Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hood to Coast Relay

Starts at Timberline Lodge on Mt Hood. Ends at Seaside, 197 miles away. 12 runners and two vans per team, 1250 total teams, a separate walking event, 20,000+ competitors, and lots of Port-a-Johns.

Jeez, I really need a new hobby.

The Sandy (Oregon) Safeway, site of the first van exchange, is an absolute mob scene. I look for (and find) Kim, the woman who hosted me at the Lake Stevens Ironman. I promise her more beer after this disaster is finished.

Runners began from the mountain in waves at 3:30am amid a nice hail/lightning storm. And the road downhill was recently paved. So by 5pm, the new asphalt was smokin' hot.

Fun, fun, fun...

We rented a monster van for the trip. 4 bench seats plus bucket seats for driver and passenger. Lots of room to lie down. We also had two drivers. Some teams had an SUV and no dedicated driver. Must be hard to concentrate on the wheel when you've got 15 miles in your legs and no sleep.

Or maybe I just need to be pampered.

The first 3 legs are side roads, very little shade, with the mercury pushing 90. Lots of rolling hills, too. I see Kim and get my whole van to cheer for her; she looks perplexed until she recognizes the culprit. Yes, I'm a sneaky SOB.

Now we hit the Springwater Trail, a paved path thru southeast Portland. As the sun drops, the humidity rises. I need to revisit the psychometric charts, the ones that plot temperature vs relative humidity. It feels like we're wearing a wet fur coat out here.

I get warmed up by trotting around the exchange parking lot. "Uh oh," I mutter. "What's wrong?" our driver asks. I grin and say, "I feel fast."

The handoff at 9:30, now it's really dark. The Trail has no lights, just the bobbing ones that each runner wears. I start way faster than I wanted to, but we ain't playin' here. After a few miles, we're on the trail that parallels the Willamette River into downtown Portland. Again, no lights. And really humid, but at least it's hot.

That's called 'irony,' people.

Booking along on the ragged edge, and that Marquam Bridge sure isn't getting closer. Near the end, there are 4 people running together. Since I don't know our next runner by sight, it'll be worse than a Nascar pit stop jam if I don't break free. So I hit the gas and pass them, arriving in the exchange zone solo. I see Van 1's leader jumping up and down in the dark and pointing to the next runner. Done.

15 roadkills. That's the # of runners I passed, though each one cost me portions of important internal organs. Good news: I was no one else's kill. See if I can keep that up. But that leg, about 6.4 miles, was basically a personal best for 10k. Great. And stupid: I have 2 more legs to go, and on no sleep.


Our first legs are done. Come to find out that the other van, instead of sitting and waiting for us, passed the time by enjoying dinner and aperitifs at the Deschutes Brewpub in the Pearl District. Nice touch!

Drive up to St. Helens and the fairgrounds. Nice mile-long procession of vans trying to get into the parking area. Oy vey. And we're directed to park adjacent to the runner's exchange, complete with its prerequisite hooting and hollering. We net about 90 minutes of sleep, all fitful. Up at 0230, collect the teammates who vanished into the mist with their sleeping bags, and get ready to roll.

Our first van arrives. They're looking a bit peaked, having now been up for almost 24 hours. It takes them another hour to drive to the next sleep area, so they get maybe 60 minutes of down time.

Repeat: new hobby needed.

At the next exchange; COFFEE!!   Bless you, my son.

Two sections of gravel road at 4am, out in Nowheresville. One of our women gets harrassed by a couple of locals in a pickup, but she flexes her muscles and scares them off.

My second leg approaches; I'm stiff and feeling clunky. Warm-up jog helps. I start slower, then pick it up after 10 minutes. I kill 4 more people, but can't get to the fifth. Legs won't maintain a faster pace. So I surge for 200 yards, then recover, then repeat several times. Now I'm on him, but he takes off with the exchange in sight. I let him go; a sprint now means more lactic means crying on the last leg.

No one passed by. That's 19 kills for me, none for them. Even though I had to have been slower this time, I wasn't. About 7:50 pace, following the first leg's 8:00.

Only two weeks since my half ironman, when I cut 78 minutes from last year's time. And last year, it took me 6 weeks for my body and head to recover. This time around, I know I'm not quite in sync, but I can't tell by the times I'm putting down. I'll say it again, diet is huge. The right fuel let me work harder and recover faster.

Traffic becomes horrendous in northwestern Oregon. Narrow roads and lots of vehicles. Our other van's last runner goes chugging past. This is a problem; he is going to hand off the baton to someone who is currently sitting in our van. So Superwoman jumps out, runs the last mile to the exchange, forcibly pushes people out of the PortaJohn line (well, gently), and then begins her journey.

Final leg. I'm ready for this to be done. Really, really stiff now. Legs want no part of another 5 miles.

Tough beans, pal. You signed up for this. You even paid good money!

Here comes Jen, sprinting home after 8 miles uphill. Nice job. I start with a mile on dirt, slightly up, then it's a two mile plunge into town. The van passes and asks how I'm doing. Good, I say, see you at the finish. They take off, and I devour a half dozen more folks.

Then it happens.

Clomp, clomp, clomp. It gets louder and louder. Some guy comes flying past. Absolutely flying. There's no way in hell I can match him.

First roadkill. I hang my head in shame. Then I realize my vanquir has no 5 o'clock shadow after 30 hours out here. He probably can't even vote.

I deservedly give myself a mulligan.

2 flat miles in town, and now I'm on fumes. But there's more kills to do. Try the surge again and it works. Get another couple before making the turn onto the Promenade. And the finish line should be right there.

Except it isn't. No, the tents are about a half mile down the beach. You cannot be serious! (thank you, John McEnroe).

A quick look behind: the lady I followed for a mile and then passed is not hanging close. I should send her a nice fruit basket. A couple more people ahead; what the hell, it's time to finish. But now a calf muscle is suddenly making noise, more with each step. Since I don't have anymore races this year, I don't care.

19 more kills, so my record is 38-1. Not shabby. Disclaimer; if I had been one of the first six runners, I'd have been dead meat for many.

Stumble across the timing mat and stop my watch: 7:50 minute pace once more. The reason for these nice times on a set of 46-year-old legs is due to an extraordinarily vicious massage therapist who makes endurance races seem like a picnic compared to 60 minutes on her table. How she inflicts such pain while smiling seems unlawful, but she keeps the wheels rolling. Many thanks, JJB.

Unbelievable: people were actually complaining about the weather and the lack of water along the course. Uh, you sign up for a Northern Hemisphere race in August and the heat is a surprise? Have some foresight, people!

Or study Darwin.

One woman complained that "for $110, I expect to be taken care of."  Fine, go to a spa. But don't enter an all-night relay and expect it to be no more strenuous than a trip to Whole Foods.

I remember a guy on the radio, circa 2002, complaining about high gas prices after he bought a Suburban. He was asked, "didn't you plan for this?" His retort: "This is America! We don't have to plan!!" 

This is why I drink.

Next morning at the Lazy Susan in Cannon Beach for breakfast. A woman dining upstairs is nearly crying as she descends to the ground floor. "You did the first leg, didn't you?" we ask. She nods, "way too fast leaving Timberline." Murder on the quads.

Hood to Coast is addicting. Next fix in 12 months.

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