Saturday, September 8, 2012

Hood to Coast: Part 1

Explanation of this race:
Hood to Coast is a relay race starting from Mt. Hood ending in Seaside, OR on the Pacific coast. There is a pre-determined route with 36 separate legs. Each person has what we call their number on the team from 1 to 12. This year, I was the 12th runner, which means I was responsible for running the 12th, 24th, and 36th legs. For these relays, you typically split the team into two groups: van 1 has runners 1-6, van 2 runners 7-12. Consequently, most of the race is spent with your 5 van-mates, while seeing the people in the other van about 5 times at “major exchanges” before the finish. Every leg is a unique distance and difficulty, both are measured and ranked. My leg was considered the 9th most difficult with about 16.5 miles. I believe Eric, who had the most difficult leg, ran closer to 21.5. James, who had the easiest, ran about 13.6. The disparity enables people of all abilities to be on a team. The relay covers about 200 miles and can take as little as 17 hours (yes, those people are complete freaks) and to up to 36 hours (people who are really enjoying the scenery or doing a really bad job of making it to the exchanges on time). Our team finished in 27 hours and 10 minutes, which was about 50 minutes faster than the predicted finish and with an 8:11 pace average. But, with averages, you have people way above that and others significantly below that…I think you can guess on what side of that average I was. We were 167th out of 1068 teams who finished. Yeah, the Burning River Runners rocked!
Some general thoughts on the race:

This race had more volunteers and port-o-pots than any race I have ever done and both were very greatly appreciated. I was going to title this blog post, Hood-to-Coast: My Weekend of Honey Buckets, but the honey buckets (as the POP’s were officially named) were definitely not the highlight of the trip.

The major, and I mean major, problem with this race was the traffic. We had been warned plenty of times by plenty of people, but the congestion towards the end of the race was unreal. In fact, the more speedy Van 1 people even got out and ran (sometimes up to 2 extra miles) to their exchange points because the van was stuck in traffic. Van 2, however, lost any potential for real food or significant sleep because of traffic. Some was just a fluke because of a fire, but some of it was really bad and quite frustrating. I have been told that there just isn’t anything out there, but there has to be some way to get the Van 2 vans off the course for the 3rd legs for van 1.


I don’t know what I was thinking, but I booked a 6:15 am flight for both legs of this trip. I slept through my first alarm for my 4am wakeup call.  Wow, I am glad that I set another alarm! I don’t usually set 2 alarms, I usually set a 2nd alarm to remind myself of something I am likely to forget. In this case, I just forgot to wake up after the 1st alarm.

On the 6:15 flight, we had the flight attendant who had obviously been doing the job for a while. During her safety instructions, she made such comments as, “we have provided you with complimentary oxygen masks” and “ask Sara, she’s new to the job and still cares.”

After nearly the entire team got to the hotel, we congregated in the hotel lobby and opened up a few cases of local brews. Shortly after, we got kicked out of the hotel (lobby)! Apparently, some hotels prefer that you and a few friends don’t smash a couple of cases of beer in their lobby, but we were welcome to their gazebo outside. I was definitely in a good mood by the time we left for dinner, not just from the beverages but because I just feel lucky to be part of this group. I feel like I just stumbled in on this truly great group of people, and I am truly grateful for it every time we get together to race.

In 2010, this same basic group did a similar relay called the Bourbon Chase, which started in Lexington then went to most of the Bourbon distilleries in Kentucky. While doing some research, we discovered there was a Mellow Mushroom in Lexington. Mellow Mushroom is a somewhat national pizza chain, but’s it’s pretty cool with awesome food. J. Mack discovered that the only one on the west coast was in Portland…it was an easy decision for the team to go there.

I recall eating way more than I should have, but at least I only had one more glass of wine with dinner. We went to the brewery across the street, and instead of women’s and men’s their restrooms were “Barley and Hops.” I have no clue, even now while sober, how someone is supposed to figure out which one to use.

Do you know what happens when a bunch of drunk people go grocery shopping for a weekend of running, this:

Nutty bars, pop-tarts, double-stuffed Oreos, one bag plain M&M’s, 2 big bags of peanut M&M’s, jolly ranchers, and then the more reasonable bananas, bagels, peanut butter, and granola bars. And that was just van 2. I do recall making the comment that going grocery shopping while drunk might not be the greatest idea, but going beforehand just didn’t happen.

I woke up Friday morning and felt anything but fresh. I opted to use the elliptical in the hotel gym rather than go for a run because it wasn’t that warm out, and I needed to sweat out the alcohol and because of gym’s proximity to a bathroom. As I posted on facebook, I equated this as “pulling a Durno” except I am not even half the runner Durno is.

Leg 1:

I had the 12th leg, which meant that I was the very last person to start and finish running. Having come into the race feeling under-trained and knowing that everyone from the team would be at the finish of all three of my legs gave me some added pressure to at least look like I was still running at the end of each leg.

There were a couple funny stories. At the first major exchange, we got to see some of the more crazy vehicles. Now, our team name was the “The Burning River Runners,” an accurate description and homage to the great Cuyahoga. Well, let’s say that some team names were rated NC-17 and some had decorations that made me a little, well, let’s just say uncomfortable.

I would say that the some funny stories included me trying to convince Bill to moo at people while he passed them, for nothing other than the hope that I would walk by a van and overhear someone say, “some guy mooed at me!” Seriously, how funny would that be?

At what was our worst exchange we were parked in a baseball field at a local park. Now, HTC has strict rules about no drinking as drinking, driving, sleep deprivation, and thousands of runners on the road are not conducive to safety. HTC relies on other teams to enforce such rules. At the 10th exchange, a cargo van a couple of vehicles down opened up their back doors and a bunch of beer cans fell out. While a few of them tried to distract attention by ensuring the crowd, “nothing to see here”, a few others kept trying to shovel the cans back in their vehicle, and they kept falling back out. Ahh… oops! I think we were so distracted by the scene that we might not have been in a big enough hurry to get to the exchange area. As we walked over there, we heard a “team 471, your runner has been here a long time!” “OH MAN!!!!!”

Now, J. Mack is fast, and I always give him props, but he said he was taking it easy. Well, he ran a 7 min/mile pace and that is not an easy pace for 7 miles!!!! I blame him entirely for getting to the exchange before we did! I don’t really blame him (completely), but he has managed to have to wait at the exchange zone at all three relays we have done. I felt horrible even if it wasn’t really my fault, except I should have been hurrying the next runner along to the exchange zone.

Getting to my first leg was stressful to say the least. Jen P, who is pretty fast, had a short little 4 mile run, and while it was 4 miles in the race, it took us a good 20 minutes to get to the exchange point. I had enough time to hit a honey bucket (pretty sure someone smoked something other than a cigarette in that one) and make the 6 minute walk to the exchange zone. I literally got there about 3 minutes before she did, thank goodness. She gave me a few words of encouragement, and I was off!

Now, it was about 9:30PM when I started so yeah, completely dark. After I think 6pm and until 7am, all runners are required to wear a headlamp plus at least a reflective vest. I was wearing a headlamp and a reflective vest with flashing red lights. Most of this run was on a paved running path, and I was fortunate enough to have had someone start about 20 seconds before me so I could see his bobbing light off in the distance. It felt a little sketchy running on this path thinking of all the potential scary people who could be out there just waiting for some naïve twit, but was comforted by the volunteers cruising on bikes in the opposite direction every few minutes. I did have a volunteer make a suggestive comment about liking my red lights, but I am assuming he was just being funny.

The other van had a pretty fierce competition going for how many people they passed or as it was dubbed “road kill.” I was pretty confident that “keeping track of the people who I passed” wasn’t going to take nearly as much effort as “keeping track of the number of people who passed me.” At first, I was averaging getting passed by a person a mile, which became about two people a mile by the end. I told everyone who passed me, “great job” and was happy that most people responded with a compliment.

This leg had a few hills on it, but for the most part, it wasn’t very difficult, other than being my longest leg, a little over a 10k. I tried to focus on keeping my arms loose and down, trying to increase my cadence climbing those hills, and staying comfortable. I will admit that I went out too fast, but I had been waiting for hours to run, and when I finally got the snap bracelet, well, it was my turn and the adrenaline took over for a little bit.

Being at night and there not being that many runners around, the only sound I heard was that of my Garmin beeping every half mile. Headphones were strictly prohibited (and people followed this rule), so I really just tried to focus on running. The only distractions were the frequent volunteers, the occasional quick conversation with a passing runner, and the presence of a 20+ mph headwind.  I think I have said it before, but I think I have come to peace with the headwind, just acknowledging it will always be there.

After about 3.5 miles, someone passed me and said, “good job, we are almost there.” Although I had quickly thought that maybe they had shortened the leg, I knew that wasn’t the case so I responded, “well, if by almost done you mean we still have 3 more miles, then sure, we are almost finished.” I think he responded back, “oh, thanks for letting me know.” I couldn’t stop thinking about that…was I the only person out there that actually knew how long I was supposed to be running, I mean, are there people who don’t care how long they are running, they can just keep going forever? Or, for some people (not including while doing a marathon, HIM, or IM) that 3 more miles is "almost finished"?

About fifteen minutes later, I came upon an epiphany: peanut M&M’s are a HORRIBLE pre-run food. While it was a controlled anger, my stomach was oh so not happy with that particular choice. I was able to keep everything in, but I was grateful that I was approaching the finish. The exchange seemed to be in a club area of Portland, and with about a half mile to go, there were a few drunk women who thought it would be funny to race me to the finish line. I didn’t find it particularly funny, but I think they thought the finish line (or exchange zone) was much closer than it was so they petered out (thankfully), and I was able to pass them before giving the snap bracelet to James.

The vans were quite a hike away from the exchange so only two of the guys from Van 1, Josh and Eric, were there to walk me back to vans. I averaged 9:25 min/mile pace, not exactly speedy, but much better than pretty much any run I had done in the month I prepared for this race. One of the really bad parts about being the final runner was that I didn’t get to hang out very long with the people from the other van. Because James, the 1st runner, had the easiest overall assignment, as soon as we got back, they were always in a hurry because he only had to run 4 miles.

Oh, I was happy to have my first and longest leg in the bag.  Just a little over 10 more miles to run!  


  1. I was worried that the first person I passed and mooed at would be a 300 pound female runner (at least I hope I would have been able to pass her), who would have subsequently knocked me out with an ultimate fighter like forearm to the head :)

  2. I know, but it was still a funny thought!