Monday, September 1, 2014

Hood to Coast 2014: The Experience

(See separate post about the running aspects of Hood to Coast.)

Team photo! (one guy had to head home immediately after his third leg to meet other commitments, we did have 12 runners during the race)

I was able to participate in Hood to Coast this year on a team sponsored (and applied for) by my employer, so all of the team members were coworkers. Not everyone who applies gets a team - almost three thousand teams apply, but only 1,050 are allowed (one year they tried increasing the limit, and had ridiculous traffic jams - even with the current limits, there are some spots of severe congestion on the course). I'm sure there are some sponsors who are guaranteed team spots, and there is a special lottery for teams who have been declined for one or two of the past years. My understanding is that all other teams are picked by random drawing. 

Although our team had a very early start time (Friday 7:00 am - it turns out we didn't all input truly up to date race times, and our estimated finish time was 36 hours - spoiler: we didn't take that long), the benefit to being in van 2 is that you don't have to start until after six runners have already gone. :) 

Instead of being at the race before 7:00, I was able to wake up around then, and met up with my van 2 teammates at the office at 9. We did some quick van decorating, then headed to exchange 6 in Sandy, OR. 

#accountantjokes

We expected runner 6 to come in about 11:40 am, but made sure to arrive with plenty of time to spare. We were able to hang out for a while, browse the Hood to Coast branded apparel for sale by Portland Running Company (I, and many of my vanmates, bought leg-specific tech tees - runner 8 says "run dirty" in reference to the gravelly/dusty leg 20), and snack a bit. 

As we neared the estimated time, both runner 7 (about to head out) and I started getting ready (since I'd have to be ready to hop out of the van after we drove to the next exchange). Finally, we headed over to the exchange chute - and as we were just within hearing distance, heard our number being shouted out! Turns out the van 1 runners had gained a lot of time speeding down the hills at the start of the race (runner 2 got down around 6:15 minute miles), and we were a cumulative 20 minutes or so ahead of schedule. Runner 7 jumped right into the chute, was handed the bracelet from runner 6 as he came in, and took off.

This set of legs took us through some farm type land east of Portland for a while, including for leg 8. Then there were a few legs on the Springwater Trail. By leg 12, we were back in Portland, and we handed off to runner 1 (now running leg 13) at the exchange in downtown Portland by the waterfront. 

We knew we had least four hours to kill before the next exchange for our van. Given our location at the moment, we decided to stop for dinner at the Montage, a restaurant known for mac & cheese and cajun foods. We definitely felt a bit underdressed in our sweaty running gear (it's not super nice, but jeans-and-heels nice). I had the tomato basil pesto mac, which is fine but not quite as good as the old mac that I've had there before (but figured would be far too dairy-heavy so soon before another run). 

Best thing about the Montage is the foil animals they wrap your leftovers in.
After refueling, we headed towards our next running start at exchange 18, in St. Helens. Along the way we got gas for the van and fresh ice for the cooler, and also stopped at a school at exchange 17 that allowed access to the locker rooms to change into fresh running clothes.

We finally arrived at exchange 18 at least an hour before the (revised) estimated time the last van 1 runner would come in, so we spread out some blankets and tried to nap a little. It was still dusk when we arrived, but was fully dark before runner 7 took off for leg 19. 

The next exchange, to start my leg 20, was fully out in the boonies. The exchange site was at a farm, and this exchange, had by far the best volunteers! I hate to say something bad about any race volunteers, because, well, they are volunteers, but some were not the best, or very efficient at corralling vehicles into crowded parkings lots. But at exchange 19, they were incredibly efficient and overly communicated, so we knew exactly where to go and who to look to for directions next.

Clockwise from top left: exchange 6, exchange 12, exchange 18, exchange 9

And the worst volunteers were at exchange 24, when our last runner in our second set of legs was coming in, and van 1 was taking over again. From talking to experienced HTCers, I knew there would be more congestion as we approached the finish line and teams that started further apart converged, and that this would be even more exacerbated as "major exchanges", where both vans had to be. However, this was not normal congestion, and HTC has apologized specifically for this exchange on their social media, so I know something was going wrong!

It literally took 45 minutes to drive the last mile; we ended up sending one person walking to the exchange to meet our runner, and then we planned to swing by and pick them both up, and continue onto our next stop.

Unfortunately, we drove by the chute, and didn't see them! We also couldn't figure out a way into the super crowded parking lots, so we pulled off to the side of the road a quarter mile or so after the chute, and I headed back to find them (and let them know where we were parked). Well, I found them - but our runner was still waiting to hand off the bracelet! We knew van 1 must have been there for hours by then (they would have gone straight there and slept while waiting for us), but van 1 and its occupants were nowhere to be found.

Our teammate who had gone ahead while we were stuck in traffic had already walked around the parking lot, trying to find van 1. While we waited, I decided to look around too, but as I walked past the exchange chute towards another section, they'd finally showed up! I'm still not exactly clear what happened; it doesn't really make sense why the runner didn't go to the chute at an appropriately early time, and why the rest of the van didn't know he wasn't there. But eventually, about 20 minutes after leg 24 was finished, leg 25 started.

We were all ridiculously frustrated by this turn of events, but drove on to exchange 30 - fortunately with much less traffic! By now it was 4 am and a bit chilly (probably around 50 degrees), so we decided to stay in the van to get a little bit of sleep.

When we awoke it was finally light out, and the exchange was crowded with both vans 1 and 2. The last runner of van 1 came in about when expected, and runner 7 took off for her last leg. We followed along the course to exchange 32, where I set off for my last run! Before starting I thought I'd end up faster than my predicted pace; but once I got going on leg 32 I realized just show tired my legs were, and how fatigued mentally I was.

We continued following our runners along the course at this point, stopping a couple times to provide water as it was heating up as the day progressed. While stopped and waiting for one runner, I had my teammates hold up a blanket so I could change out of the running clothes I'd been wearing for my second and third leg. So, getting naked on the side of the road, check that off the bucket list.

Finally, our last runner was out on leg 36, and we drove into Seaside. Fortunately, we were way ahead of schedule - ended up finishing just after 1:30 pm, in 30:32:59, so though there wzas some slow traffic, nothing terrible. We parked at a school about a mile away from the finish line on the beach, and walked over, with still a little time to spare. We found our van 1 teammates, and were all ready to meet runner 12 when she came in to cross the finish line together.

Before & after

Van 1 had been hanging out on the beach for a while by now, so they headed home. Van 2 needed lunch first, so we found a not-too-crowded restaurant at McKeown's. The food was fine (anything tastes good after running almost 15 miles in 30 hours!) but what was fabulous was the drink I had - the lavender lemondrop martini. I made sure to take a photo of its description on the menu so I can recreate it sometime.

We then drove home, and I was actually at home around 5:30 pm on Saturday, 33.5 hours after heading out for the race! After a much-needed shower and a relaxing evening, I went to bed and slept for 12 hours with a just a couple brief wakeups early in the morning. I also spent much of the next day lounging on the couch and napped for several more hours. Even though I felt like I could have put a lot more effort into the actual running, just participating and not sleeping is an exhausting experience!

But very much a rewarding and fun experience! I hope I get another chance to be on a team at some point, and I also want to volunteer for it at some point. If you only ever do one running relay, do Hood to Coast!

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