Jorge asked me if I wanted to be recommended for a running team at work. I'd heard their stories of spending 24+ hrs in a van during long relay races around California and while Im a bit of a trail snob, preferring to avoid pavement at all costs, it struck me as an adventure I needed to try once in my life. As the team went through its natural cycle of people dropping out with last minute disillusionment or scheduling conflicts a spot opened up and I threw my name in the hat for their next race.
Hood to coast is the biggest relay event in the world. It was established in 1982 with 8 teams of ten runners making their way from Mt. Hood to Seaside, OR. This year 1200 teams consisting of 8-12 people take turns running legs that vary in length from 3-8 miles until they cover the 197 miles. Despite knowing this I wasn't prepared for the scale of this event. From start to finish there was never a stretch of road without several runners strung along it making their way steadily to the coast. And there were truly people of all kinds(speeds, ethnicities, shapes & sizes) out there. Each persons goal (besides running several legs) is to recover from your pervious leg while cramped in the team van heading to the next exchange point where a new runner will be dropped off. We made the mistake once of navigating to the wrong exchange point and having to go back to get our runner who had been waiting there for an hour! Each runner cannot continue for more then their own leg so this was a total waste of time. This means that even when you're not running you need to become a very efficient and conscious team keeping track of what is going on. There's no rest.
What made this year special was the weather. After three weeks of gorgeous summer days Oregon was slated to get a heavy downpour the night of the race. Lightning and rain hit around 9pm as we got through Portland. I was selected for a particularly hilly night leg in the forest on gravel roads. I waited at the starting point with a bright vest they make you wear at night and a bib. Molly cruised in from her run and slapped the race band on my wrist as my team cheered. My inexperience at running these shorter distances was displayed as I red lined out of the gate. After weeks of anticipation and two days of thorough discussion about every aspect of the race the feeling is that of a caged bull waiting to be ridden. I was ready to get the damn thing off my back. Quickly I realized my pace-induced asthma was not going to get me very far. Instead of slowing down I tried to breath deeply and relax my body. The rain kept down the dust from the gravel road somewhat and kept me cool as the steady string of headlamps ahead created a continuous supply of carrots to chase. There ware fern bushes and silhouettes of gigantic pine trees over hanging the winding road as it disappeared into the darkness beyond my light. After sprinting to the finish and handing off to the next runner I jumped in the van and tried to dry off. My legs cramped up as we drove to the next exchange.
It wasn't until the morning as we neared the coast that 50-60 mph winds blew rain and debris like sheets of stinging bees into our faces. Jorge, Lani and Josh had the last three legs which were particularly inhospitable. When we pulled up the exchange the wind was shaking our car as if at any minute it would take flight. Running head first into these winds was like running on a treadmill. The worst part was standing at the checkpoint in the freezing gusts waiting for our runner to show up trying not to get blown over. This pales in comparison to the 3000 volunteers along the course who were posted out in the open assisting all the athletes. They have my complete respect and admiration.
We ran the last 100 yards through cheering crowds to a make-shift finish line in Seaside. The real finish line had blown over along with major portions of scaffolding from the giant after party tents which was cancelled. I was more in need of a shower and sleep than a party so I couldn't have complained. We had our own team gathering and celebrated an epic 200 mile adventure together. Its strange how one night can transform strangers into the most familiar faces... The camaraderie of working together towards a unified goal was something I will savor from this experience.