34:06:15…36 legs…12 runners…2 vehicles…one epic adventure that I will never forget.
Hood to Coast. The mother of all relays. This may have been my first relay but for another event to top this would take one hell of an event. This experience immediately went to the top of my list of kick ass things I’ve done in my life.
I met up with my teammates at 4:45am on Friday in the little town of Sandy, OR. The tone of the weekend was set within 5 minutes of us meeting up. It was at this point that I was informed that I was going to be the mature one of the group. For those of you that know me at all, you immediately realize how hilarious this was. Should have seen the eye roll from my wife. Before we were even all the way in the car we had two “That’s what she said” jokes thrown out.
After a quick stop at Starbucks for those coffee drinkers, we made our way up the mountain to Timberline Lodge. We weren’t scheduled to start until 7:30 but our captain wanted us up there early. Even though we were so early I really enjoyed the opportunity to let the vibe of the event soak in since I had heard so much about it and it was my first time. It gave me time to get my race swag purchased without having to worry about it at the finish line. Plus I was able to get some pretty cool pictures of sunrise at 6000 feet on Mt. Hood.
I also took this picture of the first runner heading out for the 2013 Hood to Coast Relay.
After the start we had about an hour before it was our turn. So we ventured over to the lodge to get warm and use the facilities. As we were running for the American Cancer Society, it also gave us a chance to add names to our Honor/Memory board that was going on our van. I put my grandfather Hewey St John and my wife’s grandfather Alfred Mitchell on the board. As you’ve probably read in my posts about Team in Training, we lost both of them to forms of Leukemia. I also added Blake to the board later in the day at the request of one of my running friends. He is currently battling cancer and fighting like a boss.
At 7:30am sharp we were off. The first stage is one of the most talked about stages of Hood to Coast. It’s a 2000 foot descent over 5+ miles. This is essentially a quad killer. It has tamed many runners and ruined the rest of their weekend. The announcer always asks each wave “You missed the team meeting, didn’t you?!” Our runner, Micki, actually volunteered for it.
It didn’t take long for the hilarity and chaos to start. Micki was projected to come in about 7:44 at the earliest. About 7:20 I decided to start walking towards the starting chute. I wanted a chance to get settled, calm my nerves and make sure I was ready to go. Since I figured I had plenty of time I thought I would jog back to the van to check the course map real quick as well as get the blood flowing a little before I ran. I got about 10 strides into my jog and I hear “725” (our team number) and Micki scream “LONNIE!!” I immediately turned, saying a few choice words, and sprinted to the chute. I met Micki right at the end of the chute, grabbed the wrist band, and took off on my leg. Micki had come in 20 minutes early!! Here I am before starting my run.
My leg, number 2, is a milder version of leg 1. A 1500 foot descent over 5.6 miles. Everything I had read and heard was to not run too hard. So I made a conscious effort to keep a nice, steady, easy pace. I monitored my pace on my watch but ran mostly on feel. I was shooting for a 7:30 pace, but ended up running that leg at a 6:50 pace. I felt great so didn’t worry too much about it being too fast. I handed off to Robyn and found my way to our van. Did a little stretching and we were off to the next exchange. Once there I did a little more stretching and walked around to get a little better cool down. This is definitely one of the more difficult things to do in a relay event. You really don’t have time to get in a good warm up and cool down. And really, do you want to add more miles to what you are going to be running?
Once you’re done running it’s all about cheering on your teammates and interacting with the other teams. There are just some amazing people running in this event and being a recluse will rob you of meeting them and detract from the experience. I think a sense of humor is a requirement for this event. Exhibit A:
After we finished running our six legs it was time to hand off to the other van. Once that was done we had about 5 hours before we had to be at our next leg. One of my teammate’s parents’s lived in the area so we went there to eat, shower and relax. After a hot shower we had spaghetti, garlic bread and caprese salad.
After eating an amount of food that my body told me during my next run was way too much, we made our way to the next van to van exchange. This was a new exchange point this year due to construction. This year it was at Oaks Amusement Park. On a good day this neighborhood can be a challenge to drive through. Throw in a few hundred extra vehicles and a couple thousand people and you can imagine the chaos. We actually had some concern about making it to the next exchange in time for me to run. One of the advantages of being local is that we knew the quickest way to get where we needed…which was not the way suggested by the map. So we ended up making it in plenty of time.
My next leg was 14. Coming into the event I was really looking forward to this leg. It was basically a flat, straight 10K. Even though this was pretty much the case, this was by far my worst run of the weekend. Poor Micki took a lot longer to finish her leg than we expected. I really felt for her. She had a 7+ mile run that, although along the Willamette River for quite a ways, is not a very forgiving route at that time of the day. It was sunny, quite warm and she was running directly into the sun. Plus most of the route is on old, hard, and uneven at times concrete. By the time she got to me she looked like she was ready to pass out. I had been standing around for about 20 minutes waiting for the hand off. I was definitely feeling tired at this point and was a little stiff. But…SIUP! My wife was able to join me at this exchange to say hi and wish me luck.
I took the handoff and headed out. As I was starting to get my stride just short of a mile, the race came to an abrupt halt. At first I thought we were just waiting for the light to change as we had to cross the street. Then I quickly realized that wasn’t the case. No one knew why we were stopped but within a minute or so we had heard that there had been a pretty bad accident on HWY 30, just over the hill from us. A fuel truck was turning left onto HWY 30 from the road we were getting ready to run on. A VW sedan decided to not stop and T-boned the truck. Luckily no one was injured. It definitely did not look good once we were able to run by. We ended up being stopped for about 20 minutes. From this point forward I was mentally toast. Any adrenaline I built up at the start of that leg was gone by the time we were able to get running again after the delay. I covered the 6.08 miles in about 50 minutes. It was hard to get an official time on this leg as I forgot to start my watch when I first took off and the official time had to include the untimed delay. Between being a little dehydrated, too much spaghetti in my stomach and the heat I had a strong urge to puke for most of the last two miles. I didn’t, but I think I would have felt better if I had. I must have looked like crap because Lauren, who met me at my finishes usually, kept checking on me to see if I was ok as she walked me back to the van. I spent most the next couple of hours drinking as much water as I could. Couple hours later I was feeling much better.
After your second leg is when the real adventure begins. By this time you are approaching being up 24 hours. You are tired from not sleeping as well as putting in a couple brutal runs. By now I really wanted something hot to eat. We had a stop in St Helens while Lauren, our number 5 runner, was finishing up her leg. We hit Safeway for some supplies. It’s amazing how good a corn dog can taste when you are craving something hot to eat at midnight and nothing is open. I’m still amazed McDonald’s closed their dining room at 11:00pm…on a Friday night…with several thousand Hood to Coast people in their parking lot! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!?!?!
At this point we were just hoping that things went smooth enough that we could make it to our next exchange fast enough to get as much as 4 hours sleep. Yeah, wishful thinking. By the time we got to exchange 24, where we would start our runs again, it was pushing 3:00am. Since we were only going to get about 2 to 2.5 hours of sleep, and even though we knew we had a tent available to us with cots, most of us decided to just sleep in the van to save time. I actually slept pretty well considering. But the alarm still went off at 5:30. And we were off again.
My final leg was 26. Considering I was running on 2 hours of sleep I felt pretty good. I saw Micki coming down the road and got in the chute. Right as I did I hear someone from the crowd yell “GO LONNIE!” I saw the person but had no clue who they were. I spent the next 5.77 miles trying to figure it out. But I had nothing. The route was really nice. Old, narrow country road. Was the first time the description of “gentle, rolling country roads” really was just that. It had one half mile hill before a half mile down hill into the finish. I was only 2 seconds slower on pace for this run as I was the night before and this was a much hillier route. It felt amazing to hit that finish line knowing this was my last run and my part, at least for running, of Hood to Coast was done.
It was at this point where I was shown just how mentally wasted I was. The person who yelled at me at the start of my leg tracked me down after I was done. It was Sherri from our Facebook Sub 30 running group. I had to have her explain to me THREE times who she was. Even after that I just said ok, like I knew who she was. Mentally I knew that I should know her, but it wasn’t clicking. It took about another hour for it all to sink in and make sense. Here is Sherri and I after my third leg. That isn’t a mile of joy; that is delirium!
At this point of the event, I’m in full on spectator mode. I’m talking to everyone we pass. Other runners, vans, volunteers…I was like the drunk, annoying guy who won’t stop talking. At one point I looked at a volunteer who was directing traffic with a flashlight and said “You really light up my life.” Eric, Micki’s husband and the other male in our van, just busted up and said “You make friends everywhere!” The volunteer got a kick out of it also.
A couple stops later I got a cool surprise. I was just hanging out at the van waiting for our runner to come in. I see this van pull in and recognize it as the Nuun Hydration team van. I knew Meg Hetzel and Hannah McGoldrick from Runner’s World were running with them, each one if a different van. Since the team was made up of female bloggers they had their Twitter handles written on the windows of the van and I quickly noticed Meg’s. Being the stalker that I am, I followed the van to where it parked a few spots down from us. I saw Meg get out of the van and called out to her. She immediately got that “who is this stalker” look on her face. I said who I was and she got a big smile on her face and said “Oh my God, how did we run into each other in the middle of all this?!” Considering we started HOURS apart and were in opposite vans, it was pretty amazing we did run into each other. Definitely one of the highlights of the weekend for me.
At our final van to van exchange I had the exact opposite thing happen to me. We had just parked and I was sitting there when I saw a guy walk towards the van. He goes “Lonnie?” and I immediately recognized him. It was Wes, from Run with Wes on Twitter. We had talked about meeting up with each other on the beach after the event but was cool to see each other on the course. This actually worked out, since we didn’t connect on the beach after all. Although I didn’t get to give him his beer that I had my wife bring over for him. I’ll keep it cold for you, Wes!
After we did the final exchange, we headed for the coast. A few miles from Astoria, Eric asked “Who wants Dairy Queen?” Almost in unison, we all said “I DO!” So we made a pit stop at DQ and each of us proceeded to eat WAY TOO MUCH! From there it was to the hotel at the finish line. Because the team had raised so much money for ACS, the team got a room almost right next to the finish line. This allowed our van to get there early to shower and get clean clothes on. What an amazing feeling! Baby wipes only do so much! It also gave us some time to relax before the other van finished.
Once the other van came in it was just a matter of waiting for our team captain, Joe, to make it to the finish line. I was amazed at how easy it was for us to get to him when he came into the finish chute for us to cross together as a team. It’s a pretty incredible feeling crossing that finish line together.
From there we just relaxed on the beach and talked about the experience. And of course, ate some more. We got this incredible team picture. In the middle sitting down is Will. Our team name is Will Power. Will has cancer and is currently kicking its ass! He did Hood to Coast last year but was unable to this year as you can see from the brace on his leg. He is hoping to be healed enough so that he can participate next year. He’s a great kid with a strong spirit and incredible support system. I know he will do it.
As I said, this is easily the greatest thing I have personally done. Such a feeling of accomplishment. I hope running my first marathon feels this good. Because the team raised enough money, they have an exemption for next year’s race, so they are automatically in. Joe wants to keep the team together so hoping I will get to run again next year. I’m definitely in if given the chance. Starting in 2015 I will be trying to get my own team together for the event. Going to do this as much as I can since it was such an experience and so close to home. And maybe next time I will smile when I take a selfie with my medal…