Official Race Recap: Hood to Coast Version

It's been a really long time since I've even considered writing a blog but I recently ran the Mother of All Relays and have received some requests for a recap. So, here goes. I apologize in advance to my teammates because after re-reading what I wrote, I realized it's so ALL about me. For a great recap from Bavana 1, check out Amy's blog.

If you don't know what Hood to Coast is, you should watch the documentary. It doesn't give a perfect representation of the course but it certainly shows the spirit of the event. I arrived in Portland on Tuesday afternoon and the race didn't begin until Friday. I'm going to skip over the sightseeing and get directly to the race.

Our team wasn't completely assembled until Thursday at 10:30 p.m. but most people arrived earlier on Wednesday and Thursday. That gave us some time to prepare the vans and hang out together. Our team name was Neon Banana Hammock, so we tethered inflatable bananas to the top of our minivans and wrote all over the windows with neon yellow. We also had a stock of banana runts to share with other teams.

Thanks to our wonderful hosts, Lonnie and Roni, most of us were able to stay under the same roof. It was like overnight camp for adults - air mattresses filled the first floor.

Regular HTC teams have 12 people, split into two vans. That's how ours worked except that my van, Bavana 2, had a designated driver. Many teams rent 15-passenger or party vans; we were in minivans. Though it was necessarily comfortable to have all seven Bavana 2'ers in there at once, minivans were much more maneuverable along the narrow roads and in the crowded parking lots.

Our teams were as follows and this is the order we ran in:
Bavana 1: Amy, One-Hour Sheri, Cathy, Susan, Lonnie, Christine
Bavana 2: Jim, Jennifer, Michelle, Two-Hour Sherri, me, Jamie, and David (our driver)

Bavana 1 had to get up and out of the house at about 4:30 a.m. for the 7:15 start at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood. Since van 2 wasn't allowed at the start line, the rest of us got to sleep in. As with most races, though, nerves and adrenaline and time zone differences woke the rest of us much earlier than necessary. So,we got a good breakfast and were at the first exchange several hours in advance.

It was a lot of fun to see how creative teams had gotten with their names and decorations. One van was sporting a giant, lit up tiara. Another was inspired by "All Your Base Are Belong to Us." Bavana 1 had already lost their car-top banana. Ours was hanging on but wouldn't last very long into our first leg.

Since I was Leg 11, I didn't start my first portion until 6:25 p.m. It was 4.5 miles along a mostly flat paved trail. Considering the ascents and descents some of my teammates encountered, I was grateful that my untrained body got an easy one. Even so, it took me well over an hour in 90F temps to cover the distance. When I handed off to Jamie, in his purple running get-up, I was grateful for icy water Jim brought to the exchange and the knowledge that we'd get to sleep after Jamie's run.

Jamie's run brought us into the city. After he handed off to Amy, his wife, we hopped into the van and headed toward our next van exchange near St. Helens, where we were also hoping to get some food. As it went, though, there was very little open - even Burger King only had the drive thru - so we ended up raiding Fred Meyer's deli section, where I got the driest chicken bits in the history of the world.

By the time we got to the exchange, we had about 4 hours before our next runner needed to go. The plan was for most of us to sleep outside but then the rain came. Let me tell you, seven adults attempting to sleep in a minivan is a volatile situation. When you're already tired and uncomfortable and hungry, trying to sleep sitting up as the heat continues to build is bound to set someone off. Eventually, some people decided it was more desirable to lay down than to be dry, so they ventured into the intermittent rain for some horizontal time.

We struggled to get rest until the exchange was made around 4:30 a.m., in a downpour, then we left Bavana 1 and headed to our next exchange. It was as we were waiting at the next exchange that tired giddiness hit me, Jamie, and Michelle. We were giggling like schoolchildren in the back of the van. This did not make for great sleeping conditions for our other vanmate, Sherri.

I felt bad for our runners who were going out on these legs because driving up and down the curvy roads in the rainy dark was nerve-wracking enough. But Jim, Jennifer, and Michelle made it through.

As we were waiting for my second leg to begin, the sweeper van arrived at the exchange and started taking away all the race paraphernalia. It was simultaneously fun and anxiety-inducing to realize we were the very last team on the course. As I almost got hit by a car within the first quarter mile of my second leg, my anxiety didn't seem unfounded. Just after the unobservant car passed me, my team slowed down. I was rattled and feeling quite unsafe. They said, "Get in!" I'd like to say it took more convincing than it did but I was genuinely scared of being out on the course completely alone, so I jumped in.

By this point, we were also so behind schedule that we were hoping the HTC staff would let us "leapfrog," which means putting multiple runners on the course at the same time. Our teammates spoke to some race volunteers and officials but, despite terrible rain and 70 MPH wind gusts, they took some convincing. We finally got the go-ahead around 1 p.m. (I think... time moves weirdly during a relay race.)

If they had made us finish with one runner at a time, we would have been on the course until midnight or later. Problem is that the course closes at 9 p.m. Not to mention that the high winds and rain had completely shut down the party at the end, blowing away tents, merch, and maybe a few runners.

Now that we were officially leapfrogging, we put most of our team out at their last legs. Jamie, our last runner, was the only one who stayed in the van with David.

As we approached the coast, the wind became almost unbearable. It wasn't particularly cold but it was intensely strong. The first mile or so that I ran was significantly uphill along some windy, beautiful roads. The remaining 5.5 were along a straight gravel path with very gradual ascents and declines. All of the runners were trying to stay on the most worn, flat track, so except for the occasional pass (a.k.a. "kill"), everyone was in single file. It reminded me of the scene in Call of the Wild with all of the miners climbing the glacier in a row. Except for some very brief respites, the wind made it feel like someone was holding me from behind to prevent me from moving forward.

My team thought I was going to take longer than I did, so as I was going into the exchange point, I passed our last runner, Jamie, and Bavana 2 stopped to pick me up so we could drive to the finish line. I was completely out of it. All I wanted was food and a comfortable chair (a.k.a. a bed). I don't really know how we all made it through the two hour drive home but we did and there was pizza and beer and apple pie moonshine waiting for us there.

Surprisingly, most of us managed to stay awake until after 10 p.m. Not sure why we did that other than that it was a lot of fun. Then we all slept like the dead.