This weekend I had the incredible joy of running in the Hood to Coast relay in Oregon. It was truly an amazing experience and I struggle to really capture its awesomeness in this recap, but I’ll try. The strange thing about Hood to Coast is that it is a bit of a time warp, or an alternate dimension, where it’s difficult to keep track of time and everything blurs together. I have bits and pieces of memories, but some stories seem out of order and whole chunks of time have been lost to sleeplessness and exhaustion. I’ll try to piece together a recap that makes sense…
The team is finally together having arrived on various flights. We meet up at the team’s main hotel to go grocery shopping, sight seeing, and touring.
First, we headed to the store. What an adventure. You’d think it would be easy to shop for a day and a half in a van. Turns out 12 runners eat 12 different things before runs. What makes one person sick is the best food ever to another. We end up with cookies, pudding, Fig Newtons, Cheerios, apples (two kinds), bananas (5 pounds), and tangerines. We are sure it’s too much food. Next, we decided visit Multnomah Falls, a gorgeous waterfall.
It seemed like a good idea to walk the one mile to the top. Turns out that one mile is straight up. Half of the team pushes onward, thighs burning. We make it to the top, realize it isn’t that exciting, and was probably a bad idea, and head back down. We all pile into the van and drive to the Pearl District for some shopping. Fun!
We have a great start time – 11:15am, so we can sleep in and leave at 9am. I’m sure this is the last sleep any of us will get, but I’m wide awake at 6am. The team starts the trek up the mountain and we’re all instantly fired up when we start to see runners coming down the mountain. We’re listening to music, talking, taking pictures. We pass the Safeway in Sandy and I realize that’s where my first leg will end. It sure doesn’t seem as flat as the elevation chart in the booklet. We keep climbing. Our first and second runners start worrying. Their legs are really straight down. Another teammate who has run HTC before warns – you can’t stop even if you want to. Yikes.
We make it to the timberline, the location of the start. We take lots of pictures and get into place. Our first runner starts her quad-shredding free fall down the mountain. The first few legs are exhilarating. We’re all so excited to be running that we chat non-stop between legs. When we pass our runner we all lean out the van windows screaming and cheering. Everyone gets out of the van and waits to cheer our runner in to the exchange. We get the first inkling that the legs may be harder than we anticipated. Everyone’s legs are shot.
I’m hungry. I realize that my plan to eat a huge breakfast and store food like a hibernating animal has failed. I eat some Cheerios, Fig Newtons, and a banana. The runner before me sets off on his “very hard” rated run. We drive down along the same route. I think very hard is an understatement.
Time for me to run and finish the first set of legs for Van 1. I’m runner 6. I have to run along “rolling hills” and into the town of Sandy for a van exchange at the Safeway. It’s 86 degrees and sunny. There is no shade anywhere on my route and the heat waves coming of the blacktop are visible. A fire company hands out water and a gas station owner sprays me with a hose. I think he’s an angel. The hills, marked as “hard”, seem gigantic. It’s punishing, but I race down the mountain, knowing my team is waiting for me. I can hear the cheering from at least a quarter of a mile away. At the exchange, vans are everywhere, people are milling around, some cheering, some shopping, some resting. It’s total chaos and it’s amazing. I feel such a camaraderie with the other runners and it’s great to see my teammates in Van 2.
Van 1 decides to head to the hotel in Portland to eat and shower.
Van 1 arrives at the hotel after sitting in traffic for some time. We are delighted to make it to happy hour in the hotel bar. Everyone eats real, hot food. It’s delicious. We all take showers and have an hour or so to rest. I can’t sleep. I write a blog post and send some texts instead. I’m sure this is a bad idea. Sleep would have been better, but I’m too excited and on an endorphin rush.
We arrive at the second major van exchange, and park in a dirt lot. We walk to the exchange point, a park in the middle of the city near the water. It’s pitch black, but we somehow manage to locate our team and, together, we wait in the dark. We share stories of our legs and talk about the scenery. It’s beautiful. The weather is perfect.
Our first runner sets off on Leg 13. It’s kind of creepy. She runs over a bridge and along some railroad tracks. I’m secretly glad this isn’t my leg. The next two legs seem worse. It’s like psycho killer territory – old industrial areas, train tracks, and scary warehouses on the edge of Portland. Everyone in the van worries about how mentally hard these legs will be for the runners. We begin to move out of Portland and to an area that seemed like a road to nowhere. It’s dark, uphill, and boring. Leg 15 seems so miserable that we wait in the van at the halfway point to cheer for our runner. We make it to the next exchange, an abandoned weigh station. It’s late, dark, and everyone is tired. Everyone isn’t getting out of the van at every stop anymore. I eat more Fig Newtons. I think a midnight snack will help. Word of the tire store fire and associated lengthening of leg 17 is spreading. Our leg 17 runner takes the news of the mile addition with grace. He’s not ruffled. We are all tired, but we press on. It’s still fun, but maybe not as energetic as before.
To be continued…