Sunday, September 6, 2015

Hood to Coast- (short version).

How is it possible that someone could live in Oregon, be a runner for any length of time, and never run in the Hood to Coast relay?

Somehow I've managed to escape being part of it until this year, as a master's runner, when I was asked a few months in advance if I'd like to join a team.

I thought about saying no, but
the curious side of me won out and I ended up joining forces with 10 strangers, plus one person I met over the Internet and had a 5 minute coffee session with.

Like a lot of other teams, we were missing a runner, but we managed.

Spoiler alert! We actually finished- unlike a few other teams this year.

Team Captain, Jessica, and I met in Aurora, Oregon (not far from Portland, unless it's rush hour) where we met another teammate. Bryan showed up on his Harley and promptly announced he had picked up some props for our van decorations.

I really wasn't sure what to expect from our team until he started describing the two blow up dolls he purchased. It might have been at this moment I realized I was leaving my car to be captive to whatever might take place that weekend- appropriate or not.
Ignorance makes a good excuse.
I had no idea what to expect, but she ended up wearing clothes and riding on our team's OTHER van.

From there, Jessica's husband, Jerry, (both medical professionals) flew us via a small airplane to Seaside to pick up our van. I live in the Oregon coast range, but never fly over it. It was pretty awesome to see the trees and logging roads from above.

We drove back to Portland and dropped off one vehicle with Co-captain, Jenn. We wouldn't see much of her or team 2 except at a few major exchanges and afterwards. After meeting with another teammate, Shawn, we got the skinny on the other (missing) Shawn.

Just the day before our race meet up, three of us agreed to run an extra leg after finding out our teammate had an aneurysm and stroke at age 40. Healthy people are NOT immune to health problems. This was a huge wake-up call for our team of mixed submasters, most of whom were already 40. (He is now stable and was released from the hospital).

That night we spruced up our van with a few "inflatables" and paints, along with some skeletons and blinking lights.
I claim no responsibility for our motivational decorations.
The morning of the relay, all 5 of us in Van 1 headed to Mt. Hood for our 9:40 am start. The parking lot was buzzing with activity and we made sure to get Jessica (running leg one for our missing runner) to the start in fine fashion.

I was surprised and thrilled to run into a good friend I haven't seen in a long time, Amanda, moments before the gun went off.
Amanda in the center, Jessica (aka Speedymama) on the left, and me in an old pair of maternity yoga pants. (going to toss those out someday!)
Old memories came flooding back, but I had no time to do anything but cheer Jessica as she started our relay. Those of us not running busted it to the van so we could make it to a good cheer spot and, later, the exchange.

Our first runner performed perhaps the most impressive feat of anyone on our team: she ran both leg one and leg two consecutively. This was over 11 miles of downhill running: over 3500 ft in drop. It would absolutely ruin most runners for the rest of the relay. (Often leg one does that by itself!). Jessica lives in Sisters (Bend,OR area) and makes mountain running her passion. She came barreling through the first exchange (with permission due to the circumstances) and when I saw her next (at the leg 3 exchange) she was flying at a 6:34 avg pace!

My first leg (3) Rhododendron,OR (Cascades)
The hand off was almost flawless. It was light out and we still had cool weather going for us. I took the baton and knew this was a short downhill leg, so I really had no reason to hold back (against advice here). Putting the brakes on while going down 1,000 ft. just seems more damaging to me than going with gravity. I finished the leg at an average 6:19 pace for 3.8 miles. Strava says I ran a 19:34 5k in there, and I am pretty certain I did not get passed.

There was a little dead time for me between my first and second runs. Every six legs we would meet up with Van 2. If I had time I would much on some jerky, or a pocket of some sort of chia/fruit sauce, or eat some nut clusters (which our van was stocked with). Nothing like a full meal, but something for energy.

Since we had a teammate from Portland, we actually went to his house during the time that Van 2 was doing all their running (legs 7-12). Some of my teammates had time to take a shower (I didn't bother since I would run again soon), or eat a real meal, or take a nap.

Second run: The extra leg (13) over the Willamette, PDX
My next run was a replacement run for our teammate, Sean, who had the stroke. This was at another major van exchange, under the Hawthorn bridge (near OMSI) in Portland. I don't know why I left my hand-held water holder in a friend's vehicle, but I missed it for this run! I improvised with Duct tape and made a handle on my bottle, and carried my phone in the other hand.

This should have been an easy, flat, leg; but, I was (surprisingly) tired. The exchange was awkward, as both my hands were full. The gal handing off to me thought I was trying to hand off my bottle, but I was waiting for her to slap the arm band on. Finally, wearing a blinking vest at 6pm, I was off. Here, I ran up and over the bridge and through Portland's waterfront, past some people milling around, and smack into a green cloud of second-hand cannabis smoke...Once past, I looked for good sidewalk to run on, but actually ended up on the road because it seemed much less hazardous.

At one point my team was trying to catch me on this short leg with lots of traffic. As they passed me in the van, they asked me to slow down so that the next runner could use the porta-potty. I slowed a bit, but I guess she went between cars because of the crunch! Again, I don't think I got passed, and ran 4.01 miles at 7:06 avg pace.

Third run: (leg 15) Burlington/past Sauvie Island
There just was NOT enough time between 13 and 15, but I chose this combo because I wanted to keep the legs close together, with a break. I had just a little to drink and got ready for my first real night run. This run was much more downhill than I anticipated. My legs were kind of jelly now, but I was able to keep the feet rolling anyway.

This was my first "longer" leg and it seemed to go on forever. I looked for people to reel in, and as I did I would chat with them. "We could be running in the desert! And,  "Isn't this nice and cool?" I was trying to stay positive for people who looked unhappy.
Exchange chute going into leg 15. (Not my runner.)
I believe I was passed somewhere on this leg, or maybe just saw a few speedy guys go by while waiting for the hand off, but mostly I was still passing people. At the exchange, things were getting dark and I was happy to crawl into the van to clean up a bit with a soapy wash cloth and a change of clothes. This section was 7.5 miles long, which I ran at 7:27 pace.

After the three legs, I knew I could do another, but was tired and not ready to rally. Perhaps the hardest part of a relay is staying motivated for other people when you are ready to take a shower and go to sleep. I changed clothes and tried to nap, without much success.

There were some incredible runners in my van and I watched them crank out some legs in the 6 minute range, Bonnie, another teammate was still averaging 6-7 minute miles despite some real gut issues. Keep in mind, (if you ever run a relay at night), that if you stop to use the restroom, your blinking vest makes you very visible.

The 4th leg (27) Jewel, OR (Coast Range)
As I prepared for my final leg at 3:30am, threatening skies dumped an onslaught of much needed rain.I donned my rain jacket and was accompanied out to the exchange by Shawn. Lightning flashed several times (sometimes quite close) as I waited for Jessica. She looked WILD as she came in, raving about the rain and how exciting the storm was. I was just excited to get done with my last leg!

This exchange took a minute as I kept my phone in a bag and also had to remove my jacket, which was utterly useless now. I took the baton and went on into the darkness, away from the lights of our impromptu civilization.

I've ran in storms and heavy rain before, and it's not my favorite, but with the right gear, it isn't that bad. This was downright scary for me though. A couple of situations made it much worse than it needed to be.

First, I had no proper headlamp. Jessica was wearing the working one (I think) and the one in the van was flashing off from low battery. I used knuckle lights, which were just NOT doing the job. To make matters worse, I had glasses on (need to get the contact lens exam to replace my lenses!) and they had fogged up on the inside and had rain on the outside.

Every time a van drove by, I was completely blinded. I actually looked forward to the lightning because for a brief second I could see the ground and know if I was running into a pothole or had to step over a tree branch. Otherwise, I was looking for blinking vests and hated going past people (though I did!) because I would lose them as a beacon to follow.

I did get passed twice here. Once, with a mile left, I thought maybe I could hang with the woman who passed me; but instead, I could only let her guide me most of the way to the exchange as she gained distance on me.
The hand off to Bryan was a relief for me. Finally I could relax. My part was done! 6.1 miles in 44 minutes: 7:10 pace.

His leg was very short, so again we were racing to get to the exchange before he did. This was another situation where the runner jumped out before we ever pulled the van all the way in.

Finishing loose ends
The last exchange for our van was to pick up Shawn after his third and final run. By now it was daylight, and the major exchange had some incredible food opportunities. It also had a long port-a-potty line, and I am sad to say I just assumed someone was going to greet Shawn when he finished, so I got in line to use the portapotty.. Then I waited for a breakfast burrito. And a coffee (you have to imagine how much I needed that..).

Poor Shawn. He waited in the wind for 40 minutes and was freezing while nobody on our team got him to tell him what a great job he (our last runner) did! (BAD team!) When I found him, We got him back to the van so he could warm up. I offered to get him a burrito or coffee, but he just wanted to dry off and get to Seaside.

The wind REALLY picked up during the drive back. It was extreme.
We started to realize how bad Van 2 was in for it, since they still had to finish the relay. It was still raining sideways on and off (which it did ALL day). While Van 2 faced the brunt of the weather, Van 1 went to our hotel, checked in, showered and dozed off. We learned they were behind schedule a bit, but not terribly, and that the entire finish line was moved for safety, to the road by the Shiloh inn.

When we got to the finish line to run in with our team, the planned party area was trashed.

We ran in with our last runner and got our finish line photos and medals in the downstairs conference room at the Shiloh inn. (Team photo Here)

That night I think most teams went home. We stayed in Seaside since we already had the hotel. There might have been a make-up after party, but I missed it since I was in bed by 10.

When I got back home, I discovered that we actually placed 3rd in our division. I attribute that to a great group of runners, but also to our experienced leadership. Having practiced the route 17 times before, It certainly must be easier to know where to be (and when) for gas, food, picking up runners, etc..Our captains knew what they were doing.

Insider knowledge for fuel, food, and other things you just wouldn't expect to play a big role is worth an extra hour or two. We finished slower that we predicted, but 25 hours isn't bad for the circumstances. Also, if we'd have left at 5 pm, things could have been much worse for weather.

Would I do it again? Just give me a while to forget how tired I was from it. 
I'm thankful to be uninjured. That was my A goal for this relay, B goal was to run hard and still have fun. 
What's the worst weather you will run in? I normally draw the line at lightning, but made an exception for this race.

OK.. I might have exaggerated about the "short version". Sorry!


  1. Oh wow Raina, the devastation at the finish looks terrible! Thank heavens nobody got hurt! I too draw the line at lightning. I've been out on courses where there's just nowhere to go. You absolutely smoked your legs. I agree relays are so much fun but so exhausting too. The last leg of my last Ragnar was 95 degrees. Ugh. Congrats on 3rd!

    1. Thanks Marcia! Sometimes the coast gets this way... but usually not on hood to coast weekend. I think we were lucky to escape without storm damage to any runners.

  2. You handled this one so much better than I - I have relay lessons to learn! CRAZY weather this time, huh?
    I don't know if I'd do this again. I struggle SO much with food in my stomach that I just can't see how I could make it work without the nausea. But I did enjoy the team aspect, and for the 3 minutes when it wasn't pouring rain or violently windy it was beautiful!

    1. I think we definitely had a home team/experience advantage here, Gracie..and I have a mostly iron gut. You should come back to Oregon in daylight. It would be a fun experience for you.

  3. Congrats to you and your team Raina! Great finish despite the weather... but that's how it goes sometimes. I'm sure after you recover you'll be up for another one... just like how you felt after finishing your first marathon :)) I've never done an ultra or relay but it sure sounds like fun! BTW... you certainly hang around with some fast friends! :))

    1. Thank you , Bruce! Never think twice about doing a relay.. so much fun!!

  4. Great job to you and your team! I loved Hood to Coast and I have to admit even though the after party weather was much nicer for us, I was so tired we didn't stay long at it.

  5. That pretty much sums it up! Everyone dreams of the after party, but nobody has the energy. haha!

  6. That was an awesome read! I'm so glad you did it and shared this. Some day I will do Hood to Coast. This year I probably could have gotten on a team, but creating a baby won!! My husband actually volunteered but I think it looks like you guys passed through his station before he did his shift. Was sure fun to drive part of the course to where I was staying and see all the runners. Gave me goose bumps! And now fun to read how it was from an actual participant!
    Congrats to you all for 3rd!!!

    1. I've been following your pics on IG, but haven't seen the blog posts until now. Congrats R! I am sure you can find a sitter for the world's most loved baby, so you can do HTC when you are ready to :)

  7. No need for a long version Raina ;-)
    You and the team did well. Having to run 4 legs (and in that terrible weather) - don't know how you recover between legs. I wouldn't do it again! Didn't realise it was so far.
    I draw the line at any temperature below 0 celsius or lightning (don't want to end up as a paragraph in the local paper).

    1. Well, it's not that far when you divide it by 11 or 12 X 2 teams.. but it helps if you run doubles regularly, I am sure! Nothing below zero? Really?? I look forward to testing my superhero abilities. But we don't get many freezing days here.


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