This past weekend was Hood to Coast, the 12-person, 197-mile relay from Mt. Hood to the beach. Each person on the team runs three times; the total distance each runner runs is anywhere between 13 and 19 miles.
Our first van of runners headed to the mountain on Friday for an 8:45 AM start time. Those of us in van 2 met at my place at 11:30 (I was the unofficial van 2 team captain) and headed out to the first van exchange.
The beginning moments were a little tense, at least for me. Four members of our van had never run the race before, and it's very difficult to visualize how the relay works until you've done it. I felt a lot of pressure to keep everyone organized and at ease, and I was already an exhausted pile of nerves, having also been responsible for everything to do with acquiring the vans. (I spent a large portion of the days leading up to the race worrying that the vans would be wrong, figuring out how to pick up both vehicles myself, and deciding how to get one vehicle to the van 1 driver). We were a little late leaving my house, and then we were worried about traffic, and we had to meet van 1 with enough time to get our race numbers from them, since both the team captain and I had forgotten that I'd need them before we left town. I was trying to seem like I was a total pro at all of this, despite the fact that I myself had only run the race once before. Fortunately, very high on my list of strong life skills is "faking it till you make it," so it all turned out OK.
We had a beautiful weekend for the race.
We made it in time to meet van 1, and then we were off. The routine: drive to the next exchange point (mostly right along the course, with the runners), try to find a parking spot for the giant SUV you're driving, hop out, check your watch, check your runner's predicted finish time, stroll -- or hustle, depending -- to the exchange, and then wait. The time thing can be a challenge, especially later in the race when you're battling traffic and fatigue. You want to arrive well before your runner does, and you have to convince your other runners that IT'S TIME TO GO without seeming like a crazy person. And inevitably it's a game of "hurry up and wait."
The nice thing, though: Once your novice runners have gotten through their first leg, they understand how it works. Then everyone is less nervous, and it's easier to swap jobs so that your exhausted van captain can sit in the back seat and put her running shoes on.
Did I mention that the running part of this race was literally the last thing I was worried about? Despite the fact that I hadn't run at all in three weeks?
It's nice when everybody settles in, too, because then things can get silly.
(erik trying to help van 1 find us, by standing on the roof with his pants down, dancing to the lady gaga CD we had playing out the window)
We handed back off to van 1 at about 7 PM; after that we headed to a teammate's house for pizza and rest. We left again at 10 PM for our second leg, which began at midnight. Runners either love or hate the middle of the night legs; all but one of our runners loved it. I find it to be the best part of the race. You're not tired because you're full of adrenaline, and you get to do this crazy thing: running, as I did, 6.9 miles through the forested coast range at 3 AM under a mostly full moon and a sky full of stars. Night runners wear reflective vests, LED lights, and headlamps; for the most part, the only traffic on the road is race traffic, and there were long stretches where it was nothing but me on that road, surrounded by pines and silence. The second leg was my best; I came in at an 8:00/mile pace and passed a ton of people, including one woman who complimented my form as I cruised by.
We finished our second leg at around 6 AM and it took us an excruciating hour to get to the sleeping spot, partially because four of us lost the van at the van exchange -- a cop had threatened the two remaining runners in the van to MOVE IT RIGHT NOW PEOPLE, as it was (apparently) parked somewhere illegal. We had next to no cell reception, misunderstood where they were, and wandered around the parking lot blearily for 20 minutes or so before we finally got the message correctly and found them. And when we finally got to the van exchange, all the parking spots for sleeping areas were full. We didn't manage to hit the hay until after 7 AM, giving us a sad two hours to sleep. I think I slept about 30 minutes out of that.
Leg 3 is, I think, the hardest: you haven't slept, you've already run 10+ miles, you're sore and stiff and tired of being in the van, wanting real food but maybe unable to eat it. But it's also celebratory: each runner who finishes is DONE! Things get wacky on that third leg, as you approach the coast. We traded the leftover pizza we had in the cooler -- soggy, garlicky, but still good -- with some dudes parked next to us. We got beers in exchange.
Soon enough, you drop off your leg 36 runner -- the final leg -- and you jet to Seaside, hoping to find parking. You walk a long way on your really sore legs to the beach, where the van 1 people have already showered and eaten, the bastards. And then when your runner gets there you meet her and cross the finish line together. Then you eat a lot of food and maybe drink a beer, because your team has been running continuously for over 31 hours and you're real tired and hungry.
Later on, we headed down to Nehalem to stay with the symphony's second bassoonist (three members of our team are Oregon Symphony folks), who along with his wife very generously put us up, opened up their hot tub, made us steamed oysters, and were awesome company. Then the remaining nine of us slept all in one room, in sleeping bags, like a bunch of kids at a sleepover.
Leaving your team the next morning is sad, like the end of camp. Like camp, you didn't know most of these people when you started, but you've been smelly in a van together, and exhausted; you've seen each other through the hard legs and the queasiness; you've cheered and mooned your teammates (ok, maybe I'm the only one who did that) and made it through this crazy thing. Having a good team is what turns an experience like this -- which, to be frank, is often utterly miserable -- into something you return for in subsequent years. We had a good team.
(the team, finished)
(the ladies of van 2)
(van 2 at the 2nd van exchange, passing it off to van 1)
I was so stressed in the weeks leading up to the race -- both about the race itself and about life things in general -- that I was not sure I even wanted to run it (although I never would have bailed). But of course I'm glad I did. And I'm sure they'll convince me to do it again next year.