Hood to Coast Relay, Portland, Oregon
You might say traveling across the country to spend 28 straight hours in a mini van with 5 strangers while sweaty, sleepless and hungry sounds a little crazy. But I say it sounds like a recipe for a good time…no, a great time. Getting a leg in the infamous Hood to Coast Relay is a near impossible feat. And if you don’t know someone, you need to know someone who knows someone or be willing to do whatever it takes to get on a team. For me, it was both.
I always love it when my husband goes to networking get-together’s and somehow comes home with work for me (thankfully I love my job). This time it was more like fate. Fate because this guy asked my husband for my phone number to possibly coach him for this race he was invited to; and the race was one of the very few checklist races I have. As I had my first talk with him and listened to him telling me he works with this group and was invited to this race, but doesn’t know if he should do it or not, but has always wanted to do a marathon, but doesn’t have the time to train, I quickly interjected with, “No one says no to an invitation to Hood to Coast – NO ONE. If you don’t take the slot, tell them I will do it and I will take any leg they have open – ANY LEG. In fact, if you do it and get me a spot on the team, I will coach you for free.” He needed me and I needed him and less than 24 hours we were both registered team-mates of Inflated Expectations. I had 6 weeks to get him ready and 6 weeks until I get to run the greatest relay race there is.
After couple small meetings with this guy, a conference call with the rest of the team, a few miles of running and a $450 non-direct flight to PDX and I soon found myself at a pre-race pasta dinner with the team I was about to sit through 28 hours in a Town and Country (dream car) to run 200 miles across the state. At this point, I didn’t care I was on a team of a bunch of people working in the finance world and probably had nothing in common, I was on a HtC Team and that is all that mattered!
I took no shame in being a free-loader on this team; fore I knew I was about to be part of something special. Those members who had done this race before understood why I was so passionate; because every year they keep returning for the same reason – this race is something special. It wasn’t until the next morning as we were loading our van before I got to meet all my Van 1 (V1) members and immediately we hit it off. With one other girl in the van, and SO HAPPY to have her with me, we didn’t get outside the Portland limits before the “comments” quickly following by many laughs began.
I was full of excitement and anticipation as we traveled to the top of Mount Hood. Was it going to be as exciting as they say it is? Is the course as hard as it is described (or at least my leg)? Was the down-grade going to kill my quads like everyone says it will? And most importantly – will the good spirits of my team last through the night and into the next day?
Having experienced running the MC200 (Madison to Chicago) for the previous 2 years in a row, I had a good understanding of race logistics. I have raced on a competitive team and on a lets-run-hard-and-have-fun team. Having fun on a relay race is really the only way to go. I had a 7 year veteran in V1 who loved the race, ran the short leg, loved to drive and had a house for us to eat, shower and sleep in Portland and on the Coast. Not only were we to race and have fun, but we were going to be clean too!
The gun goes off and there are really no words to describe the beauty of the course (good thing I have pictures!). Leg 1 carried us down to the Government Camp that took you off the steepest part of the mountain. Then I took on Leg 2 with a 5.3 mile 6% downgrade run. I LOVE running downhill…or at least until I ran this leg. As I sit here 2 days later, I can barely walk down a flight of stairs. Mile 1-3 wasn’t so bad and then 3.1 hit me and I literally said a prayer over and over again for the next 2.2 miles to keep my mind from convincing myself that my quads were going to explode out the front of my thighs.
It was 86 degrees hot at the top of the mountain and the pavement was even hotter and like any relay race, you are responsible for fueling and watering your own runners. I have never in my history of relay racing had such an amazing and well put-together SAG Wagon Team! My mates were incredible! As a result there wasn’t much time spent at transitions or warming-up, but there was more time on spent on the course cheering on the runner and helping them through the leg from start to finish. I simply LOVED my team. In fact, before you knew it everyone on the team loved everyone, as we would ride by our runners on the course yelling we loved them, honking and hanging out the windows cheering them on every mile along the way.
The experience they created for me is beyond appreciated as I ran my 2nd leg down the industrial roads of the outskirts of Portland where all the trains park and down the dark busy highway as the semi-trucks buzzed by you at 60 mph at midnight. They stopped every mile for me, cheering, fueling and taking pictures…they were simply amazing. And they didn’t do it for just me; we did it for everyone. We were a Team.
Even in the final legs after being stuck in traffic jam and arriving to our sleep check point the sun rose, and our expectations of this race changed. In my state of delirium I had people in eye shot and decided I must go hunting. Hunt or Go Hungry became our creed of our final round. I must feed first before water – and I wouldn’t take water until had taken down another runner. I don’t know what came over me, but as I continued to race the need to hunt down more grew bigger as I took down 4 runners in my final 5.77 miles, and taking down 11 in all legs combined.
There are three legs you run. The first is all on adrenaline. The second is run on skill and determination. Final leg is all spirit. It is amazing how quickly a race like this goes. At the cross of the finish line the previous 20+ hours seem like a blur, but that might be from the lack of sleep or from just having such a great time. Either way, it was worth it. There are very few races I like to repeat, but once again I took no shame in telling my new team I would be more than happy to take a leg, any leg next year. And if they were willing to let me in, I would create a training plan for all of them! Maybe I have Inflated Expectations on making the team again next year, but it never hurts to hope.
Hood to Coast Relay, Portland, Oregon