Saturday, September 3, 2011

Hood to Coast Race Report

Team Twinados
The Hood to Coast Relay is a "must do" event for every runner.  Outside of parenting twins, it's the most entertaining, exhausting, intriguing event I have ever had the opportunity to be part of.  It is one of the longest major relays in North America.  Over 20,000 runners from all over the country and even world-wide participate in this 200 mile relay that starts at the tallest peak in Oregon, Mt. Hood and ends on the Oregon Coast at Seaside.  My team, the Twinados (rhymes with tornadoes) cut our teeth on Hood to Coast in 2009.  It was quite the learning experience. We love it so much we applied for entry the following year.  Unfortunately, entry for us common folk is by lottery and the odds weren't on our side.  We applied again this year.  Lady Luck was on our side and we got a coveted spot in the "Mother of All Relays.  

This is the one and only running event that my husband and I participate in simultaneously.  We drop our twins with their Auntie and make a weekend of it.  It's hard to believe that running three legs, totaling in mileage ranges of 17 to 20, rushing from location to location in a cramped, sweaty van with four other runners for around 28 hours would be a "vacation", but it is!  Last HTC our motto was "197 miles of peace and quiet".  This year it was "Running 200 miles in 27 hours for our sanity."  Us parents can't be too picky about what we do during our time away from the kids.  Hanging out with my fun, sporty teammates doing the sport I love the most, sounds like a great time to me! 

My husband and I were in the second van again this year.  Next time I HAVE to be in van 1 at the start line!  Van 1 of our team started the race up at Mt. Hood five hours earlier at 2 pm.  When we got the parking lot to meet up with them at 4 pm, the energy and excitement was palatable.  Vans of all shapes, sizes and degrees of decor took over the parking lot.  Runners were everywhere!  They came from all over the country and some were even from outside the country.  It was a jovial atmosphere.  The Hot Tamales, a masters women team, passed out Hot Tamales. A team made up of physical therapists had a yoga mat with a foam roller out for anyone to use.  The Wall of Sound, blasted music from their awesome roof rack sound system.  What a spectacle, three ring circus this event is!  Runners were talking and laughing with one another as if they were long lost friends. 

Not only was I in the later starting van, I was also the last runner in my van.  I had legs 12, 24 and 36.  I had plenty of time to get nervous.  My bum foot, well feet actually had really been acting up lately.  I was nearly crippled after running just a eight mile training run on bark chip.  How was I supposed to run three separate times over 24 hours for a grand total of 17 miles?  I almost bailed out and called in a sub.  Our team has been plagued with injuries this year.  Four runners on our team had to drop out due to injury and/or surgery.  My husband assured me that I could do it and at worst, if I wasn't able to finish, that he could run my legs in addition to his own.  That was the last thing I wanted but it was assuring knowing that if worst case scenario struck, that I had someone in my van strong enough to do something like that if need be. 

My friends in Van 1, rocked it coming down Mt. Hood in the heat of the day.  They ran 35.25 miles in 4:54:58.  This comes to a van pace of 8:22 min/mi!  Their work was done, well, at least for a few hours while Twinado Van 1 took over running duty.  

Van 2 was chomping at the bit by the time our turn finally came around.  It was still plenty hot and our first few runners had some rolling hills to tackle.  Sending runners off, cheering them on before hopping back in the van to zoom to the next exchange was stressful and exciting.  Did we know where we were going?  Would we make it on time?  Would we encounter traffic?  What kind of support could we offer our runners while they ran?  Who would take pictures?  Who would navigate?  Who would operate the Palm Pilot time/mile keeper?  How long would the Honey Bucket line be?  Should we eat now or after our run?  Would we make a smooth connection with Van 1 at the next exchange?  There's a great deal of problem solving out there and it requires a team effort. 

By the time I started my leg it was around 10:30 pm and pitch dark.  I was on a desolate bike path that ran parallel to the Willamette River.  I was the one and only runner out there for the first three miles. I hoped I was in the right place!  Where was everyone?  It was a little lonely out there and as much as I tried to push myself, I couldn't seem to run faster than 9:00 to 9:30 minute miles.  I would be the slowest runner in the van dammit.  Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise that might allow my gimpy feet to run all three legs.  After mile three, I started getting passed by other runners.  On one hand, it was nice to know that I was on course, but on the other hand I was being passed. Who likes being passed?!  It is tradition for HTCUrg.

I ran along the Springwater Corridor path, alongside Oaks Park, down Oaks Bottom and was greeted by the lights of Portland as they shone and reflected in the Willamette River.  As one who grew up in the Portland Metro area, it was a welcome sight and the perfect place to end my first leg.  I only collected one road kill.  I was able to finish my longest leg of 6.37 miles with a 9:31 pace.  The great thing was that my feet and legs felt fine!  My fears had been elevated and my confidence boosted.  Van 2 ran 34.16 miles in 4:45:08 which comes to a van pace of 8:21 min/miles! 

My beautiful hometown, Portland, OR

Coming down the homestretch of my first leg of relay

Happy runner

Van 1 was back in business and Van 2 was ready to eat, drive to our next exchange and catch a wink or two in the van before we were back on duty.  Meanwhile Van 1 sported headlamps and reflective vests as they ran away the evening and wee morning hours.  Somewhere around 4:30 am, our sleepy, if not sleeping van was awoken by Van 1.  Rise and shine! Time to get running again!  They had run 33.97 miles in 4:55:01 for a van pace of 8:41 min/mi.  It was our turn again! One thing I regret about this race is the limited interactions between our vans.  Time is of the essence.  If we stand around chatting, we risk missing our runner and the next exchange. 

This year we thought about what worked the first time we ran this race and what needed to be modified to make for a more pleasant experience.  At the top of the list was food.  Each member of the van, brought food and drink to share.  Our foods hit the spot and settled well in our fragile digestive systems.  Some of our staples were boiled potatoes, watermelon, homemade, peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, cantaloupe, bagels, bananas, peanut butter and potato chips.  There were places en route that we could buy additional food and drink as needed.

Several of Van 2's second legs took runners up  challenging dusty, gravely hills.  I was super impressed with the grit that each member had.  They all stayed positive, pushed themselves physically and got the job done.  My second leg was rather uneventful.  It was a five mile flat section that I ran at 9:30 min/mi pace.  That is just a tiny bit quicker than my default training pace.  I tried not to get down on myself and reminded myself that I have only been running since my injury and surgery for the last six months.  Being out of town made my training very inconsistent.  I just didn't make it to the start line as fast or as strong as I wanted to be.  The good thing was that I was there!  Not only was I there but I was having fun hanging out with my van mates and being a part of this awesome event with this fantastic team.  Van 2 ran 32.55 miles (on rather stiff fatigued legs) in 4:45:28 for a 8:46 min/mi pace.

Here I am with the Palm Pilot and team spreadsheet. These tools are used to predict at what time exchanges will be made.

My awesome team all helping. One giving water, one collecting water bottle, one driving, one shooting pictures and one cheering.

Van 1 was ready to start their third and final legs!  This would be the section of the race that we would encounter the most race-induced traffic congestion.  It made traveling between exchanges very slow and frustrating.  Van 1 finished their running in mid-afternoon.  They would meet us at the finish line in Seaside. some four to five hours later.  Their work was done!

Steve and I rest a spell by the Bucks. Romance at its best!
Van 2 was ready to "git 'er done!"  Each of us had had varying degrees of sleep ranging from an hour to a maximum of four hours.  We hadn't showered in over 24 hours, were dusty, sweaty and a bit smelly.  As much as we tried to seal up our sweaty clothes in Ziploc bags after our runs, the van had developed a funky smell.  Our legs, butts and other body parts were fatigued at best and sore/cramped at worst.  The fact that no one blew chunks was a huge victory.  Last year many of us got nauseous and a couple even threw up mid-race.  See how much fun this event is?!  The August afternoon sun blazed down on us but we could smell the finish line.  Beer would be plentiful.  Our hotel rooms would be spacious, have beds with sheets and blankets, running water for hands, showers for bodies and flush toilets!  Did I mention the food, beer, live music and fireworks on the beach?

A few runners in my vans had really hot, challenging legs when they were already spent.  Again, they kept a positive attitude and put every ounce of energy and determination into their last legs.  This is where our van collected a ton of road kill.  Other teams were getting tired, but ours was hanging in there, if not getting stronger.  That's parents of multiples for ya!  My last leg was my favorite!  I knew that I didn't need to save energy or hold anything back.  My foot thankfully had held up and wasn't even sore.  My legs were exhausted from running and stiff from sitting in the van for the last four to five hours, but I was going to be able to get my team to the finish line!

My leg started on trails!  It was awesome to be on my preferred running surface.  After a mile and half of rutty, scenic trails, I was on the highway heading down the coastal mountains for the coast.  I love the Oregon Coast!  I had a nice three mile down hill section where I was finally able to get my speed down to sub 9 min/miles.  Energy and breathing wise this was easier to run than my other two legs.  My legs took a pounding though!  I kept praying that they'd continue catching me and supporting my weight.  I ran right past my van when they got in another huge traffic jam.  As I ran through the business sections of Seaside I worried that my van wouldn't be there at the finish when I crossed the line for our team.  I let those worries float away.  There wasn't anything, anyone could do about it.  I was just going to enjoy this experience for as long as I could.  People lined the Seaside Promenade, tents covered the sandy beach, the sky was bright blue, live music blared from the speakers and happy runners celebrated.  Wahoo!  I was done!  I had run my last leg of 5.25 miles in 9:04 min/miles.  Van 2's final leg was 32.65 miles long and took 4:33:37.  That comes to a van pace of 8:34 min/miles! 

Our team completed the 200 mile relay in just under 28-1/2 hours!  Way to go team!  My van got hung up in the aforementioned traffic jam ,but van 1 and my super duper HTC volunteer mother and father-in-law were at the finish.  I waited around for twenty minutes and then ran through the final shoot with my entire team.  We basked in our accomplishment, collected our swag and took photos.  Van 1 took off to return to Portland and then home to Eugene.  I was so glad that my van had opted for a night at the coast.  I couldn't bear the thought of getting back in the van for any extended bit of time.  Besides there was a party with beer, food and fireworks!

Beautiful day at the coast

Coming down the prom

Crossing finish line
My terrific team with medals and fancy custom t-shirts

It takes a village to run Hood to Coast! Special thanks to:
  • The thousands of volunteers that staffed this huge event. They were super helpful and friendly.
  • My sister for watching her nieces while their mommy and daddy ran the relay and chilled out at the coast the following night and morning.
  • My in-laws for driving all the way out from Portland to volunteer on behalf of our team. Three volunteers are required for each team.
  • My team captains Scott, Deb and Robyn for being on top of race details, getting us registered, organized, informed, outfitted in team shirts and much more.
  • My entire team for their enthusiasm and great attitude out on the course. It was a pleasure running with and getting to know you all a little (well, a lot) better.
  • My van mates who stepped up to the plate with arranging hotel accommodations, driving the van, time/record keeping, taking pictures, serving as navigator, supporting one another and being so much fun to hang out with for 28-1/2 hours.
    Another HTC in the books!