an intense, multi-day endurance event— but also in the sense that it was kind of my last “big thing” for a while. And let me tell you…I think my body understood the whole “this is the end” ethos of this race.
But let’s get to the running. This was a 200+ mile relay, which started at the top of Mount Spokane and ended on a beach in Sandpoint, ID. Our “Girls Just Wanna Run” ultra team of six each had 4 legs to take on, and I was lucky number runner 6.
It feels incomplete to write about my experience without detailing the runs of my teammates. I was so impressed with every single one of them throughout this entire race, and it’s truly not adequate to recap a relay without their stories, too. So while it’s not possible, I have to acknowledge that the magic of this race for me was in each and every member of the team—including our driver.
So to Tasha, Jordanne, Amy, Rose, Kaitlyn and Luke…you all are heroes. Thanks for letting me run with you!
Buckle up, kids, this is a long one.
5:30 PM: Leg #1, 13.9 miles
I’d waited the entire day, since our 7 am start time, to run. I was equal parts really antsy and really nervous. The primary theme of the day was just how hot it was, and after seeing each of my teammates affected by the 90 degree weather, I got more and more wary of what my ~14 miler would hold.
Kaitlyn handed over our bracelet to me, and off I went— happy to be moving and excited to be knocking out the longest of my four legs.
Well, that feeling lasted approximately 3 miles, and that’s when the heat started to affect my stomach. I’m not sure if it was the end-of-the-day run, the food I’d had beforehand, or simply the temperature, but for whatever reason— I quickly went from happily running to extreme digestive discomfort (which we’ll just call “feelings,” because I’m fairly certain you all understand what I’m implying here).
I’ve experienced this running before, and normally it just passes, but whenever those “feelings” felt like they were going away, I’d immediately get another round. The frustrating thing was that my legs felt great. All of my body wanted to run, expect for my lower stomach. I tried my best to focus on the beautiful scenery (which WAS beautiful!) and I knew that when I’d run through the first exchange, my team would have fuel and supplements that could help.
Around 7 miles in, I made it to the exchange and took salt and magnesium pills which I prayed would help alleviate my issues. It was great to see the team also and I was amazed at their support– it felt like my own personal fuel crew!
Unfortunately, the two pills didn’t do much, and in fact the “feelings” kept getting worse. I did all I could to not think about needing a bathroom, but simultaneously I started to plot exactly what I would do should the situation get worse. The heat was also starting to get to me at this point, and I could feel the energy quickly being zapped from my body.
Once I got to the next exchange area (I was running through twice), I debated using the port-a-potty or not. However, from experience I knew that one quick stop wasn’t going to make a difference in how things were feeling. I decided against it, told a few of my teammates how I was feeling, and just wanted to get the last 4 miles over with.
Just after leaving the transition, I got to cross over the Washington/Idaho border, which was definitely a highlight. I was trying as hard as I could to distract myself from the heat and the discomfort, but things were seemingly getting worse. The miles that felt strong and quick before were starting to crawl by, and eventually when I saw a public bathroom on the side of the path, there wasn’t really another option.
I finished the last few miles a little more comfortably (and managed to pass a few more people), but as I got to the end, those “feelings” reached an all time peak of pain.
I was thrilled to hand off and be done running, but more thrilled to stop the stomach jostling. It was discouraging, to say the least. I still had 3 legs and over 20 miles in front of me, and things weren’t going to go well if they were anything like the first leg.
So, I frequented the Honey Buckets, took some Tums, kept my hydration and nutrition systematic and clean, and hoped things would be a bit better during my next three runs.
^^^ wtf, that’s not what the map looked like??
12:55 AM: Leg #2, 7.5 miles
First middle of the night run ever! Despite the pain of run number 1, the promise of cooler temperatures and a shorter distance kept my spirits higher for this run. Plus, I’d gotten a little sleep beforehand, so I tried to maintain a positive attitude. The run was all through farm land (read: DARK) and pretty flat the whole time.
There were very few people around me during this run, which meant that I was relying almost solely on my headlamp for guidance and light. I immediately felt so much better than I had earlier, which I was sure was due the decreased heat and sun exposure.
So, despite the run being a little spooky and smelly (so many cows), the 7.5 miles ticked by moderately pleasantly. It was encouraging to finish and know that not only had my stomach settled a bit, but I was over halfway done with my mileage!
The best part of this run was when it dawned on me halfway through that I was in the middle of nowhere in Idaho, at 1 in the morning, with a bunch of strangers, running. I almost started laughing out loud at the obscurity of it all, but I also realized that this was half the fun in relays…and in running. There isn’t a lot of sense to it, but we love it anyway.
8:15 AM: Leg 3, 8.9 miles
After my 1 am run, I’d been able to get a little more sleep, which meant that cumulatively, I think I totaled around 3 hours for the night…which in relay terms might as well have been a coma. I was so happy! Thanks goes entirely to our driver Luke, who ended up driving the entire race which enabled some uninterrupted van-sleeping.
Needless to say, I was feeling pretty good about my next leg. It was about 9 miles, and although it was getting war,m I thought that running closer to the time of day I normally run would help with how I felt.
And as much as I hate to say it, I was completely wrong.
I stopped enjoying this run about two miles in, and it got progressively worse until the very end.
What was going on?! I normally have a bad run once every three weeks or so, if that, and here I was in my second in less than 12 hours. Part of me found it amusing, but a bigger part of me was just frustrated. I was in good shape, I had slept-ish, I was hydrated, fueled, etc…there was no reason to feel like this.
Except for the most obvious factor which I’d been afraid of all along: the heat.
Let me paint a quick picture of what this third leg looked like: Approximately 75 degrees, on exposed highway, with the first 5 miles gradual uphill.
So looking at it that way, it sounds a little bit more understandable as to why it didn’t feel great. But, I was still down on myself for feeling so low. I knew all my teammates had struggled, but I felt like this just wasn’t acceptable. My inner monologue was something along the lines of:
“I hate running, why am I doing this?”
“Buck up captain! You need to keep up a game face for your team!”
“Better you than them, better you than them…”
“Where’s the nearest Slurpie machine?”
In essence, these miles all sucked. There was little to no shade, long and unforgiving highway roads, and a general negative attitude to boot.
As I’m sure you can guess, I was, once again, thrilled to see the exchange. It was great to know that handing off to Tasha meant that my team was in the homestretch of finishing this bad boy up.
Just before my final leg, our Runner #4, Rose, ran her final 4 miles—and managed to do so a minute per mile faster than she’d been averaging before.
Essentially, right before she started, Luke asked her if she thought she could push it in those last 4, and she immediately jumped at the idea. She’s a former track/cross country athlete, so I knew the idea of a little speed would be fun for her—despite her tired legs.
Watching her gut out those last few miles at a sub 8 pace was incredible! Our van followed along almost the entire time with Luke coaching her the whole time. It was so inspiring and it reminded me of just how much fun you can have with running, even in the most trying circumstances.
The best part (for me) came near the end of her leg. As we prepared to drive off to the exchange, Luke asked if anyone could pace her the rest of the way. It took me approximately one second to go from my seat belt and flip flops to my running shoes and running alongside Rose. We had about a half mile to go, and I had such a fun time helping her push til the end. It was the best my legs had felt the entire relay, too, and although I knew I still had 5 miles of my own to do later on, it was completely worth it to help Rose leave it all out on the course. And I say “help” loosely, since I’m fairly certain she would have done it all on her own. At least I got to enjoy the high with her 🙂
It was easily the best highlight from the relay.
3:35 PM: Leg 4, 4.75 miles
I knew I shouldn’t have too many expectations going into my final leg, given how the morning run had gone. It was also hotter now, and although I only had about 5 miles to go, I knew it was going to be a test for my tired legs.
Nevertheless, I was SO excited to finish things up for my team and to complete the adventure. Since everyone was done at that point, I was so full of pride that I wasn’t too concerned with my own final leg. It had been so inspiring to see all of them finish, and I just hoped I could muster up a little bit of strength to bring it home for everyone.
After being peer pressured by Luke a bit, I told him if possible…I would try to push my pace a little. As soon as I started, I didn’t see another option: it might hurt, but it would get me to the finish line faster.
So push I did. It wasn’t anything spectacular, but it was certainly faster than my end-of-relay legs were planning on. However, I didn’t see much point in trying to conserve.
The sun was hot, but I didn’t really care anymore. The only thing I was focused on was getting those last miles run so I could get back to my team at the end.
The final 2.5 miles of the Spokane to Sandpoint course finish on a very long, open bridge—which I initially thought would be an awesome and scenic end to the race.
And while it was certainly scenic, there really wasn’t anything pleasant about it—specifically after running over 30 miles in the day beforehand. It was so ridiculously hot, and there wasn’t anywhere to hide from the exposed sun. I kept my focus on picking off the runners ahead of me, while trying to ignore the desire to walk/jump in the water/curl up on the path. (5 kills in the last 3 miles!)
After crossing the bridge, I got a little jolt knowing that the end was near. There were spectators and fellow relay-ers along the sidewalks, which helped get me excited to finish. I was really feeling the 8 minute pace and the previous 35 miles at this point, but I didn’t care…it was time to finish this thing.
I don’t know if I’d ever been happier to see a finish line once it came into view. I got to run along a grassy lawn which felt like heaven after all the pavement pounding, and my wonderful team was right there waiting to finish what we started.
33 hours and 13 minutes after Tasha took off at the top of Mt. Spokane, we made it.
It took me a few minutes to get my wits about me at the finish line, but after the sweat stopped dripping and my heart slowed down a bit, I was completely overwhelmed with excitement and pride. Somehow, all those brutal miles disappeared from my memory and were replaced with joy for my team and for the sport.
We were announced the women’s ultra team winners over the loud speaker, and we gathered our prizes (shiny metal goblets) and medals along with our t-shirts and beer tickets (obviously the most important part).
Draping each of my teammates with their medals was a true highlight, and I felt so honored to have run alongside all these incredible women and athletes.
After some cheers-ing, reminiscing, and photo taking, we were spent with our Spokane to Sandpoint adventure and headed home for pizza and showers. The hour and a half drive back to Spokane was a little surreal; it took just 90 minutes to return to the place we’d started over 30 hours beforehand.
This race proved to be a true momento to the summer I’ve had. It was an adventure in running but also in mental endurance, in teamwork, and in handling adversity—all of which, in the end, makes each of us a stronger athlete and competitor. This race, and this summer of running, has shown me that hard work truly does yield the most satisfying results. It may be tough getting there, but the reward is so much sweeter knowing that you fought hard the whole way…especially when it’s alongside such an incredible group of people.
I’m hoping to carry the things I’ve learned this summer into my next running adventures, wherever they may lead. Because if I’ve learned nothing else, it’s that you never know where running (and running friends) can take you.
And I can’t wait to find out.
Thank you Spokane to Sandpoint for making this event so memorable. You tested every ounce of endurance we all had, and while we may have cursed you at the time, in the end you put on one kickass show.
Girls Just Wanna Run, you’re an inspiration. Congratulations to you all!