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Race Report: Hood to Coast Relay 2016

“Make it stop.”  That was the text message sent by Jeremy Seney, a.k.a. Runner 6 from team Running Sucks, at approximately 2:30pm on Friday, August 26, 2016.

Unfortunately, at that time, our team was only 4.5 hours into what would ultimately be a 30.5 hour adventure.  And by “adventure,” I mean “sweltering, sleep-deprived, dehydrated, stinky, beautiful mess.”

While it’s most likely impossible to encapsulate an experience like the Hood to Coast Relay, I’m going to attempt to do so here in this Race Report.

The story began on November 3, 2015.  That’s the day that our 12-person team, the aptly-named Running Sucks, received the following information:

youre-in

We were shocked to receive this notification, as we applied as a rookie team to the most celebrated and popular relay race in the world.  We figured that there was no way that our team would be selected as (a) Hood to Coast receives thousands of team applications and only 1050 teams are chosen and (b) veteran teams are given priority during the selection process.  The kicker: Our team kinda sorta applied in a half-hearted fashion, as the majority of our team have multiple kids ages 5 and under, and the idea of training and mapping-out the logistics for a 200-mile relay race is kinda low on the priority list these days.

Lucky us.  😉

So, who comprises team Running Sucks?  The core group is me, Julie (i.e. my wife), our friends Megan & Jeremy, our friends Shannon & Ryan, and our friend Greg.  The 7 of us formed team Running Sucks back in 2013 as we prepared for and competed in our first relay: Ragnar Trail – Vail Lake.

Having said that, you need a team of 12 for Hood to Coast, so we had to recruit some more crazies.  Luckily, we were able to flesh-out our team with our friend Courtney, our friend David, and three of my family members: my sister Cheryl, my sister Kim, and my nephew Travis (Kim’s son).

Here’s how Hood to Coast works: Each team has 2 vans, and you have to split-up your team between them.  For us, Van 1 featured Greg, Ryan, Megan, David, Shannon, and Jeremy; Van 2 featured Kim, Cheryl, yours truly, Courtney, Travis, and Julie.  I listed the members of each van in that fashion because that’s the order we ran in: Greg was Runner 1, Ryan was Runner 2, and so on and so forth.

As I alluded to above, each team is tasked with covering the 200 miles from Mt. Hood (the start) to Seaside (the finish).  This journey is broken into 36 “legs” – Leg 1, Leg 2, et cetera.  Each runner is responsible for covering 3 legs of the race, and the legs are assigned in a specific fashion.  Runner 1 covers Legs 1, 13, and 25; Runner 2 covers Legs 2, 14, and 26 – you get the picture.  While each leg is unique in its distance and difficulty, each runner ends-up covering approximately 17 miles.

Because every team is split-up between two vans, Van 2 gets to “rest” while Van 1 is engaged in running, and vice versa.  I put “rest” in quotes because the best you can hope for is to grab an hour of sleep when your van isn’t engaged in running.  This is because you have to drive great distances between checkpoints while fighting gnarly traffic (1050 teams = 2100 vans).  And, should you arrive at a place where you can actually settle-in for some sleep, you’re challenged with finding a reasonable place to do so.  Some solid options: in a sleeping bag in the middle of a dewy field with hundreds of strangers; in your van with your 5 sweat-soaked and probably-snoring teammates.  Relaxationville, USA.  Population: You!

One fairly obvious yet crucial point to mention: The goal is to finish the race as quickly as possible.  So, taking the time to sleep, eat, and/or use a restroom that’s not a Honey Bucket isn’t encouraged.  (On a related yet completely unnecessary note, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything remotely sweet within a Honey Bucket.)

Now that you have a solid background on Hood to Coast and team Running Sucks, allow me to share what went down at this year’s event.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The teams with the slowest projected finishing times started at 5:00am, and the teams with the fastest projected finishing times departed Mt. Hood at 3:00pm.  Our team was assigned a 10:00am start time based on our projected finishing time of 30 hours – this meant that we were smack-dab in the middle of the action, and that we’d most likely pass many teams (and be passed by many more!) throughout the race.

By 10:00am that day, the temperature was already hovering around 90 degrees.  When Van 1 reached Van 2 for the first time, it was 2:59pm and the temperature was 102 degrees.  At that time, my sister Kim (Runner 7) took the baton (read: a waterproof slap bracelet) from Jeremy (Runner 6) and kicked-off our van’s first rotation.

When my sister Cheryl (Runner 8) handed-off the baton to me (Runner 9), it was 5:02pm and well over 90 degrees.

My friends, I started running when I was 19.  I’m 37 now, so that’s 18 years of experience.  I’ve run road races, trail races, and mud runs.  I’ve run countless 5Ks, 10Ks, and half marathons.  I’ve run five marathons, two 50Ks, and one 50-miler.  Needless to say, I’ve been on some challenging runs.  I swear to everything holy that I’ve never suffered more on a run than I did during that 90+ degree zinger, which was only 5.38 miles.  Maybe it was the weather.  Maybe it was the anticipation.  Bottom line: That run was miserable.  The good news: I somehow pulled-out a good time – I ran that leg in 38 minutes, which is a 7:04/mile pace.  When I handed-off the baton to Courtney (Runner 10) at 5:40pm, I had nothing left in the tank…which was good, because I only had to run another 13-ish miles over the next 24 hours or so.  Piece of cake.

Julie (Runner 12) handed-off the baton to Greg (Runner 1) in Downtown Portland at 8:34pm.  Van 2 had completed its first rotation in just over 5.5 hours, and Van 1 was embarking upon its second rotation.  Our van was exhilarated, exhausted…and hungry.  We found a place to eat in Downtown Portland, got gas, located a place to take quick shower, and headed to our next major checkpoint.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

After 5 hours of nighttime running (which required reflective vests and headlamps), Van 1 passed the baton to Van 2 at 1:36am.  At that point, Kim took the baton from Jeremy and darted-off into the darkness, with our van in hot pursuit.

By the time I received the baton from Cheryl, it was 3:45am and I was in the middle of Nowheresville, OR.  This was Leg 21 of the race, which required me to tackle a 5.06-mile run on a dusty mountain trail.

Here’s an interesting fact: From a visibility standpoint, running on a dusty mountain trail in the middle of the night with a headlamp is like driving your car through a snowstorm – you can only see about 2 feet in front of your face.  This reality, coupled with the Red Bull that I had consumed roughly 5 minutes before my run, caused me to run scared…and with a lot of energy.  I was somehow able to finish this leg of the race in 34 minutes – a 6:43/mile pace.  Despite the fact that I’ve never run that fast over that type of distance in my entire life, I felt great when I handed-off the baton to Courtney at 4:19am.  The moral of the story: Red Bull most definitely gives you wings.

Roughly 5.5 hours after Van 2 started its second rotation, Julie handed-off the baton to Greg at 6:55am.  It was our van’s turn, once again, to “rest” while Van 1 did the heavy lifting.  This time around, instead of doing silly things like eating a proper meal and/or taking a shower, our van decided to head to the next major checkpoint in order to grab as much sleep as possible.  We were hoping for a couple hours of shut-eye.  My guess is that we got about 30 minutes of quality slumber.  Hey, relay runners can’t be choosers.

At 11:26am, Jeremy from Van 1 handed-off the baton to Kim from Van 2.  Van 1 had completed their portion of the relay, and it was now on Van 2 to finish the job.

I received the baton for the last time at 12:49pm, and I took-off like a dart.  I had 7.72 miles to cover, and my goal was to complete the task in under an hour.

Something fun that I forgot to mention earlier: One of the many quirky traditions at Hood to Coast is that each van is supposed to record its “kills.”  A kill is when you pass another runner.  Getting engaged in this task during a race helps to keep you motivated, as you’re always looking for your next victim.

the-van-road-kills

On my final leg (Leg 33), I “killed” 53 runners.  That was more than my previous 2 legs combined.  I ended-up finishing the leg in 56 minutes – a 7:15/mile pace.  Not bad for an unshowered, malnourished, and exhausted 37-year-old guy who was on the verge of OD’ing on taurine (the key ingredient in Red Bull, for those of you not in the know).

My beautiful wife Julie crossed the finish line just under 3 hours later.  It was 4:36pm on Saturday, August 27, 2016 , and team Running Sucks had just finished the Hood to Coast Relay!

Our team’s official time: 30:36:33.  Here’s a screen grab for proof:

hood-to-coast

Here are some photos from the race weekend:

pre-event-team-meeting

the-van-running-sucks-because

post-event-team-celebration