Friday, September 7, 2012

The Hood to Coast Trilogy - Leg One

I'm gonna warn you now..... this is a long, photo-heavy post.  I tried to pare down the number of photos (I really did!).  But I don't know of a better way to convey the fun and wackiness that is the Hood to Coast Relay.  So please bear with me - you'll enjoy the story (trust me!)

Size matters!  Click on any photo to enjoy a larger version.

The starting line at Timberline Lodge
For those of you that have never heard of the Hood to Coast, it's a very famous relay race that's been run annually for 31 years.  Dubbed "the Mother of all Relays," it's the original race that started the current relay craze.  H2C begins high on the slopes of Mt. Hood and continues for 199 miles until it's finish at the Oregon Coast town of Seaside.  The race is run in 12-person teams, divided between two vehicles (usually large vans).  Each team member runs three "legs" of the course, that vary from 4 to 8 miles.  I participated in H2C last year, and for more information, you can read those posts here and also here.

My van one teammates
"Monkey Butter Express," my team from last year, invited me join them once again.  I was thrilled and honored for the chance to run H2C a second time.  Our captain drew assignments out of a hat, and I surprisingly got the exact same leg I ran last year (van one, leg 6).  But I didn't care - I was just happy to be on the team.  And besides, I really liked that leg.

Go Monkey Butter Express!
Friday morning dawned, clear and chilly.  Our team had a start time of 9:30 am, so we gathered early in Portland.  Our ride this year was a big, blue diesel suburban.  A perfect weekend home for six runners and their gear!  Joining me in van one was Dianthe, my friend and "token chick" from last year's team, back for a repeat performance of leg one.  We also had Amy, a natural born runner with long legs like a colt, and Lindsay, a young, wise-cracking teacher.  Rounding out my van-mates was Ashley, a sweet teddy-bear of a guy, and Ian, our iron-man runner, tackling the most difficult legs of this course with a smile.

Lindsay, Amy and Ian get in the spirit of things

Most H2C participants decorate their vehicles for the race.  Part of the fun is seeing all the creative van adornment.  We'd decked out our suburban with window paint and stuffed monkeys the night before, but upon arrival at Timberline Lodge parking lot, Ashley tied a large, blow-up monkey on top.  Now our vehicle was complete!

Dianthe, our first runner, is pumped and ready to run!

Dianthe was our first runner, taking on the very difficult leg one for a second year.  This leg descends steeply down the Mt. Hood, dropping 2,000 vertical feet in a little over 5 1/2 miles.  But Dianthe regularly runs in the mountains near her home, so she was ready.  Bring it!
Elvis was running H2C too!

Our designated start time arrived quickly.  The race organizers start teams in waves of 20-30 every 15 minutes throughout the day.  There are 1,000 teams that compete in the H2C relay, and the staggered starting times attempt to spread out the crowds and ease congestion on the roads and exchange points.

And Dianthe is off!
Lining up on the starting line, Dianthe was joined by a life-size cut out of Elvis.  A team called "Elvis has left the van" brought him along for the run (I'm not sure how long he actually stayed with his teammate).  Each team was introduced to the cheers of the participants.  Then the announcer led the crowd in a countdown and shouted "get outta here!"  Dianthe sped through the starting chute and down the road.  Monkey Butter Express was on its way to the coast!

Fun team van
With Dianthe on her way, we remaining teammates jumped into "big blue" and headed down Timberline Road to the next exchange, in the town of Government Camp.  Passing runners on the road, my vanmates cheered and hollered, and Ian rang a cowbell.   Dianthe got an especially loud reception as we motored by.

An Elvis sighting...
The first exchange was swarming with runners and brightly decorated vehicles.  While waiting for Dianthe, I busied myself taking photos of the wacky sights.  I even met Elvis!

More fun van decor
Some teams got real creative with the paint.

Exchange one - it's Amy's turn!
Amy was next up. She lingered near the exchange area, waiting for Dianthe's arrival. Soon we spotted Dianthe barrelling down the road. She handed off the "baton," a flexible bracelet that you slapped on the next runner's wrist. With Amy underway, it was time to jump back in the truck and head for exchange two!

This van had Elvis hair

This was one of my favorite car decorations.  It's a little hard to see, but it's the Elvis team, and the black fuzzy thing on top is supposed to be his hair (complete with sideburns!)

Loved all the creative vans
Some teams even build custom carriers for the top of their vans.  I'll bet people sleep up there (when the vehicle is parked I hope!)

Exchange 2
From Government Camp, the course took runners along the side of US Hwy 26, the main road from Portland to Mt. Hood.  As we passed Amy, striding along the shoulder (making running look easy) my van-mates and I showered her with loud encouragement.

The handoff to Lindsay is complete!
Next up - Lindsay!  Amy zoomed into the exchange and the wrist bracelet was passed to our leg three runner.

Ashley running his first leg
After Lindsay it was Ashley's turn on the course.  His leg, 7 miles in length, was quite a bit longer than the previous three.  The extra distance gave us the opportunity to stop halfway and cheer him on.  It must've helped, as Ashley killed his leg! (woo-hoo!)

Multitude of vans at an exchange

Although the weather was sunny, the temps remained in the low 70's - very pleasant!  So much better than the broiling 90 degrees I endured last year.

The handoff to Ian
Runner number five, iron-man Ian readied himself for his first leg.  Ashley steamed into the exchange with a happy grin, handing the bracelet off.  With Ian underway, only one runner remained - me.  It was time to start prepping for my turn.

Dianthe tries to revive our poor deflated monkey
Someone noticed our inflatable monkey starting to sag over the car window.  Stopping halfway into Ian's leg to cheer him on, Dianthe discovered our poor monkey had sprung a leak.  It looked like he was melting. 

Some costumes are just wrong....

Part of the fun of H2C is people watching.  Some participants sport wacky costumes.  We spotted this guy as our vehicle was pulling out of an exchange.  It's like a train wreck - you can't look away.  (I also couldn't resist taking a picture)  As you can see, some folks go waaay overboard with their dress!

Dianthe, Lindsay and Ashley waiting for Ian
Over twice as many teams submit applications to run H2C than the 1,000 spots available.  Teams are picked by a lottery.  Monkey Butter Express was lucky enough to be chosen again.   Once gained entry, teams must provide an estimated total time of completion.  Start times are assigned based on this prediction.  In the past, many teams overshot their completion times, causing unexpected congestion.  This year, the organizers added an incentive - teams that completed the course within 30 minutes of their predicted time would gain an automatic entry into next year's H2C.

Go, Ian go!

Naturally, my team's goal was to finish the course within 30 minutes of our predicted time.  But the first five legs are downhill, and by the time Ian finished his run, our team was already 20 minutes ahead of pace.

The baton is passed to me
So the goal for my first leg?  Run slow!  I thought to myself "no problem!" 

Nice Hood view

But that's easier said than done.  After Ian handed off the wrist baton, excitement got the better of me (as it did last year) and I took off running like a bat out of hell.  And starting on a downhill grade didn't help.  But my Garmin reminded me to slow up, until it felt like I was creeping along at granny pace.  Running slow was proving to be more difficult than I imagined.  Runners by the dozens streamed by.  It was really hard on the ego to be passed so many times!

Amy, Ian and Lindsay

But compared to last year's horrible hot weather, this year my leg was downright pleasant.  Leg 6, at 6.75 miles, was the longest of my three relay legs.  It follows the shoulder of Hwy 26 into the town of Sandy.  I travel this road every weekend during ski season and know it well.  I began to enjoy the reduced pace.  It forced me to "smell the roses."  It was fun to see familiar sights loping along at a 10-minute mile pace.  And once I reached the town of Sandy proper, I enjoyed running along the sidewalk, peering into dozens of small businesses lining the main street.  Passing a bank sign, it advertised the temperature a perfect 72 degrees.  So different from last year's unbearably hot meltdown!

Finishing my first leg
In no time at all, I found myself approaching the exchange at Sandy's Safeway parking lot.  This was a major van exchange point.  My job was to hand the wristband over to van two's leg 7 runner.  I'd never met Mike, their first runner, but looking ahead I spotted a young man with the same bib number.  To the cheers of my teammates, I rushed in to the corral, passed off my sweaty wristband, and wished Mike good luck.  And with that, my first leg was in the bag!
It was now van two's turn on the course.  My van one teammates and I had a break of several hours while the next six runners completed their legs.  It was time for some R-n-R. 
But leg two was coming up fast........ and our adventure was just beginning.  Join me and my Monkey Butter teammates for my next blog post - the night run.


  1. :) How fun! We are going to try to get into the "river to river" relay in southern IL. They only let around 250 teams in, and it usually fills up within a matter of minutes - so hopefully we will get lucky!

  2. That seems like fun and really exciting. Great pictures, except for "superman." Whoa!!!

  3. I thought it didn't matter if you were less than 90 minutes faster...but we were over anyway :P

    I love your photos! And the poor saggy, 'melty' monkey :( Sure wish we'd been able to meet up again! Hopefully next year?

  4. I am enjoying this post looking forward to the next one. Sounds like a great time.

  5. that superman outfit good...yikes.....

    love all the pictures! the one of you with huge smile is great!


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