How does one describe in a concise blog post the toughest, yet most amazing weekend I've ever spent running?
|H2C starting line|
Last weekend I had the opportunity to participate in the Hood to Coast Relay. For those of you who've never heard of it, the H2C is the largest relay in the world. It's been going on for 30 years (2011 is it's 30th anniversary!). The race organizers dub it as "The Mother of All Relays." The race begins high on Mt. Hood at Timberline Lodge, and spans 200 miles to the finish line on the Pacific Ocean beach in Seaside. The race consists of 36 Legs. Each runner is required to complete three of the 36 Legs. Each Leg ranges in distance from 3.52 to 8.09 miles, and vary in difficulty from easy to very hard. A team consists of 12 runners, divided between two vehicles (usually large vans).
|My Van 1 teammates on Mt. Hood|
I'd entered a contest to be on the Nuun women blogger H2C team (you may remember my wacky post back in June), but my name wasn't chosen (heavy sigh!). However, about a month before the race, someone I work with asked if I'd join their H2C team. Her friends had been lucky enough to field two H2C teams, but injuries had decimated their ranks. The teams needed replacement runners to fill a couple of spots. I was more than happy to help!
|Rick, Brody and Tommy|
The team I joined was called "Where is my Monkey Butter?" The group also had a sister team called the "Monkey Butter Express." There's a long story about how the teams got the name "monkey butter" that I won't go into here. I was assigned to Van 1, running Leg 6. I only knew one other person in my van, our team captain Eric, who I'd worked with on the I-205 light rail project. But I knew that after spending 30-plus hours in a van over the weekend, the rest of us would no longer be strangers!
|Our home for the next 30 hours|
Race day finally arrived. My Van 1 teammates met in Portland for the drive up to Timberline Lodge. Besides myself and Eric, there was Dianthe, a mountain runner from California, and the only other woman in the van. She and I hit if off right away and chattered in the backseat all the way up the mountain. We also had Tommy and Brody, two tall young men with long legs, who could run like the wind. Rounding out our team was Rick. A last minute addition to our roster, he'd joined our team the Sunday before the race, giving him no time to train. But Rick was a veteran of several H2C relays, and knew what he was getting himself into.
The H2C is a very popular relay, and this year limited its entries to 1,250 teams. Because having that many teams start all at once would create a huge traffic jam, the race organizers stagger the start in waves of 20 to 25 teams every 15 minutes. Our team was assigned a start time of 11 am on Friday morning.
|Van 1 at the starting line!|
We pulled into the Timberline parking lot that morning with plenty of time to spare. This gave my team some time to finish decorating our vehicle. It's a tradition for teams to decorate their vans, and some get very creative! Tommy tied our big blow-up monkey on top of the vehicle. The guys also attached smaller stuffed moneys onto the front grill and side mirrors. And Dianthe took our markers and finished decorating the windows. Me? I just took photos.
|Timberline parking lot was the start of the race|
The parking lots were crammed with vans of all shapes and sizes, in all stages of decor. We saw another set of vans with the same blow up monkey as us. Turns out they were a team from Colorado. We laughed at some of the team names and creative decorations. The van next to had "More Cow Tipping" painted on their window. We saw a team wearing pink sparkly crowns (even the men) that called themselves "Suck it up Princess." There was a team whose members all dressed up as different superheros. And a group of ladies across the parking lot with a team name of "I Love Tacos" had made a couple taco costumes for their runners to wear. I even got to see the "Dead Jocks in a Box" van drive up (one of the teams featured in the Hood to Coast movie).
|.......And they're off!|
After finishing our decorations, and checking in, Team Monkey Butter wandered around the parking lot sampling clif bars and posing for a couple of photographs. A thunderstorm had roared over Mt. Hood in the wee hours, but by late morning, the sun was back out. It lit up the mountain for picture-perfect views. However, all this sunshine meant temps began to heat up. Not a good thing for those of us getting ready to run.
|Dianthe charges down Timberline Road|
Dianthe was our first runner up. She got assigned the dreaded Leg 1, 5.64 miles with a 2000 foot elevation drop. This quad-shredding leg follows Timberline Road all the way down the mountain into the town of Government Camp. But Dianthe was our mountain runner, taking on hills all the time back home. She was ready! The announcer read the names of each team in our wave, to the cheers of the crowd. Then we all counted down to the start. The horn blew, and the announced dismissed the runners by yelling "get outta here!" Team "Where is my Monkey Butter?" was on its way to the coast!
|Our first handoff to Tommy|
After Dianthe took off, my teammates and I made a beeline to our van. We headed down Timberline Road to the next exchange point. As our van passed runners, we all whooped and hollered and Eric rang a cowbell. Dianthe got an especially loud cheer from her teammates!
|Rick running the third leg|
Dianthe roared down the mountain, and came in way ahead of her projected finish time. Tommy was waiting at the exchange point, and the handoff went flawlessly. Tommy sprinted through his leg, and was so fast, I didn't get any photos of him. Tommy passed off to Rick, our third runner. Rick took off, wristband in had, continuing the journey down Hwy 26.
|Eric looking very hot as he finishes leg 4|
Rick's leg was longer than Tommy's, so our van had a chance to stop halfway and give our teammate some cheer. Then it was rush to the next exchange and get Eric ready to run. By this time, it was early afternoon, and the temps were getting hot. Rick finished his leg, looking like he'd sweated a gallon of water.
|The handoff to Brody|
Leg four was Eric's to run. The course continued to follow the shoulder of Hwy 26, the main road between Portland and Mt. Hood (and the road I'm on every weekend during ski season!). It looked really unnerving to have runners right on the shoulder of a very busy highway. But traffic seemed to be behaving (probably because a lot of it was race traffic). Some of our exchanges were perched right on the edge of the roadway. There was barely enough room to park a bunch of vans. But the volunteers were great, directing traffic in, and pointing out parking spots for us.
|Brody demonstrates drinking on the run|
Eric finished his leg, looking very hot and spent. Time for Brody to run! Brody had the longest and most difficult leg of this series. His three legs were rated the number one hardest of the relay. But Brody made it look easy. With his long legs, he covered ground rapidly.
I'd spent all this time watching my teammates run, itching for it to be my turn. I was never so ready to run. But feeling the temperature rise with each passing leg got me nervous. I don't do well running in heat, and haven't had a lot of practice due to our cool summer. I was afraid the heat would slow me up, and didn't want to let my team down. I was also a tiny bit worried about overheating.
|This was my view running down Hwy 26|
We cheered Brody at his halfway point, and then it was off to my exchange. Finally my turn to run! But I had to go to the bathroom something fierce. When our vehicle stopped, I jumped out and made a beeline to the port-a-potties. As I approached the bank of Honey Buckets I saw they were all being serviced. Nooo! I tapped on the shoulder of the guy with the hose and told him I had to go now! He let me use one of the biffies (thank you!). I hopped out of the potty with two minutes to spare. Then Brody came charging up the hill to the exchange. Woo-hoo! Showtime!
|I was happy to see the Sandy City sign - but still had a long ways to go!|
I took off like a bat out of hell. I was running way too fast, but my excitement got the better of me. I thought to myself "Wow, I'm actually running the Hood to Coast!" I ran my first mile in 8:30. After seeing that split, common sense took over, and I forced myself to slow down. This leg was 6.75 miles and I still had a long ways to go. And it wasn't getting any cooler.
About mile two my euphoria wore off, and the heat began to take its toll. I was carrying a water bottle, and tried to ration my drinks. But temps were in the high 80s by then, and the asphalt shoulder seemed to intensify the heat and cause it to radiate upward onto us hapless runners. Running alongside of a major highway is no fun. A couple of semis barrelled by, scaring me half to death. I felt very unprotected.
But luckily, a couple of nice people had set up water stations along my leg. I gratefully accepted the cups of water, took a small sip, and then poured the rest over my head. That helped so much! I ran by a car wash, where someone was hosing off a truck, and almost stopped and asked the guy to spray me.
|"Woo-hoo, almost done!"|
My leg ended in the town of Sandy, at the local Safeway store. I'm very familiar with this stretch of the road, having driven it many winter weekends. However, it's sure a lot longer by foot! When I saw the Sandy city limits sign, I began to get excited. But it was a looong way from the sign until I actually entered the town proper. As I plodded through the heart of Sandy, the Dead Jocks drove by and squirted me with their water cannon. That was much appreciated!
Finally Safeway came into view. I was never so happy to see a Safeway store! This exchange was the place Van 1 handed off the baton to Van 2. I didn't know who I was handing off to, having not yet met my teammates in Van 2. But someone had a blow up monkey on a stick, and it led me to my leg 7 teammate Karl. I handed Karl the bracelet and wished him luck. And with that, my first leg was in the bag!
|Getting ready for our 2nd legs at the base of the Hawthorne Bridge|
My teammates met me at the exchange, and gave high fives all around. Now that Van 2 was on the course, our van had a break for several hours. My first order of business was to go into Safeway and buy some Popsicles. I'd been thinking of nothing else during the final miles of my leg. I was still very hot, and the AC in the store felt wonderful. I opened up the one of the freezer doors and just stood in front of it for a long time.
|All of us monkeys waiting for the leg 12 runner|
After purchasing goodies at Safeway (I've never seen such a busy grocery store - it was chock full of runners!) we all piled into our vehicle for the drive into Portland. Eric, Brody and Tommy all work for a local construction company whose offices just happen to be very close to our next van exchange. By the time we reached the office, it was after five so we had the place to ourselves. It was wonderful to have access to a bathroom with running water. I was able to wash up, and change into some dry clothes. Then we all sacked out in the conference room, ate, watched a movie, and chilled out for a couple of hours. My bout with the heat had left me feeling ill and chilled, so it was nice to warm up, rest, and rehydrate.
|The crowd under the bridge at exchange 12|
Time seemed to fly by. Suddenly it was time for our van to run again. We packed up and headed over to the east end of the Hawthorne Bridge, the next van exchange point. By now it was 8:00 in the evening, and the sun was going down. Dianthe donned a reflective vest, headlamp, and flashers (required by the H2C relay when you're running at night). Van two's 12th runner, Alex came flying through the exchange. Dianthe took the bracelet, and just like that we were on the move once again!
Our team's Van 2 was having car problems. Their van (dubbed the "Screaming Eagle") was having brake issues, so instead of getting to rest after their first legs, Van 2 had to go exchange vehicles. Bummer!
|Group stretching in the dark|
For the rest of the night, my van one teammates and I followed our runners through downtown Portland, up Naito Parkway, and onto Hwy 30. We caught up to the Monkey Butter Express team at the 15th exchange (the MBX team started at 8 am but had been slowed down by injuries). Both teams were surprised to see each other. The night was still hot and humid. Dianthe, Tommy and Eric complained about the muggy weather.
It was weird to see so many runners, all decked out in bright reflecties, running along the shoulder of yet another major highway at night. One by one, my teammates completed their legs, passing off the sweaty reflective vest and headlamp on to the next runner. We tried to stop along the road where we could to cheer on our teammates. But there weren't a lot of places to safely pull over.
|Eric and Dianthe ham it up|
Slowly my team worked our way toward the town of St. Helens. This was where my next leg began. Time seemed to fly by and before I knew it, the clock was ticking towards midnight, and we were pulling into St. Helens High School parking lot. It was my turn to run again.
Of course I had to pee, and that necessitated a hunt for the Honey Buckets. After a successful recon, I hustled to the exchange to be ready for Brody. The night was cooling off, the humidity dropping. The sky was starry and peaceful. After a quick wait, Brody appeared out of the night, flying towards me. I took the bracelet, and stepped into the darkness. It was straight-up midnight. A new day was starting and my second leg had just begun.....
Stay tuned for my next Hood to Coast blog post - Day Two!