Monday, August 25, 2014

Hood to Coast 2014: Running Legs 8, 20, & 32

(See separate post about the non-running aspects of the experience.)

If you're not familiar with Hood to Coast or similar relay races, here's how it works: Each team consists of 12 people; 6 people each in 2 vans. Van 1 starts the race, running legs 1 - 6. You drop off runner 1, then drive to exchange 1 to meet them. Runner 1 comes in, hands off a bracelet to runner 2, who heads off on the next leg. You drive to exchange 2 to meet them, etc. Every six legs, the vans exchange; runner 6 hands off to runner 7 from van 2. Now van 2 drives to meets them at the next exchange, while van 1 heads directly to exchange 12 and has a little time to rest. And so on for the rest of the 36 legs, until each runner has run 3 legs. You all meet up at the end and the whole team runs the last 50 feet or so to cross the finish line together.

I was in van 2, runner 8. Even though we drew randomly to assign legs, this was fortunately one of the shortest and relatively easy set of legs, with all three under 6 miles each.

Skip to: Leg 8 Leg 20 Leg 32

Expected time of day: 12:37 pm
Expected temperature: 72
Expected pace: 11:30
Expected elevation:

Actual time of day: 12:12 pm
Actual temperature: 72
Actual pace: 12:01
Actual elevation:

Mile splits:
1 - 11:18 
2 - 12:02
3 - 11:51
4 - 12:54
4.55 - 12:00

Ok, I guess the overall decline per the elevation chart is there, but it really didn't feel like it! There were also a lot more rolling hills than I expected - the race chart smoothed over some of those smaller ups and downs. Until I imported the Garmin data, I truly though the race elevation chart was a lie - it did not feel like an overall downhill at all!

Despite being fresh, at the beginning of the race, this leg felt pretty hard! I guess I had high expectations - oh, it's the first leg, it's mostly downhill - so any challenge felt unexpected and thus even harder. There were more little hills, and there wasn't much shade - it felt closer to 80 than 70 in the sun.

I wasn't sure how many people would be around, as the teams start and finish at different times. There's about a 12 hour window of start times, and 8 hour window for finish times, so I knew teams would start converging as we got farther along, but wasn't sure how lonely the first legs would be.

It turns out there are plenty of people around the whole way! Not crowded the way a normal race is, of course, it is possible to go a few minutes without seeing anyone. But you're passing and being passed by (or in my case, just being passed by), at least a dozen runners during any given leg. Most of the time, the vans are also following the same route to get to the next exchange, so you'll see your van a mile or two in, and other vans that would stop and help you if you really needed assistance. In the few cases where vans couldn't drive along the course (for example, some were along the Springwater Trail instead roads), there were volunteers on bikes patrolling. 

Expected time of day: 11:14 pm
Expected temperature: 62
Expected pace: 13:30
Expected elevation:

Actual time of day: 10:39 pm
Actual temperature: 66
Actual pace: 13:10
Actual elevation:

Mile splits:
1 - 12:54
2 - 13:31
3 - 11:57 (the little downhill)
4 - 14:55 (back uphill, on gravel)
5 - 13:56
5.75 - 11:10 (downhill, wee!)

This one was - quite unexpectedly - my favorite leg. It was fully dark by the time I started, but nice that it was a smidge earlier than estimated. Also, I don't know if it was the adrenaline (and caffeine) or what, but it felt so much easier than I anticipated! The first 2+ miles were definitely a steady uphill, but truly not super steep. Then you get a little break, followed by more uphill, this time as the road change to gravel. That aspect was not fun; super dusty, especially as vans and faster runners passed by. Then the last downhill segment was longer than I thought, and it was just great!

As far as safety while running at night: From well before dusk to way past dawn (I believe it was from 6 pm to 7 am), you're required to wear a reflective vest, blinky lights on front and back, and a headlamp or carry a flashlight. From 7 am to 9 am, you have to continue wearing a reflective vest. As mentioned above, you were rarely alone for more than a few minutes without another runner or van passing by. They also, for these night legs on country roads without cell reception, had volunteers on motorcycles (and presumably with radios) patrolling back and forth. 

There was one point along this leg where I heard rustling in the woods alongside the road, followed by what sounded like a large cat of some sort snarling. That helped me pick up my speed for a while! Talking with other runners at later exchanges, I heard multiple stories. Some said there were some people trying to prank the runners by wearing gorilla suits and prowling along the course. Other people said someone actually saw a bobcat; other people said they saw a bear. Guess I'll never know what was actually there, but I really felt pretty safe for most of the time! 

Expected time of day: 9:15 am
Expected temperature: 70
Expected pace: 12:30
Expected elevation:

Actual time of day: 8:25 am
Actual temperature: 59
Actual pace: 12:37
Actual elevation:

Mile splits:
1 - 11:41
2 - 12:26
3 - 13:28
4 - 13:05
4.1 - 11:27

Right before I started, I thought I'd actually go faster, maybe in the 11s. It was still pretty cool from overnight, and I knew this leg would be flat-ish, some rolling hills but nothing too steep. My legs still didn't feel overly fatigued, definitely felt like I'd saved up energy for the end!

Once I got going though, I knew it wasn't going to happen. Though my muscles weren't tired, my whole body was. After waking up from a brief nap and sending off the runner before me, I didn't think I had quite enough to eat and drink some caffeine, and let it properly digest to avoid problems once I started running, so I just wasn't fueled up enough. It also started warming up as we went, and there wasn't much shade.

In the last 100 feet or so, a runner passed me, tapped me on the shoulder and said "tag!". I really tried to keep up with him, and did for a minute or so, before giving up. This was indicative of the support other runners gave each other, though. Even though virtually everyone passed me, there was almost always a "good job", or "keep it up" as they moved along. 

After each leg, one of the coworkers in my van asked us if we'd do Hood to Coast again. After my first leg, it was "yes...". After my second leg, it was a "hell yes!". After this third leg, it was back to a slightly hesitant "yes...". But really, I definitely do want to. This highlighted some weaknesses in my running skills that I already knew I had, and want to work on. But it really is a fun and supportive race atmosphere, and totally worth the sleep deprivation!


  1. Congrats on the race! I think I'd actually run HTC before I'd run a Ragnar, so I'll be glad to see these recaps. Glad you (mostly) had fun, and good onya for gutting out that last leg!

    1. Thanks! I'd definitely recommend HTC if you have a chance, though now that I've done HTC I'd be interested to do a Ragnar to compare them (the Northwest Passage is relatively nearby to me in the Seattle area). Although if I ever get into trail running, I think a Ragnar trail race would be awesome, cause you get to camp at a central location instead of driving the whole way.

  2. Very cool! Glad you had a good time and shared it here.

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience with HTC!

    That elevation gain for leg 20 looks pretty serious (then again as a south Floridian ALL elevation gains look serious to me), way to kick ass on it! How did you meet your HTC group? Were you all friends already?

    1. My team was actually all coworkers, sponsored by our company. I'll talk some more about that in a separate post about the non-running parts of the experience and logistics and such.


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