Two vans +11 runners + 199 miles = One incredibly-delirious adventure
All I can say is that in a race where you run down a mountain and over a coastal range to finish on a beach, the true highs and lows of the event happen inside the vans.
We laughed (a lot; thanks, Janelle!), we cried (Jen got injured during her second leg), we banded together (Mindy pinch hit a long, hot run as a result), we celebrated victories (Katy nailed her night leg along a particularly lonely stretch), we agonized over defeat (a few traffic-jam fails), we got sick (thanks, Paige, for playing nurse), we broke bread (well, PB&Js), we shared beds (less than one hour of zzz’s in a twin for the win), but when all was said and done and run, WE BROUGHT IT.
Final time? 29:27:17 (I think). And here’s a recap of my experience in the 33rd annual Hood to Coast race as part of the kick-ass Team “I’ve Got 99 Problems But the Coast Ain’t One.”
The rest of the team met up on Thursday and trekked out to Mt. Hood for the start, but I had a prior engagement with Hubby, so the plan was to meet up with Van 1 (Michelle, Nikole, Jacquelyn, Karin and Kellie) on Friday afternoon to run leg 6 (the final one in Van 1’s first rotation; they were down a runner so we each would be running four legs instead of the usual three) before meeting up with my van (Van 2) at the first main exchange point to run my other legs (9, 21 and 33). Hubby dropped me off as I waited anxiously for my teammates.
As I stood by the side of the road, I could tell everyone in the race was in great spirits; each van that passed shouted out of their windows, cracking jokes, saying hello and asking if I needed a team. No more than a half hour later I heard screaming and cowbells — yep, our team’s Van 1 — coming down the road. I knew right then and there that we were in for an awesome experience together.
I hopped in, we introduced ourselves, and then it was time to get down to business. They gave me the lowdown on logistics — Jacquelyn (our fearless leader and team captain) would be handing off to me, then I’d run to meet up with everyone at the first major exchange from Van 1 to Van 2 where they’d transfer my gear, Mindy would take off, and I’d head out with Van 2 for our first series of legs. Before I knew it, Jacquelyn came bounding up, we met (officially, in person, for the first time — here’s a shot), and I was off and running…
Run #1: Leg 6
Distance: 6.86/ Difficulty: Hard/ Time: 5:12 pm/ Duration: 56:12/ Pace: 8:11/ Roadkills: 4
I kept telling myself I’d take it easy and pace myself because we had quite a day…and night…and another day…ahead of us. But that all went out the window the moment Jacquelyn slapped the relay bracelet on my wrist. Pure excitement and race adrenaline took over, and I knew I was in trouble the moment I looked down at my wrist a ways down he road and saw I was running at a 7:20-something pace.
Because it was hot, though, I forced myself to pump the breaks. Although I couldn’t resist speeding up every now and then to pass some people. It’s called a “roadkill,” and the runners on each team keep count throughout the race — partly in jest, partly as an ego boost and mostly to keep you motivated as the event stretches on into the 24+ hour mark. Having your van stop and cheer by the side of the road also helps with that, as you can see!
After running along Highway 26 for some time, I entered the city of Sandy, Ore., and it was just a few more turns through town and onto some side streets before I slapped the bracelet on Mindy’s wrist and she officially kicked things off for Van 2. Here I am, following her out of the exchange area to meet up with the rest of the team and hop into Van 2, my home base for the rest of the race.
Run #2: Leg 9
Distance: 6.91 mi/ Difficulty: Moderate/ Time: 7:41 pm/ Duration: 1:02:07/ Pace: 8:52/ Roadkills: 1
I had a pretty quick turnaround (two legs) until I started my official Van 2 legs, so in between cheering our runners at exchanges, I used the time to refuel (PB&J and grape G2 hit the spot), recover (stretching and rolling are key before you get back into the van) and change into some dry clothes for my next run (the no. one morale booster on these overnight relays — trust me; you can’t underestimate the power of some clean underwear!).
After gearing up in the obligatory headlamp, safety vest and blinking lights (front and back), I queued up with the ladies of Van 2 (above, from left: Mindy, Janelle, Katy and Paige) at the exchange point as we waited for Jen to come in.
She rocked her leg under the heat of the sun, and I took off mine just as the sun was starting to weaken, thank goodness. This particular route took me down the Springwater Corridor, which was peaceful and not very crowded. In fact, I nabbed this shot while attempting to chase three fast men who passed me…and then I was on my own for quite some time as the sun began to set and I settled into the nearly seven-miler on some heavy-feeling legs.
One of my biggest fears (besides the lack of sleep) for the relay was the night run, but thankfully I only had a few miles in the dark — plus, I think there’s a HUGE difference between “8pm-dark” and “2am-dark,” so I was happy it went by quickly. And my reward was to be able to change into another set of dry clothes and cheer on my van as we completed the final stretch into to the city of Portland.
Janelle arrived to the second main exchange around 11 pm, so we handed the reins back to Van 1 and headed over to Jen’s aunt’s house in the city for a quick round of showers and a few minutes to lie down before we had to be off again for our early morning round of runs.
I can’t tell you how wonderful a shower felt, and even though I barely scratched the surface of what I’d call sleep — seriously, according to my Runtastic Orbit, I didn’t even enter REM — being able to stretch out and relax for a few minutes really did wonders for our morale.
My stomach was really “off” at this point; though. Although I wasn’t super hungry after my run, I did force down another PB&J and Gatorade to keep the calories coming into my body. But, of course, just as my head hit the pillow, my stomach decided it was ravenous…so I downed a KIND bar in an attempt to keep it quiet until our 2:10 am alarm.
Run #3: Leg 21
Distance: 5.00 mi/ Difficulty: Moderate/ Time: 6:14 am/ Duration: 44:12/ Pace: 8:49/ Roadkills: 0
I awoke at 2:06 am to the sound of my teammates getting dressed and ready to go, so I gathered my things (helpful hint: sleep in the clothing for your next run!) and we packed up the van and were on the road again by 2:30. We anticipated it’d take us about an hour to get to the next exchange, and we also wanted to allow a few extra minutes even though we projected them to finish their section at about 4 am the earliest.
Van 1 was looking strong as we did the hand-off, and I had two runners to cheer on before lining up at my own exchange for my third run of the race, leg 21. Because it was on a pretty desolate (read: quiet and remote) stretch of gravel road, I was crossing my fingers that I’d have some sunlight to help guide me. And, thankfully, the first slivers of light came just as I lined up to get the bracelet from Jen again.
That relief was soon followed by worry, though, as she came limp-running into the exchange, wincing with pain. She had been dealing previously with some foot pain and had landed wrong during her leg. In fact, she heard a pop in her foot and it hurt to put weight in it, so as Paige helped her back to the van, I ran off wondering what shape she’d be in when I returned to the group.
My legs felt ok, although the footing was a little more technical here. Hood to Coast had warned us that this stretch was dusty, too, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the five-mile sandstorm that was leg 21. Every time a van drove by, it would stir up a huge cloud, so by the end I could feel a layer of grit between my teeth, on my lips and all over my body (TMI: I’m still blowing it out of my nose!). Yes, they very aptly named this position the “Eat My Dust” portion of the relay.
My favorite part of this run, by far, was the very end. After eating dust (literally) and being left in the dust (by a bunch of the elites who whizzed by), my morale was taking a dip. But there was one guy I had my sights on in the last half mile; he had passed me about a mile before, but I managed to stay on his tail.
And as I rounded the final corner, one of the volunteers smiled at me as I thanked her and said, “Go! Roadkill him.” That was just what I needed to give it a final push to the exchange — unfortunately, I didn’t manage to pass him (I just needed another few yards!), but it did make me smile, which makes all the difference at this point in the race.
Run #4: Leg 33
Distance: 7.72 mi/ Difficulty: Hard/ Time: 3:35 pm/ Duration: 1:13:31/ Pace: 9:31/ Roadkills: 1
The next few hours of the race were probably the toughest, mentally, because we not only had to battle some heinous traffic, but we also all lost cell reception and our walkie-talkies weren’t working, so we lost touch with the other van and our spirits started wavering.
Suddenly, our well-oiled machine was not running as efficiently, but we powered on — thank goodness for Janelle’s van games! — and finally made contact at leg 32, in which Mindy had to battle some pretty intense heat and hills.
Paige hung out with me at the next exchange, and we watched in amazement as Mindy trucked up her final ascent toward us. Seeing her muster all of her effort for the good of the team inspired me to give it my all, as well, as I started my fourth and final leg of the race.
From the outset, I knew this leg would be the toughest. It was the longest, it was in the heat of the day, it was rated as “hard,” it was my fourth leg and it was to be done on little sleep and whatever fuel my stomach would allow me to consume (although by this point I was feeling much better, thanks to some TUMS and tummy meds). I started off conservatively, but ended up with an early road kill, so I figured I’d use that as my strategy to get me though: Pass as many people as possible.
But as I came upon my second person, she happened to turn to me and say something — I forget exactly what, but it made me laugh, so we chatted for a few minutes as we huffed and puffed up our first hill. I was pacing around 9:30 and feeling like I was already pushing it, so I turned to her and asked if she wanted to keep each other company. Enter Allison, mother of two, Hood to Coast veteran, and my “relay angel” for the day.
As the hills rolled on in the open sun, we pushed each other and strategized quick walk breaks every few miles to hydrate and catch our breaths before setting off and what felt like a much faster clip than it actually was. But, slowly, we ticked off the miles and even had a few laughs in the process, which was a total lifesaver when you’re feeling depleted on all levels.
We finished strong, I handed off my bracelet to Paige and then got in a quick stretch before jumping in the van for one final change of clothes and another round of PB&J and Gatorade as we headed out on our final few legs toward the finish.
Paige handed off to Katy, who kicked it into high gear to knock out a quick seven miles before handing of to Janelle for the last leg. By this time, the afternoon heat was a distant memory; it had been replaced by cool clouds and mist as we neared the coast.
Once Janelle was off and running, the rest of us piled into the van to meet her and the rest of the team at the finish. And I’m not gonna lie — seeing this as we (finally!) drove into Seaside gave us all chills.
By the time we parked and walked over, Janelle had technically finished and the timer had stopped for our team, but Hood to Coast has it organized so the whole team can do a ceremonial crossing of the finish line together. We reconvened in the team holding area, and Hubby snapped this shot of pure joy, relief, elation — and probably a bit of delirium — as we did what we set out to do nearly 30 hours earlier.
The only thing left to do? Party on the beach, of course! We danced our way into the crowd and celebrated with the other finishers who were treated to cold beer, live bands, roaring bonfires and hot food, all topped off with a fireworks display later in the evening.
As our friend Sierra, a Hood to Coast veteran, said to me before the race, “Sure no sleep sucks. But it’s way fun — it’s the worst/best experience, all rolled into one. That’s why I keep doing it every year.”
We may have started the race as 10 strangers, but despite sharing claustrophobic corners, operating on minimal sleep and pushing our minds and bodies to the limit, we emerged as a team of 11 friends.
So you can probably guess where I’ll be next year, as well 🙂
HUGE thanks and shout-out to all of my teammates: It was an honor to run with you, and I’m so proud of everyone for pulling together for a strong race. It’s been broughten, and I can’t wait ’til we do it again!