Race Report: Great Lakes Relay, Day 3

by Jamie Stec

The author running the Great Lakes Relay. Photo courtesy of J. Stec

Day Three

There is an old saying: "If you don’t like the weather in Michigan, just blink." It can change from pleasant to catastrophic in an instant. The same could be said about the state of our roads. The combination of a long winter and aging infrastructure came together on day three to completely close a road.

We received this news as we arrived to drop our first runner at the start. Officials informed us that the first runner would also have to do the second leg, since no cars would be able to make it to the exchange point. Suddenly, all (poorly laid) plans were thrown out, everything changed, and we sent our runner off at 6:00 a.m., southwest of Grayling, and continued on to the exchange to pick up the third runner.

The next bit of the morning was a blur of waiting, cramped sleeping in the back of a Scion while friends snored, and more waiting. Our third runner took a bit longer than she might have, because she stopped and took off her shoes in order to cross a large stream. We picked her up, sent the fourth runner on his way, and continued on to another charming resort town, Fife Lake.

The Fife Lake exchange was a party, with all of our teammates catching up, fueling up, and queuing up for the bathroom and food. Pizza may or may not have been consumed for breakfast.

Breakfast of champions. Photo courtesy of J. Stec

At that point, we started moving farther west in the state, in order to end up in Empire, Michigan. This part of Michigan has always been famous for its cherry crop, so my support driver and I took the time to enjoy some fruit. We drove through the Grand Traverse area, eating cherries and discussing religion and culture until we arrived at my exchange.

Michigan cherries. Photo courtesy of J. Stec

The time for concurrent running had arrived, so once again I was leaving for my run without being handed the metaphorical baton, but I was so happy to have my friend driving right behind me in the support car, and to feel more confident in my surroundings. That is, until he doubled back at my halfway point to inform me that the road up ahead was closed.

I told him not to worry and proceeded to the that point in the road, where a F250 truck ascending a hill while towing a trailer had spun out in the sand and jackknifed back unto itself. Yes, the road was closed to vehicles, but I maneuvered around their bad fortune and made it to my exchange point.

Back with my support driver and another runner, we made our way to pick up a third. Either we had become experts at reading the gazetteer or the roads were becoming better marked and more drivable, because we were navigating so successfully. I can only blame my extreme lack of sleep for misreading our next location. We arrived at the wrong one, turned around and headed back, but we weren’t upset, because we got to see a herd of frolicking alpaca at Aral Peak Alpaca farm as we sped by.

We dropped our runner at the second-to-last leg, and continued on to the final exchange. The last leg of the run was called "The Glory Leg," and since our participation in this ridiculous event was my idea, our team had nominated me to run it. I was excited to finish on the beach in Empire, running along the dunes, but as we neared the time for me to run, I was anxious.

I don’t know what came over me, standing there, about to run the final six miles of our weekend. My stomach was cramping; I had the chills. I think the thought of all of my teammates waiting for me at the finish caused me to put pressure on myself to perform. I was unhappy. I felt unprepared for the entire weekend. I felt disappointed in my running performance; I was absorbing the negative energy of some of my teammates. That all disappeared once I ran through the woods, under a cool canopy of tall trees.

But two miles later, I hit the beach and it all returned. The beach was a mess to run on; the available dry land was almost non-existent because of the sheer bluffs of scrub and sand. I moved to the water, but it was no better. The waves hit me at my waist, threatening to pull me in. I had to stop and remove my shoes. 

Another runner overtook me and made a comment about the waves. He said he didn’t want to take his shoes off "because the rocks are coming up." Yes--yes, they were. The terrain was now prickly brush, large, arch-bruising rocks, or brutal waves. I distracted myself by enjoying the beautiful dunes, or the many dogs on the beach. I also am pretty convinced that I saw a large woman sunbathing topless, but I had little interest in investigating further.

Photo courtesy of J. Stec

I finally came around the large dune just south of the finish and could see the finishers at the end. People were standing in the water, and there was music and screaming. I saw my team, in our matching red shirts, creating a cheer tunnel for me to run through. I kicked hard, making it through, and got ready to collapse into my husband’s arms. In my exhaustion, I heard the team tell me that I still had not finished--the final cruelty of the relay was that the finish was at the top of the small dune at the beach. My team literally pushed me up it, and we finished, triumphant. 

The final push. Photo courtesy of J. Stec

Afterward, a race organizer asked me, “If you had all of those guys on your team, why did they make you run that last leg?” This made me feel strong and capable; the competitive tomboy in me was pretty thrilled.

At the Great Lakes Relay, I discovered how capable I really was. I discovered how stunning some unexplored parts of our state could be. I discovered little towns I had never been to, yet hoped to return to.

This race isn’t for everyone. It was devastatingly difficult. It was confusing. It pushed limits and tested friendships. It was exhausting and trying, and all there is to show from it is a ceramic mug from Khnemu Studio, and my new 295.95 sticker.

And my pride.

I plan to do it again next year.

Jamie Stec and her husband, Donovan. Photo courtesy of J. Stec

For Day 2 of Jamie Stec's experience at the Great Lakes Relay, click HERE. For Day 1, click HERE.

This article originally appeared on the blog Lifelong Michigander in August 2014.