"12 Friends, 36 Cities" - Running Down Organ Donors 1 Mile at a Time Along the California Coast


"By Jessica Bardoulas (@JeBardo)

The first time I heard about “The Relay” (a 191 mile race from Calistoga to Santa Cruz) I thought it was for fools. Run three legs consisting of over 16 miles total, while sharing a van with a bunch of other stinky, exhausted runners over the course of a weekend? How could this be enjoyable I thought to myself? But somehow my coworker reassured me it was one of the best weekends of her life. I took her word for it, and was glad I did.

I’ve recently completed the Golden Gate Relay and have to admit, it’s pretty awesome. Billed as "California’s Longest Party", it offers beautiful views, meaningful camaraderie and both physical and mental challenge.

The website encourages friends and colleagues to: gather your friends or enemies (12-member teams). Decorate your vans. Dress in your best costumes (optional). Run (or walk). It's the most fun a group of people can have in the best place on earth. From Napa Valley to the Pacific Ocean, 12 member teams run 191 miles (3 legs per runner, 3-8 miles each) through 36 cities and across the Golden Gate Bridge at midnight in support of Organs R Us ("ORU") and 125,000 Americans waiting for organ donors.

You get to run through gorgeous wine country roads and adorable Marin towns while getting cheered on from hundreds of fans and teams in big white vans. It’s a truly unique way to get to know the beautiful state of California and support a great cause; the overwhelming need for organ transplants.

According to the relay site, since 1995, the transfer of the baton from runner to runner has symbolized the transfer of an organ from a donor to their recipient. Of 112,000 Americans waiting for organs, 18 die each day waiting for a donor.

And while you’re running it really makes you think about organ donation. While jogging through Marin late on Saturday night with nothing more than my headlamp to keep me company, I thought a lot about what an amazing endeavor it is to transport someone’s living organs from one person to the next. The speed and coordination it takes to successfully manage that process, and the generosity of spirit required is simply remarkable.

The race also offers an opportunity for companies to get their competitive juices flowing. Google has the won the race many times over, and I was lucky enough to run this particular race with a wonderful team from SolarCity. You are competing with the top employees in the world, and witnessing the beauty of top runners sprinting through the redwood forests of Santa Cruz. The whole experience is inspiring from start to finish.

In the end, it was an excellent weekend and I highly recommend the race to anyone who finds him or herself on the fence. While moments were hard (see: scorching Napa heat) the race brought back the competitive spirit and teamwork that I loved so much during my high school sport years. But perhaps more importantly, this race reminded and educated me about the many people who are on the front lines. The ones saving lives day in and day out by finding and donating organs for those in need. In sum, the 2013 Golden Gate Relay truly was a run to remember.