Organizing a relay race that cuts through 200 miles of Oregon wilderness while simultaneously holding down a full-time job — as in, one that actually draws a salary — isn't easy. Just ask the guy who's been doing exactly that since last fall.
Not that Jim Brendle will be sweating out his last few days of preparation for the inaugural Wild Rogue Relay, set to begin Friday morning outside Jacksonville and finish Saturday in Gold Beach. On the contrary, Brendle, a pharmaceutical rep who's lived in Central Point for 25 years, seemed fairly at ease Monday despite the fact that he still had some 400 signs to post, many along a section of the route accessible only by dirt road, and had only recently discovered that his stash of wristsnappers, used as batons in the race, was still at his mom's house in North Carolina.
"It's crazy hard work," Brendle said. "I typically don't sleep for two nights before the race and after the race, but I'm thinking this year I'll be able to sleep before the race."
Modeled after the Hood to Coast Relay and others like it, the Wild Rogue Relay covers about 210 miles and is diverse in both scenery and terrain. Those brave enough to tackle it will run alongside the Rogue River, through the grape vineyards of the Applegate Valley wineries and, eventually, across the sands of the Oregon coast. They'll also chug uphill about 20,000 feet and descend another 22,000.
They won't have to do it alone, however. Teams can consist of either 12 or six runners, with each team member running either three or six six-mile legs, depending on the size of the team.
As of Monday, Brendle said, 35 full-sized teams and six six-person teams had signed up, almost enough for Brendle to break even, which he did not expect to do. One of the six-member teams will be led by one of the top ultramarathon runners in the nation, Hal Koerner, who owns Rogue Valley Runners in Ashland.
"It's very rewarding to see what's going on in the community," Brendle said. "The community support for this race has just blown my mind."
Brendle isn't a newbie when it comes to organizing races. Not anymore, at least. Five years ago, he was so impressed with the Cascade Lakes Relay from Diamond Lake to Bend that he decided to develop one of his own in his old stomping grounds in North Carolina. The only problem was, Brendle didn't know the first thing about how to organize such an event.
Luckily, he had friends who did, most notably Brian Douglass, the creator of the Cascade Lakes Relay who convinced Brendle to take a week-long course for aspiring race directors held once a year in Portland. Brendle took that advice and over the course of four 12-hour days received a crash course on how to organize a race, from mapping out the course to funding, from promotion to dealing with race-day emergencies.
Then, Brendle took all that newfound knowledge and applied it in the real world, creating the Smoky Mountain Relay.
That was in 2008. The fifth-annual Smoky Mountain Relay was held in April and was, as usual, a bear. The trail-heavy course must be very well marked, and even then participants will get lost —this year, four people disappeared, all at the same time — and it didn't help that all those trails were drenched with an inch-and-a-half of rain during the race.
"The first year I probably lost two or three days of my life," Brendle said. "Now, I still get worried, but I realize that so far every time someone gets lost they're eventually found."
Brendle has learned a lot from the Smoky Mountain experience, and was convinced by a friend last year to bring a similar race to southern Oregon.
He agreed, reluctantly, but has since been pleasantly surprised by the community support. Sponsors like Lithia Nissan, the title sponsor, have lined up and if there's a decent jump in participation next year the event, which is also a benefit for the Jackson County Special Olympics, may actually turn a profit. Of course, it took countless hours (and miles) to get to this point.
"I don't know if I want to admit how much time goes into it," joked Brendle when asked about the commitment. "It's pretty much a full-time job. I probably average working about four nights during the week and I've spent as many as four days straight on roads figuring out where exchanges would be and making it work.
"It's an investment. I hope within five years I'll be able to get some return on my money. But it's a love, it's a passion."