Exactly 8 days before the Hood to Coast Relay, my friend Ken Facebook messaged me asking if I could fill in for an injured runner. My first thought was YES!! YES, please!! My second thought was, “Please don’t let it be Runner 5!” See, my friend Julie posted a chart on Facebook a couple of months ago when she found out that she was going to be Runner 9 in the “Mother of All Relays”: the longest distance (at 20.45 miles) and the second in difficulty (with a rating of 23.27, whatever that means). I checked out her chart and thought to myself, “If I ever get asked to join a Hood to Coast team, I would NEVER want to be Runner 5.” It is the second in distance (at 19.87 miles) and first in difficulty (rating 24.29). Anything else would be fine, but Runner 5 and Runner 9 would be way too hard!
Ironically, the opening on their team was for Runner 5. Of course. Even though I knew this, I still jumped at the chance to be on a Hood to Coast team. Sure, I FREAKED OUT, but then I remembered that doing Hood to Coast was a total bucket list thing. I’d heard about the Hood to Coast Relay race back when I was in college, and I was always amazed at runners who could actually do it: Run 3 legs, ranging in length, but averaging about the equivalent of running three 10Ks in approximately 24 hours for a grand total of 198 miles for our 12-man team. Amazing. Yeah, I wanted in!
I did some research on my legs, what to pack, how to prepare, how to run uphill and downhill (something that I actually didn’t have too much experience with), and what it was like to run a team relay with a bunch of strangers (which is actually more common than you would think!). In the end, I did what I could to prepare, and then I just decided to jump into it.
(Click to enlarge, and then click again to make the photos even bigger!)
I met the team for the first time the night before, where we met up to decorate the vans and receive some final instruction at the church where my friend attends. It was interesting to learn how everyone was connected to the team. No one knew everyone else. It was a web of relationships. I didn’t feel like an outsider at all!
I went to dinner with several of the team members, then spent the night at one of their houses so that I could be close to the church to meet up with my van early the next morning. (The church where we met was about an hour away from my house.)
I was up at 3:20am and at the church to meet my van before 4:00! We drove up to the mountain, with a brief stop at Safeway in Sandy for ice. We were so excited!! We finally arrived at Timberline on Mt. Hood, where a party was going on! It was cold and a little windy, but the music was pumping and excitement was in the air. We picked up some freebies, and I bought a long sleeved shirt and a Runner 5 shirt. So much fun!! I ran into my friend Tina, who was also running Leg 5, with a start time 15 minutes after ours.
The countdown started and our team was off! Patrick was Runner 1, and he had a long downhill ahead of him. We were so pumped! We stopped along the way to encourage him (a pattern we got into throughout the race) and then met him at the next handoff. Devin was up next, for a nice long run. Then, it was Mark’s turn, which is when I started to get really nervous (also a pattern). Mark passed off to his wife, Amanda, and I got ready for my first leg!
The bracelet was handed off to me and I took off! My pace was decent in the beginning and I was able to stick with it through the start of some rolling hills. I was surprised at how easy it was, compared to my daunting expectations of this leg, which was rated VH (Very Hard). Then, we took a turn onto a side road, which is where the elevation climbed and the run became more difficult. I only earned ONE road kill (passing another runner) over the entire 6.4 miles, while I was passed countless times by some amazing looking runners. I was totally fine with that, though! I was impressed by them!
One funny little thing that happened during my first leg of the Hood To Coast Relay was that I started my Kelleigh’s Running Tunes playlist, but only two songs played for the entire hour that I was out there: Bryan Adams’ Everything I do, I do it for You and Bon Jovi’s Living on a Prayer. Over and over and over. I kept hearing, “You’re halfway there! Oooo-oooh! Livin’ on a prayer!” One of the amazing runners that passed me started singing along (he could hear, since we couldn’t use headphones). Cracked me up!
My leg ended, and I passed off to Mike, who was the last person in our van to run. By the way, my average pace was 9:13! I REALLY made up time! It was awesome! By the time Mike was done, we were an hour ahead, and ready to rest! We passed off to Van 2, and then went to Red Robin for lunch, then into Portland to rest in the Oaks Amusement Park lot. It was getting HOT by the time we got there, and there wasn’t much shade. However, we did find a little spot and were able to bust out the yoga mat for some cushioning.
After a while, Van 2 handed off to us, and Patrick started our second round of legs with a LONG run through the heat of Portland. Those poor runners really needed water half way through, but very few of them had any. At the exchange point, I brought out the spray water bottles, which made me very popular. Many of the runners were suffering from heat exhaustion at the end. It was so terrible! However, Patrick did great, even though he was clearly exhausted. He passed off to Devin, and we moved out of the city. Mark was up next, which was when I started to get nervous. It was time to put on our reflective vests, head lamps and blinkie lights (plus a few glow bracelets and necklaces, just for fun)! Amanda’s turn came, and I was anxious to get to the exchange. I met up with Tina again and it was so nice to see her! I just knew that she was going to catch up with me!
I took off on my second leg and from the moment I started running, my IT band was killing me. However, I just decided to take it easy and just try not to walk. I decided to treat it as an LSR (Long, Slow Run). By this time, it was dark and lonely. I was passed several times, and only got one kill myself. The people who passed me were intense and not at all chatty.
I was listening to Cole’s music now, and it cracked me up when Annoying Orange came on!! So funny! My team met me about half way, and I saw them before they saw me. It was SO wonderful to meet up with them!! I kept going and going (7.59 miles) and my leg seemed endless. Soon, however, the St. Helens lights came into view! Right about then, I heard Tina behind me saying, “Kelleigh!! I need you!!” She was totally booking it! She caught up with me and we ran in to the finish together. SO encouraging, especially when I was in such pain. I limped across the finish and passed off to Mike. Our team had decided to let me and Amanda and Patrick take showers and clean up while Eddie (our awesome driver), Devin and Mark went to pick up Mike at the van exchange. It was SO wonderful having St. Helens High School doing their thing for us!! It was QUIET and relaxing inside. There were showers and they were serving pancakes, sausage and eggs for our midnight breakfast. By this point, I was exhausted. I called Mitch and we talked for a couple of minutes, but I was too exhausted to even hold a conversation. The guys arrived at the school and took showers while Amanda and I went back to the van and laid down on our seats for the night. I heard the guys come in and then we started driving to the next exchange to park and sleep in the van.
Unfortunately, this is where the story takes a sad turn! Apparently, we were at the wrong exchange point. We were where Runner 11 and Runner 12 hand off, not where Runner 12 and Runner 1 hand off. Patrick and Devin stood out in the rain waiting for our Runner 12 (Alaina) to arrive for over 3 hours. We were worried that something happened to her. Then, Amanda joined them and discovered that we were at the WRONG handoff the entire time! For 3 hours! We quickly got going to the next handoff point (passing the glorious sleeping fields along the way, UGH!!) and a volunteer stopped us and told us that our van 2 had left 20 minutes ago and that we were to just start our runner and pick up the slap-bracelet baton at the next van exchange. Patrick took off! We tried not to be discouraged, because our whole goal was simply to finish, however knowing that we had such a HUGE lead on our projected finishing time and then losing it all and then some was sad. It was horrible to think of what the other van must have been going through as they waited and worried and got angry at us for not being there. I know I would have been angry! However, we didn’t have any way to communicate with the other van. The walkie-talkie batteries were dead, and we couldn’t replace them because they were special battery packs. The phones had no service because we were in the coast range. Horrible.
However, we just decided to make the best of it and focus on finishing and making up as much time as we could. We ran our hearts out!! We never had our slap bracelet baton the whole time, which freaked some other teams out, but we acted as if we did! We went through the line-up: Patrick, then Devin, then Mark and Amanda. Amanda’s leg was shorter (maybe 4 miles) and she was FAST and the traffic at the next exchange was always very backed up, so I begged our team to just get to the next point and not stop to encourage her. I was dreading my leg. We arrived, and I was the only one to get out of the van. We figured we had some time, but I wanted to make sure I could go to the bathroom before I ran, so I went straight to the hand-off point. The line at the runner’s port-o-potty was short, so I was in and out. A couple of minutes later, I heard our number!! Amanda was coming in!! SO fast! One of the highlights of the entire relay was watching Amanda “racing” the gorgeous, big black man to the finish. Apparently, he yelled, “Hey! No passing!” as they laughed and everyone cheered and yelled at the hand-off point. SO MUCH FUN! She totally beat him, by the way. No one else in our van saw this epic exchange! I yelled at the van as I passed the parking lot, but they didn’t even know that I had taken off! SO funny!
I took off on my last leg and kept a decent pace for the first mile or so, but then as I went uphill, my pace went downhill. It was hard. However, I kept a very good attitude the entire time, because all of the team vans along the route were SO encouraging the entire time. They made my final leg a big party! My team stopped at about 2 miles in to encourage me, which was so awesome!! Then, they took off to the next point. In the meantime, I kept climbing and climbing and climbing. The whole run was 6.17 miles, and the summit was at about 3.6 miles in. If it had been a straight road, no biggie. However, it was a winding road that reminded me of a Nascar race track. High sides or low sides depending on which way we were turning. SO hard on the body!! I stopped several times to take pictures of the scenery. A barefoot runner passed me, so I HAD to take a (blurry) picture of that! I had already decided to make the most of the experience of the hardest uphill leg of the whole relay.
Another highlight of the relay was having a passing war with one runner named Greg. I passed him twice and he passed me twice. Greg’s team kept checking on him, because he was obviously a very fit runner who was in pain. They made a toilet paper finish line at the summit, and they let me run through one, too! The Mojo van (who kept playing the song “We’re up all night to get lucky!”) was at the summit, and so were the glitter skirt girls, who were always stopping, jumping out and dancing. They were having a big party at the top to encourage the runners. It was amazing!! I entertained them by dancing while I “ran” along. I yelled out, “I’m still moving!” and they yelled back, “Yes, you are!! You’re the toughest runner in your van!” LOVED that! I ran through a human tunnel and got some high fives. Awesome.
THEN, it was all (okay, mostly) downhill!! I zoomed. Seriously. My IT band pain was subsiding (or maybe my quads and hamstrings were so tight that I didn’t pay attention to my knee/hip) and I felt pretty good. I sped downhill and quickly caught up with Greg again. I could tell that he was in pain, so I ran alongside him to encourage him. We struck up a conversation, and I learned that he was from Sandy, right next to the Safeway at the Van exchange. We chatted a little bit, and at one point he mentioned his knees. I said, “You stretch, I’ll walk and you can catch up with me.” We did that, and he caught up. We kept walking for another minute or so, and then I said, “Let’s go!” It was SO great to run with someone and be the encourager. Before we knew it, we saw vans and orange vests in front of us! I told Greg that he could speed up and finish ahead of me, but he said, “Nope, I’m finishing this leg right beside you!” We increased our pace and finished together. It was awesome and I felt amazing at the end. Greg and I said our goodbyes after we handed off to our next runners, and Amanda picked me up. We learned that we had to walk up a dirt road to find our van, which they were supposed to have radioed ahead for. However, we walked the entire distance (maybe 1/4 mile), and our guys hadn’t heard our number being called out. It was an awkward and frustrating exchange, apparently. I didn’t mind the walk, though. I truly felt GREAT at the end. I had finished Hood to Coast!! AND, I had 6 kills on that leg! What a wonderful ending!
We finally got out of the runner exchange, and went to the van exchange. WE FOUND OUR VAN 2!! About 50 yards from them, we finally got cellular service. Oh my gosh. But, we spotted them right away, and we were all together to send the next runner off while we welcomed Mike back in from his tough uphill and downhill run. It was SO hard hearing the other van’s stories about how they waited and waited!! GUILTY! It was sad. BUT, we had to keep a good attitude, because the whole point was to FINISH Hood to Coast. Our van did make up another 30 minutes, and we figured that the other van would probably do that, too. We had to just let it go and focus on the accomplishment.
From there, we drove straight in to Seaside, which is where the Hood to Coast Relay finish line was. Eddie’s parents have a beach house in Seaside, and it was amazingly wonderful to be welcomed into a CLEAN, gorgeously decorated home. They had a HUGE spread of food ready for us: smoked tri-tip (oh my gosh, amazing), coleslaw, baked beans, homemade mac and cheese, a HUGE pot of clam chowder, chocolate chip cookies, chips and salsa, wine and beer. The weather was gorgeous on the deck overlooking a little pond. After taking showers (unbelievable water pressure!), we ate and relaxed a little before heading out to the promenade at the beach where the finish line party was being held. We grabbed a bunch of swag (highlights: a Nuun Hood to Coast water bottle, lots of granola samples, full sized Powerbar stuff, a purple bag with a tech shirt and another water bottle (4, total), blinkie lights and more), then hung out while we figured out where to wait for our team. Van 2 came into cell range, so Eddie went back to the house and met them there. Our whole team reunited on the beach, and soon we heard our number being called as Alaina (our finisher) was approaching the finish. We cheered her in and waited a while so she could catch her breath. We heard our team name being called, “Grace For Any Pace!” and we yelled as loud as we could! It was awesome! We got through the finish area, received our medals and took pictures as a team. It was so much fun!!! The other van walked around gathering swag while I joined in on a little line dance. I loved it!! Party!!
We all jumped into the back of Eddie’s dad’s truck and went back to the house to eat again and let Van 2 clean up and relax. Such a welcoming place to unwind! We spent about an hour there, then decided that we had a long drive home (me, especially), so we piled into our vans and drove off.
Team 552! L-R: Driver Eddie, Libby (in the shadows there), Meg, me, Mike, Ken, Heidi, Devin, Patrick, Alaina (who wore a shirt announcing baby’s first Hood to Coast!! Preggers! She’s incredible!), her hubby J.D., Mark and Amanda
Hood to Coast 2013 was an incredible experience. I met some amazing people (we had SOOO much fun in our van!) and accomplished a HUGE life event. I conquered my fear of being Runner 5, and would even do the same legs again if I have the opportunity (although it would be nice to have a leg that was around 3 or 4 miles!!). I feel like I can accomplish anything at this point. I’m not at all worried about my two half-marathons in September and October, and I’m thinking I might want to do a marathon in 2014. It’s amazing how much confidence running can give you!
Thanks for letting me share my Hood to Coast experience with you! And thank you to all of my friends who followed along with my progress as I posted on Facebook and Instagram.