Who would have thought that running through miles and miles of Oregon scenery would be just the refreshing break that I needed? I’ve never enjoyed a race so much and a large part of that is due to the fact that I got to spend a lot of time in a van with 5 other smelly runners. My biggest concern before participating was getting to know the people in my van as they were all strangers to me essentially before I met them last Thursday. But now I would count them as very good friends. Especially Mike A. and Jason – so much fun to hang out with on approximately 2 hours of sleep.
I arrived up in Oregon Thursday afternoon and Mike (our fearless team captain) picked me up and we headed over to Avis to grab our beautiful brand spankin-new 12 passenger van. All I kept thinking after I drove it back to Mike’s house was that in a matter of hours this van would be full of sweaty, exhausted runners. Good thing the new car smell would overwhelm the body odor at times.
I “checked in” at Mike’s house with my bags and met his great wife and kids (seriously, they were such a darling family and so friendly and outgoing) and was able to take a brief nap before we headed over to The Spaghetti Factory for our pre-race carbo load. At dinner I got to meet almost all of the team, I think 10 of the 12 teammates were there, as well as some of their wives. All I can say is that after that dinner, I will never think of breastfeeding without being reminded of a very interesting conversation that occurred at that table (more on that another time).
Friday morning we loaded up Van 1 in the parking lot of Ronler Acres. Out came water like there was no tomorrow, protein bars, bananas, and a bunch of other snacky items that would help sustain us over the next 24-30 hours. Again, such a good thing we had a van with a lot of room to spread out. Between changes of clothes, towels, pillows, blankets, food, ipods, maps, and shoes galore, we were stuffed. But not so bad that we couldn’t all get comfortable.
As we headed out to Mount Hood, the weather was looking a little sketchy. It was pretty cold and overcast but the forecast said it would be in the mid 80’s. Just inside of Sandy, we stopped at Starbucks for something to warm us up. I couldn’t drink too much as my stomach was doing flip-flops since I was the first person to start running for our team. So a short hot cocoa was all I could ingest. I was worried about it being cold atop Mount Hood so I ran over to the Dollar Tree store to get some stretch gloves and knit cap just as a precaution. And best of all, they had glow bracelets in assorted colors so I grabbed a few for our team. Adding a little color and fun for our night time runs? Priceless.
Once we got to Timberline up on Mount Hood, I soon realized that I did not need those gloves and hat after all. We had cleared the misty atmosphere and it was quite warm, nay, sizzling in some parts. We checked our team in and got the beautiful slappy orange bracelet that we hand off to each other in the relay. With the bracelet wrapped firmly around my shaking wrist (I was pumped full of adrenaline), I lined up at the starting line to take off with the 19 other people who were in our noon starting wave. The announcer ran through team names – Ghost Chickens in the Sky, Bad Boys Chasing Hot Girls, Jerry’s Kids, and my illustrious team – Chafe Busters. He counted down and bang! We were off (look for me in the second row on the left).
Now, the first leg I had was a Very Hard rating because of the steep grade of the mountain. It was just 5.76 miles but you lose roughly 2300 feet. I took it slow for the first couple of miles and kicked it a bit more for the next two. But the last mile something happened that really started to worry me – my knee started to swell and it became a mental game against the phsyical pain. I knew that if I even stopped for a minute to walk there would be no way I could start running again, it was getting so sore. So I plogged along and came into the chute to pass off to Mike.
I was a little disappointed because I had to slow down a bit in that last mile which meant my time was increased. Jason helped get me an ice bag for my knee and I spent the next three hours icing on and off for 20 mintues. I was a bit nervous but about 5-6 hours later, I was feeling pretty good. Whew!!
Our awesome Van 1 team – me, Mike A., Matt, Lisa, Jason, and Mike W. – were ready to get some grub after Weiby finished. We headed to this Thai place, Vi Thai, that was pretty darn tasty. Again, I had to be careful what I ate because I didn’t want to eat anything too spicy. But the spring rolls and BBQ chicken I got hit the sweet spot. I was glad we had some time to spare so I could digest a bit.
We headed to the Hawthorne Bridge which was the next van exchange point. It was chock full of vans and runners and the energy was high and contagious. I was getting antsy and needed to walk around a bit so Mike A. took me down for a walk by the river and WOW – it was so beautiful! The city skyline at night was amazing and I realized that in just a short time I would be headed over the bridge and down along the promenade. I should add here that I experienced sensory overload so many times during my legs. The scenery took my breath away – which actually isn’t good for when you are running. 😉
We got the heads up from Van 2 that Keith was heading in to the exchange so I took my place in the chute and waited for him to round the corner. The one thing I loved about Keith always handing off to me is that he always had a big smile on his face. He would wave and as he slapped the bracelet on my wrist, he would say in his lilting Irish tongue, “There ye go, m’dear. Have fun!”
I took off and established a very good rhythm right off the bat, I knew this was going to be a good leg for me. As I came down along the promenade, I caught up with three other runners and kept pace with them for a bit. About 1.5 miles along my 4.1 route, they started to turn back across the water and I halted just a bit and asked, “Aren’t we supposed to stay on this side of the river?” One girl shouted back, “No, I’ve done this leg before. Just follow me.” Ummm, okay. So we cross over the bridge and the whole time I just kep thinking, ‘this is wrong, this is wrong’. Well, we get to the other side and start trucking up these stairs when the girl stops, looks around and says, “Uh oh, you were right. We need to stay on the left side of the river.”
Now, I’m not a violent person, but I was ready to take a swing at her I was so freakin’ mad. Basically it meant that we just added another .6 miles to our route and it really took the rhythm out of my stride. So back across the river we went. I had to stop cursing at her in my mind so I could relax and focus on running. I found my team at a little past the 1/2 way point and I vented a bit to let them know why I was running behind. Sorry team – I was hoping to cut some minutes off for us!
The hardest part after that run was trying to get some sleep. I tried my best to take a cat nap here and there but I could never fully pass out. I would hear bits and pieces of conversation and it would interrupt my REM cycles. We finished our group somewhere around 3:30 a.m. I believe, and then headed to the next van exchange at Leg 25, my last leg.
When we got there, I was too keyed up to sleep. My stomach was doing the typical flip-flopping I’d been experiencing before all my legs and the rest of the van just passed out. So I took pics of them sleeping and walked around observing all the different van decorations and teams from all over the world.
My last leg was 3.75 miles and it was mostly uphill which was a little more tough on my legs than I had expected. Especially the last mile – ow!! My hammies were screaming at me but I just kept going and finally, there was Mike A., waiting in the chute. I jumped across the line and handed him the slappy bracelet and exclaimed “I’m done!”. Such a great feeling and of course, now that I was done, I had a ravenous appetite. I’d been picking at food and protein bars here and there and now that I didn’t have to run anymore, all I could think about was eating a hamburger. Seriously. The first thought I had – “I want a hamburger”.
As soon as Van 1 was done, we headed out to Astoria to have a celebratory meal. We found this great family friendly pub to eat at, Wet Dog Cafe, and we all ordered burgers. And Matt and I ordered oyster shoots – yum! After we were sufficiently stuffed, we tried to make our way to Seaside to wait for Van 2 to finish and cross together at the finish line. I say tried because the traffic going into Seaside was horrendous. It took us 1.5 hours to go 15 miles. But we made it!
Unfortunately, Van 2 didn’t make it in time and when Keith came across the chip finish line, we had to wave him down and wait for about 20 minutes until they could get there and we could cross as a team. Overall, it was a fantastic experience and I hope to participate every year. It’s one of those times in life that you look back on fondly and wish you could re-live over and over again.
I realized at the end of this adventure something deep about myself. I connected so well to Mike A. and Jason and when I had to come back home, I was in a slight depression. I realized that I often keep myself aloof, make superficial friendships because when I really connect with people, there is such a draw to spend a lot of time with them. And if that option is not a possibility, it’s like experiencing heartache in a way. I don’t know the next time I will see those guys, hopefully if I am up in Oregon next month for work we can do lunch. But this personal insight into how I really form friendships was kind of groundbreaking for me. Good friends are extremely important and it’s very hard for me to invest time in people that I don’t connect with on a very deep and personal level. But I have plenty of acquaintances that I can go out with from time to time and that I enjoy…on a limited basis. 🙂 I guess what I’m saying is that I’m glad I met the people I did and I really feel that these could be lifelong friendships. Therein lies the appeal of Hood to Coast.