Thursday, September 10, 2015

Hood to Coast 2015

You may have heard: I ran Hood to Coast this year!

My crazy cousin-in-law decided last year to try to enter the exclusive, world-famous relay that starts at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood and ends 197 miles later on the beach at Seaside. When she asked if Brad and I wanted to be on her team with some other cousins, we jumped at the chance. Besides, there was no way our team would get picked on our first try. That just doesn't happen.

Well, surprise: We were picked! 

Fast forward a year and it's time to run.

Captain Kristin headed up Van 1 with John, Eric, Clyde, Sara, Lisa and driver Jon: 
Since I had experience with EPIC Relay, she asked me to lead Brad, Mike, Kris, Anna, Roxy and driver Mike in Van 2:
We had to provide three volunteers... Mom, Dad and Eryn stepped up to the challenge:
Kristin networked with her connections in Eugene and got us a sponsor - Toxic Wings and Fries. They provided us with shirts for running each of our legs. We got to pick out whatever styles we wanted - THANK YOU TOXIC WINGS AND FRIES!!
You may have heard about the crazy CRAZY weather we had. It was absolutely nuts!

I was runner 12, the anchor. My first leg was on the Springwater Corridor and into Portland in the evening when it was sunny and 80 degrees with what felt like 1000 percent humidity. I've recently decided that I am not a hot-weather runner, so this part was tough for me.

Co-worker Sue snapped this picture as I ran through Sellwood:
My first leg was my longest at almost 6.5 miles. It was mostly flat, but I wanted to take it easy and make sure I had lots of energy left for my other two legs. I plugged along in the heat and finished under the Hawthorn Bridge within a couple seconds of my predicted time.

We handed off the bracelet to Van 1 and went to dinner at Killer Burger on Sandy Boulevard. We were all really tired but happy to be done with our first runs and have bellies full of food.

Driver Mike, who was great and knew the route like it was his own back yard, drove us to the next van exchange in Scappoose. We closed our eyes for about 45 minutes and got a short rest in the van. By then, the predicted storm had finally arrived, and short showers started moving through the area. And lightning! The sky was lighting up - and I was a little uneasy. You are not supposed to run in lightning! But there wasn't much choice at that point, so we sent Anna out and started our second-leg journey.

For each leg, the next runner and I (and sometimes others) went to the exchange and waited for our runner to come in. I kept time on my watch and communicated best I could with Van 1 so we had an approximate timeline throughout the relay.

Unfortunately, because of the storm and whatever else, we don't really have pictures from our van.
By the time it was my turn to run my overnight leg, it was dumping rain. But the lightning had stopped, the wind was still calm, and the temp was very mild. I had an amazing night leg, running comfortably and easily for just under 5 miles. I loved my run, just as I did on my EPIC night leg last year. I came in a couple minutes under my predicted time, as I thought I would in the rain :)

But I ran into the exchange at about 4 a.m. and no one was there from my team. I stood there, soaking wet, for several minutes before Brad showed up. Then several more minutes before the Van 1 runner came to take the bracelet. It was about 10 cold, frustrating minutes in all. Van 1 had slept at the previous exchange and didn't get to me on time. Note to self and other teams out there: Sleep at the exchange you need to be at so you don't get stuck in traffic and leave your runner out in the rain in the middle of the night.

When I got back to my own van, my teammates were mostly asleep and done for the "night". Time to drive to our next stop.

We got to the next exchange and had to get a little sleep. Most of our teammates stayed in the van, but Brad and I took our tarps and sleeping bags into the sleeping field for about an hour of shuteye. Because of the cruddy weather, we didn't get to enjoy the famous pancakes they were slinging in the host home's garage. I did wake once to a collective groan when the power went out. Those waiting in the rainy pancake line cheered when generators were brought in to keep the breakfast flowing. For me, sleep was more crucial than food at that point.

Then it was time for Van 2 to take over and for Anna to run again. Because there's no cell service in the Coast Range, we didn't know when Eric would be coming in for the handoff. We took our best guess, put on our rain gear, and Brad, Anna and I stood in the rain for about 45 minutes until Eric came running down the hill.

Meantime, the wind started blowing. Trees were literally breaking off and crashing around us at the exchange. Emergency vehicles kept zooming past, and we heard rumors that they'd canceled the beach after party because of high winds and high seas. We later learned that organizers almost called off the entire relay but decided it was logistically impossible with runners spread throughout the nearly 200-mile course.

While driving between exchanges, we saw entire trees down, freshly cut off the roadway, presumably by the ODOT crews we saw driving around.
By the time it was my turn to run the final leg of the entire race, it was gusting to 60+ mph at the coast. The rain had stopped, but the wind was like nothing I've ever encountered on a run.

My 5.2-mile run started down a big, big hill. I think it was a couple miles of steep down through tree debris on the side of the road. Fortunately I stayed on my feet!

Then the route leveled off as I entered town. This should have been the easy part, cruising into the promenade, but that's when the winds slammed me. About half the route headed south, straight into the wind. At some points, it literally stopped me in my tracks. I turned north for a very short distance through a parking lot, and that tailwind was something else. It was like someone was shoving me from behind in bursts. Again, fortunately I stayed on my feet!

There was a really steep, narrow bridge set up for runners to go up and over Highway 101, and I may have muttered a bad word when I realized I had to run up it! A friend who also ran Leg 36 told me she said the same thing :) I had to walk because I was afraid the crosswind would throw me right over the side and into the highway.

Here's a photo of bridge construction from the Seaside Police Department:
I finally got onto the promenade, aka, the sandblaster. Winds were whipping across the beach at 60 mph, blowing sand right into my face. I had worn my hat to keep rain off my glasses in case the dark clouds opened up again. And fortunately I wear glasses. I put my head down and pushed back against the wind and sand. The sand hurt, and I had to close my eyes several times. I can't imagine how people did it without glasses!

To the right, I could see on the beach the remnants of the after party. The wind literally ripped the tents to shreds and toppled structures.

I assumed they had moved the big finish line to the promenade, but I looked ahead and had no idea where I stopped. After what seemed like an eternity "running" into the wind, I saw other teams lining the sidewalk and jumping in to run with their anchors. Then I saw my team in our red Toxic Wings shirts - hopefully the end was near!

The team right in front of us made an amazing wind block, and I was able to kick hard at the end, giving it my all without the wind knocking me back. Still not sure where I was going, I followed the team in front of me, with my team right behind me.

We rounded the corner, and the team in front of me stopped. There were timing mats on the ground, but other than that, no indication that it was over. Hmmm.... I guess this is it. A woman handed me a bundle of finisher medals, and that was that.

I was exhausted, feeling a bit sick, and in a daze. My team was very excited and ran right over to take pictures and hand out medals. I needed time to cool down and gather my wits, but it was party time for everyone else. Sand was stuck all over me, from my face to the sweaty creases in my neck to the webs of my fingers! It was awful.

Captain Kristin gave us each our medals:
Team Toxic Wings!
Then we rushed into the Shilo Inn basement for our official team photo. I was still sick and shaky. It was truly unpleasant.

We all walked a few blocks to the vans, said our goodbyes and headed our separate ways. Fortunately, Mom was able to drive our van home because Brad, Sara and I passed out in the back for the entire 90-minute trip home.

Toxic Wings finished in 30 hours, 45 minutes and 35 seconds, a 9:17 average. We were 170 out of 345 in our division and 680 out of 1050 overall. Not bad!

I'm so glad I had the opportunity to run Hood to Coast! But if I'm honest, I have to say that I didn't love it. The event is just too big. It seemed that if we weren't running, we were sitting in traffic. Or standing in a potty line. The running was challenging and awesome. And the storm made it unforgettable! But the rest of the day just wasn't that fun.

I know teams want to join from all over the world, and organizers already cap the race. But I think they need to cut registrations in half. Moving that many people in that many vans on those two-lane country roads is too much.

I compare it to EPIC, which had about 60 teams when we did it in 2014. We never sat in a traffic jam and had time to stop and cheer each runner several times during their legs. There's no way we could have done that in Hood to Coast and still made our exchanges.

There was just a different energy with EPIC, and I liked it so much more. In fact, we've already signed up for EPIC Oregon 2016!! Can't wait :)

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