200 Miles in 29.5 Hours: Hood to Coast - The Mother of All Relays

3:45 A.M. came early (which I suppose is to be expected) and we rolled off our benches to prep for the approaching insanity.  Half of team "Hood to Whose Idea Was This" climbed in and Van 1 of 2 was off and rolling out of Hood River towards Mt. Hood.   The mountain was still enveloped in darkness as we parked near the relay's starting point.  A quick check of the weather confirms that my run was going to be quite brisk at 36 degrees.  Nerves and excitement set in as team names are announced over the loud speaker and the sun began to peak over Mt. Hood's conical snow line.  This is it... we try to wrap our minds around the fact that some time tomorrow afternoon we're going to have run as a team to the Oregon Coast 200 miles away, as long as we can actually make it.   We were about to attempt the possibly impossible task of completing the Hood to Coast Relay along with 12,816 other runners.

Getting our high-five on before the race starts

And So It Began...

The details of my first leg down Mt. Hood

I lined up in the starting gate with the other runners and began to attempt shaking out my nerves and jumping to stay warm.  The countdown initiated and before I knew it, my first leg was underway.  I had the honor of beginning the race for our entire team with the leg nobody wanted to take: a grueling 2000 vertical foot descent down Mt. Hood over the course of 5.64 miles.  Within the first 100 yards of the run, my toes felt numb.  The cold was definitely working it's way in quickly.  After the first 1/2 mile, my feet were entirely numb and I felt as though I was running on stumps.  "What the hell have I just gotten in to?" I asked myself.  The only answer I could provide myself with was "Just be quiet and keep running".  I'm convinced that I had the most beautiful segment of the entire 200 mile relay.  As I rounded my first big bend I was able to see out over the river valley.  The morning fog was meandering off the river and through trees.  Despite the cold and pain, I felt incredibly blessed to be there in that moment and kept pushing on.  Before I knew it, I was making the push to the finish and handing off our baton. Grateful to be through with my first leg, I checked my time -- 7:28 per mile, a full 2 minutes per mile faster than I expected!  

Prepping to make our fifth exchange. Our start line visible in the far background

With our second runner already off and moving quickly, we realized what a scramble we were in for and got back to the van as quickly as possible.  We headed to the next exchange point while our third runner prepped.  We immediately learned that timing would be one of our key components.  We didn't want our runner standing out in the cold too long and tensing their muscles, but it was imperative that they be in the exchange gate when the next runner appeared.  We perfected this process over the next 4 legs and eventually had it down to a (slightly chaotic) science.  

Eventually, all 6 of our runners from Van 1 were finished with their first legs (all in better time than expected) and we'd passed the baton on to the runners of Van 2 for the next 6 legs of the race.  We stopped for a quick meal before heading to our Van's second leg exchange point in downtown Portland.  As we drove, the pavement-pounding 2000 vertical descent I'd just made began to take it's toll on my knee and soon just walking was almost unbearable.  Ibuprofen and IcyHot became my quick allies as I tried to prep for my second leg.

Welcome to Portland

Ashley arriving at exchange 13 (where I took over in Portland)

We finally arrived at the exchange point for my second leg and nerves and anxiety ran high for me as I realized the knee pain I was about to put myself through.  Meisha did her best to try to keep me calm and I did my best just to breathe.  Again the baton was passed and I was doing my best to muscle my way across the river and past downtown Portland.  As I came to a train track crossing the race volunteer near the tracks tells me "You can make it if you hurry!"  I glance at the train and make the split-second decision to run across and not sacrifice any additional time.  I cleared the train by a mere 15 feet and as I arrived on the other side, the volunteer yelled directions inaudibly over the train.  I decided to go right (which was wrong) and continued on.  After an unneeded additional 1/4 mile of running along the river, I emerged back onto the race course to complete the last few miles of my leg.  It was a hot gallop through an industrial section of town.  I did my best to cruise past the dead roadside weeds and through the hot fumes of nearby trains and semi trucks.  In time, the end was in sight.  I clenched my teeth and bared the pain as I pushed for the finish.  The exchange went off without a hitch and Hailey, our next runner, was on her way.

As we passed Hailey on our way to the next exchange, two things became apparent: she was seriously hurting (she'd been complaining about a groin pull after her first leg) and she was determined to make it.  While waiting for Hailey to finish her leg, we learned that the relay course had been detoured due to a Les Schwab Tire Center which had caught on fire.  Meisha methodically searched for Twitter updates and found the necessary updates.  Hailey finished in reasonable time, as did our next runners, Troy and Nate.  

Mark was up next for the rerouted portion of the race.  After dropping Mark off at his exchange point and driving to the next, we realized that the reroute had significantly extended his leg from 7.1 miles to 8.7 miles.  We waited at the exchange point as several runners crossed the line expressing their distaste for the situation.  One particularly upset Irishman was overhead saying "This is ridiculous!  Do they know what our third leg looks like!??!"  Their third leg was going to be perhaps the most difficult leg of the relay.  Mark finished, as did Dave, the final runner of our Van's second leg.

Bring on the Pain

Van 2 began in the dark and we cruised ahead through the winding Oregon mountain roads to our third leg exchange point in hopes that we'd arrive with enough time to get some sleep.  An hour or so later, we rolled into the field at our third leg exchange point, scarfed down some food as quickly as possible and went right to sleep around 11:30 P.M.  My alarm was set for 2 A.M., figuring I would give myself about 30 minutes to take some more Ibuprofen (which was being passed around like jellybeans at this point), stretch, calm my nerves, etc.  If only I were so lucky... at 1:57 A.M. Dave threw the van door open shouting "YOU HAVE 5 MINUTES TO BE OUT THERE AND READY!  THEY'RE EARLY!!!"  Instant adrenaline and confusion filled me simultaneously.  I scrambled to get ready, limped to the Honey Bucket for a quick pee and within a few minutes I was standing near the exchange gate, "ready" to run.  

Runners could be seen making their arrivals at the exchange, their headlights piercing the fog as race volunteers called out the approaching team numbers.  Team 466 was called, Ashley soon appeared, and I was out of the gate and on my way through my third and final leg.  

At this moment, the sheer insanity of this event hit me.  I was alone in the cold darkness, doing the locomotive limp down a mountain road, hoping my knee wouldn't blow to pieces.

 I didn't want to be pulled off the course and let my team down, so as other runners would pass me I'd silence my moans and grumbles.  I would wait for each race van to pass and as the road noise was at it's peak, I'd let out an excruciating scream to release the pain when no one else could hear.  48 agonizing minutes later, the exchange gate appeared out of the darkness and somehow I mustered the strength to sprint through the finish.  To my surprise, an injured Hailey was jumping and waving in the exchange gate, ready to complete her final leg.  I hobbled my way back to the van, popped some Ibuprofen with a Red Bull chaser and we were back moving again.

As we waited at the next exchange point, Troy decided to take 1/2 of a 5-Hour Energy.  Troy doesn't even drink coffee and the evidence of this was soon apparent.  He anxiously sat in the back, talking quickly, hoping his leg would begin soon.  Suddenly, the van door flung open and Hailey was standing there, tears in her eyes, saying "I need help."  Troy jumped out and Hailey explained that she was too injured to finish her leg and our team's gear had been left with a Portland to Coast Walker 2 miles back.  The walker's van would shuttle him back, get the gear on him and he'd be finishing Hailey's leg in addition to his own.  Troy's response was "That's perfect!  I can do it!"  He was quickly escorted into the walker's van and down the road.  Needless to say, Troy finished both Hailey's leg and his own in great time without any problems.  It was exactly what our team needed to boost morale and make the push for the finish.

Spirits were high as Nate, Mark, and Dave completed their legs in great time as well.  We finished our Van's third leg in the light of the morning and gratefully passed on the remaining 6 legs of the race to Van 2.  Van 2 was not without their challenges as well.  Elysha was a couple of months pregnant and recovering from a flu contracted the day before the race.  Lisa had a serious hip injury and was forced to have a runner from her van take on her second leg.  By the sound of it, she was convinced that she could run her third leg (coincidentally, Lisa was Hailey's twin sister - determination must run in the family).  

We stopped to cheer Lisa on before headed to the coast to wait for our team's finish.  As she rounded the corner, the site was both heartbreaking and inspirational as she limp-walked her way down the road.  As we cheered and encouraged Lisa, she took off her jacket in attempts to cool off.  Her husband Mark ran up and asked her if he could take her jacket to which her reply was "Is that coffee!?" She grabbed the coffee from his hand, took a sip and pressed on.  Her determination was beyond apparent and she did, in fact, finish her final leg.  

So Did We Finish?

The members of Van 1 giving a celebratory toast

After a beautiful drive, we arrived at the coast in time to find great parking and crack the celebratory keg of Chaising Tail.  We made our way to the beach and cheered our final runner across the finish line 29 hours 34 minutes 3 seconds and 200 miles after this whole crazy idea began.  Despite all the challenges, we actually finish an hour ahead of our expected finish time, landing our team 407th place out of 1,068 total finishing teams.  So here's the real question:  After dealing with emotional highs and lows, excruciating pain, unforeseen anxiety, limited sleep, and limited food, would we do it again?  To which the answer is a resounding absolutely!  In fact, I plan on training for an upcoming marathon as well.  So here's to lots more running and hopefully a few more exciting experiences to come!

Our team rounding the final bend of the race

Our most heartfelt and special thanks to everyone on team "Hood to Whose Idea Was This" for sharing our "home" with us for the weekend and allowing us to come along on this crazy journey.

Hood to Whose Idea Was This crossing the finish line as a team

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