On a warm summer day last August, I reclined in a well-worn lawn chair and enjoyed the scene as madness unfolded around me.
My friends and family had decided to hold their own Olympics.
Horseshoes, volleyball, paddle boarding, bocce ball, there were really no limits to the sports involved in the day-long event, so long as a cold beer was nearby. The competition was heated and included a photo finish that still hasn’t quelled the debate of who won.
It was so refreshing and fun, that lately I’ve been searching for a way to recreate that atmosphere. The stories and ads for multi-sport events popping up on my Facebook page have become more enticing, and made me think there is more to racing than just improving my pace or notching a new personal record.
“Simply, to be 12-years-old,” said Chris Lewis, summing it up perfectly.
Lewis is the founder and race director for the Iron Horse Relay, which is billed on its website as a multi-sport romp in the Cascades. The 70-mile race, born out of the now-defunct Mountains to Sound Relay, debuted last year and will be held again in September. It features five legs including paddling, road and trail running, and road and mountain biking. The race starts with a paddling section at Keechelus Lake in Washington, and ends with a six-mile road run in North Bend, Wash.
Despite having an average participant age of 40, Lewis said he plans the courses with 12-year-olds on an afternoon romp in mind.
“That’s how I go out and set the race,” he said.
The rising popularity of multi-sport and “alternative” races featuring obstacle courses or mud runs, such as Tough Mudder or Warrior Dash, nearly prompted Lewis to make the fifth leg of Iron Horse a mud run, he said. But after reaching out to his network — which he’s developed over more than 25 years of managing various races — he decided to stick to the course.
“One hundred percent of them said ‘don’t do that,’” Lewis said. “They said with our style, we get muddy and cold enough. We don’t have to add a false sense of adventure. I’ve since steered away from that.”
Lewis designed the course to be challenging. But above all, he wanted it be a quality event that promoted that child-like feeling of a fun afternoon with friends. Keeping with the theme, the finishing area in North Bend will have a festival-like feel that includes a beer garden and a zip line.
“I liken it to having a picnic, and having a potato sack race at that picnic. There’s more emphasis on the picnic than the potato sack race,” he said.
It sounds like another finish worthy of a photo.