Life’s Little Lessons

Hood to Coast Relay 2012

Try putting together a group of 6 random people in a 6 x 10 room and ask them to get along for 36 hours. Now take 6 people who are brought together by 2-3 degrees a separation, put them in a van for 36 hours on little to no sleep, as they take turns running a total of 200 miles from the top of Mt. Hood to Seaside, Oregon and see what happens. It could be a recipe for disaster or an unexplained bond formed that outsiders looking in could never grasp.

I have experienced both. It being my 4th year of running relay races, I have been on teams who were in it to win it and others to just “have a good time”. I will never be on a team who is in it to win it again…let’s just say it is hard to make it fun. This year I was lucky enough to get re-invited to the Hood to Coast team I raced on last year, and this year I will not be a team rookie. But still, being a sophomore on the team I was not going to be picky on what leg I was handed, so when I was given the toughest leg on the team there were no complaints. But do they know that the girl from Chicago does not run hills?

The start of any race like this is always exciting and full of energy. For those who have not done the race before, it is about the unknown; what is it going to be like to run through the night and how is your 3rd leg going to feel even if it is the easiest of them all? Athletes who know the process and keep coming back for more know it is more than that; can I hold up mentally through the night? Can I push myself harder than last year and carry that through every leg?

Remembering the first relay I had ever done, ignorance was bliss. Every year since then, about 2 weeks before the race I start to question what the hell am I doing. And every time I finish my last leg of the race I know why I do this, fore I come out stronger on the other side. After running leg #2 last year and knowing how I felt (could barely walk until 5 days later), I had never hurt so badly during a race and post-race than any other event I had ever done, including all my Ironman races. Running leg #5 this year, I knew was going to be tough.

Van #1 had 2 rookies and 4 back from last year with a 50/50 split of the sexes, which balanced us out well; 1 was doing her first race EVER, and me being one of the youngest had done more races than all of them put together. I turned off my competitive switch (which is extremely hard to do) and stepped into the van with an attitude of this being a training run weekend and I was going to have fun. Fun is what I had. I was lucky to get to be with 5 people who are all so good-natured, supportive and selfless. We all fell into our character roles so naturally it was easy to get along with each other. We used our strengths to help each other through each leg, keeping our spirits up and minds focused through every mile ran.

This race was not only about being able put down the most epic relay race in history down on your resume, but also learning a few of life’s most valuable lessons (and if you have already learned them – reinforced).

Taking Direction

I am a creature of habit. I when it comes to my racing, training and just plan every day life – I like things to be done a certain way. When being handed the most difficult leg on the course, there is nothing worse than having to deal with unnecessary distractions. Every 2 miles, that is when I wanted water and my team to check in with me. And that is exactly what they did. Even when it was something as stupid as handing me the water on the right side and don’t run with me, they did it. Not only for me, but for everyone else – we worked hard to meet each other’s needs, because we knew we would get the same in return.

Patience

The art of patience is a difficult one for me, but during my first leg…or shall we really say at the end of my first leg when I had to wait 15 minutes for my team mates to arrive to the hand-off point, it was a matter of either having a complete melt-down or show patience and understanding toward my delayed team. Like any endurance race, you have to be prepared for something to go wrong, and traffic was the culprit delaying my team this long as they tried to make it to me in time, but I was just too fast up the hill (ha!). No meltdown, it is what it is and I was there to have fun. Take a deep breath in and time to move on.

Problem Solving

A fire? What do you do when a tire factory decides to burn down on the course of your second leg? Race directors reroute the course. My second leg, the night leg was going to be the longest of the race (7 miles), but fairly flat and rated MODERATE in degree of difficulty – a piece of cake, right…NOT.

Race directors managed to reroute the course out of the way of the fire, but failed to tell anyone how long the reroute was. So after 7 miles of running you were left to an absolute craps shoot to an uphill-who-know-how-long-this-is-going-to-be run. In the middle of the night, breathing in tire-smoked air and every volunteer telling you a longer distance away as you got closer to the finish. As I ran into a dark abyss I began to get angry…very angry, to the point I yelled at one volunteer, “Doesn’t anyone know a f****** thing around here?!?!?! Why can’t anyone tell us how much is added on?!?!” (Sorry – I know they are there to help, but at that point in the night, they were not helping at all.) After 7.5 miles and still not knowing how much longer I would be running, I made the executive decision to go into cool-down mode and slow it down. In retrospect, I think it was a good move because I still had the hardest leg of my race to run and was about to sleep outside under the stars in 45-degree weather and who knows how much my body would seize up on me.

When it was all said and done, we had run about 2 miles extra uphill. This girl (me) who doesn’t listen to music when racing was very happy she had made an impulse purchase earlier in the day of a reflector vest with built in speakers and became the ‘Party on Two Feet’ during those last two miles when me and everyone else around was fed up with the disorder. At the very least we had some great music to listen to.

Helping Others in Need

Some rules were meant to be broken. As we were heading off to start my final leg we found a couple hitchhikers along the course, being 2 runners who had to abandon their van in hopes of making it to their next leg on time. That is what happens when you are too fast for your own good. With traffic problems, runners were arriving to the hand-offs earlier than the vans could make it here, so runners were abandoning their vans in hopes of getting picked up to advance forward to their stations in time. We picked up 2 who were predicted to finish in 19 hours (6:00/mile pace)– but only if they made it on time to their station. So we did a good deed.

Celebrating Success

It was a tough start to the final leg as you started immediately on an uphill battle, which lasted 3.6 miles. First mile was freezing (38 degrees) and took me by surprise as I started off at an 8:58 pace (I thought I was doomed). As I got into the flow, my team kept checking in every 1.5 miles with aide and cheering me on. As I continued on as I warmed up, building speed as the incline increased along the way. As I peaked the summit, I don’t know who was more excited, my team or me as I broke through the toilet paper tape and got sprayed with silly string as I began the steep downhill descent. It was all downhill from here as I let the momentum carry me down, stretching out my stride and increasing my turn-over with all that was left in me – 6:48, 6:53, 6:00 were my final splits as I finished my final leg of 6.1 miles in 49:06.

Watch Where You Put Your Ass

It isn’t always about what you learn on the course, but also what you can learn off as well. With the port-o-pots lines long and putting you into jeopardy of holding your team back, we quickly got over our shyness and peed anywhere and everywhere we got the chance. Men, this is much easier for you to do. But ladies, as a lesson to be learned (and hopefully not by experiencing it yourself) – watch where you put your ass. Let’s just say after pulling prickly things out of out pants and barely avoiding near-catastrophic mishaps with thorn bushes and bees in bushes we managed to keep Asses out of too much trouble.

I have never played team sports and never really wanted to. I know I don’t play well with others when I know the outcome of the event relies on more people than just me. But my HTC Team makes me feel good about being on a team. It a great feeling to be able to walk away from an event like this and truly enjoy working with other people to get such an enormous task done. We ran 199+2 miles across the state of Oregon and could not have done it without each other. When it is all said and done, Inflated Expectation definitely exceeded expectations.

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