Friday afternoon we drove from Portland through the town of Sandy, Oregon on our way to the start. This was where we saw our first glimpse of the Hood to Coast runners making their descent from Mount Hood. Seeing them stirred the butterflies in my belly with excitement. We stopped in Government Camp, the last little ski town minutes from the start. I picked up two giant sandwiches and the most decadent chocolate chip brownie at the local market, my sustenance for the next 26 hours. I was surprised to see young teenage girls walking around in ski gear in the middle of August, but there was snow at the top of the mountain. While the kids ate their lunches on the side of the road, we cheered on runners and their team vans. Most of the vans were decorated to the max, competing in both cleverness and obscenity. One van sported large flags on the roof, each representing a Marvel superhero. Inside the runners were dressed in masks and capes. My son loved it.
The first runner spotted near Sandy OR, which also happened to be my first leg (#6).
Government Camp, OR (Beautiful town, strange name)
Me & My Vanmates
After the kids were done eating, we drove up to the Timberline Lodge. The first wave of runners took off about eight hours beforehand. I found my team van. It stood out with its lack of décor, just a white sign taped to one side reading the name of our sponsor, Sound Sports, a Seattle running store. I met my teammates, four seasoned runners and a young college student who had only one marathon under his belt, an impressive time of 3:08. I wasn't sure what to expect being the only female in the van.
I bought my daughter a race shirt at the expo. The race announcer, who had been there since 5:30am still introduced each team ("My Hammy Vice", "Sports Bras and Leggings and Tampons, Oh My" to name a couple) with enthusiasm and good humor. Each team had a total of twelve runners, six in each van, to cover almost 200 miles divided into 36 legs. We were Van 1 and our first runner was Paul, a high school principal from outside Pittsburgh. He had a handful of marathons under his belt, his PR being a ridiculously fast 2:48 in 1989. Philadelphia was his last which he ran with his son, the college student, Jake, Mr. 3:08. Leg #1 is all downhill. Piece of cake, you say? It is actually rated VH, Very Hard, because of the shredding it does on your quadriceps. This leg is not for the faint of heart. It starts at 6,000 feet above sea level and drops down to 4,000 in a little over five and a half miles. After each runner begins, the van immediately heads to the next exchange where the next runner waits for the hand off. At this first exchange, a non-participating black truck drove by slowly. A guy sitting in the passenger seat dressed as a terrorist mimicked shooting all the runners waiting on the side of the road. The truck then did a U-turn and the terrorist threw a water balloon at a team. Lovely locals. I wondered if I had to add becoming a victim of assault to my long list of worries during this race. Luckily, that was the only crime I witnessed the entire race.
Do you notice the Honey Buckets port-a-potties in the picture above? This will be my bathroom for the next 26 hours. I was hydrating the entire time so I visited one of these about 300 times during the race. I won't wash my hands with soap and water until the next day at about 3:30pm.
So the rest of my van did their first legs and then finally it was my turn. It was around 7pm so I was required to wear a reflective vest, carry a flashlight, and wear a front and back LED flasher. My first leg, #6, was a couple of rolling hills and then a slight descent into the town of Sandy OR. It was a straight shot along a busy four lane road. In the first few legs, the runners are directed to run with traffic. Pretty scary when tractor trailers are whizzing by you at 55 mph. For about 5 miles I didn't see any runners along the course. At the end I finally saw two people about a quarter of a mile ahead. I was able to catch up and pass both of them. They would be considered my first "Roadkills", the term used to describe the runners you pass during a race. As I headed toward the finishing chute, the volunteers relayed my number (31) down the line so the next runner would be ready and waiting for me. Kim from Van 2 and the only other female on our team was screaming my name. I saw Richard, Runner 7, for the first time ever, waving to me. I felt great and wound up doing my 6.75 miles in 50 minutes, a 7:24 pace.
I was runner 6, the last runner in Van 1. This meant that after I was done, we would drive to our next destination with a few hours to kill while all six runners from Van 2 get their legs in. These are precious sleeping opportunities. We arrived in Portland at around 8:30pm. We all slept in the van. I was shocked that not one of the five men I was with snored (Pete, take notes!!). The alarm was set for 11:30 when Paul, Runner 1 would have to go meet Runner 12 for the exchange. Then all the Van 1 runners would get in our second legs. Tom, Runner 4, wound up injuring his ankle. Tom was a college 5 miler star. His best 10k time was sub- 31 minutes. Ridiculously fast. Nowadays he prefers to run 4-5 relays a year. He runs them easy because he really has nothing to prove. None of these guys do. Only me. Tom was debating whether to run his second leg. He did, but his ankle got worse as a result. Jim, our van captain ended up running Tom's third leg. It is not unusual for someone to run 4 legs due to a teammate's injury.
My second leg started at 4am. This was the one I was most anxious about. I had written out directions beforehand because I read a blog about a girl getting lost last year. She said there were no volunteers in the middle of the night and no signs telling her where to turn. I was happy I had these directions. There actually were plenty of volunteers (Thank you, Awesome People!!!) at each turn, but the runner ahead of me took an early turn. I might have followed him, if I didn't have my directions telling me I had another half mile to go. I have to say that the many volunteers during this race were amazing. I mean who wants to stand outside in the middle of the night telling people where to go? Not me. Anyway, not only was this leg pitch black, despite having my flashlight, because it was routed through an unlit residential neighborhood, but it was all uphill. Not steep, but gradual and enough where I could feel it in my calves. There was no downhill relief at the end of the peak. I finished at a high school. I heard Kim cheering my name and saw Richard happily waving me in. I ended up doing the 5.23 miles in 42 minutes, an 8:01 pace.
We drove to Mist, Oregon to get some rest and meet Van 2 at the end of their runs. The ride was only an hour long, but it took another hour of stop and go traffic to get into the campground. Poor Rick was falling asleep at the wheel while Paul was falling asleep navigating. Everyone was exhausted. Once we entered the campground, I hopped out of the van to get on the long Honey Bucket line. As I was standing there, I realized it may be close to impossible to find my van among the masses in the lot. I decided I would start panicking after I used the facilities. Thankfully, I saw Paul walking toward me. He came over and showed me where the van was parked.
Someone mentioned that the director of the "Hood to Coast" documentary compared the race experience to Woodstock, minus the live bands. This is where I felt that vibe. There were vans everywhere, Dick's Sporting Goods had donated a few dozen tents, exhausted runners were shuffling about, people were sleeping, eating, brushing their teeth, dancing to music, changing clothes, sharing stories.
Runner #12 finally arrived and Van 1 was off again. This last part of the race was beautiful. The route went up and down wooded mountain roads. My last leg started out downhill until Mile 2 where there was a 150 foot climb, then the rest was a steady descent all the way to my final exchange. I felt like I was flying. I finished my 5.35 mile leg in 38:26, a 7:11 pace. My fastest pace to date. I felt great. I was both relieved and wistful that I was done.
We headed to the grand finish at Seaside, but not without a stop at the local bar in Olney. The bar was attached to a small gas station. I believe these are the only two businesses in the entire town. The bar was packed with Hood to Coasters. I imagine this one day keeps them open for the rest of the year.
Once we got to Seaside I met up with the family. Van 2 arrived a couple of hours later and we all
Seaside, OR - The end of the long line
The whole team stayed that night at the Hallmark Inn in Cannon Beach, just a few miles down the road from Seaside. The hotel is right on the beach. The next morning we met on the beach and took a dunk in the Pacific Ocean. This is a team tradition. The rule is you must get your hair wet. What's the big deal, you ask? Well, the water is about 43 degrees. It actually wasn't as terrible as I was anticipating. It was a perfect ending to an amazing race. I am so thankful I had this incredible opportunity. It was exciting, exhausting, challenging, satisfying, dirty, funny, inspiring, and something that I hope to have the opportunity to experience again. Just fantastic.
Cannon Beach team post-dip photo
Thanks for the memories, Sound Sports Team #31 HTC13!!
By the way, our team finished 124th out of 1000. Not too shabby.