After helping out the Sisters High School Cross Country team for 2 years at the Portland to Coast high school challenge, I've really wanted to be on a Hood to Coast relay team. I finally got that chance this year. This past weekend I was scheduled to run on a team, but first, I wanted to test my hip flexors post-Waldo to make sure I could run relatively fast. So last Tuesday I ran Max's coached workout, which was 8 x 800 on the grass at Drake Park. After averaging in the low-2:40s, I knew I was good to go for Hood to Coast.
Hood to Coast was an absolute blast! I was on the END team, made up of eight Portland-area fast guys and girls, 2 fast girls from Spokane, one guy from the Bay area, and me. They had won the Mixed Open division last year and were planning to do so again this year. I felt fortunate that they let this ultra guy on their team.
Meeting up with the van 1 runners in Portland was just like meeting up with running friends I already knew. There was no awkwardness and we all meshed together pretty fast. On the drive up to Mt. Hood for our 6:45 p.m. start (the last wave), I enjoyed chatting with my new teammates and getting to know them a bit. Laura is in residency at OHSU, is training for Ironman Kona, and can sleep anytime, anywhere; Tony is training to run a sub-2:30 marathon this fall; Jon runs for Bowerman Athletic Club, and therefore, is fast; Janet kicks butt in races in Spokane and throughout the northwest; and Sarah was just getting back into racing after a five year break to have 2 kids. I knew I was in fast company.
It was fun walking around outside Timberline Lodge, mingling with other teams, chatting with friends, and just being part of the whole HTC experience. Soon enough, it was 6:45 and Laura was off. As she flew down the hill, we drove past her, whooping and yelling, then got down to the exchange. I was the #2 runner, so I got in a decent warm up, then was off. My first leg was 5.67 miles with 1,500' of downhill. It was fast. My first mile was pretty slow (5:54), but then I got into it. Over the course of the next 4.67 miles, I ran at least one sub-5 (4:59), and I'm pretty sure I p.r.ed my two-mile time (10:12). I was able to average 5:09 the rest of the way down, finishing in 30:02, for a total average of 5:17. I was happy knowing that I ran fast, but also not giving everything as I still had 11.5 miles to go.
Jon killed on his 4ish mile leg, averaging 4:44...I can't even comprehend that. Sarah, Tony, and Janet all ran strong and we finished our first rotation happy. Although we were trailing our 2 main competitors (Popeyes and Olives Oils, and Tarahumara), we were confident.
A quick shower and rest at Laura's house while van 2 tore up the streets, then we were back at it at Portland's Hawthorne bridge at 1:30 a.m. Smiley Laura flew off into the night as Jon drove us to the exchange. Jogging around for my warm-up, my quads were a bit sore, but not too bad. I got the hand off and tried to run hard for 5.5 miles. It was right on Hwy. 30, so kinda boring, but as we were now catching up to teams, there was a lot of people to catch. I started counting, but lost count after 20. I finished in 32:02, averaging 5:49. Although about a minute slower than I hoped, for racing at 2 a.m., I was okay with it. Going through this middle of the night rotation was a bit tiring, but we made it fun by cheering for the runner as we passed in the van.
Handing off to van 2 around 4:30 was great because then we could get up to the next exchange and get some rest. That sounded great, but in reality, the traffic was horrible getting to the exchange. I was driving as everyone else slept, which was fine since it was my turn to drive anyway. It was light when we parked and I was awake again. I saw fellow ultrarunners Neil, fresh off from Waldo, and Darin, so it was fun talking to them.
About 8 a.m., Laura was off to the races again. This time we knew we were slightly ahead of the Popeyes and Olive Oils, and slightly behind Tarahumara. One of Popeye's fast guys passed Laura and their 2nd runner was off about minute ahead of me. I excitedly took the hand off from Laura and was able to catch and pass the Olive Oil pretty easily. When I went by her, I was confident that was the last we would see of that team. On the rollers of my last 5.77 mile leg, I was a bit disappointed to run 34:02 and average only 5:54, but was happy overall because I knew I had put away the Popeyes and had taken almost 2 minutes back from the Tarahumara lead. Jon then caught and put away the Tarahumaras.
Tony's last leg was the coolest of the whole race and I was defintely jealous of it. He got to run up to the summit and down the other side of the coast range. It was 3.5 miles up and 2.5 miles down and was just so cool. Although it only topped out at just under 1,300' in elevation, it just seemed so cool. Janet then rocked her last leg to the tune of 5:50s and van 1's running was over. So we headed to the coast via Astoria, stopped at Fred Meyer for some fried chicken to settle a not-too-happy tummy (well, at least I had the chicken), and made our way to the beach at Seaside.
We anxiously awaited anchor runner Peter and the rest of van 2. When we saw Peter cross the finish line without seeing the Popeyes or Tarahumaras ahead of him, we were stoked. We had finished the 197 miles of Hood to Coast in 19:38:34, for an average pace of 5:59 per mile (!!), placing 1st in our Mixed Open Division, 1st out of all of the mixed teams (mixed = co-ed), and 7th overall out of 1,000 teams. The 6 teams that beat us were all-guy teams. Sweet!
I am definitely pumped up about relays again and am very much looking forward to running my next one. Thank you very much to my eleven teammates: Laura, Jon, Sarah, Tony, Janet, Kristen, Allie, Dan, Larry, Erin, and Peter. You guys and girls rock! I highly recommend relays to every runner. You'll get no sleep (or hardly any), get in a great block of running, make good friends with your teammates, and have a blast!