When you run the Hood to Coast relay, the race continues around the clock, from day into night. For the participants, it's a given that at least one of your three legs will be run in the dark. I was a little (ok, a lot) nervous about running along the road in the dead of night. One, I was worried about staying awake. Two, I was worried about a car hitting me. And three, I'm sort of a klutz, and was worried about not being able to see, and tripping over something.
My second leg was to start around midnight. That's way past my usual bedtime. To be sure I stayed awake, I popped a couple of shot blocks with caffeine about an hour before I ran. As for concern number two, I donned a super-bright headlamp, reflective vest, and three small blinking lights. Just for good measure, I added a large red blinking light that's usually attached to my bike. I was lit up like a Christmas tree! A couple of people at the exchange laughed at me, but I didn't care. No car was going to hit me if I could help it!
|Tommy runs off into the night|
Leg 18, my second leg, started in St. Helens, and then zigged- and zagged through town, finally ending at the Columbia County Fairgrounds. With all the turns, I was worried about finding my way in an unfamiliar place in the dark.
Well, as it turned out, all of my fears were for naught. As I started my second journey, the first thing I noticed was that the temp was much cooler than my scorching first leg. Ahhhh.....it was so nice to be running in the cool night air! With all my lights, I could see just fine. There was hardly any traffic (the vans followed a different route to the next exchange) so no worries about getting hit by car. There was a plentitude of volunteers at each intersection pointing the way, so no chance of getting lost. I relaxed and told myself "just enjoy the run." And I did.
|Tommy and Rick exchange in the early morning mist|
This was by far my best of the three legs. I found late night running to be quite enjoyable. The quiet darkness was very peaceful. I saw zillions of stars in the night sky. The few runners I passed, or who passed me were all very friendly. Everyone exchanged greetings and encouragement with their fellow participants. (I found this to be true of the entire relay. Never in a race have I encountered such friendly camaraderie between competitors). I passed one house whose occupants were manning a water station for the runners - at 12:45 in the morning! How nice is that?
The last two miles of my 5.23 mile leg were uphill. In the dark, the climb looked less daunting. But I could still feel it, and by the time I rounded the last bend into the fairgrounds, I was happy to see the exchange coming up. Karl was there waiting for me. I handed off the bracelet, and was immediately greeted by my teammates. Yahoo, leg two was done! Two down, one to go. And now our van had another rest break.
|Sleepy faces the next morning|
Eric and Rick told me to take whatever time I needed to cool down. But then we needed to jump into the vehicle and drive to our next exchange, which was located in the town of Mist. Race traffic had the reputation of being really bad between here and Mist, so Eric wanted to get on the road ASAP. He said it would probably take an hour to get there.
Well.....the trip ended up taking two hours. Traffic was bumper to bumper, crawling through the narrow country roads. I drifted off to sleep (as did everyone else in the vehicle) leaving our driver, poor Eric, alone to fend off drowsiness as he navigated towards the next exchange.
|Team "Iron Mullet's" van|
At 3 am, we finally pulled into our exchange point, a huge field. It was full of vans and people in sleeping bags were laying everwhere. As I stepped out of our vehicle, the chilly night air made me shiver in my sweaty clothes. When did it get so cold outside? There was no place to change, so after warning the guys, I crouched down in front of our SUV and did a quick wardrobe switch. Dianthe and I decided to sleep in the back of the vehicle - it was warmer, and we'd just spent the last two hours sleeping back there anyway.
Our team settled down for a quick 2 hour nap. We were due to start our final legs around 5:30 am. I was tired and thought I'd immediately zonk out. But sleep didn't come. First, a vehicle pulled in right next to ours, and the occupants were super inconsiderate, talking loudly and shining their headlamps into our car. Then, my tummy staged a revolt, and its rumblings kept me awake off and on the rest of the time.
|Beautiful farm scenery|
At 5 am, someone's phone alarm went off, and team Monkey Butter groggily emerged from their sleeping bags. Time to get ready for round three. I made a beeline for the potties, hoping to quell my unhappy tummy. First up, Dianthe began to gather her running gear. Then someone thought they heard our team number being called at the exchange point. Dianthe hustled over only to find it was a false alarm. Having no chance to eat or drink before her leg, we brought Dianthe a water bottle and energy bar. Then Alex came pounding down the road. For the last time, the baton was passed back to runner number one. Our final leg had begun!
|This volunteer came to the rescue with TP!|
It was still quite dark outside when Dianthe began her leg. She had a short distance to run, so we hustled to get to the next exchange. Dianthe finished with a smile, saying it was the best run of her series. Tommy took the bracelet and charged down the narrow country road in the early morning mist. Again, we drove straight to the next exchange point. The traffic was beginning to get heavy and we didn't want to arrive after our runner. The sun began to come up about the time Tommy handed off to Rick. It was a beautiful morning, and the surrounding farm and forestlands were gorgeous. In all my years living here, I'd never visited this part of Oregon. I had no idea such lovely country existed in the coast range.
|Rick happy that he's almost done|
At our third exchange point, traffic, both human and vehicular, was starting to stack up. I had to answer nature's call again, but decided against it when I saw the epically long port-a-potty lines. With the daylight finally bright enough for decent pictures, I planted myself on the opposite side of the road, waited for Rick, and took photos. A nice volunteer, who was kicking everyone else out of this area, saw my camera and let me stay.
Rick came in, looking tired, but relieved to be done. Eric sprinted off down the road, and the rest of team Monkey Butter headed towards our SUV. We arrived just in time to thwart a kidnapping of our blow up monkey by the MB Express team. They'd left a ransom note (written on a banana) stuck under the windshield wiper.
|An attempt was made to kidnap our monkey|
Traffic slowed to a crawl between the next exchange. From past years, I'd heard stories of epic traffic snarls during the H2C relay on the roads in the coast range. Even though the race organizers stagger the teams at the start, everyone seems to catch up to each other around Legs 29-30. That was the case today.
We were all a little worried that Eric would get to the end of his leg before our vehicle did. After barely moving for several minutes, Brody, our next runner, decided he'd better just jump out of the van and hightail it to the exchange. Poor Brody had a particularly tough final leg, up and over the coast range summit, gaining 600 feet in the first 3.5 miles of a 6 mile leg. And he ended up running an extra mile on top of this just to get to the hand-off in time.
|The mother of all traffic jams...|
With Brody underway, it meant my turn to run was next. I'd been mentally preparing all morning for my final leg. My tummy was still not happy. I suspected it was because I didn't eat anything after my last leg so I forced down a banana and half a Luna bar. That seemed to help.
Traffic picked up a little bit, and we actually passed Brody as he was climbing up to the pass. My team really wanted to stop and cheer him as he reached the summit, but were afraid we wouldn't make it to the exchange in time. About a mile from exchange 29, traffic again slowed to a crawl. It looked like I'd have to make a run for the hand-off too. I held off as long as I dared, but with about a half mile to the exchange, Rick and I jumped out the vehicle and walked to the start of Leg 30.
|Van 1 celebrates being done!|
While waiting for Brody, I actually had time to visit the Honey Bucket. Yeah! (It's amazing the little things that lift the spirits) Now I was really ready to get this thing over with.
Brody finally came running towards me. He looked very happy to be done. I grabbed the wristband for the very last time. Leg 30, here I come!
|Team "Cerial Killers"|
The first few steps were hard. My legs felt like they'd been filled with concrete and didn't want to cooperate at all. The good thing was the majority of this leg was downhill and only 5.33 miles. I let gravity take over, and pull my body along. I kept hoping my muscles would loosen up as I ran, but that didn't happen. My previous two runs and last night's lack of sleep had finally caught up to me. It was survival running at its finest.
|H2C finish line on the beach|
The scenery along this stretch of road was truly amazing. I followed beautiful forested hills, occasionally interrupted by a cute farm. I ran over a lovely burbling stream. The road was narrow and winding, with no shoulder so I had to run in the middle of the travel lane. The runners were placed on the left hand side of the road, facing traffic, and I was hoping not to meet a car head-on while rounding one of the corners. Luckily, the only traffic on the road was race traffic, and it was all backed up in the other lane.
|Van 1 group beach photo|
About halfway through my leg, the traffic again slowed to a halt. Instead of the vans passing me, I was passing the vans! It was kind of fun to run by all the vehicles. I entertained myself by looking at all the clever decorations and team names. Some of the teams were great and cheered on the runners. And of course, I woo-hooed right back! One nice lady told me I was her "very favorite runner."
Then up ahead, I saw our team's large blow-up monkey sticking up from the top of our vehicle. I was going to pass my own van! Eric had warned me this might happen and if it did, asked me to stop and pick up our team's clipboard and stopwatch. We needed to hand this stuff off to van 2 at the next exchange, and now it looked like I was the fastest way to get it there. As I ran by the Monkey Butter SUV, Tommy stuck the clipboard out the window, and I completed the hand-off.
|After running the hardest combined legs, Brody is beat|
So now I had to try and run while holding a clipboard with two stopwatches hanging off of it. I tried different ways to grasp the clipboard and watches without accidentally turning them off. I finally ended up tucking it all under my arm. I had about two miles left to go, and I was more than ready to be done!
Most of these final miles were downhill, but I was surprised by a couple of quick steep uphill segments. Those did not feel good! The hills seemed to slow me to a mere crawl. But I crested them both, and the road dipped into a sweet downhill. It pulled my tired body toward the finish. I knew the faster I ran, the faster I'd be done, and willed my legs to move quickly.
|Dianthe, Eric and Rick relax in the sand|
Then up ahead, I saw it. Exchange 30! Almost done! I gave it all that I had and came barrelling into the exchange zone. All right! I was finished! But where was Karl? I looked around for my teammate, but he was nowhere to be found. Uh oh....
There were several other orphan runners looking for missing partners, calling out team numbers to no avail. I ripped the number off my shirt and held it high in hopes that someone from team Monkey Butter would see it. I hoped they weren't stuck in traffic, but didn't recall seeing their vehicle in the back up. I began to get mad. Here I was done with my run, ready to head into town for a burger, and I was stuck at this exchange! Where was my Monkey Butter??
|Rick and Alex - teammates and brothers|
After at least five minutes of standing around intermittently yelling out my number, I heard someone calling my name. It was Warren, from Van 2. Warren couldn't believe they'd missed me, and said he was really mad I was made to wait. He ran off to find Karl.
So there I stood, waiting for Karl, bellering out my team number. I was never going to be done! Then, just as I had emitted a loud yell, I heard a voice say "I'm right behind you!" I shoved the bracelet into Karl's hands, tossed the clipboard to Warren, and got the heck outta there! I was finally done!
|Dianthe and I model our medals|
My vehicle still hadn't made it to the exchange, so I started walking back up the hill I'd just run down, hoping my team wasn't too far away. I ended up walking at least a mile before catching up with them. If nothing else, it as a good cool down. Everyone was happy to be finally done. Time to head into Seaside and for some food and beer!
|The Monkey Butter teams celebrate in the beer garden|
We had an easy drive into Seaside, and after wandering the main street, settled into a bar. The beer never tasted so good, and the burgers were wonderful. We devoured our food, and then sucked down a second pitcher of beer. Another H2C team, called the Cerial Killers (complete with flashing bunny ears), sat down next to us, and we had fun swapping stories.
Then we headed to the beach to wait for the rest of our team to finish. It was a hot day, and the effects of the run, little sleep, and lots of beer, took effect and we all fell asleep in the warm sand.
|Enjoying our post-race beers!|
Our Van 2 teammates had a rough time of it. By the time they'd reached the final two exchanges traffic had reached apocalyptic levels of gridlock. Our last runner, Alex, finished his leg, and we waited at least an hour and a half for the rest of our teammates to arrive. The race directors had allowed 250 more teams than last year, and the additional teams contributed to a traffic cluster you-know-what. When Van 2 finally arrived Warren described the experience best, likening it to a "barbed wire enema."
|Both Monkey Butter teams the day after|
Our team reunited, we assembled for a symbolic second run across the finish line. What a great feeling! We'd battled heat, hills, sleep deprivation, monster traffic jams, and yet here we were 200 miles later together at the beach. I wish I could've gotten to know the Van 2 guys a little better, because they were all really nice. Dianthe didn't realize she and I were the only two ladies on our team until halfway through the race, causing Dianthe nickname us the "token chicks."
I'd never before participated in a team running experience and have to say it was great fun. My Van 1 teammates were wonderful. We started as strangers, but ended up friends. The relay itself was a crazy, exhausting wild ride. But I'm ready to do it again next year. Team Monkey Butter, are you ready?