Don’t worry, guys. I didn’t fall off of the face of the planet. I just fell down a mountain. But my legs were moving so it was technically considered running. I also travelled a bit after the race – including a stint in San Diego and Alta, UT – and am now working full-time. LIFE IS HARD, GUYS. That being said, please enjoy my massively delayed recap of the “Mother of All Relays.”
In case you’re unfamiliar with the relay concept, allow me to explain. Twelve runners pile into two mini vans and each run three different times over a ~24 hour period to complete a 200-mile race course. You eat when the other van is running. You sleep (if you sleep) in your car. You sometimes change by the side of the road. You drive between transition areas and cheer on your teammates as you pass them at 50mph. You run along highways, local roads, running trails, and paved walkways. You use baby wipes to keep yourself from attracting flies. You decorate your van with window markers - usually with sexual puns. You probably wield a cowbell or vuvuzela (or both). Instead of a traditional baton, you pass a slap bracelet between runners. Sometimes, you wear costumes. You count how many people you pass. You forget how many people pass you. You have a great time.
Thursday: MDW > OAK > PDX
I boarded an early Portland-bound flight, and with a quick layover in Oakland, I was in the City of Roses for the very first time. I met up with Penguin and the rest of the team at the airport, where we boarded what came to be known as S.S. Ball Sweat and the Taco Truck (Dodge Grand Caravan and Town & Country, respectively). Our team consisted of eight men and four women, with runners in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. This demographic put us in the men’s open division, as six women are required to be considered co-ed. We drove to a nearby grocery store to stock up on [lots of] snacks and water, and then headed up to our hotels at the top of Mt. Hood. After a quick shake-out run, we grabbed some dinner at the restaurant/brewery next door (this is a theme), and called it a fairly early night.
Friday: Mt. Hood > Portland
Our start time was at 9:45a.m., which meant that we were expected to be there around 8:30 to check in. After decorating the vans and grabbing our bibs, we took a few pictures and I tried not to wet myself. The team later told me that I looked petrified waiting for the gun to go off. I guess it’s handy to know that I have zero poker face…
I was the runner #1, which meant kicking off the race with a 5.5mi leg that hurtled me straight down the side of Mt. Hood. Having spent my entire running life in the safe embrace of flat trails, running downhill was completely alien to me. It was literally something I had only done once, and upon Googling “how to run down a mountain,” I found a lot of “advice” that amounted to “YOU’RE GONNA DIE. GOOD LUCK NOT DYING. HAHAHA. DEATH.”
Not only was I nervous about running downhill, but I was nervous about performing as best I could for the rest of the team. I came into this experience as the 3-legged sloth of the group, but my training had really brought my speed up and had me more confident in my ability to RACE. I was determined to make sure that I wasn’t the one that the team grumbled about behind closed doors… at least about my running ability.
Penguin gave me some amazing CEP compression socks for my birthday, and with my calves swaddled in electric pink hugs, I was able to knock out the first leg without issue and at a ridiculous (for me) pace of 7:27s. For those of you keeping track at home, that’s about 90 seconds faster than my goal marathon pace (yay gravity!). Our captain brought me home with a vuvuzela and I handed off the slap bracelet to the second runner waiting in transition.
I passed six runners (called “road kills”) and was feeling pretty good about that, but in the spirit of full disclosure, I got passed by a 10-yo. He was super fast, guys. It’s better than getting beaten by a baby in a pub crawl 5k (it happened)… Our team’s first van knocked it out of the park, passing 146 other runners in the first six legs.
We grabbed lunch at a spot near Sandy, OR (Sweet Betty’s) and hit the road, ready to swap out runners for our second leg. Our next van exchange was in downtown Portland, and we hit serious Friday at 5p.m. traffic after missing the turn for the transition area. I was super anxious, both about leaving our runner waiting at transition AND about performing well on tired legs. While we had passed most of the traffic in the first round, the race practically doubles in size in Portland, where a high school challenge and 100-mile walking relay begin.
We made it to transition with moments to spare, and I was off and running over the Hawthorne Bridge. Determined to pick off more runners than Penguin had in his first leg (34), I pushed out the aches and focused on the backs of the runners in front of me. This leg took me down Portland’s river walk and into the more industrial loading dock area. My only shade came from the shadows of semis, parked every 50 feet or so along the road. About halfway through the 4.2 miles, I was feeling good enough to grab a beer handed to me from a brewery located on the running route. I don’t know that many runners ahead of me had taken one, as I got some pretty loud shouts for it. All in all, I kicked ass and took 36 names (figuratively… I was in a hurry), knocking off 8:15s. I was also sticky and covered in beer…
Still feeling pretty good after our victorious first legs, our second legs got a little goofy… like collectively mooning the captain on a major highway as he cruised past begging for water. Ewps. As we got closer to Penguin’s second leg, we got word that a burning tire store along the course meant a reroute. He was less than pleased that his longest leg was now a few miles longer, and probably a little concerned to be running past a cloud of burning rubber. Thankfully, he was upwind of the fire, and brought it home. We finished up round two around 10p.m., which meant that the last two runners in our van ran their second and third legs in the dark.
To avoid the traffic caused by the crush of people we left in our wake, we decided to drive out to the final major exchange to find food. That meant driving for about 90 min in the middle of the woods with no other cars in to be found. While we were seemingly starring in a B-rated horror flick, no bears were spotted, and no murderous hitchhikers were picked up. We ended up eating dinner in an ancient town hall (pretty sure Lewis and Clark probably ate dinner there, too), which boasted a jukebox filled with vinyl, and could be rented out for $100. After eating some delicious BBQ sandwiches and reading the local paper – it boasted lawnmower racing and axe-throwing competitions, we drove a few miles to the major exchange to get a bit of sleep before Van #2 arrived. Unfortunately, being in the middle of nowhere, we had no cell service and had no clue WHEN to expect them. We went off of our predicted times, and determined that we had about an hour (as in one single hour) to sleep before I had to get ready to run my final leg. Penguin and I crammed into the back seat and slept Forrest Gump-style.
I’m gonna lean up against you, you just lean right back against me. This way, we don’t have to sleep with our heads in the mud. -Bubba Gump
Saturday: Mist > Seaside
An hour later, I was ready to go and absolutely freezing. The temps had dropped from a warm 75 to what felt like a bone-chilling 50, and my singlet and shorts weren’t keeping me very warm. I threw on my jacket and headed for the transition area, rocking a headlamp that showed my breath in the darkness. Our speedy 12th runner nearly bowled me over in the transition area (yea, girl!), and I was off for my final 3.75mi. At 2a.m., my headlamp gave me tunnel vision, and my footsteps were echoing off of the trees. I was convinced that I had missed a turn, as there was no one in sight, but soon, the lights of the transition area loomed, and I cranked out the last few hundred feet. Despite the exhaustion and minor hills, I managed to pull off 8:27s for my final leg, passing an additional four people. I had finished all three legs of my first Hood to Coast relay with the best race times of my life. I had a perma-grin.
[There are no pictures of this portion of the race because it was pitch black and I had to focus on driving and not killing us and stuff.]
Van 1′s were encouraged to head straight to the finish line once they were done with their final legs, so we packed up and drove the last 45 min or so into Seaside. We decided to head straight to our hotels and shower (though as a group we agreed not to sit or lie down on anything that might encourage the hibernation our bodies were craving) and await the arrival of our second van. We got to watch as the winning group came into the finishing chute – a team from Japan that wasn’t quiet about its intentions - and gathered in the waiting area for our final runner to bring it home.
As she crossed the timing mat, we joined her in walking across the finish line (like a rag-tag group of Olympians at a poor man’s closing ceremony), laughing about finishing before the Nike team (they ended up placing ahead of us, but not by THAT much!). After 23 hours, 26 minutes, and 14 seconds, we had completed the 201 mile journey — a time that was good enough to place us 48th out of 1,068 teams and 11th in our Mens Open division!
Saturday: The Aftermath
As a team, we parked ourselves at an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet so that we could bask in the glow of our experience while eating copious amounts of bacon. After breakfast, the second van (whose occupants had yet to sleep or shower) retired to their rooms while van 1 retired to the beer tent. We couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather as we sipped our victory brews. After a few beers (ALL PROFITS WENT TO CHARITY, OK) and a lot of sun (and a funnel cake that was forced on me in my weakened state – ok, I ate it willingly), we decided to retire for a “nap” before dinner. Penguin and I woke up to multiple missed calls and texts about five hours later. We stumbled down to the beach party to meet up with the team and catch the fireworks before heading to a pizza place for massive amounts of food: round two. Penguin and I, with a few brave teammates who stayed up with us, celebrated our birthday at midnight at a bar down the street, and then retired to our room to get some much-needed rest.
Sunday: Everything hurts
Happy Birthday to us! We both woke up pretty immobile, unsure of whether it was due to the race trauma or the seriously uncomfortable mattress. After collecting our belongings and grabbing breakfast at a pancake house (where the team led the entire restaurant in singing us happy birthday), we packed up the S.S. Ball Sweat and drove it to a local car wash to wash off all of the window marker before heading back to Portland.
We also attempted to stop in at Nike Headquarters in Beaverton, but without a Nike employee as an escort, we were politely instructed to get off of their front lawn. The rest of the trip involved drinking lots of really good beer, and taking in the sights and sounds of Portland.
That, my friends, is Hood to Coast in a very big, self-centered nutshell (like a brazil nut, probably). It was a spectacular time and an experience I’m grateful to have been a part of. It was definitely a birthday weekend to remember, and one that will be very hard to beat. This time next month, I’ll be in Minnesota. Twin Cities Marathon, here I come!