Read on for the second installment in my Hood to Coast Recap. Part 1 is here.
It’s nearly time for me to run. Two faithful (and awake) runners get out of the van in the cold to wait at the exchange with me. I’m so grateful for the fleece Delta blanket a teammate has stolen from the plane. Everyone tells me to hurry. The sooner I am done running the sooner we can get to the next exchange, and designated sleeping point. Leg 18 doesn’t have van support – the vans go a different way to the exchange – so I bring my water bottle. My leg starts out in an area dominated by mini-mall and gas station sprawl. It’s completely dark and oncoming cars have their brights on. I am blinded by the changes in light and grateful when I turn into a neighborhood. The neighborhood gradually deteriorates. Someone on the corner offers me “something to help with the pain”. Yikes. I run faster. A few people pass me, but they’re moving so fast that their lights fade quickly in the darkness. I curse my headlamp. It is not bright enough. I can’t see anything and the road is a bumpy mess of potholes and patches. The course winds through the neighborhood and into farm country. I see the glimmering eyes of animals in the woods staring at me. Creepy! I run on, uphill. The hill changes to gravel, but keeps going up. Finally, after what seems like an eternity, I hear cheering and see the distant glow of the exchange. It’s like a mirage. I sprint to the exchange. I am so, so glad that creepy run is over. The teammates who have met me usher me across the field and into the van. We are all eager to get to the sleeping spot. On the way one teammate is so tired she curls up in the footwell of the back seat, trying to get comfortable. I am too awake to sleep. I’m starving, but too tired to eat.
We arrive at the major exchange. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this. Hundreds of vans are parked in every available spot in a giant, grassy field. Thousands of runners, bundled up in blankets, coats, and hats mill around. The line for the Honey Bucket porta potties is at least a hundred people long. I have to pee but am horrified by the state of the porta potties and the idea of having to use one in the dark. We pull into a spot and have to stop sharply to avoid running over the people who are inexplicably sleeping in sleeping bags in the middle of the field. There are tents and sleeping bags everywhere. It’s what I imagine a runners-only refugee camp looks like. We all try to sleep.
I can’t sleep. I haven’t slept at all. My neck hurts and I’m cold. One van-mate is awake. We give up on sleeping and head outside to check out the area. It’s early morning and we see that about half of the vans have moved on in the night. It’s foggy and cold. We use the porta potty and wait in line for coffee for our van. Back at the van, we all brush our teeth and eat breakfast. I feel cleaner with brushed teeth. I know that this is crazy – I haven’t showered and have been in a van overnight, but I feel better. At least I changed my clothes and used a baby wipe to clean up. I’m sure to a stranger we are disgusting, but I feel practically fresh.
We are all surprisingly upbeat considering the lack of sleep, lack of food, and sweatiness. Despite our state of exhaustion, we rally and get out of the van to cheer on the van 2 runner coming in. Cheers and high fives. Seeing our team is wonderful and we’re all awake and happy. The sun starts to come up and burn off the fog and we’re energized.
Everyone is running their last legs and the pain of the previous two is the topic of conversation. No one can move. Our van smells like a medicine cabinet exploded. We have muscle rub, Tiger Balm, and Biofreeze. We apply all of it. We use the Stick. We take advil. The overwhelming minty smell is probably a good thing. I don’t want to know how bad our van smells without it. We make an effort to clean out the van at the next exchange. It’s a lost cause. We’re gross, the van is covered in dust, and our stuff is everywhere. No one cares.
Saturday, noon? I don’t know – I’ve lost track of time
It’s rapidly approaching time for my last leg and we are stuck in a traffic jam at the bottom of the biggest hill I’ve ever seen. I’m glad I didn’t have to run over that hill. Another runner and I leap out of the van to run to the exchange. A volunteer yells at us.
Everyone is cranky. I wish I had eaten something other than another banana and more Fig Newtons. Finally, it’s time for my last leg. It’s billed as “mostly downhill”. Good joke, Hood to Coast staff. As I climb up yet another hill, I curse the course designer. My legs feel like sticks. I’m sure I look like Frankenstein running. But I run on, and suddenly, I’m overtaken by feelings of great joy. The Pacific Northwest is beautiful! I’m running outside, along a gorgeous trail, and I have friends waiting for me in a few miles. This is great! Euphoria lasts approximately one mile.
We are done and head directly to the bar. We have a drink. Everyone is tired and cranky. I don’t want a burger, and another teammate wants a salad, so we move on. I change clothes in a port potty. I’m getting quite adept at maneuvering in porta potties. Some time later, we arrive in Seaside. We’re all happy and already feeling nostalgic. We head for the ocean and dip our feet in. No one is brave enough to go in.
And, before we know it, it’s over. The announcer is calling our team to meet our last runner and we run over the finish line together. We pass out medals, we take pictures. And, suddenly, it’s over. There are hugs and high fives and stories of battles with hill and exhaustion. We are happy. We are a team. And I realize that it’s the best thing I’ve ever done as a runner.