REVIEW: 2018 Fish Lake Relay

Updated: Sep 28, 2018


The Fish Lake Relay is a beautiful 65-Mile race through the back-roads of Utah's Fish Lake National Forest, held on the last weekend of August and hosted by the Richfield Area Chamber. This 6-person relay race is comprised of 12 legs that start at 8,900 ft in elevation, climbs to 10,500 ft, then drops like a bomb until your team hits the finish line at 5,100 ft in Richfield, Utah.


QUICK PERSONAL BACKSTORY

Before I get into the nitty-gritty details about the race, I want to take a quick personal privilege. This year I put together a team with one goal in mind--win the entire race while breaking the course record (again)! I know that may sound cocky, but the truth is I wanted to honor my younger brother, Alex, who passed from cancer and ran the relay with our team 5 years ago.

My brother Alex, running the 2013 Fish Lake Relay.

In 2013, I was working for the American Cancer Society and coordinated with the Richfield Area Chamber of Commerce to cross promote our Relay For Life event with their Fish Lake Relay race. My hope was to bring more awareness about cancer in the area. So I put together a team that consisted of myself, my wife Corrine, and our two best running buddies, Jake and Alli. However, we had a hard time recruiting two more people for the team. At the last minute I asked my teenage brother, Alex, if he would be interested in running with us and he simply said, "sure."


With only five people for our 6-person team, our two ladies decided to each pick up a third leg so that we would still qualify as a Co-ed team. Our intent in running the relay was truthfully to just have fun and bring awareness about cancer for my job. However, to our surprise we won the entire race overall, set a new course record, and became the first team to ever break the 8-hour mark! Our minds were blown and only two teams have beat our record since.


Two years after the race, Alex was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. For more than a year, he ran an incredible race, climbing the steepest hills and eventually finishing gracefully through the finish line--never looking back--and taking his final breathes of relief before closing his eyes after a hard race. He always had a smile and lived by his mantra, "I do not worry about things I cannot control."


And so, in 2018, we returned to reclaim our title and honor Alex!


THE NEW RECRUITS

Once again our team consisted of myself, Corrine, Jake and Alli! The new recruits included my wife's cousin's husband (monkey's uncle, and overall cool dude) Keaton (who is just a touch faster than me when he is not even training) and his sister Kelsey, who finished running Track and Cross Country for Brigham Young University last year. The stage was set!

Happy...because we aren't thinking about the pain we're about to endure.

WHO SHOULD RUN WHICH LEGS?

We must have gone through a dozen iterations about who should run which legs. Jake and Alli had their laptop with a spreadsheet hashing it all out. I thought we should just have our fastest runners (Jake and Kelsey) smoke it out at the starting line. However, everyone else wanted to spread it out and make it a chase (but that was only making me nervous kids).


What we did know is that we wanted our fastest runners to run our longest legs, we wanted to mix up the rotations, and that the power of my hobbit feet, combined with my short, wiener-dog-like legs, would best be used to burn steep declines. So we structured and restructured accordingly. What mattered most to us was that the right people ran the right legs, more so than spreading every person evenly between their two legs (more on that later skater).


THE STARTING LINE

The starting line was set up at the Fish Lake Lodge with 28 teams ready to roll. Here we discovered that something looked a bit different, but we couldn't quite put our finger on it. We just knew that we needed to get ready for the 6:30 am start and Alli was up to bat!


LEG 1

Distance - Approx. 5.9 miles

Elevation - Start 8,900 ft & End 8,950

Terrain - Road


Similar to 2013, Leg 1 winds around Fish Lake as the sun rises and the air warms over the cool lake, creating an incredible misty fog. The elevation slightly drop at the beginning and then gradually climbs back up, particularly at the end, gaining around 50 ft. Alli kept a good steady pace and placement, picking off 24 of the other 27 teams within the first couple of miles.


LEG 2

Distance - Approx. 4.75 miles

Elevation - Start 8,950 ft & End 9,250

Terrain - Road


Alli finished like a boss and tagged her hubby Jake in unique fashion with a mid-air chest bump. As Jake began the leg we really started to wonder if the route was different. As we came to the dirt road turn off, we realized that Jake had more hill to climb than what we originally anticipated. With only two teams ahead, Jake caught up to the 2nd place team, which was a co-ed team, but technically qualified in the Men's Division, because they had four men and only two ladies.

"Chest bump!"

As Jake approached the new turn up the steep hill he started to really feel the elevation, but so did the team just ahead. Their leg enjoyed breakfast a few times over again. But hats off to him, because after Jake passed him, that dude caught back up and stuck with Jake to the bitter end of the Leg 2.


LEG 3

Distance - Approx. 4.55 miles

Elevation - Start 9,250 ft & End 9,975

Terrain - Road


Poor Keaton. Here is where we confirmed with the race crew that the first 3 legs had changed since 2013, but not updated on the website. Keaton had nearly 725 ft of pure joy to climb. Luckily, the team we were neck-and-neck with had a runner that was strong and steady to really help keep the pace.


You could tell dude from the other team had run a few distance races or two. Keaton kept with him and looked strong, even though he gave us the gun-to-the-head signal to take him out of his misery. Regardless, Keaton passed the dude at one point, but this guy was a pure locomotive up those hills and pulled away at the end of the Leg 3.


LEG 4

Distance - Approx. 4.45 miles

Elevation - Start 9,975 ft & End 9,920 (Highest 10,500)

Terrain - Road


More hills to climb for my incredible wife on Leg 4, but this time with a reprieve at the end. At some point up the hill, we had to honk a few cows off the road...like an entire herd. Cool. The first 3/4ths of this leg were straight up hill until you hit 10,500 ft. The 2nd place team had an older guy that was a power-house up those hills. It was like he was designed just for hills. Unique stride, but solid runner. But what goes up, must come down. So Corrine decided to just bust out a sub 6-minute mile on mile 4 for the heck of it. Boo-ya baby! This helped us get a real sighting of the first place team since Leg 1--we were creeping up baby!



LEG 5

Distance - Approx. 4.55 miles

Elevation - Start 9,920 ft & End 8,300

Terrain - Road


In great fashion...or rather...matching fashion apparel, Corrine passed off to Alli. They unintentionally wore the exact same shorts and singlet. Great runner's ...dress... alike. This leg is where the downhill fun begins, losing 1,600 ft over 6 miles. Leg 5 is somewhat of a rolling downhill, grades that vary from 1% up to 14%! The average grade is probably closer to 5%.


LEG 6

Distance - Approx. 4.65 miles

Elevation - Start 8,300 ft & End 6,950 ft

Terrain - Road


I LOVE Leg 6, because short-legged people such as myself can just open our stride and let it fly! Unlike the prior leg, Leg 6 does not roll. It is straight down hill for nearly five miles. At one brief point the grade dips to 1% and at another brief point it shoots to 12%. However, the average grade is around 5% as well. Let's just say, I have never run 5:30-minute miles for nearly 5 miles before...and my hamstrings are still feeling it!


LEG 7

Distance - Approx. 6 miles

Elevation - Start 6,950 ft & End 5,770 ft

Terrain - Road


At this point we were still maintaining a steady 3rd place, but that's where Kelsey entered the scene to put on the pressure! Part-way through she was able to pass the 2nd place team, running 6-minute miles down a 4% grade. Our plan on this leg was for Kelsey to run Leg 7 and Leg 8 if she felt good. However, the time of day was really started to heat up--creeping into the mid-80's! So she made the smart choice to bring it in and rest up for Leg 11 instead.


LEG 8

Distance - Approx. 6 miles

Elevation - Start 5,770 ft & End 5,250 ft

Terrain - Road, Dirt & Gravel


In Leg 8 we brought our other big hitter--Jake my man! On this leg, the grade gets a bit more rolling again, but still primarily downhill. This is where we first hit dirt and gravel. It spans for most of the first four miles. Right after Mile 5, you will come to a bridge that runs under Highway 70. Under the bridge is generally full of water for 100 ft or more. As such, the race rules allow the runner to hop in the van, just through the water under the bridge (no lie, just check the course map description). The leg ends at Salina City Park (with restrooms, shade trees and a playground if you're feeling good....)


LEG 9

Distance - Approx. 6 miles

Elevation - Start 5,250 ft & End 5,200 ft

Terrain - Road, Dirt & Gravel


My lady, Corrine, tagged Jake and ran the first three miles on road through town. Salina is a small town, so don't be surprised if neighborly dogs start running with you and/or chasing and jumping on you, because, you know...that happened. We had to honk the horn to help those welcoming pooches home. Dogs and cows have a lot in common I guess. Once you get out of town it turns back into dirt and gravel, and the heat continues to pick up. Stay strong kids. At some point on this leg, the team in 3rd place took back 2nd place, but Corrine kept them within view.


LEG 10

Distance - Approx. 6 miles

Elevation - Start 5,200 ft & End 5,260

Terrain - Road & Dirt


Originally, Keaton was going to run this leg and I was going to try to seal the deal with Leg 12. However, Leg 10 is a lot of rolling hills. And after the gruesome and unexpected Leg 3 Keaton ran, I didn't have the heart to make him do more hills. So he gladly swapped me. Luckily I had started fueling up early for Leg 12, so I was ready to go. To be honest, this was a huge mental relief for me. The entire race and days before I was psyching myself out about if we could really come from behind to win Overall or take back the course record. Swapping Keaton took all that weight off my mind. So as I got out there, found my cadence and kept it strong. This proved to make all the difference.

A couple miles into the leg, I could see both teams. Unfortunately, I could see that the runner for the 1st place team was struggling. It was hot. It was hilly. And nobody could blame him for hurting. We all were. I think their flaw was the same flaw in my original plan for our team. They stacked all of their heavy hitters at the start and evenly spread the legs.


Slowly, both teams passed the 1st place team and I could nearly touch the other team in front of me. However, I did not want to waste my energy trying to pass him. I knew that if I kept my cadence, the time would come. Before I knew it my team was passing me in the van screaming, "Number 1!" It felt amazing! But it wasn't over. one more unexpected big hill showed up like someone moved it there for me. All I could think was, "keep the cadence, then Kelsey and Keaton will seal the deal."


LEG 11

Distance - Approx. 6 miles

Elevation - Start 5,260 ft & End 5,320

Terrain - Road & Dirt


This leg is a bit of a scorcher. It is road for the first 4 miles and the heat is just getting hotter by the minute, pounding on the black asphalt. Kelsey took off like a flash. She not only held onto 1st place, she created at least a half mile gap. The course is basically level, but there is a very very slight incline from mile 1.5 to mile 4.5.


LEG 12

Distance - Approx. 5.65 miles

Elevation - Start 5,320 ft & End 5,350

Terrain - Dirt, Gravel & Road


Sister handed off to brother with a strong lead on the final leg! Keaton started of strong and he finished strong. It was the last 1/2 mile that was the real test. This leg starts off with a couple of small uphills, but is mostly rolling. The first two miles are dirt and gravel, but those last two miles are all blacktop in the sun. Around mile 4 I noticed Keaton was slowing up and looking a bit fatigued. However, he was holding pretty steady. As he started the final mile, we gave him water and I could tell that he was hurting, yet he still kept it steady.

At this point, our team drove ahead for a victorious finish. As we drove past the 1/2 mile mark, something in my gut told me that we needed to stop for Keaton one last time, but we were all so excited to get to the finish line. However, we finally resolved that Kelsey and I would go to to the finish line and everyone else would go do one last check on Keaton.


THE FINISH

As Kelsey and I waited at the finish, it seemed to be taking longer than anticipated. So we started jogging away from the finish line to see if we could see Keaton in the distance. However, all we could see was a group of people walking next to the cars parked on the side of the road. It took a minute before we realized that is was actually Keaton and the rest of our team. It turns out that when the team went back to check on Keaton, Jake nearly had to jump out of the van to catch him from collapsing from the heat and exhaustion. He was at the point of dehydration.

As Kelsey and I ran to the group, Corrine kept telling me, "Don't try to push him Dave." I knew she was right, but Kelsey and I looked at each other and grinned, because we were going to push him anyway--he was almost there--whether he collapsed right there or a quarter mile from there, it wasn't going to make things much worse. However, as soon as we got to him, we knew it was bad. The dude was running sideways. None of us said much, except Jake, Alli and Corrine trying to tell him that he didn't have to keep running and that he could just walk.

Regardless, the man kept running. Sideways and all! Jake held out his arms like a guardrail on the edge of a cliff just to keep Keaton running in a somewhat straight direction. When he saw the park, he ran harder and equally sideways. There was a straightaway of sidewalk, but we were in the grass steering him all the way through the finish line. Through sheer determination, Keaton brought it home to take the OVERALL win for all divisions! Our total time was 7:45:25!

Victorious photo...2 hours after Keaton recovered ;)

We were only 3 minutes from beating the course record, but who cares! That finish was epically awesome! I would say that "we" did it, but Keaton did it! I don't think anyone would have continued to push themselves the way he did. After he passed through the finish he was nearly passed out on the lawn, laughing, but sick and with blurry vision. Not good kids. We poured water all over him and tracked down EMTs, who eventually had to hook him to an IV to get his blood sugar up. But all Keaton could say to me was, "Next year..."

The whole situation honestly made me think of when my brother Alex. As he fought his cancer, he had to keep pushing through it all. Even though he was in pain and sick, he laughed his way through it, enjoyed every moment, and did "not worry about things [he] could not control."

I can't thank my team enough for making it a truly memorable experience. It was an amazing to run with all them and an even more amazing way to honor the memory of my little brother.

PROS & CONS


Pros

  • Well organized

  • Not an overnight Relay Race (thank you!)

  • Fast & scenic 65-mile course (done between 8 and 14 hours)

  • Cool temps for the first half

  • Only $250 for a team of 6 (~$42 a person)

  • Small cash prize

  • Good awards and medals

  • Free food coupon to the Trail Days event


Cons

  • Need to update route maps for the first 3 legs

  • Hot temps at the end

  • No food or water at the finish line

  • EMTs were not immediately ready at the finish line


NEUTRAL

  • Although the whole relay is very scenic, the change to the first three legs cut out some really scenic parts that I loved when we ran in 2013.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS


Lodging

The Fish Lake Relay website does a great job at providing 20+ suggestions on different places to stay. Hotels range from $60 - $120 a night. Fish Lake Lodge actually has cabins that range anywhere from $46 - $275 a night. We have family in the area, so we stay free with complimentary breakfast on the go.


Packet Pick-up

You can get your packets at the Richfield City Office Building (75 East Center) from 8am - 5pm the Friday before race day. You can also pick it up the morning of the race from 6am - 6:30am near the starting line.


Starting Line

Driving from Richfield to the starting line at the Fish Lake Lodge is about a 45 minute to an hour drive (depending on where you are staying) in the dark. Its a winding road with variable speeds, so be safe. There is plenty of parking for all the team vans. Restrooms are in the the shop at the Fish Lake Lodge. The men are in and out of the restroom pretty fast, but there is one heck of a line for the ladies, so plan accordingly.


Exchange Zones

At each exchange zone there are volunteers tracking the exchange and radioing ahead. Both times that we ran this race we were ahead of their anticipated schedule, so by leg 9 there wasn't anyone there to track the exchange, but the volunteers caught up by the leg 10.


Aid Stations & Crew Assistance

You are your own aid stations. There are no rules against running along side with your teammates to help pace them, providing water, food or whatever they may need. Honestly, the nicest thing is having your teammates spray water down your back for 50 yards during the heat.


Awards

The number one team in each division gets $120 in winnings, plaques and medals. Second and 3rd place in each divisions get plaques and medals. All team get medals. Pretty cool. The only thing is they just kind of hand the awards to you. It's a bit anticlimactic. No one really announcing anything about. You just collect your awards and head out. I guess some people prefer that, but after busting your hump for nearly 8 hours, we thought there might be a bit more to-do about winning.


Trail Days

The Fish Lake Relay is hosted by the Richfield Area Chamber. This year they held the relay in conjunction with a new Trail Days event! Keep in mind that "Trail Days" in Utah means every type of trail use (running, ATV, equestrian, mt. biking, Jeeps & 4-wheeling, etc.).

WHAT OTHERS HAVE TO SAY


Feedback from the 3rd place overall team, "The Quick & the Dead":

The best relay ever. I’ve now ran the entire course and have enjoyed everything about it. Some years it’s rained, snowed been hot and cold. Most the time that’s in the same day. The scenery is awesome. This was the first year my team has ever been towards the front. All other years usually towards the back. Both positions are great. I’ve really enjoyed meeting other teams throughout the years. I look forward to it each year. Like you said, it’s great it’s done in one day. - Tim Sessions

ABOUT THE AVERAGE JOE RUNNER

Well, his real name is actually Dave...but "The Average Joe Runner" seemed like a catchy name for a blog. Born a sprinter, but converted to distance running in adulthood, Dave has run for more than 25 years. He is the father of four awesome kids and the husband to one amazingly talented, smart and fast-running wife.

The Average Joe Runner blog and website was born after Dave continued to get questions from friends and family alike for running tips and gear advice. However, this blog is also meant to hear from other Average Joe and Jane Runners out there. You can contribute to the blog by clicking Submit or Request. Follow The Average Joe Runner on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @TheAvgJoeRun. Read More

About Me

I'm constantly searching the internet for tips, gear, races, reviews and routes. There are a million great sources out there, and other runners have great things to say, but you constantly have to sift through it all. So I thought, why not post what I find for others to use too? Hence, a blog was born. Read More

 

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