Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Hood to Coast race report

Hood to Coast was my first relay and I had no idea what to expect. I figured it would be a good time, but I was a bit nervous about how I would handle the lack of sleep since I'm on of those people who gets extremely cranky with less than seven hours. It turned out to be one of the most fun running experiences I have ever had.

Amy and I were the last team members to arrive and thanks to some delays in the Minneapolis airport, got to the team dinner after it had already started. It was exciting to finally be there and to meet the members of our team (and drivers) that I didn't know. Since we had a relatively early start time (8:45am), after dinner we went straight back to the hotel and to bed. I slept pretty poorly (just what you want heading into a sleep deprivation situation), but was still ready to go when the alarm went off at 5:15am. We managed to get all of our luggage, food and teammates in the two vans and were on the road to Mt. Hood before 6:00.

Since only one of us had ever run this race before, we decided to send both vans up to the start of the race on Mt. Hood. I am so glad that we did this because I think those of us in van 2 really would have missed out by skipping it. Everyone was excited and upbeat as we made the hour and a half drive and there was lots of oohing and aahing at the gorgeous scenery as we got closer and closer to Mt. Hood. There were already runners coming down the mountain as we made the drive up (the first teams started at 6:30) and we marveled at the steep downhill grade they were running as we headed in the opposite direction. We were able to discuss this out loud since no one in our van actually had to run those legs.

When we got to the parking lot, we all piled out and our captain headed over to check up in. The rest of us admired the scenery, took lots of photos, wandered through the tents set up around the start area (manned by vendors and race sponsors) and got to work on some signs for van decoration.

The time flew by and we snapped a quick team photo before our first runner, Trevor, took off down the mountain.

After our start, we head back to the vans and drove down the mountain, making sure to yell at Trevor and bang on all the windows as we drove by. Since our van wouldn't be running for several hours, we headed towards the first major van exchange and stopped when we came to a small shopping center with a coffee shop and grocery store. After grabbing drinks and food, we bought some dry erase markers and set to work decorating our van.

Once the van was sufficiently decorated, we drove the rest of the way to a Safeway parking lot that was the site of the first major van exchange. We made the first of what would be many outfit changes in the van, discovered we could sneak in and use the hotel bathroom instead of the porta-potties (Honey Buckets!), took more photos, and sat around waiting for text updates from van 1 on their progress.

Finally van 1 pulled into the parking lot as well, told us runner 6 should be there soon and then our day really got started. Runner 7 was our amazing captain Tenley and she led off the van with a hard, hilly leg. I was runner 8 so I tried to prepare myself as we drove along and stopped to cheer for Tenley. The van dropped me off by the exchange area and went to find a parking spot. I stood anxiously in the porta-potty line, hoping that I wouldn't see her coming when I was still in line, or worse not see her because I was I was inside! Fortunately the line moved quickly and I was waiting for a few minutes before Tenley crested the hill and came into view.

I took off after grabbing the slap bracelet and immediately my heart rate skyrocketed. I started on a downhill and forced myself to slow down when a quick glance at my Garmin showed a sub-7:00 pace. I tried to think about my breathing and get my heart rate down, while setting into more of a tempo pace. This leg was described as easy, and it had net downhill, but there were definitely a few rolling uphills at the beginning. The road was pretty crowded with runners at this point, so I focused on passing the next person ahead of me. I was cruising along and really enjoying myself when I passed my van-mates cheering along the side of the road.

Though I was consistently passing people, there was a guy ahead of me from about mile 2.5 that I just couldn't seem to catch. That became my goal and I finally pulled even with him, and then ahead at the top of a hill somewhere around mile 4. After that I just tried to push it in the last half mile to the finish. I handed the slap bracelet off to Greg and my first leg was done with 22 kills!

After another quick change, I was ready to cheer on the rest of my vanmates as we finished off our first set of legs. I was still on a high from my first leg when I decided it would be a good idea to take a look at the elevation for my next one, which I knew was ranked "very hard."

Almost 1000 ft in 5 miles?!? Gulp.
During this set of legs it was late afternoon and as we got closer and closer to Portland, traffic continued to build. Unfortunately, this led to one of our runners, Maria, having to wait about 8 minutes for us to get to the exchange. Super frustrating since we left as soon as she took off running. But a short left turn arrow on a relatively long light cycle meant that we sat at one light for an extremely long time. We weren't the only team with this problem, Maria was waiting with a ton of other runners! Fortunately our next few exchanges went smoothly and then we were back in Portland and handing off to van 1.

During our break we ate dinner, tried to learn more about the fire that forced a change to leg 17 (a van 1 runner), and made sure that all of our safety equipment was in tip top shape.

Soon it was dark and time for our van to start running again. I was definitely nervous about the monster that awaited me and unsure if I would regret not having a bandanna (which was recommended to help with breathing on the dusty gravel road). My leg started eventfully when my front flasher flew off my vest with in the first few steps. It took me a few seconds to realize what had happened and, worried that I would get disqualified for running without it, I turned around and went back to pick it up.  I got it back on, but the reflective vest was pretty loose and flopping around, so it fell off again a bit farther up the road. Finally I realized that I it would stay in place if I hooked it over the vest and my top at the same time. After two falls it stopped flashing, so I hoped it's mere presence would prevent a disqualification.

It was a steady uphill climb and I didn't even bother looking at my watch. I knew I wouldn't be thrilled with what I saw, so I just tried to stay consistent and keep moving forward. I got a boost from seeing my vanmates cheering on the side of the road and kept on chugging. I knew that I'd get a break during mile three, which was flat or downhill the whole way. When my Garmin beeped at the end of mile two, I tried to stretch out my legs a bit and relax before the return to climbing. Because we started early in the day and were a relatively fast team, by this point we were towards the front of the race and I saw very few other runners.

As mile three ended, I started up again and the paved road ended. It was onto gravel, which just added to the challenge, I mean fun. It was not finely packed and at certain points I felt like I was running on the beach.  My vanmates had stopped again and were apparently making fun of the runner who didn't have a front flasher until I got close enough and they realized it was me. Oops! Then they drove off towards the finish and I was on my own. I didn't see another soul for the next mile and a half. It was pitch black and my headlamp only did so much to illuminate the path ahead of me. The road had a lot of twists and turns and in the low light, the gravel seemed to blend into the grass and bushes on the side of the road. I was weaving all over the road and almost stepped off the side a number of times. Depending on how much dust I was churning up, I could see next to nothing since the headlamp just reflected off the dust cloud.

In some ways, I think it helped to only be able to see the few feet in front of me because could never see how much farther up I had to go. But it also wore me down a bit. I started to get some weird tunnel vision issues, I'm sure as a result of the range of the headlamp. And after going over a mile without seeing anyone else, I started to worry that I might be in the wrong place. There were no turns I was supposed to make, but had the road forked, I could have easily missed it with my limited range of vision. At some point there were weird animal (?) noises on both sides of the road (and what sounded like laughing, kids having some fun maybe? Or I was just going crazy, who knows). I tried to pick up the pace, but was still climbing a mountain so it wasn't by much. I wasn't expecting to be freaked out by running alone at night, but in that stretch I definitely was. Finally my watch beeped at the end of five miles and the road started to drop, so I took this as a sign that I was still headed the right way. Shortly after this a van passed me and I started to feel better about the whole situation (except for the fact that it raised a giant dust cloud). Then, finally, I was rounding a corner and could see the lights of the exchange zone in the distance.

I was much happier after chugging a Gatorade and changing out of my sweaty running clothes into sweats and compression socks. All of my vanmates had great night legs and we were slowly but steadily getting ahead of our predicted time for the next exchange. I liked having one of the early legs in the van because it meant that I was done early and could cheer and relax, without having to worry about getting myself ready to run.

After our last runner finished a little after 1:00am, we went ahead to the next big exchange to park and attempt to get some sleep. There were four van benches for five people and Amy and I got stuck sharing, making uncomfortable and awkward van sleeping just that much more uncomfortable and awkward. At one point I moved around in a quest to find a better position and noticed Amy leaning against the window. It was at this point I realized that I really had drawn the shortest straw - I was next to the aisle so I couldn't even do the window lean!  I may have gotten a total of two hours of sleep, but I doubt it was even that much.

Safety first!

We were scheduled to be back "on" sometime around 5:00, so by around 4:00 people started stirring. My stomach had started to grumble as I was trying to sleep and by this point it was in full out rebellion. I made more than one cold trek through the muddy parking lot to the porta-potties and just really hoped that my stomach would cooperate and allow me to get through my last leg.

Although it seemed like it was freezing while we were resting in the van, I opted to run my last leg in just a sports bra and shorts. At the last minute I added arm warmers, which were nice to have for the beginning of the run, but definitely not necessary. Once you got moving, the weather was great.

I wasn't sure how my legs would feel about the third run in 24 hours, but it was my shortest and ranked "moderate" so I was relatively relaxed about it. I wanted to see how much I could push the pace, but also to really enjoy it. I started the leg a little before 6:00am, so I got to run as the sun came up, through fields covered in a light fog. It was beautiful and my stomach miraculously quieted as soon as I started running, so I could actually enjoy the scenery. At a little over four miles, it was over far too quickly and I passed off the slap bracelet, ending my running experience.

It was kind of hard to believe that the whole experience was coming to a close, as my vanmates flew through their legs and we cruised towards the beach.


When our last runner started, we had about forty minutes to make our way to Seaside, park the van and get down to the beach to run across the finish line with him. We reunited with van 1 on the beach and waited in the holding area for the announcers to say "Team 309 - Capital Area Runners, your final runner is approaching the beach."  Then we were all running across the finish line, ending our Hood to Coast experience in 24:27:13, good for 11th out of 360 in the Mixed Open division and 62nd overall (out of 1068).

We immediately headed for a breakfast buffet nearby and after stuffing ourselves, we made time for a brief ice bath in the Pacific before spending several hours at the beer garden on the beach.

The day wrapped up with one of the best showers ever after we could finally check into our hotel and a brief trip back to the beach for one more drink before having ice cream for dinner. I think I feel asleep almost as soon as I lay down, long before fireworks wrapped up the festivities on the beach. Then we were up early Sunday morning for a long day of travel back to reality, otherwise known as the East Coast.

I can't think of the right words to express how great of an experience this was and how much fun I had. So I will leave it at that. I would do it again in a heartbeat and highly recommend that you all jump at the chance to run it, should that opportunity ever be offered to you.


Jessica Karazsia (@irun26at8) said...

Awesome race report! I have been waiting for this! You ran an average pace of 8:42 on that second leg?!?! Are you kidding me? Wow. Great job. I want to do this now.

amy said...

I would like to go back. And next time Skip and Greg are sharing the bench.

Sarah said...

It looks so pretty there!

Elizabeth said...

Great report! Love all the photos and the play-by-play. You are logging some pretty fast times, there! Glad you enjoyed it.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Jessica, that climb sounded rough and you killed it!

Great report, I too am a cranky person when I don't get my sleep, glad to see there's hope! ;)

It looks so beautiful!

AKA Darkwave, AKA Anarcha, AKA Cris. said...

"Honey Buckets!" Was that seriously the name of the portapottie company?

And how did people do Hood to Coast before texting?

Katie said...

8:42 pace up a hill sounds pretty baller to me. I'm just saying.