My adventure with Hood to Coast begins only three weeks prior to the race. A local team had sent out the message for a replacement runner. One of the team had an injury that would not allow him to run. I threw my hat into the ring since I; had a flexible schedule, was fairly well prepped for the distance because of Rev3, and knew about half the team. Jen P, Josh & Katie Z, John M, Marie R, and Steve T would be the friends I already knew. I’m sure the rest of the team would be just as awesome.
For the uninitiated, Hood to Coast is a 12 person team relay event. It starts at Mount Hood, Oregon and finishes 199 miles later at Seaside, OR……hence Hood to Coast. The distance is broken into 36 legs. Each person runs 3 legs. Distances range from 13.6 to 19.68 miles. Plus there is a difficulty rating for each leg: easy, medium, hard and very hard.
Part of the difficulty is driving from exchange to exchange, running through the night, eating properly and getting some sleep. I was replacing the number 5 runner who had the 2nd longest mileage and most difficult terrain. John was very accommodating and offered to have someone else run in the number 5 spot, but I didn’t want to cause any disruptions with the order so I stuck with the #5 spot. I looked at the difficulty as a challenge that I would endure as best I could.
With the go ahead from Aimee and the nod of acceptance from John and Katie, I booked my flight to Portland, OR. All of the other logistics were already taken care of so all I really had to do was show up and run.
The flight out to Portland was fine and I was able to spend some time with Steve and teammate JC who was traveling with his wife. In fact I was going to share a room with Steve and words were already being exchanged about how I might need a gas mask to sleep.
Once we made it to Portland and our hotel for the first night, the team gathered on the patio for some important hydration. Two 12 packs of Oregon beer served as our warm-up for dinner. I was able to meet the rest of the team, Robin and his wife Katie, Bill, and James. The entire evening would involve getting to know the team better.
The team would be split between two vans for ease of transportation; it was also the recommended way of doing things in the race guide.
Van 1 consisted of, in running order, James, JC, Steve, Katie, me, and Josh.
Van 2 had Robin, Bill, John, Katie, Jen, Marie.
For dinner we went to the Mellow Mushroom in downtown Portland where of course, we continued to hydrate with beer and wine. More great conversation and we had a night cap at the Rogue Brewery across the street.
One important thing to understand is that Hood to Coast is an all weekend event. The race starts on Friday at 6:30AM. Well the first runners go off at 6:30AM. It’s just not feasible to have 1,060 runners starting at the same time, so groups of 20 – 25 runners start in 15 minute intervals starting at 6:30AM and ending at 6:30PM. Our start time was 1:45PM. Van 1 had plenty of time to sleep in, shower, eat breakfast and drive to Mount Hood. Van 2 didn’t need to be anywhere until almost 6PM when their first runner would take the exchange from Josh.
The Van 1 crew made it to Mount Hood with plenty of time to register, decorate the van, and get James pumped up about the start.
Despite his shirt, James was excited to get things started for the Burning River Runners.
At 1:45PM our race started. As James ran down the side on Mount Hood we drove to meet him at the first exchange. It became standard protocol to yell incessantly as we passed our current runner, even if we did call someone by the wrong name. While waiting to run my first leg, we enjoyed watching the other runners and teams in the exchange zones. I took some pictures and mentally prepared myself.
My first leg was 6.08 miles and listed at “very hard”. Just look at the profile.
Sure it’s downhill for two miles but that uphill starting at mile 4 is pretty steep all the way to the exchange. Except for landmarks listed in the athlete handbook there were no mile markers. Without any way to know my pace I would push myself just below the red line. I didn’t want to completely explode until the final leg. I would need to hold something in reserve for the second and third legs.
I was off to a good start after Katie passed me the wrist band. She warned to me to take it easy because of the heat, but my mind was already made up to push the tempo. I was carrying my Snakebite water bottle for hydration during the run and also a couple of Powerbar Gels just in case I needed some electrolytes or quick energy.
I thought I was running well when I heard footsteps behind me. A few moments later a spry female started to make a pass….not at me but by me. If I tried to stay with her I would burn too many matches so I had to let her go. Of course getting chicked like that by a person 15 – 20 years younger than I shows a sense of maturity right? I didn’t try to knock her down or anything, like I wanted to do to the little shit who passed me next. That guy must have been a collegiate runner because he passed me like I was a turtle going uphill.
One fun aspect of Hood to Coast is counting the road kill along the way. It’s not road kill in the traditional sense; deer, raccoons, possum, birds, snakes. But how many people you can pass during your leg. We were keeping track of our road kills for a friendly little competition in the van. Unfortunately I was the road kill which put me at a count of -2.
Despite it all I was still having a good time running on the road. The highway traffic didn’t bother me and the sights along the road were wonderful. On the open highway we were exposed to the elements. The wind was blowing straight into my face and the sun was fierce. I could feel it on my face despite wearing a hat.
By the four mile mark I had passed a couple of people and was at 0 on the road kill count, at least I was breaking even. This was the point when the course turned off the highway and onto a nicely shaded part of the leg. However this is also where the course started to climb up. I reminded myself that it was only two more miles until I could turn over the wrist band to Josh for his first leg.
The shade was a welcome relief from the blazing sun. As soon as I entered the shade it felt 10 degrees cooler. Up and up we climbed the roads. The worst part of the road was the ever changing camber. The road curved back and forth and there were barely any flat spots to run on. The climbing and cant of the road would take its toll on the legs.
I thought I was climbing well until I was passed by two people. DAMN….down to -2 on the road kill count. I pushed that out of my mind and kept moving forward so I could finish my leg. Damn….another guy just passed me….-3.
Everyone who passed me never go that far away and I was within striking distance. As we rounded the final curve I could see the exchange zone ahead of me. And there was a guy not far ahead whom I was pretty sure I could catch. It was still a little uphill but I started to push a little more. The competitive nature of the run took over. I came even with my target and he started to increase his pace. Shit, he didn’t want to become road kill either and was going to make me work for it. I pushed harder and he matched me again. Finally I said, “no fucking way” and made a final surge away from him. That final surge took me past one more person and into the exchange zone where Josh was waiting for me. I gave him the wrist band and tried to catch my breath. I started walking back towards my teammates who were coming to greet me.
I saw the two guys I had passed at the last minute and shook their hands. We all smiled and agreed the little “competition” was good for the run. Once I collected myself and peeled off my sweaty clothes we drove to the next exchange zone where Van 2 would take over the running duties.
My first running leg of 6.08 miles was completed in 45:19 at a pace of 7:25/mile. I was -1 on my road kill count after Katie had recorded somewhere around 20, she stole all my road kills.
Now it was time for Van 1 to get some rest before starting legs 13 – 18.