The Hood to Coast Relay Race: Straight off the Couch and Onto the Tarmac for 197 Miles

If looking for an opportunity to suffer from sleep deprivation, severe muscle fatigue, malnutrition, and various forms of bowel inconsistencies, look no further than the Hood to Coast race – a 197 mile relay race from Mt Hood’s Timberline Lodge all the way down to Seaside, Oregon, on the Oregon coast.

I was given the ‘opportunity’ to be a part of just such an endeavor when a long, lost friend from high school asked if I’d like to join their team this year. Of course, my masochistic impulses flared up and I enthusiastically agreed, not fully comprehending the scope and sequence of pain and suffering that would inevitably ensue.

The Dream Team

Alright, I’m being a bit melodramatic. The race is not actually THAT bad. Our team consisted of 12 individuals in two separate vehicles, three runs total for each said individual, and about 6 hours of down time between each person’s run. If coming into the race somewhat conditioned, the worst shock to the body is the sleep deprivation and the inconsistent eating schedule that coincides with being forced to run in the middle of the night.

Fortunately for me, I came into the race having done my normal summer workout binge consisting of 6-7 days a week of weights, running, and biking, a happy balance that keeps me feeling strong for whatever races/strenuous activities I get myself into, like this little gem for instance. Anticipating this I guess, Rich, our race team leader, signed me up for the hardest ranked legs of the course: runner #5. Thanks for that.

Van 2 (the other van) also seemed to be equipped with people that had come into the race at least somewhat prepared for 15+ miles of running over the course of about 36 hours. Seeing as how we didn’t see them outside of transitions between vans and I didn’t really know any of them, van 2 is undocumented in this entry. Sorry van 2.

Van 1 (my van), however, came into the race living out this year’s team name and unspoken mantra, Straight Off the Couch. I will say that what our van lacked in fitness it made up for in dogged perseverance, but the lack of conditioning left half the participants in van 1 sick, injured, or barely able to walk by the end.

We had an early 6am start time, which meant we left Portland at 4am, which meant we got up at 3:30am, which meant we only got 3 hours of sleep because we stayed up way too late enjoying some Portland pubs and catching up.

 

Some of the local news stations gearing up for the start of the race.

 

Our van 1 dream team, from left: Craig, Rich, Alex, Luke, James, and me.

Broken Circle Breakdown – Leg 1

Here’s the breakdown of the run. Our first runner, Luke, rocked the downhill bomb from Timberline Lodge to Government Camp, and felt great despite being worried about an ever-present knee problem he has. Similarly, Craig and Richard felt good on their mostly downhill coasts for legs 2 and 3. Our fourth runner, James, had the longest run of leg 1 at 7 miles, but it was only labeled as a medium difficulty run because it was a gradual downhill the entire way. He rocked it.

Rich finishing the third run of leg 1. The smiles will soon disappear Rich… just you wait.

My leg was a 6 mile run labeled as very hard because of its final 3 mile climb at the end. I felt great until the last 1 ½ miles, where I got some pretty severe abdominal cramps which really slowed me down. It was my only real struggle throughout my three legs, though, so I can’t complain. Despite the slow pace time of the last two miles, I was able to keep a 6:09 mile split, which I was reasonably happy with, all things considered.

Our last runner, Alex, injured his knee in the last couple miles of his run, and was forced to hobble out the last mile or so to the finish. His injury was the catalyst for a host of racing maladies to come in our second leg.

Brokeback Mountain – Leg 2

Alex walked it into the van, got some ice on his leg, and evaluated his condition as we drove to Craig’s house in Portland and rested for a couple hours before the start of our second legs. As van 2’s runners methodically made their way towards the next transition, Alex surmised that by the time it was his turn to run again, he’d be feeling good enough to run, which was a relief for us, seeing as how nobody particularly wanted to pick up an extra run during leg 2.

Leg 2 started in downtown Portland near the Waterfront, where Luke once again plugged away at his section with dogged consistency. Unfortunately, leg 2 was not so kind to Craig and Rich. Craig got halfway into his 6-mile segment before rushing to the side of the road and unloading the entirety of his stomach’s contents (Chipotle, in case you were wondering). Rich didn’t puke, but he finished his 7-mile segment feeling completely wiped out, and struggled to recover for leg 3.

Van decorations are a huge part of the Hood to Coast, with most people going the elaborate, sexually explicit double-entendre route, perhaps my favorite being ‘Bunghole Liquors,’ with a host of hilarious tag lines all over the van. We impulsively wrote a politically charged joke on our van, but we’re not sure whether people thought it was a joke. We’ll do better next year.

 

Here’s Luke receiving the race bracelet from the last runner in van 2. Leg 2 has officially begun!

 

Craig’s signature bear-hug marking the transition from Luke to him.

 

And he’s off on leg 2!

 

Another bear hug post vomit-leg from Craig.

Although Craig and Rich didn’t finish leg 2 ideally, James finished his segment with no problems, and I finished my 7 ½ mile run with a mile split personal record of 5:58, which left me feeling good after my rather disappointing finish at the end of leg 1.

Alex’s troubles in leg 2 progressed dramatically, where he was forced to walk the last 3 of his 5.23 miles because his knee was hurting so badly.

After eating at the transition and then heading to the next transition in Mist, Oregon (believe me, you haven’t heard of it because you’ve never been there), we arrived around 11pm, desperate to find the ‘tent-city’ that had apparently been set up as a place for runners to take a brief nap before starting their final leg. Everyone was pretty beat after the second leg, especially Craig, whose bowel problems continued on our drive out to Mist as he yarfed out the window (Subway this time, in case the contents still interest you) and enjoyed the irony taste of blood and bile in his mouth all the way to this final transition zone. Tent-city sounded like a place of wonder, where sore muscles heal and other miracles of increasing profundity really happen. However, this magical oasis alluded us thanks in part to poorly-informed volunteers (not their fault) who each pointed us in different directions with varying degrees of accuracy. Defeated and exhausted, we drove our SUV into a parking spot where Rich and James decided to sleep in their sleeping bags in the grass and the rest of us cuddled up in various locations of the GMC Denali. Now 12:30am, we each restlessly tossed and turned for the 1 ½ hours we had left before our final leg.

The Broken – Leg 3

As would be expected from a van full of out-of-shape runners trying to complete the end of a 15+ mile race, spirits were rather low when we woke up to a cacophony of phone alarms at 1am, signaling the end of our ‘rest’ and the beginning of our final leg. To make matters more interesting, a steady rain had begun in earnest as we got organized for this final stretch of runs.

As we approached the transition zone around 1:30am, Luke had about 30 seconds of time to prepare himself mentally before our van 2 runner came jogging into view and we were once again on the clock. As always, Luke, AKA Mr. Consistency, plodded out his final run without complaint and finished his 3rd and final leg feeling pretty good. Despite a last little bout of vomiting as he walked towards the start of his final leg, Craig also finished without too much difficulty.

The transition zone where Craig waits to start his final leg.

Leg 3 turned out to be the most exciting of all the runs. Rich began his run in what started out a steady rain but quickly proliferated into a heavy downpour. As we drove past him and asked how he was, though, Rich looked at us all smiles and said he was feeling good. That’s about the time the lightning and thunder started. At first there were only hints of an ensuing storm, with distant thunder rumblings and dazzling displays of cloud to cloud lightning overhead. But within minutes the lightning and thunder were not so much dazzling as they were terrifying; with one particular strike looking and sounding like it hit about 5 feet behind our vehicle. It was then that we decided to turn around and see if Rich wanted to finish his segment. If we were freaked out in a car, he had to be about ready to relieve his bowels on the road, right?

Wrong. When we saw him, Rich was still all smiles and confidently shooed us away saying he would be just fine. When he finished his leg, he said that if it hadn’t been for extreme fatigue, this would have been the most entertaining and enjoyable section he had ever run in his 7-year history of Hood to Coast races.

James picked up the baton in what had simmered down once again to a steady sprinkle, and he rocked his final four-mile segment how he finished all his segments; predictably and consistently.

My final segment was another one labeled ‘very hard’ with a 3 ½ mile pass ascent, followed by a 2 ½ mile bomber downhill. I was averaging 6:30 miles on the way up, which felt good, but it was on this ascent that I had my one and only runner pass me. I was a bit peeved that I could be running at what felt like break-neck speeds up this ascent only to have someone receive a ‘kill’ point on me. So I did what any outlandishly competitive runner would do, and kept his backlights (it was pitch dark and everyone was wearing vests with lights) in eyesight for the remainder of the ascent, feeling confident that I could bomb the final 2 ½ miles and catch him.

It took a 5:13 mile split for me to finally overtake him, and an ensuing 5:23 mile split to create a bit of distance by the finish line, but I was able to do it. I’m not sure if this runner’s final time was better than mine or not, partly because he disappeared before I could talk to him about the run, but it felt good to have a hard competitive run for my final leg. I ended up having a 6:07 split.

When I got to the finish, I found out that Alex, the final runner in our van, had agreed to not run this last section and let an alternate runner that spontaneously showed up in van 2 (not a story worth elaborating on) run for him. However, van 2 was nowhere to be found when I got to the bottom, and we ended up waiting for about a half-hour before they were able to make it to the transition spot and get started. Once they were off, we all felt a wave of relief as we knew all that was left to do was head to Seaside, take showers, and pass out in the campsite we had reserved until we met van 2 at the finish line.

The Day After Tomorrow

The drive back proved to be a bit more adventurous than we all anticipated. The coast was gearing up for its first summer storm, with 30 mph sustained winds, and 70 mph gusts. Rich got us to our campsite safe and sound, but we all showered and rested while the trees around us bent and buckled to the scream of 70 mph winds.

And it was this weather that van 2 had to finish the race in. The race coordinators actually completely changed the final routes of the race so that instead of a beachside finish, runners would at least partially avoid the winds by running through more forest and eventually the city of Seaside. Unfortunately, the wind destruction also meant that the normal conclusion to the Hood to Coast, a beach front beer garden, concert, and general free-for-all, was cancelled. Instead, Hood to Coasters flooded the local restaurants and pubs of Seaside, making for what I’m sure was a highly stressful and profitable day for local Seaside businesses.

Beer garden destroyed by the wind.

 

Van 1 post race.

Overall, the run was a huge success, and our entire team had smiles on their faces, despite being unable to bend over or walk up stairs. I’m sure that in a week’s time, we all will remember this event with fondness and mark our calendars for next year’s run with giddy anticipation, maybe even with the intent of getting straight off the couch and out the door for a few runs before the race. Maybe.

 

 

 

 

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