The Wild West Relay: Part One

I’m just back from my first ever relay and have been trying to work out how to blog about it. I feel like the blogosphere is awash with relay recaps and people might just be sick of reading them but there’s just too much to put into one loooonnnng post, so I’m splitting this into two. If you’re done with relay recaps, please feel free to come back next week!

If you’re still reading…

…this was my first ever relay, something I’ve wanted to do for a few years now. The Wild West Relay takes place in my favourite non-Californian state, Colorado. It starts in Fort Collins and stretches 199 miles (come on guys, let’s round it up, I’d have run that extra mile) to Steamboat Springs, where we went skiing last year. I got roped into it via Bean, the stranger from the internet who came to stay last year and who became a dear friend pretty much instantly.  She knew two people pulling a team together, did I want to do it? Yep!

(If perchance you are new to the world of relays…a relay is a long race, generally around 200 miles, which is covered by a team of 12 runners split into two vans of 6 runners. Runners 1 – 6 run a leg each, hand over to runners 7 – 12 who run their legs. Then you do it again, three times in total). 


I flew out at 6am on Thursday morning. This was only my second ever trip away from the Dude, and I have to admit, it felt weird to be without my little sidekick and shadow. I missed him desperately…right up until Bean picked me up at Denver airport and said ‘let’s go for lunch’. That was pretty much it. I really loved morphing slowly back into my old self. ADORE my boys, I ADORE my life and wouldn’t change it for an instant but it was kind of like meeting up with an old friend again.

We spent the day in Fort Collins shopping. I never shop these days, I quickly found that I hadn’t lost my skills! We had damn good tacos at Dam Good Tacos and hit up REI for some last minute equipment buying. In the evening, we went into town and met the rest of our team for dinner. In our van, we had Ian and Stacey (the organizers, who were basically the kindest, sweetest people I’ve ever met), Bean, me, Kara and Leslie! Back at the hotel, we did some paperwork and then all sloped off to bed, ready for the very early start the next day!

Hydrating with Bean!
Hydrating with Bean!
Team Bear Bait's last minute preparations.
Team Bear Bait’s last minute preparations.

Leg One

The alarm went off at 3.30, we were loading the vans at 3.50 and at the start area at 4.30. Grim. When you sign up for a relay, you input your expected speed and the organizers give you a start time based on your speed, or lack of! We were given the first start wave, 5am, as we were expected to be one of the slowest teams. Fancy that!

Bleary-eyed and loading the vans
Bleary-eyed and loading the vans

We checked in, made some attempt to decorate our van, and then it was suddenly 5am and Ian was lining up to start the race. There was a count-down and he was off!


We had a crazy scramble to drive to the next exchange, 4 or so miles down the road. And that was what happened. Ian handed over to Kara, Kara to Stacey, Stacey to Bean and finally Bean to me! I was DYING to run. It was now daylight – Colorado was looking lovely, I had on a fancy new outfit and I wanted to blitz it along the roads and pull my weight for the team. Bean ran towards me, gave me a high-five and it was my turn. I hurtled off down the road to the cheers of my van-mates.

I hurtled for 0.18 miles and suddenly the lack of oxygen in the Colorado air slapped me in the face. We were at 5,000 ft (about 1,500m) elevation. I live at 5’1 elevation. Pretty much instantly, I was crawling along and it was flat! It was a sudden reality check. I was not going to be a running superstar! So I settled into my plod. The road was lovely and as I turned north, it turned lovelier. My garmin beeped every mile and at mile six I started the one big hill of my leg – not too long but pretty steep. I managed to ‘run’ the whole thing and paused at the top to ‘take a photo’ before plunging down the 0.3 mile downhill to the exchange. I turned the corner and saw a field of bison which was pretty awesome. My team was at the exchange, cheering – I was grateful for the downhill so I looked good for them! I high-fived Leslie and then blessedly stood and sucked in air! Leg one…done!

wwr me
The lovely downhill to the finish
Seen on my run
So happy to be done

Once Leslie had crushed her leg, we handed over to Van 2. We went to this awesome Western style diner in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by mountains! Then we did a little cheering for Van 2 as they ran and then drove to the next big exchange where we would start our next leg. The sleeping bags went down on the ground, I crawled in, closed my eyes and the next thing I know, I was asleep.

Van One mid-snooze Photo Credit: Bean
Van One mid-snooze
Photo Credit: Bean

Exchanges are a lot of fun. Lots of vans, some of whom you get to know throughout the day. Some teams, like the Ice Queens, were really friendly and supportive, cheering everyone on. Others were pretty obnoxious – their runner passed Stacey and said ‘Bang bang, got you’ – introducing her to the concept of ‘roadkill’, where you pass another runner. Several vans were keeping a tally of their ‘roadkill’ on their  van windows. Frankly, I think that’s nasty. I understand that some people are hugely competitive, but surely graciousness and competitiveness are not mutually exclusive? Oh well.

A typical exchange
A typical exchange

Leg Two

Our second legs started at about lunchtime and marked the point of the big climb of the race. The relay’s slogan is ‘Get your ass over the pass’. The pass in question is Sandcreek Pass at 10,290 feet Ian’s 6 miles were basically uphill, then Kara descended two miles, climbed four to the summit and then ran down two miles to the next exchange. Hers was the ass over the pass. I was enormously grateful that mine got to summit in the van!

Kara heading down in order to head up
A gorgeous stag danced across the road for a few seconds. Utterly beautiful.

Stacey then plunged 9 miles downhill through the most beautiful forest. We saw no bears but did see a stunning big old stag, which made our day. Eventually, we left the forest and the world opened up in front of us – this enormous, wide valley between mountain ranges. It was breathtaking in every sense.

Out of the forest into the plain
Team Photographer snapping along

IMG_8408 IMG_4724

Stacey was thrilled to have run a personal distance record in the middle of a relay
Stacey was thrilled to have run a personal distance record in the middle of a relay

At about 8.30, it was my turn to run. The sun was beginning to go down behind the mountains. Everyone was kitted up in reflective vests and jackets. I was also wearing a head torch, a red flashing tail light and carrying another head torch to light my way. Bean ran into view, slapped my hand and I turned and ran off into the gathering gloom…

Heading off...
Heading off…Photo: Bean


5 Comments Add yours

  1. Nic J says:

    Don’t split it – I’m on the edge of my seat and want to know what happened next!
    And BOO to the roadkill people. That is NOT the way to encourage people to take part. Massive English ‘V’ in your general direction (I’m prepared to lower myself to their level to respond…).
    Well done folks – heck of a challenge, and even more so at altitude – that’s high enough!

  2. Cathryn says:

    Ha…I have to stop blogging for a bit to do some laundry 🙂

  3. Jen says:

    The altitude would’ve totally killed me — you had no time to adjust at all, so kudos for just completing your legs! I always thought the “roadkill” part of relays were funny, but not the way you described it with the taunting. That just sounds mean-spirited.

    Looking forward to reading part 2!

    1. Cathryn says:

      I can’t decide if I was overly sensitive about it or not. It might have just been that first girl’s attitude which skewed my view of it, I don’t know.

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