Hood to Coast? YUP HOOD TO COAST.
It’s not just a race, it’s the Mother Of All Relays.
It’s one of a few races in the world that’s cool enough to have its own movie.
And, yes, WE DID IT. I might be a little bit proud.
Let’s get the Race Review details out of the way first, and then I’ll tell you what happened.
Distance reviewed: 199 mile relay
Elevation gain/loss: 6,000 ft loss
Size of field: Capped at 1,050 teams
The Charity: Providence Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society
The Brews: Session Premium Lager
An amazing experience – More than just a race. This is not a one-and-done, I’ll-be-home-in-a-few-hours kind of race. This is getting up at oh-dark-thirty, this is excitement with your teammates, this is the culmination of so much organizing for your team’s cat herders. This is a force of nature, and under the right conditions, this CAN be a life-changing experience. I’ve seen it. (Yeah, yeah. Okay. I’ve lived it.)
Beautiful scenery – The mountain. The trees. The highway. The woods. The rivers. The tiny towns. The fields. The hills and the flats, the sunrise and the sunset. Finally, the sand and sea. You get ALL of it.
Bragging rights – Hood to Coast is a Thing. People have Heard Of It. You ran it? You ran it!!!
Night Legs – Are you kidding me with the atmosphere? This is not something that happens all of the time. For those of us who don’t normally run much at night, it’s a pretty cool feeling.
Team Support – For me, the coolest thing about it is the team. You’re there for each other on the highs and the lows. Maybe you’re hopping out of the van at 3am and hobbling over a knobby field on legs that don’t WANT to move, and why? To support your teammate who’s up next and nervous about her run, or guiding the one who’s just finished, who’s sweaty, depleted and brain-dead from lack of glycogen and needs to be guided back to the van. You’re out there taking care of each other.
Traffic – Runner vs. car is never good. Runner vs. car when you’re running on the fog line of a twisty country road with no shoulder, coming around a blind corner, blinded by oncoming headlights and just praying that redneck they just let through because he lives on this road isn’t coming home drunk or angry enough to clip your sorry ass? Scary.
Team Pressure – Listen. I’ve been extremely, superbly lucky. I know that not everybody has a team made up of the most supportive, fun people in the world. And yeah, I have HEARD of competition, tempers, selfishness and mean, a-hole behavior. It’s possible to make this race unpleasant. . . But why?
Please, are you kidding me? This might be the best race experience there is.
The Story Behind the F-Bombers Doing Hood to Coast:
Most years, as you’ll know if you follow this blog, the team I’m a part of walks the Portland to Coast race, which is the speed-walking option at the famous Hood to Coast relay.
This year was something a little different for us. This year, we ran the big one – the famous Hood to Coast relay. Yep, our rowdy bunch of walkers snagged some newbies with much faster paces than ours, and tackled the running full-on running relay, starting at the mountain, properly, as the crusty old guys intended.
But I should back up a year, and explain how this happened.
What Led to This Madness?
In 2017 (last year), we had so many friends interested in PTC that Team Slow Poke actually spawned some spinoff Portland to Coast teams. There’s Team Slow Poke: The Fun And The Furious, who continued the tradition of walking PTC with two vans and twelve team members, Team Slow Poke Too, and Team Slow Poke: F-Bombers, who took on the challenge of walking PTC with just 8 team members in one van (which the race organizers call “Elite” team, just to make us feel special).
I was on that last one. It was a ridiculous blast, and we loved it. But what was next to do after PTC in one “Elite” van? Our team captain, Speed Walker Auntie (whom you may remember from her guest posts), decided it was time to check off the bucket list item and run the whole damn thing. But unlike the walking option, Hood to Coast can be tough to get into. Capped at 1,050 teams, every year the race organizers have so many applicants that they run a lottery to fill the participant spots, and everyone else is outta luck.
Little did I know, our captain had a plan.
After finishing the race and showering last year, my teammates and I found to our surprise that we were again walking. More walking?!? Yes, we were definitely being walked across town in Seaside. You might say we were being herded. Someone (probably captain Speed Walker Auntie) said, “Come on, we’re all going on a visit” and someone else said “I heard they have massages” so we all loped along, on our ouchy feet and tired legs. As it turns out, this was an important opportunity to visit the American Cancer Society folks in the “hospitality suite” they host for their charity athletes. While the rest of us sampled leftover pizza and beer, our team leaders were talking Grownup Talk with the ACS people about getting our undertrained butts into the big Hood to Coast race.
The Hood to Coast relay people maintain relationships with some charities, so there are also a few team spots that you can earn by fundraising big dollars. Luckily, our captain and a lot of our other friends have great connections – or ARE those connections – at the American Cancer Society. So, they committed to raising at least $25,000 *gulp* and we were off!
The first big change that had to happen was growing the team. Everybody needed to be willing to run instead of walk, and also work on fundraising throughout the year. So, the more well-connected among us put out feelers for quick runners who might be in. And we all got busy raising funds. There were Christmas wreath sales and cookie sales, silent auctions, a quilt raffle, and many nights when we said “Come to Chipotle!” or “Come to Mod Pizza!” and those organizations donated a portion of their proceeds to our team’s fundraising effort. Most of us hit up our friends and families for money, and some talked to their business connections for donations. I looked around at my assets, laughed, and started going through the enormous mounds of baby gear that my kiddo was outgrowing. I spent a lot of time meeting up with buyers through Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, to trade a high chair, a crib, or a set of toddler dresses for some cash for the American Cancer Society.
In the end, we made it. Not only did we earn the amount we’d pledged to, we smashed through that goal and landed somewhere around $29,225 (as of this writing). I’m enormously proud to be a part of a team that raised all that money for cancer research, and even if that had been all we did, I would count the whole thing a giant Win.
But there was more. Our reward for all that work was experiencing the Hood to Coast race.
Tackling 199 Miles
We were lucky to get a starting time in the very first wave, 5am at Timberline Lodge! This was Really Good News, because even with the addition of some very fast runners who had joined the team, we knew we would still be one of the slower running teams. If they had started us any later, I’d have worried that we would have lagged behind at the tail end of ALL the participants for the whole event (which in my experience is never a fun thing, as resources can get used up, and in some races can be really demoralizing).
Knowing that we needed to be at Timberline no later than 4:30, It was our super smart van 1 driver, Cheryl, who had the bright idea to snag us a suite on the mountain for the night before our first-wave, 5am start time. She actually wanted to SLEEP the night before our race, who woulda thought?
So we stayed at the Whispering Woods condos in Welches, Oregon. For a bizarrely short time. How often do you check in at 10pm and check out at 4am? We did! (When Cheryl asked about checking out so early in the morning, they were confused. They thought she meant we wanted to stay later than checkout time, to 4 PM! Yeah, we’re doing a weird thing.)
I got maybe two hours’ worth of kinda-sleep, unable to quiet my mind from all of the anticipation, awareness of not waking the new team member I was sharing a pull-out bed with, and an oddly lit view of the forest through the window I was facing. “Whispering Woods,” my mind kept saying, “This place is called Whispering Woods…” and I watched the branches sway far above.
“STFU, woods,” I told the trees, remembering to turn off the Bluetooth on my phone so my Garmin wouldn’t vibrate with notifications and wake everybody.
Then we woke up and it was Go Time. Teeth brushed, stuff packed back in the van, we headed out in the darkness for Timberline. We jammed to the radio, watched for first signs of the race markings, and as we got closer, identified them. “This is your leg right here!” “Whoah weird, I think this is gonna be my leg!” “You guys, we’ve been driving for awhile. Are we really gonna RUN this whole way?”
Then we were at the start line, jumping up and down and shivering in the cold, windy night on the mountain, squinting up at the start line banner, hearing the announcer, screaming the countdown with the handful of other teams who were there for the very beginning of the race. And our beloved captain was off!
The Rhythm is the Same
The more time you spend in vans with your teammates doing PTC or HTC, the more you get a feel for the rhythm of it. When you’re the one who’s up next, you’re usually in Focus Mode. Getting your things ready – Shoes on, bib pinned, water and gels, reflective vest and blinkies, paying attention to where we are and the current runner’s ETA. If there’s a giant traffic jam of vans, you might be getting out and walking to the exchange so as not to miss your runner coming in!
When it’s your teammate getting ready, you might be helping – hand her what she needs, pin something on, answer a question. Reassure her that she’s got this.
If you’re the runner who’s just finished, you’re Dealing With Yourself. In our van this year, we had a little extra space, so before leaving home we removed half a row of seats to make a space where the runner who just finished could land. It was a great place to take your baby wipe shower, change clothes, take off shoes, stretch your legs out straight and recover. At first, we affectionately called it “The Pit”. Eventually it earned the nickname “The No Pants Zone”.
What was different about Hood to Coast, coming from Portland to Coast?
More distance – Obviously, you start on Mt. Hood, not in Portland, so you get to see more of the terrain. My first leg (Leg 3) was beautiful, and a bit of it was trail running where the course runs away from the highway for a little while!
More legs – Depending on your PTC team, you might have been walking just two legs. Here, you’ll be running three.
Faster pace – It’s the same pattern, it just goes a little faster. On most legs of the race, your runner is gonna be in pretty soon, so you need to get your ass back in the van. This means preparing for your run and recovering from your run will often happen in a moving vehicle.
Different time of day – When walking PTC, most years we would generally get assigned a start time in Portland around 3AM. So that one major exchange that you’re used to seeing in the hot afternoon? Yeah, no. We saw that one in the middle of the night this year. Weird!
Different crowd – The participants around you are runners, rather than walkers. This year I saw way fewer tutus and fun costumes, and way more extremely fit people. The general vibe coming from the other teams was turned up by about five notches toward the Serious end of the scale.
No Roadkill – Ahh, roadkills. That famous game where you count every person you pass during your leg? Yeah, nope. It was dunzo for most of us this year. We’re used to being faster walkers and racking up dozens of roadkill during the race. This year? AHAHA. Not so much! Most of us didn’t break five.
I feel like THE BEST way to prepare for taking on Hood to Coast was doing PTC “Elite” style last year. With one fan, bombing all the way through without a rest break, we got to know the exhaustion. We already knew how to keep the van on the move and stay focused. We were already used to each knocking out three legs of the race.
The rest of it? The whole experience? The sleeplessness, the running, the anticipation, the pushing through your own obstacles, the supporting each other, the clipboards, the snacks, the porta potties, the road, the beautiful medal and the ugly cry? You kinda have to be there. <3
How did your race go? We want to know! Share your story in the comments!