What is it?
Hood to Coast is a 200 mile relay race from Mt. Hood to the Oregon Coast spread over the course of 2 days.
The field of over 1200 teams of 12 runners each divides 36 legs of running among the runners.
Each runner runs 3 times over the course of the event, each run varying in distance and terrain. Usually the flatter the terrain, the longer the leg, and the hillier, the shorter, but not always!
Teams are divided into two vans, 6 runners per van.
One van has its 6 runners run each of their legs, one at a time, exchanging runners at designated check points, while the next van of 6 runners awaits its turn at the major exchange point after six legs. The two vans repeat this leap-frog process until all 36 legs are complete, ending at the beach in the town of Seaside, Oregon.
Now, those are the stats and a small glimpse into the workings of the race. As for the execution of the race, that’s a whole different ball of wax. For those of you familiar with Matt’s running career, he was actually on the winning team last year, the Bowerman Athletic Club, a team sponsored by Nike. Not that Matt wasn’t in shape to run again this year, but he certainly wasn’t in Nike shape. Since I was already on a team that needed a runner to fill in for an injured one, Matt fit the bill and we were on the same Hood to Coast team. It also helped that the team I was on was all former co-workers from our previous employer, so we were all friends and familiar with each other.
In order to ease congestion along the course and at the finish line, at least in theory, the teams are stagger started according to their projected finish time, so our team started at 2pm on Friday, August 26th. Matt and I were in Van 2, so we had to wait until the first 6 runners of Van 1 ran each of their legs before our van could even begin. Our van’s legs, leg #s 7-12, started around 6pm. Since I was leg 9 and Matt was leg 11, we both ran in the dark our first leg, which was expected, but still a little creepy all the same. Once the momentum got started, it just kept going into the night and through the next day.
After our 6 runners were finished with our first leg, we handed the baton back to Van 1 for them to run the next 6 legs while we rested ours. Amazingly, we had enough time to go to a runner’s home, shower, eat dinner and take an hour nap. I have to say, in all the races I’ve ever done, that was a first. It was almost as if the race wasn’t happening and we just hit the pause button while we recovered and waited for the next leg to start. The second leg for us didn’t happen until the early morning, thankfully just as it was getting light. By that point it had cooled off from the 80+ degree weather from the day before to a shivery 50 degree morning. Once we completed our early morning legs, we handed the baton off once again to Van 1 for their third leg. While they ran, we all took a nap in an open field, curled up in our sleeping bags on a big tarp. I imagine Matt and I slept the best, as we’re used to sleeping on just about any surface, in any situation. I was almost nostalgic for the trail…almost.
By the third leg, all of us were zombies. None of us had slept more than 3 hours over the course of the last 30 hours, and our legs had given us pretty much all they could. Despite tired legs and minds, all of us mustered up enough energy to run surprisingly well, with a couple of us actually running our third leg the fastest of all three. For Matt and I, we each had our longest, hilliest leg left last, with me running 7.72 miles of rolling hills into the wind and afternoon sun, and Matt running 8 miles on equally rolling hills. It felt so good to get that last leg over with and just enjoy the rest of the day after that.
Overall, our team finished on Saturday, at 6:30pm, for a total of 28.5 hours. We were well behind the leaders that finished in just over 17 hours, and who were at the beach a full 12 hours ahead of us. We certainly weren’t in the running to win, but had a lot of fun just seeing what each of us could do. The road coming into Seaside was so crowded that we watched our #12 runner pass right by the van and finish without us. All of us were so tired at that point, all we wanted was to go home and be clean. The baby wipe baths just didn’t cut it after the third run in the same pair of running shorts. Both our vans met up at the finish line, reminisced about the last 30 hours, took pictures, then all headed home together.
After such a long event, it was rather anti-climactic to actually finish. I’m learning that in long distance events such as these, where the finish is so far away, the journey really is where the magic happens. The end just comes with the territory of being part of such an event, but it’s never the party of balloons and ice cream awaiting you at the end. For one of the first times, I can proudly say that I enjoyed all the stuff in the middle and really didn’t care about then end until I was in the last half mile of my third leg, when the race volunteer said I was nearly done running. Definitely a big step for me as we enter the next stage of bicycling down the coast. The mantra I will be trying to have is, “Enjoy the ride, enjoy the ride, enjoy the ride.”
In a nutshell, that is Hood to Coast, the Mother of All Relays. At least, that was my experience. It’s different for everyone, depending on their abilities and team’s level of competition. Some teams are so competitive and fast that the vans have a hard time making it to the next exchange before the runner, and some teams are so slow that they could possibly take over 36 hours to reach the finish. Despite the vast range of abilities and experiences, I’m glad to have been a part of one of the most unique races in the country. It’s challenging, both mentally and physically, fun socially not only with your own team but all the others running around you, and flat out exhausting. But thankfully, the kind of exhausting that once you’ve finally showered, eaten a warm, hearty meal and crawled into a comfy bed, the experience is worth every moment of tired legs, sleep deprivation, and the logistical monster that is known as Hood to Coast.