Each time Laura Greenley and her team of Wild Rogue Relay runners reach the finish line in Brookings, they swear the journey never felt so long and the beer never tasted so good.

Every year, they leave Applegate Lake and take turns running, covering 218 punishing miles over a day and a half, pounding their feet and burning their thighs over sometimes scary stretches that make this seem all too crazy. 

"At the end of the race, I'm so tired, run down and sore that I think, 'I'm not doing this anymore," says Greenley, 39, of Medford.

Come the next Monday, she invariably returns to work as a Seven Feathers Casino pit boss and immediately puts in for vacation to run the next year's race.

"I know I'm going to do it every year," Greenley says. "You have to be a little twisted, I guess."

Greenley will be back in the shuttle van and on the course today and Saturday along with 1,200 twisted sisters and brothers during the fifth annual Wild Rogue Relay race.

Eighty-five teams will tackle the grueling miles between Applegate Lake and Brookings, snaking through backroads and backwoods as they trace the Rogue River as it cuts through the remote Siskiyou Mountains.

Then they take turns powering down Pacific beaches and along dangerous chunks of Highway 101 before reaching relay nirvana at Brookings' Azalea Park for a T-shirt and a pint glass for the party.

For those who don't think running vast distances in the woods alone at night is a great idea, here's how this relay works.

The 12 people on each team take turns running three legs each of about six miles over as long as 30 hours. While one member runs, the other 11 are shuttled forward in two vans.

The vans hopscotch each other through the night, with one van of runners continuing the race while the other heads farther down the course to a major road interchange so they can sleep and refuel before their teammates catch up.

Except there's rarely much sleep before they're out on their next leg

There are also "ultra" teams of six runners doing the same, except they run six legs each.

The course begins at Applegate Lake, where the starting runners are staggered anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour apart based on their anticipated running time, says assistant race director Syd Smedley of Medford.

After traversing various backroads through Jackson County and down to the Rogue River in Josephine County, the course heads over the Siskiyou Mountains via Bear Camp Road. It's a one-lane road often run at night with only the stars and a headlamp for guidance.

Inevitably, that's when runners realize it's called Bear Camp Road for a reason.

"At 2 or 3 a.m. on that road, it plays with your mind," says Smedley, who ran that 2 a.m. leg in the inaugural race. "There's a point where you have to decide if you'll let it freak you out or not."

Greenley ran that Bear Camp Road stretch in her first race at night while thoroughly exhausted.

"I was half-hoping something would jump out of the woods and attack me, I was so tired," she laughs. "But nothing happened, so I kept running."

Deciding whether this keep-running mantra is a blessing largely separates relay runners from the world perplexed each year at the self-torture these participants willingly and gleefully endure.

Jump in a van. Ride 24 miles along backwoods roads over several hours. Jump out. Run six miles. Get back into the van without stretching or anything remotely close to a proper warm-down. Start eating.

"Next thing you know, you're kicked out of your van to run again," Greenley says.

Greenley has run several marathons. Relays, she says, are tougher, even though the competition is less.

"You really got to be into punishing yourself," Greenley says. "It's quite strange."

This year she's running with the Emerald Runners out of Eugene. At least, she's pretty sure that's their name.

"Eleven strangers to me," Greenley says. "I won't know anybody in my van until they pick me up Friday."

Maybe not their names. But she knows they're tough runners who will be dog-tired when they reach park and will have one hell of a great time the entire way.

"It's the most fun you can have with five people in a van, even five people you don't know," Greenley says. "Yeah, twisted."

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtfribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.