Kim Cowart
Kim Cowart's Lake to Lake Relay 2012 team after finishing.

Sometimes the best things in life happen when you least expect them. An unexpectedly warm day in February. A cake I baked that didn’t taste like dirt. My daughter’s teacher telling me that my offspring is a joy to have in class and that she never gets upset over anything. Ever.

Yes, those are moments to cherish.

I had another one of those moments this past weekend as I joined four other women in running the Lake to Lake Relay race in St. George.

Rendi, our fearless team captain, sent me a ray of sunshine in the form of a Facebook invitation to join the team. At first, I declined. We just moved into our new home and to abandon my dear husband and escape to the land of sun just seemed wrong. For a minute.

Almost as soon as I refused, I took it back and accepted.

Best decision. Ever.

All of us knew someone on the team, but none of us knew everyone. The quickest way to make new friends and create lasting bonds is to shove them together in close quarters for 48 hours — smelly, exhausted, and blissfully high on endorphins. Such was the case for team “Lean, Mean, Fat Boy Burning Machine”. Rendi, Shelly, Shannon, Marie, and I set out to make this weekend one to remember. We weren’t disappointed.

Our adventure began early Saturday morning at Gunlock Resevoir. Our plan was simple. Make our way to Sand Hollow State Park in one day. It was a trek that would last 52.6 miles. A relay race without the agony of lost sleep and congested roads. Since I’m in the midst of training for the Boston Marathon, I would run two legs with Rendi and Marie and two legs of my own — alone.

I had invited Marie to join our team. We have mutual friends and ran Boston last year, but never really had a chance to meet up and get to know each other as well as we would like. I was glad to have a chance to change that.

As Marie and I shivered in our “St. George” running gear (aka, gear that wasn’t nearly warm enough for the freezing temperatures we didn’t expect) the other teams gathered around us. It’s a smaller relay race, so you’re bound to spot the same people throughout the day. We assessed our competition and then we were off!

Miles don’t seem so long when you run with a friend. We ran. We talked. We posed for pictures. We watched the sun come up over the red rock. It was exhilarating. The only better way to get to know someone well is to run with them. Six miles later, Marie and I were solid friends.

Rendi took over and we started attacking hills like they were nothing more than annoying little bugs to be stomped out and destroyed. Yes, we took charge. While we were busy showing the world how fantastic our legs were, the temperature rose and my dream of running in shorts came true. Five miles later, Rendi left me to my own devices and I set out to finish my long training run alone.

While the first half of my run seemed to fly by, the second half felt more like work. Without the distractions of my teammates, I lasered in my focus and set out to finish my 22.3 miles. My motivation? To get back in the van and have some fun — and food.

Unbeknownst to me, my van got lost during my last five-mile leg. They found their way to my last exchange only moments before I did, but I was greeted with cheers and whistles. They made me feel like a rock star. I handed off to our other team rock star, Shannon, and watched her take off with the energy of a chipmunk on drugs, or in her case, green tea.

Everyone needs someone like Shannon on their team. She is a relay-race addict and loves everything about the experience. Her hilarious and plentiful stories are enough to make your stomach hurt and the need for ab exercises disappear. She simply oozes joy and excitement as she runs. It doesn’t hurt that she makes the best sandwiches, either.

Sweaty and red-faced, she passed off to our final teammate, Shelly. I had only met Shelly the night before, but already knew I would like her. Her quick wit and sense of humor are good qualities for a relay teammate.

To top it off, Shelly is a force! Her last leg was the longest leg. Eight miles in dirt and gravel with almost no vehicle and teammate support. We gave her the option to take another leg, but she was having none of it. We were all a little surprised by how much of that run she had to do without support, but there was no complaining. She simply ran. I knew I would like this girl.

Eight hours later, as we ran across the finish line together, we were tired. We were stiff. Some of us — mostly me — smelled a little like hot garbage. But we were happy. We did what we loved in the sun with friends.

Does it get any better than that? I don’t think so.

Same time, same place next year, girls!

Kim Cowart is a wife, mother, 24-Hour Fitness instructor and marathoner and lover of relays.