HOOD to COAST 2015 - Team Relay

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.

Jorge handing off to Josh for the final leg

Our team in front of the torn down after party


The Hardest Choice is Often the Right One

The ultra mindset often puts me in a compromising position of wanting to seize every opportunity, feeling like I can do everything and almost being stubborn to accept anything less which would be a form of mediocrity. You find yourself behaving like an addict, suddenly waking up mid run to the glaring reality that you should be resting that swollen ankle before heading to the airport if you plan to continue running the rest of the year! Or like what the hell was I thinking running 10 miles on a stress fractured shin anyway? Denial is the first method of treatment for any injury. Like a pile of dirty clothes building up in the corner. You deeply hope with some jedi optimism that what you choose not to see will magically disappear. If only those invisibility sunglasses were real. The ultimate conflict is that you want to do the training as long as you 'might' do the race. Even if your injury will get worse, prohibiting you from running the race, you feel compelled to keep training for it.


Cautious Optimism

It's easy to write about the crunchy days. Ones full of grit and sweat. Mistakes and perseverance. A story without conflict is a contradiction.

I have these moments, that are easily forgotten, where my fitness, motivation, nutrition, and pace converge into perfection. It's hard to describe these brief periods of time without sounding like some utopian dream or by alluding to a drug induced euphoria.

Usually in the back half of a long trail you slide into these highs and feel invincible, like you could run forever. Not because of physical prowess but because of mental problem solving. Theres a deeper sensation that you are discovering a piece of yourself that was always there waiting to be discovered. To better yourself. To realize the future. You are at once present, aware of the universe, and also removed from the pain and mortal risk of being alone in the wild. It just feels good.

Remembering positive moments is important to balance out the drama that pervades and tends to define our lives which are more realistically mundane and confined in nature. We can usually be grateful things aren't a whole of a lot worse.

The rare blissful moments stand out poignantly in stark contrast to the adrenal fatigue and OTS I was experiencing a year ago. Exhaustion was all I remember. It felt bizarre needing to take a seat after being winded from putting on my shorts and shoes to go for jog. Unable to train except for short bouts here and there made me even more lethargic. I would walk to the trail head then find some grass to lay down on. I was increasingly confused and despondent. Unable to sleep well exacerbated the situation. Eventually as I focused on routine sleep and regular nutrition my underlying energy rose. This is what makes getting back to 'feeling like myself' so amazing.



The hardest decisions in life are not the ones that baffle or escape the mind. They are the choices that lay clearly before us, to which we already know the answer. The ones that lead us against our nature, away from the path of least resistance, towards what we suspect we already knew was the right way. It takes great courage and presence of mind to avoid slipping back at the critical moment. We must rise to the occasion and bring ourselves, despite every impulse within and without, to hear the subtle prodding of our deepest convictions telling us to do the right thing.

The admiration I have for my brother's decision to quit a race after 75 miles is greater than if he had suffered through to the end. He took a difficult situation and handled it with composure deciding not to further damage his knee just for a finishers buckle. Or perhaps more pertinently to avoid a DNF. As he laid there on a cot at 3am trying to decide wether or not to continue, there was a faint panicking voice inside me wanting to pull him back from the edge. The never-quit attitude was at risk and about to take quite a blow. These are the moments. This is what it's all about. This is when we pull together to get him to the finish no matter what. Right? What are we doing out here if not to throw leg and limb at this damn thing? Giving up is probably the last thing I expect from anyone in my family. Had he not appeared so lucid I would have tried to be more of a mental life raft. He seemed completely cognizant of what he was doing and I found it hard to argue with his reluctant determination to make the call.

I hate seeing my brother suffer. It's strange because he's my biggest inspiration when it comes to endurance. He's stoic in the face of extreme mental and physical punishment. Wether it be climbing a mountain in a sub-freezing blizzard or going without food and sleep for several days, his adventuresome resolve is astounding. It's frightening to see weakness in someone you respect. 100 miles has the unique ability unlike anything Ive witnessed to break a man. You will see the toughest fellow weeping in a ball on the side of the trail. Perhaps for this reason it is one of the few sporting activities where quitting is nearly as common as finishing.

Ive always found it difficult to quit even a training run when something doesn't feel right. My brother is just as stubborn if not more so. If you are trying to learn to push through the pain where do you draw the line? We've always been baffled by those that could foster the courage in tough moments to call it a day and enjoy getting back to running without injury sooner. When my brother became one of those people I was humbled. It took more will power and presence of mind to make that choice than it would have been to keep slugging it out.

In a world of losers, everybody gets a trophy. Quitting hasn't all of a sudden become acceptable behavior and everyone shouldn't get a medal for starting the race. Being a 'quitter' and choosing to DNF are different. In life the real challenge is to tackle complex situations by making determined choices. In a race we pit ourselves against heat, sleep dep, and physical exhaustion to see how our brains can cope. My brother took an onslaught of challenges and handled the situation with a composure that I can only aspire to.