Monday, August 29, 2011

Hood to Coast: disappointing and incredible

Warning:  this is very long, get comfortable

Going into the Hood to Coast relay race, I was pretty nervous but also really excited.  I had never done a relay race and being a lifelong Oregonian, Hood to Coast was always THE race I wanted to do.  I was invited to be on team Blister Sisters, a group of women in the submasters (over 30) group that had been doing the race for 19 years, during which they have always placed in the top 6 of their division.  I was honored to be on such a well established team and a bit overwhelmed at my need to really RACE such an epic event.

Thursday evening, Dan, the kids and I headed to Klamath Falls and Friday morning I met up with my team for the first time.  I met the girls that were going to be in van #1 before they left Klamath Falls at 9am then got together with my van (#2) shortly before noon.  My "Blister Sister" signs (big thanks to were a huge hit.

The good thing about a 5:15pm start time was that there was no rush to get to the first van exchange.  We left Klamath Falls at 12:02 and enjoyed a leisurely trip to Bend where we stopped for lunch before continuing north to Sandy where we would wait for Van #1 to pass off to us.  Lunch was super tasty, although I broke the cardinal rule, never eat anything you aren't sure about before a big race.  I had a super delicious macaroni and cheese but as I was eating all that baked cheesy goodness I began thinking that it may not have been the best decision.  Less than an hour later, my stomach began churning and my worst fears were realized.  When we pulled into the Safeway at Sandy for our first exchange the row of glistening Honey Buckets was the most wonderful thing I had ever seen... we became quite intimate over the next few hours.
Luckily I had brought some Pepto-Bismol® tablets and for the most part got my tummy issues under control by the time I had to run my first leg, although I would continue to feel "not so well" up until getting home Sunday evening.

On our way to Sandy, we passed our #2 runner on the road.  It was awesome to get to cheer her on but we knew we would have a pretty decent wait until it was our turn to run.  We took that time to pose for a picture
Jaime, me, Cindy, Rene, April, Kathy
and enjoy some pretty decent music from team "Wall of Sound".
Between our second and third legs, however, the "wall of sound" wasn't quite as appreciated when we were trying to nap.
After a few hours of hanging out, van #1 rolled in and it was close to go time.  Soon our #7 runner was on the road and our van was on the clock.  We headed out and the real excitement and anticipation began.  It was a lot of fun to be at the exchanges and cheer in one runner while simultaneously sending off another one.  Before too long, it was my turn.

My first leg was #9.  It was 7.04 miles, mostly along the Springwater Trail in Gresham.  When I began running it was 11:12pm and it was dark.  There was almost a mile along the road before I got onto the trail but then I was on the trail and all alone.  There was seriously no one around.  The first couple of miles on the trail were all gravel.  Luckily, Heather (my marathon training buddy, who was also running leg 9 for her team) had texted me about the leg and I knew to expect the gravel.  While I was running, there was one guy that went zooming by me, but it wasn't long before his flashy red light was too far ahead for me to see any more.  I felt strong though and the miles went by quickly.  I only scared myself with strange noises from the bushes a couple of times and before I knew it, I was running into the exchange to hand off to Kathy to run leg #10.  
Stats:  leg #9, 7.04 miles, 50:48, roughly 7:13 pace

As we began traveling to the next legs, some of the directions were a little bit batty.  We apparently had a slightly older exchange map that had us turn on the wrong road between exchange 10 & 11.  Tempers started running a little bit high, some curses and swears were uttered, but luckily with the help of the GPS app on my phone and some great driving and navigating from my teammates we made it to the exchange with literally minutes to spare.

The next couple of exchanges went smoothly.  My teammates were all running strong and fast and before I knew it we were meeting up with van #1 and a whole slew of camping homeless people under the Hawthorne Bridge in downtown Portland.  I made a quick change of clothes in the Honey Bucket, we passed our clipboard to Van #1 and we were back on the road to St. Helens were we would camp for a few hours at the Fairgrounds, while awaiting our turn again.

3 of our girls slept in the van and the other 3 of us opted to sleeping bag it in the open.  I found a nice spot right by the back tire in hopes that I wouldn't be run over by some other team.
I stayed surprisingly warm and even dozed off a couple of times for some sleep.  The early morning brought cooler temps and the promising start of a new day.
 It also brought the only glimpse of the Nuun bloggers team that I saw the entire weekend:
which was only spotted because one of my teammates thought it was a condom
I was really excited about my second leg.  Out of my three legs, it was the shortest, it was going to be during the early morning and it was slightly downhill.

My second leg was #21.  It was 5.0 miles on a gravel back road near Vernonia.  I began running it at 8:45am.  I actually got two road kills (passing people) on this leg which was the most amount of people I had seen running at the same time so far.  About a half mile in, a guy caught up to and passed me but didn't pull away.  As his van went passed us, they stopped and cheered then said to me, "Don't let him get away from you."  So, I didn't.  I caught back up to him and we chatted for a bit as we ran along.  We took turns leading but mostly kept the same pace.  I know he kept me going and I have a pretty good feeling I kept his pace up as well.  The leg would have been pretty miserable had I been doing it completely alone.  It was hot and dusty and boring.  As we pulled into the exchange area I told him there was no way I was going to let him beat me to the finish after all the hard work I had done and we sprinted it in, with our last mile split a 6:53.  As we got to our relay partners he grabbed my hand and we finished at exactly the same time.  He then yelled to his teammates about how I tried to kill him.  As we drove to our next exchange I spent the time sneezing all the dust out of my nose and trying to wipe it off of my teeth and from between my fingers.  I can only imagine how bad it would have been if there had been more vans going through... there were some advantages to bringing up the rear of the race.
Stats:  Leg #21, 5.00 miles, 35:14, 7:02 pace

As the day wore on, we continued to run strong as a team and I think we were running pretty happy too.  We passed off again to Van #1 then headed to our last resting place before our final leg.  This last double exchange area was slightly congested and we saw many teams that had to run their clipboard in with their final runner in order to hand off to the second van because traffic basically came to a complete stand still.  From what I understand, this was an enormous problem earlier in the day and has been a big complaint from many of the teams.  Again, bringing up the end of the race has some advantages.  However, it has its disadvantages too as the resting areas were being shut down and we had to change locations a couple times while waiting for Van #1.  I got a little bit of sleep, but it was hot and noisy and there wasn't much shade.  It was about an hour into our rest period that "Wall of Sound" (both of their booming vans) came rolling on by and ended any rest we had been feigning.

I didn't take a whole lot of pictures, my phone was completely dead after GPSing it all night and I kept misplacing my camera... I did however think this was a pretty cool sign:
Being at the end of the race, we didn't get to see too many of the awesome outfits or van decorations.  We ran into the "Big Kahunas" quite a few times as well as "The Jerks" who would send off and welcome in their runners with chants of "jerk, jerk, jerk, jerk, jerk" and also some superhero/wresting group and green man:

It seemed like we had to wait forever to start our last leg, but once it was our turn most of the legs were fairly short and we had to book it to make the next exchange.  At the exchanges we began talking to the few teams that were still around and many of them had been forced to "leap frog" their runners.  They would drop several runners off at their starting points and then they would all run at the same time and then wait for the van to go back and pick them up.  This was very sad because it completely lost the relay aspect of the event and runners would come in with no teammates there to cheer them on.  We began to worry that even though we were well within our projected finish time the officials were going to approach us about leap frogging and they did... that story to come soon.

I'll be honest, I was not looking forward to my final leg.  My second leg hadn't been quite as easy peasy as I was anticipating and it left me pretty nervous about my final leg.  I was definitely looking forward to it being over, but I was not looking forward to running it.  It was my longest, hilliest leg and like one of the team names specified (with their lovely double entendre) the "Third Leg is the Hardest".

My third leg was #33.  It was 7.72 miles of rolling hills on a narrow back country road through Astoria.  I began running at 5:06pm.  My legs felt like lead and before I made it up the first little hill I had a terrible side stitch that left me running lopsided and gasping for air.  After running for a little bit like that, I finally stopped and pushed on the spot that hurt while simultaneously bending over and blowing out air (a cool trick I learned from my high school cross country coach) and for the most part it went away.  When my van went passed I tried my best to look strong and run fast, but I was hurting.  My goal was to go out around 8 minute pace and try to get progressively faster to ultimately negative split the run for a sub 8 minute/mile pace.  That didn't work so well.  My first mile was 7:27 followed by 7:50, then I hung around in the 8's for a couple of miles, managed to get another 7:36 for mile 4 then struggled between high 8 minutes and somewhere in the lower 8's.  For the most part I was entirely alone.  One guy caught up to me about a mile in and barely passed me.  I had planned to try and stick with him when he passed (I had heard him coming for a while), but he smelled so bad.  Seriously, he had the worst BO I have ever smelled in my life.  We were running into a headwind and it just kept blowing his stink back at me and I literally had to hold my breath and not breathe through my nose.  (It made me glad I was in a van with only women who we all know smell like beautiful flowers when they sweat... ha ha.)  Maybe I should have tried harder to get in front of him but instead I let him go until I couldn't smell him anymore.  Even after he was several yards in front of my I swear I got small wafts of stench blowing back in my direction.

Even though it wasn't quite 8 miles, that was the hardest run I have ever done.  I tried to stay as physically and mentally strong as I could but I wanted to quit so badly.  I also wanted to ask the man on the riding lawn mower I passed for a ride.  I was watching my pace as it kept creeping above an 8 minute average despite my best efforts to keep it down and I was also watching as the mileage seemed to be barely moving.  I kept thinking about how I had to be fast so they didn't make us leap frog while also thinking about how much I didn't want to run the Eugene Women's Half in a week.  Finally, in an attempt to control my negative thoughts and keep my body going, I stopped looking at my watch and began chanting in my mind "run happy run strong" over and over.  I was sooooooo relieved when I finally turned out of the headwind and up the last 1/4 of a mile to my exchange.
Stats:  Leg #33, 7.72 miles, 1:02:06, 8:02 pace

After I handed off and we were headed to the van to get to the next exchange a race official (and her dog) approached us while looking at her clipboard:
R.O.:  Are you the Blister Sisters?
we all looked at our bright green jackets with "Blister Sisters" embroidered on them
Us:  Yes.
R.O.:  We're concerned that you aren't going to be off the course by 8pm and we want you to leap frog.  We want you to get your next runner going as soon as you get to the exchange.  We've been trying to catch up to and find you for a while.
que the stunned silence and crickets chirping... we hadn't exactly been hiding out in our bright jackets and team name on our vans
Rene (our fearless team leader):  Um. No.  We aren't just going to abandon our runner out here.  We aren't going to start again until she finishes.  You guys gave us our starting time of 5:15pm.  We are right on schedule, we paid good money to run a RELAY and that's what we are going to do.
que more silence
R.O.:  Well, you need to be on the beach by 8:30pm.  We'll be watching you.

With that, we took off and did hide out in the van while we waited for our very last exchange.  Pretty soon, Jamie (our #11 runner) came blasting into the exchange and Rene, our final runner, took off like a rocket.  We were on a mission and we were fired up.  As we began driving to the beach we told Jamie about the frustrations we encountered while she was running and about the same time she asked us if Rene had the timing chip on that the final runner must wear across the finish line.  Oh. My. Goodness.  In all of our anger and frustration we had sent her off without the chip.  We pulled into Seaside and traffic immediately came to a standstill.  We knew there was no way we were going to get to the beach before Rene.  After a quick team conference in the van, Jamie and I hopped out and ran with the chip, past all the stalled vehicles along the highway and the 2 miles to the beach to hopefully catch Rene before she got to the finish.  Luckily we beat her there and she was so relieved to see us before she headed onto the boardwalk.  (Apparently Rene had realized she forgot the chip shortly after starting and back tracked a bit before deciding there was no way she was going to catch us then powered forward.  She stopped and told a fireman who said he would try to get in touch with us and not to worry, just keep running.)  She grabbed the chip then took off for the finish.  

She finished at 8:27pm with an unofficial finish time of 27:12:58.  This was unfortunately only good enough for 10th place in the women's submasters, the first time Blister Sisters haven't placed in the top 6, I think ever.  Our overall place was 226th.  The final few legs of frustration and the disspointment with our placing were only further compounded when we discovered that they had run out of finisher's medals!!  Seriously, how can they run out of medals when they know exactly how many people are running the race!!!!! They said they will mail some.  We'll see.

all but 3 of our runners (who had already left)... Sunday morning before leaving Seaside

Despite the few negative things, I had an amazing time.  The volunteers were awesome and my teammates were a lot of fun to be with.  I feel like we all worked very well together.  Unfortunately I think that this year in particular, though, has turned quite a few people away from the Hood to Coast adventure.  I know my team has no desire to do it again next year... in their 19 years of running, this was the worst race experience they've had.  Rumor has it, they'll be looking into Cascade Lakes next summer.

Here are my complaints:
We started way too late.  There were no other all women's teams anywhere near our start time.  We stayed right on our anticipated finish time (coming in within 2 minutes of it) yet were being rushed along by the officials at the end.  When we got to the beach the party had been going for hours and hours, it was dark and cold  and we didn't really get to enjoy any of the festivities.


BabyWeightMyFatAss said...

I'm so happy you ladies ompleted the relay the way it should have been done!

What I am not happy with is how you ladies were treated. :( So sad that they ran out of medals? How do you do that? Did more people run it than paid for it? That can be my only guess. I hope you get that medal ASAP.

LB said...

oh wow, that is a little disappointing. to be part of such an epic event only to leave with a sour taste in your mouth. it did sound like a really great time up until the end. im so glad yall stood your ground and didnt leap frog!

(Just) Trying is for Little Girls said...

I'm sorry about the disappointments. You ran well, though, and should be proud of that!

And what, you don't want to run a half this weekend? If I had been running HTC that would have been going through my mind every step of all three of my legs:)

P said...

I can't believe they ran out of finisher's medals - that's insane!!!
What a trooper you are, running three strong legs. You ROCK!
I'll be on your team next year...except I'm way too old for sub-masters. :)

Fruit Fly said...

What an experience! That's sad that your team doesn't want to go back after so long. Hopefully the HTC people will listen to all of the comments from people and fix things for next year.

I really enjoyed reading all about your experience though. Biker Boy is buying me the Hood to Coast movie tonight and we're watching it on the plane this week down to my next race. So finally I'll put a visual image to your story here. It does certainly seem like a really exciting and unique race, that's for sure!

Now when you get your medal you better take a picture and share it with us!

I can't get over how fast you can crank out those miles - especially under not the most ideal eating/sleeping/living conditions. Very impressive. Congratulations!

Jen Nichols said...

Congratulations to your team for such a stellar race! Top Ten still rocks if you ask me. This was my third HTC and I agree that the organization this year was by far the worst. I am so happy that you got to run it but bummed you didn't get the medal. I heard others were in the same boat.

We are running the Eugene Women's Half next weekend too for my sister's "bachelorette" party. Look for the our custom printed white tanks. Maybe I'll see you out there. Good luck and nice work on HTC!

Richelle said...

Congrats to you and your team, despite the disappointments. Sounds like a major snafu on the race officials' part by starting your team so late. I can't believe they ran out of finisher medals!

Run with Jess said...

Aw,man -- how disappointing how you ladies were treated! But proud of you for standing up & running it YOUR way. You should be proud of your race! Thx for sharing you experience with us.

Raina said...

Wow. That is an epic relay. They were going to make you "leapfrog"? that just doesn't sound right.

Running on the trail at night must have been scary. For some reason I always envision the van driving slowly along side the runner. Yeah, I know it doesn't, but that's the image I get- Not running alone in the woods.

Hope you get that medal in the mail! I bet Cascade lakes relay would be fun, even at altitude.

Raina said...

Oh...and best wishes this weekend!

track coach and adorable wife said...

I probably would have freaked out, sprinted then bonked when running alone in the woods. I get scared even when I am in a car!

Sorry there were some low points to the journey, but you ran awesome! Glad you had some fun and met some great people!

Heather said...

I hear ya Laurie! This was year 5 for us and I said I'm not sure I'll come back. Our #12 runner ran his 5 miles to the beach and spent another hour waiting for us to get there because we were so backed up in traffic. I paid good money for the race and never even got to cross the finish line myself, though I did get a medal--I'll share it with you. :) We'll have to compare annoying H2C stories on our next run. No doubt race organizers will be hearing about it for years. We're discussing doing a Ragnar Relay instead for next year. Oh--and I'm STILL blowing dirt out of my nose from that second leg!

AshleyR said...

We were in Portland last week on vacation and saw lots of Hood to Coast vans at our hotel and around the city on Thursday and Friday. When I got home on Saturday I was excited to see your hubby posting updates. Congrats on a job well done! Sorry things didn't go as well as planned in some spots.