Fueled By Fern
Hood to Coast Relay
August 24th and 25th, 2007
197 miles of sleeping in a van,
About 18 months ago, I first started hearing about this race called Hood to Coast. At the time, I was just starting out running at work – using whatever pair of random shoes I had, and strictly on a treadmill, the idea of me running one mile was practically impossible, and here is a race where twelve people run nearly 200 miles without stopping. I couldn’t comprehend that being possible, let alone even sane.
As my running “career” progressed from a simple 5k in June of 2006, and then an 8k in August, I was “informed” that I needed to be ready to run in this relay next August.
A friend of mine mentioned that next year I have a role to play – being part of their relay team for the 2007 Hood to Coast Relay that’s held in Oregon.
I knew some basic information about this road race, but after reading their website today, I am now full of fear and excitement. It scares the heck out of me – 197 miles, 12 runners, three legs per runner – what in the world am I thinking?
And yet, I was sitting there at work getting excited about the possibilities of running this next year.
— August 18, 2006 —
Since this was to be my first running of Hood to Coast, I didn’t fully realize what to expect or what sort of strategies one should have. Fortunately, one of my teammates gave me a few pointers about the food you should bring, and about how to pack.
Best advice – pack each leg’s running gear in a different bag and make sure that everything you need for that run is in that bag. During some of the mad exchanges (and then occasional darkness) you don’t want to be scrambling for a sock or a shoe. Plus, that bag becomes the “vault” that you store your sweaty and nasty clothes in. Plastic bags are great for that – just shove your sweaty used clothing in one and tie it up and that way you will never accidentally stick your hand into used socks again.
Food is a little harder to plan. What sort of things will your body be craving before, during and after a run? Never in a million years did I expect that frosted Mother’s Animal Cookies to fall on that list of must have cravings, but they sure did hit the spot. The last week before also gave me my last chance to get a long run in, and if it wasn’t for the fact that it got dark when I was on that last run, I would have gone longer. The ironic part is that I was going to experience my longest run of the relay in the middle of the night – but I would have a light and reflective vest during the actual relay – something I lacked on that last run at home.
Relay Day One
Two Tall Drips
After waiting until the night before to pack (good advice – do not pack the night before) I didn’t get a whole lot of quality sleep. I was far too excited to sleep anyway, so it probably wouldn’t have matter much if I managed to be in bed for eight hours instead of five and a half.
Met my van at Starbucks early Friday morning. Van One consisted of myself, Kristy, Julie, Jenise, Laraine and the only runner in our van that I hadn’t met before – Scott. Come to find out, half of our van was made up with Hood to Coast rookies – me, Jenise and Julie. (Much later in the weekend, I found out that half of our entire team were first timers.)
Van Two was on their way to Portland to pick up various members, and we would meet up with them at the first van exchange.
The first challenge of the day was the discovery that I had forgotten my pillow at home. A pillow isn’t that big of a deal, but then I realized that not only did I forget my pillow, I had also forgotten my sleeping bag. There was a moment when I can tell by the others’ faces that we were all considering driving back to my house to grab my sleeping bag, but there probably wasn’t going to be enough time (in hindsight, that was one of our best decisions – not going back to my house.)
Ice was bought, coffee was provided to the van (my treat for having them pick me up instead of me meeting them in Federal Way,) and we were off.
Purple-Headed Yogurt Slinger
The different personalities of your teammates really comes into play when you’re planning on being in a van together for about thirty hours straight. While everyone might be pleasant, how will that change when you’re all sleep deprived, hungry, thirsty, and sweaty. I have seen how difficult it can be to mesh different personalities at work, but our group hit it off with no issues at all. I don’t know if it made it easier on all of us since I knew everyone in the van, other than Scott, and that Scott knew everyone in the van other than me. (I’m not sure if Jenise or Julie knew Scott or not.)
Everyone had their own stories to tell – ranging in topics from drilling holes in your head – while video taping it, to not being adult enough to say the word vagina, or the difference between horns and antlers, or trying to explain one of these to the rest of the van. And all of this was talked about before we even made it to the starting line. Would it be possible that our conversations would get even odder the longer the day moved on. In a word – yes.
It’s hard to try and make sense of some of the conversations that we had, and I don’t know if I can honestly put those conversations into writing and still maintain the “integrity” of them. This morning, I decided that most of what happened in Van One will stay in Van One.
Runners . . . One Minute To Start
Our team’s start time was 11:45 at the Timberline Lodge at Mount Hood. Four hours should have been plenty of time, but we didn’t plan on some sort of blocking accident in Olympia. Because of this one accident, all of our cushion time was burned, and we were running a little too close for comfort to the starting time.
The closer we got to the actual starting line, and the realization that we might not make it, the day started off with quite a bit of pressure. Julie, our first runner, not only had to go to the bathroom, but she hadn’t yet stretched, and she was running one of the most difficult rated legs in the whole relay – 5.96 miles straight down hill. During this leg there is nearly a 2000 foot elevation change. Plus, since this was Julie’s first time in this relay, I would have imagined that she wanted to take in some of the chaos around here. But there was no time for any of this.
Plans were made at this point – Kristy was going to stop, let Julie out so she can get to the starting line, Laraine was going to check in, and Kristy was going to park the van.
Somehow Julie made it to the starting line with about a minute to spare, and she was off. Without a number or the official race wrist band.
And even though Julie was running without a number or wrist band, it was made better by telling ourselves that this was all “according to plan.”
Boy Wonder, Kilts, and . . . I Truly Don’t Know Either
Once Julie was off and running, the rest of the team was able to use the porta potties and finish the registration packet pick-up.
While waiting for the rest of the team to meet back at the van, I had some time to soak in the experience. I knew that people decorated vans, and some people even wore costumes, I just never realized that I would see an older man running down the mountain dressed as Robin.
A sampling of the 12:00 pm wave’s runners.
This picture is funny in hindsight because some of the girls enjoyed the guys who were running in kilts, and I didn’t even realize that I had taken a picture of one of the kilt runners at the start.
Once our team got back together and loaded into the van, our mission was to drive down and hopefully meet up with Julie before she was finished with her first leg. Here is where the logistics of relay running come into play – not only did we have get Julie to the starting line, and pick up our registration pack (by proving we had two reflective vests and two working flashlights for the night runs – and of course, one of our lights was DOA,) Kristy also had to get ready for her leg since she was runner number two.
Fifteen Hundred in 5.67
Leg two belonged to Kristy. Another steep downhill run in what was turning out to be a very warm day for us runners.
Julie’s exchange with Kristy was very important to me for one reason – I needed to see how the whole exchange process worked. We each were given our own number for our shirts, but only the active runner wore the reflective wrist band, and I just wasn’t exactly sure how it all worked together.
I was warned ahead of time about the “bullhorn lady” who would be a spotter for your runner and call our your team’s number. Once you hear your number, you get ready for the actual exchange. There are runners crossing the street in addition to a ton of vans coming and going, and the wonderful, WONDERFUL race officials/volunteers who are out there directing all the foot traffic.
Unfortunately, my view was a bit blocked, so I never did see how the passing of the wrist band happened – which will prove to be my undoing later on.
Since our next runner was off, there wasn’t much time for chit chat – just some quick questions to see how Julie was feeling since she was a little worried about the decent on this leg – before we had to continue on down the mountain to the next exchange – my first.
With two legs down, it was my turn to run my easiest of the three legs that I was responsible for – just a hair under four miles, and only a nine-hundred foot elevation drop, I was expected to have my fastest run ever, and that’s exactly what I did.
During the drive up, we were all spotting our legs and commenting about various aspects of them, and one thing that my leg had that the other runners’ didn’t, was lots of shade. And since it was getting warmer every hour, that shade was going to handy. And of course, once I got out onto the course, there wasn’t much shade left, but I enjoyed what was left because it was beginning to be a scorcher.
I still feel that I ran a little too fast for this early in the race, but after not running for almost a week, and then just the pure adrenaline pumping through me, I’m surprised I held back as much as I did because I know I could have gone faster (kept telling myself that I still have over thirteen miles to run after this, and I won’t be nearly as rested later.) According to our unofficial official schedule, I was right on time though.
How much beer will it take . . .
Jenise was running leg four – her longest (over seven miles) and most difficult of the relay. I was originally going to run this leg, but there was some intra-van wheelings and dealings earlier, and legs were re-assigned.
The temperature was still getting warmer, and our first round of legs were getting more difficult. Besides getting longer, the course was leveling off so you were losing the “benefit” of running downhill.
Scott ran after Jenise and had one of our first uphill legs – just a hair over six miles and rated Very Hard, his first leg featured a two-mile uphill climb, in addition to the heat that kept getting warmer the longer the day went on.
After Scott, Laraine had her first run of the day – and one of the longest legs in the relay – nearly seven and a half miles into to the town of Sandy. (Which by the way, is home to the Sandy Post newspaper, who just so happened to have done an interview with me earlier in the week.)
Since it was so warm out, and Laraine had a good sized hill to climb up, we met her at the top to give her some water, and use a squirt gun. The other runners appreciated the squirt gun as well. Speaking of squirting water, during these legs through town, there were a handful of homeowners sitting outside spraying runners off with water as they ran by. I’m sure there are plenty of them that think we’re certifiably nuts (heck, I think we are too) but it’s great that there are so many out there who are quite supportive in their own special ways of the runners.
Leg 84F . . . Or . . . Hey, Would You Mind Giving Me Back My Water Bottle
After Laraine’s run, it was time for one of the most chaotic experiences during this entire relay – the van exchange.
Van Exchange One took place in the parking of the Sandy Fred Meyer. We had dealt with the regular runners exchanges, but double the chaos there – instead of being one van for each team, there were now two vans carrying six runners each.
This is also the first time of only a handful of times where Van One’s runners will actually be able to get a chance to talk to Van Two’s runners. For me, I was able to finally meet a few of the other runners who were part of our team. I knew Brian via Kristy, and was able to meet Brian’s dad Hans and sister Heather – both of whom were rookies like me. Then there was Heather’s friend Tara, also a rookie, and finally Steve and John (I’m pretty sure I’ve met both of them before, but not certain.) John was Van Two’s first runner and was to meet up with Laraine, and then Van Two got to run all around town doing their own exchanges.
I used part of this time to head into Fred Meyer to buy myself a blanket since I didn’t have my sleeping bag. Once the van exchange was done, it was time for our first rest break, so we headed into Portland and ventured into Washington Park to try and get a couple of hours sleep, or at least rest.
While I might make fun of Kristy and her sleeping gear, she was the only one of us who actually got any actual sleep. The rest of us either just laid there and tried to relax, or ventured to look at roses or try and start a rumble with the locals. I wonder what kind of looks we got sleeping in the park – especially since we didn’t look homeless with all of our REI gear and various gadgets.
When our rest period was over, we had to head down to the second van exchange. By now, daylight was just about gone, and it was time for the night portion of our running. Our challenge was to first, find our way out of Washington Park, and then to figure out how to get to the exchange. According to the other team, we were still right on schedule, and Julie was going to have to look for Brian at the exchange.
Mutant Granola Eating Crocodiles
I have only ran once in the dark, just this week in fact, so I was a bit nervous about running. I didn’t think I was in any danger, just worried about obstacles on the road and the traffic that was to be coming up from behind me. Suppose that is why we run with a reflective vest and carry a flashlight. I elected to carry a light instead of wearing one on my head. I wasn’t sure if the head light would bob around too much or not, and my light was pretty small (although, I am still not a fan of having to carrying anything in my hands while running.) The light I brought is actually one of my diving lights – it’s bright, very compact and isn’t too heavy. Plus it was easy to attach a whistle to it (just in case.)
Still hadn’t gotten the hang of the exchange yet – Kristy and I actually dropped the wrist band on the road.
My night run started at about 11:15 at night (and finished at about 12:30 Saturday morning.) My longest and hardest rated run was 7.25 miles – a distance I know I can run, but I was getting quite exhausted at around the five mile mark, so my pace time slipped quite a bit, and was actually slower than my expected time from our schedule. Thinking back on this leg, I’m surprised at how long some of those hills felt, even though they don’t look too bad on a map. Just proves to me to me how easy it is to “forget” about your first leg when you tackle your second (and third.) Not having a full night’s rest after, or some longer down time before a long run like that, it does affect your stamina.
My team was awesome – at about halfway through my leg, they stopped and gave me some water, even though I told them that I didn’t need any before the run. Even though the water gave me some pain-in-the-butt burps, it felt good.
The rest of this night, and the other three legs, are a bit of a blur. I was at my limit and just wanted to sleep. I barely remember the next van exchange at the fairgrounds and then finding our sleeping spot in this giant wide open field just past that.
Logistically, things were harder today than before – primarily due to the fact that we were all out of cell phone coverage. We had no way of knowing how far behind, or ahead, Van Two was – all we could do was drive to the exchange point and hope for the best. At this point, we are in the middle of nowhere basically – two-lane black top along Highway 202. While driving to the exchange point, we actually spotted the other van’s Leg 25 runner. Traffic at this point was horrible, and Julie eventually had to get out of the van and run a little way to meet up with Van Two’s runner for the exchange. Poor Julie – two out three of Julie’s runs were these last minute, no chance to stretch or prepare, type runs.
We were all at the end – just one more run for each of us, and we were done. Just like that, we can see the end of our time on the roads.
Relay Day Two
On A Warm Summer’s Evening on a Train Bound For Nowhere . . . Or . . . Your Neon Lights Will Shine
It was about this time of the weekend where things started to turn a little crazy. Laraine and I both spaced out and missed Kristy at the exchange so we got a four minute late start on my run. (Oddly enough, we were both feeling bad for the runner that just came in since his hand-off wasn’t there. Whoops.)
My last run was painful – I started to develop a pain on the inside of my right thigh and I was beyond exhausted. There was a team called the Boa Babes that had two of their members string out a feather boa for runners to run through – it was definitely a spirit lifter.
The most random of songs were selected as power songs for our last few runners. Who knew that Betty could become a microphone (I’m still going to pretend that I only saw her being used as just a microphone . . .)
Even at the end of our respective runs, we were all still smiling and full of good spirits.
Live Thong and Prosper
The last van exchange was the worst of the bunch. By this time of the race, all the faster teams who left hours and hours after us had caught up to the rest of the pack, so there were even more runners and vans everywhere. Plus we’re still on the same old two-lane highway so the backup was quite intense. After completing the final handoff to Van Two, the plan was to grab some cold beers and celebrate in a job well done before driving on to Seaside to where the real party was at. Eventually, the age old question of – Who does drink Coors Light? – was answered . . .
Handful of Juice
Billed as the largest beach party on the west coast, the finish line for Hood to Coast (along with the two Portland to Coast relays) was quite the happening place. Even the threat of rain couldn’t stop the die hards from staying in the double-fenced beer garden.
Since we were in Van One, we had to wait a few hours before Van Two arrived. Going off our quite accurate unofficial official schedule, we had a pretty good idea as to when Brian was going to arrive. Eventually our team’s number and name was called and we joined Brian on a victory run of about 25 meters through the sand at Seaside.
I don’t necessarily think of myself as emotional person, but running with our entire team for the very first time, and crossing the finish together was very emotional for me. I seriously felt like I was going to cry. Up until that point the entire weekend didn’t quite feel real yet. And then at the last minute, everything, and everyone came together, and we were finally a team of twelve who had ran 197 miles in just under twenty-nine hours (28:53:42 to be exact.)
403 and 404
When Sunday morning arrived, the team started to disband and go our separate ways. The annual walk along the beach only had eight of our teammates. It was just a good time to feel the wind and listen to the surf and share more stories about past Hood to Coasts, deep discussions of cat puke, and why you should never walk with the wind first.
To Kristy, Scott, Julie, Laraine, Jenise, John, Steve, Brian, Hans, Heather and Tara – thank you so much for the most amazing running adventure that I have ever had – this is something that I will never forget.
August 27, 2007