I used to imagine myself running in one of those crazy distance relay races somewhere up in the mountains, and on Saturday, June 8 my dream became a reality when I ran Legs 3 and 9 in the 22nd Annual Sawtooth Relay in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. The Sawtooth Relay is a 62-mile run comprised of 12 legs that average about 5-6 miles in length. We had six women on our team, calling ourselves Divas En Fuego, which means “Women on Fire.” The race began at Stanley Elementary School in the tiny mountain town of Stanley (elev. 6,253). Beginning at midnight, heats of about 8 or 9 participants were set off at 15-minute intervals, and by 9:00 a.m. all 310 teams were off and running. This particular relay is legendary for its dark-of-night start times, picturesque mountain setting, and the infamous Leg 6. The seriously strenuous 5.35-mile segment known as Leg 6 features a daunting rise in elevation of 1,331 feet before it crests the Galena Summit at 8,701 feet above sea level. As the relay continues down the other side of the summit it loosely follows the Big Wood River for 30 miles to the finish line at Atkinson Park in Ketchum (elev. 5,853) where beers grown and brewed in Idaho, plus tender trout from nearby Hagerman and roasted red potatoes await panting racers sporting red faces and weary knees.
Two of our team members are ladies I knew before the race, three I met for the first time. Let me introduce them to you now. Susan is my running partner of six years. We have exercised together nearly every Saturday since we met at a local duathlon in 2007. I met Chris through Susan when we were all selling Arbonne together a few years ago. Five-minute makeover, anyone? The first time I met Lindsay, our team leader, was at a neighborhood Starbuck’s at 9:00 on a chilly Saturday morning in mid-February. It was our first team meeting — though only four of our six could make it — as well as our first group run. The foothills are where I met Dina, when we went out for our second group run. And the first time I saw Liz she was walking along the dock at Redfish Lake. My husband — and team volunteer — Dan, and I were sipping beers on the lodge’s front porch with Susan during the afternoon before the race. As other teams started trickling in to the tiny resort to check into their cabins, I noticed this really fit-looking woman meandering across the dock with her boyfriend. What I really noticed were her neon green compression socks. We were introduced just a few hours later, after the remaining three Divas arrived at Redfish with the team van.
Check out the reflection of the lake in the window behind us. We had a pretty nice view from the porch. Sigh.
Divas En Fuego had a start time of 5:00 a.m. Phone alarms started going off at 3:50 a.m. and by 4:20 a.m. we were all in the team van motoring toward check-in and the starting line at Stanley Elementary School.
By the time we completed check-in, Dina, wearing #125, had only a few minutes to wait before the starting gun went off at 5:00 a.m. Air temp at start time: 34 degrees F. And Dina’s rocking a skirt!
Lindsay, Liz, me, Chris and Dina awaited Susan’s appearance in morning shade at the exchange point. I was suited up and ready to begin Leg 3.
Not even a bright headlamp could obscure the exhilarated smile on Susan’s face as she finished Leg 2.
The road was shaded when I started Leg 3. Twenty minutes later the sun popped above the mountain ridge and lit up the entire valley range. Right around this time, the Divas in the team van noticed a woman with a large dreadlock hairdo running the course. As she followed the road out of the mountain’s shadow and into the sunlight, she suddenly stopped, turned to face the early morning sun and outstretched her arms in one long, single-pose sun salutation. She continued to hold the pose, like a sunflower facing its energy source, as the team van journeyed ahead.
Here’s what I saw as I approached the exchange at end of Leg 3. A camera phone can’t capture the vast beauty I witnessed.
The volunteer holding the orange flag cheered me on as I approached the chute where I handed off to Liz. Notice Lindsay and Chris across the street in their black tights, pink skirts and purple team jackets.
Despite some knee trouble, Liz cruised for 4.43 miles and made Leg 4 look easy.
Chris, Lindsay and Susan wait for Liz to reach the exchange point so Chris can begin Leg 5. All three ladies display the benefits of breathing clear mountain air and basking in pure sunshine: Smiles.
This is Leg 6. Chris, Lindsay, me, Dina, Liz and Susan stand at the Galena Overlook about a mile below the Galena Summit. Lindsay had just trucked her way up four miles to this stunning spot to snap a photo with us girls before she continued the remaining 1.35 miles of her ascent. Up at the top after her leg was complete she said she felt strong enough to keep running. That’s what training in the foothills back home will do for you. Dina attacked the next-toughest section of the relay, Leg 7. Imagine pounding downhill for 6.02 miles while enduring a loss in elevation of 1,411 feet. Dina seriously smoked it with a time in the 40-minute range.
Susan continued to smile as she cranked out the 5.09 miles of Leg 8, where the slope started to level out.
Throughout the day I felt grateful for my good health and the ability to spend time running out in the middle of God’s country. This is just a glimpse of the beauty that I was surrounded by as I ran the 4.64 miles of Leg 9.
Three months before this photo of Lindsay and me was taken in front of the Big Wood River, Lindsay led me on my first serious foray into the Boise foothills and I experienced my very first runner’s high. I owe her a debt of gratitude for sharing her love of trail running with me. A short time after we snapped this shot, Lindsay completed Leg 12 and crossed the finish line on behalf of Divas En Fuego. All six teammates and our trusty volunteer soon settled beneath a shade tree amid the lively after-party at Atkinson Park in Ketchum to enjoy plates piled high with trout and potatoes as we replenished our depleted carb levels with pints of handcrafted ale from Grand Teton Brewing Co.
After we returned from Ketchum, Susan and I relaxed for a while on the porch in front of Redfish Lake Lodge. The satisfied grin on my face couldn’t fully convey how special this event was to me. Good friends both old and new, perfect weather in a gorgeous mountain setting, and having Dan nearby all weekend made this crazy distance relay race even better than I imagined.
Check out what Susan wrote about teamwork for the Why Not Girl! blog.