Saturday, September 5, 2015

Hood to Coast 2015: The Experience

(See separate post about 2015 running here, and 2014 experience post here.)



My employer was lucky enough to get a lottery spot in Hood to Coast two years in a row, so I got to do it again this year! 

We had some relatively slow projected times (other than one quasi-ringer - an intern for the firm this summer who can bust out 6-something minute miles like it's nothing - we're all just pretty average hobby joggers), so we ended up with the earliest start time possible - 5 am. Luckily for me, only van 1 has to be at Mt. Hood for the start. The rest of us got a more leisurely morning. Mine included some themed pancakes made by Abe. :) Van 2 met at the office about 8, decorated the van and packed up, and were on our way to our first major exchange at Sandy High school by 8:30. Less than an hour drive, we were there plenty early for the projected exchange time around 11:00 am. However - it's extremely easy for van 1 to be fast on their first set of legs - the first few legs are pretty much straight downhill, down the side of Mt. Hood. Indeed, they came in over half an hour ahead of schedule.

Fortunately, after hanging out, we headed to the actual exchange chute with plenty of spare time, and our runner 7 headed off! These legs head back towards Portland, including some legs on the Springwater Trail, including my leg 10. 

Leg 12 brought us to the waterfront in downtown Portland. Van 1 was already there - we'd been texting with them to let them know our expected arrival around 3:30 (we made up a little time too, and were now over an hour ahead of schedule). We also had walkie talkies to find each other - this was the only major exchange at which we successfully attempted using them for communication. other times, the other van was out of range, and they frequently went off with other people trying to use the same channels. (I don't think the race officially recommends walkie talkies - but especially in the second half, there are spots without any cell service, so that's the only real option for communicating.)

Van 1 took over for their second legs, and we had a break for dinner. Being in downtown we had plenty of options, so we headed to ¿Porque no? for tacos. I had a seasonal special veggies taco (which was good, but far too spicy for me), along with a side of beans and rice, plus we all tried an aqua fresca - I think the one I had was strawberry mint, and it was delicious. We then headed to one of our team member's houses in SE Portland to hangout for a while. This meant a chance to take quick showers and change not in a porta potty or van, which was awesome! 

If van 1 had maintained the time cushioned, but stuck to the projected times for the second legs, we expected them in at exchange 18 around 9:30 - but if we faster as they had been earlier, they could arrive earlier, so I was extra paranoid about getting there extra early just in case. They ended up slowing down a tad, so we were about an hour and a half early, with time to buy coffee and do a group yoga session led by one of our teammates (who is not a yoga instructor in any way, but put together a pretty nifty routine for us from the yoga videos he's watched). 

Then we took off on our second legs, in the dark around 10:00 pm. As required by the race we had blinky reflective vests and headlamps, plus alternating runners had some fun blue and green battery-operated Christmas lights. (Adding more lights or glow sticks or something is a lot of fun for the night runs!) Throughout these legs, there was some wind and rain picking up (I had sporadic sprinkling throughout mine), but nothing too extreme. 

We got in just after 3 am, and handed off to van 1 at exchange 24 - who set out as the weather continued to get worse. Driving to the next major exchange where we'd have a chance to sleep while we waited for our next turn, the wind picked up, the rain started pouring - and there was ridiculous sheet lightening, that completely lit up the entire landscape. Let's just say we were all glad not to be running in that weather. 

By this point, teams were converging and both vans 1 and 2 were following along the race route, so traffic was a slow line. We thought we'd have a full three hours to sleep, but ended up with a lot closer to two once we finally got to exchange 30 and parked. It was still raining off and on and ridiculous windy, so rather than bother finding the designated sleeping area to put down a tarp, we just curled up in the van as best we could. Though I'd be nodding off on the last drive, I had an awful time getting comfortable and kept waking up. 

We were all awake before our alarms went off to be ready for an expected 8:30 arrival by van 1, plenty of time to stand in line for the porty potties (generally not too bad line-wise, but crowded at this major exchange since both vans end up there), eat breakfast, and otherwise get ready to run yet again. I ended up brushing my teeth by the side of the van, pouring from a water bottle to rinse my toothbrush and spitting into the grass - clean teeth never felt so great! 

We headed out for our final legs about a quarter to nine, with the weather improved by still off and on wind and rain. There were bursts of rain and wind gusts that I think we all experienced throughout these legs, ending up with totally soaked clothes and having moments of running into wind so hard we felt like we were running in place. As we were leaving the last major exchange, a volunteer stopped us to let us know that the wind in Seaside was so bad that the finish line was being moved from the actual beach to the promenade.


We eventually dropped off our final runner and headed into town. There wasn't too much traffic, considering (I think we were still just early enough in the day), and we found some 1-hour parking street-side without too much trouble. We headed over to the promenade sidewalk and found our van 1 teammates also without too much trouble (yay for cell service again!). Though not quite as organized as usual when there's abundant space on the beach (with corrals for teams awaiting their final runner), they did a decent job of keep spectators and waiting teams pushed to the side of the sidewalk, so the final runners and teams meeting up with them could run the final stretch to the finish line in the back of one of the beachside hotels. We crossed the finish line a bit before 2:00 pm, which I think put us around a half hour before our projected time.

My understanding is that some of the finish line amenities (food, vendors, etc.) were moved into a hotel basement or conference rooms, but we just stuck around long enough to get a group photo. Van 1 headed home pretty quickly, and we sought out a restaurant for lunch. Everything was ridiculously crowded, of course. We drove or walked by a few places before decided we just had to start heading out of town before we'd find anything without a wait. We ended up getting more Mexican food at Mazatlan on the south end of town. Margaritas were particularly wonderful at that point. 

We finally headed back and I was home about 5:30. I made it a few hours before crashing, and ended up getting eleven of the best hours of sleep I've had in a long time. And then had to get up and run 12 miles the next day. All in all, the race felt waaay easier this year than the first time (not easy, just easier). The running was not too bad since I didn't push the pace all that much and it was in the midst of such high volume marathon training. The rest of the experience was more fun, both since I knew what to expect and I took charge of the schedule and making sure we knew when we needed to be where. I tried not to be too overly annoying in forcing people to be places, but I made sure we were never late if it was in our control, which allows everyone to have fun if you're not stressing about making an exchange or arriving without knowing where your team is. 

At this point I kind of want to try to do every leg in van 2; as well as make sure I experience van 1 eventually. After two years, Hood to Coast is really a great challenge and fun race. 

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