A relay race such as Hood to Coast depends almost entirely on intricate logistics where each team moves along the course in vans as the team members complete each leg. This relay is set up for 12 person teams and has 36 segments, or legs. The race starts about 65 miles east of Portland, halfway up Mt. Hood, where the road stops at a lodge called Timberline Lodge, built by the WPA in the 1930s. It wends it's way through Portland and ends nearly 195 miles later in the Pacific coast town of Seaside. Runners 1 through 12 run in order and then repeat the rotation in strict order a second and third time. Thus each runner does 3 legs at widely separate intervals. There are 6 runners in one van and 6 in the other. The active van moves along, meeting each runner and sending off the next at each exchange point. The trick of course is for the van to be there on time. The other van (called the "forward" van) travels ahead 6 interchanges and waits around (sleeping, eating, hanging out, etc.) until the race catches up to them and then they take over. This waiting around by the forward van is called a "layover". A further complication is that starting times are staggered with about 20 teams starting every 15 minutes from Friday morning till evening. Faster teams will pass slower teams that may have started hours before. Once you are moving along it's very hard to tell where you stand with respect to other teams. It would be highly unusual that a team starting with you would stay close to you for the whole race. (We actually had such a team, #311, the "Naughty Woodpeckers", which will appear several times in the commentary below.) This course is 194.6 miles long and each leg averages 5.4 miles in length. A total of 875 teams were entered (unbelievably, over 900 other teams were turned away!) which multiplies out to 10,000 runners, but only a fraction of them are on the course at one time, and very often a runner is completely alone for stretches. Most runners are sitting in vans most of the time. The average time to complete the race is about 24 hours, so vans and runners move along straight through the night.
I started recruiting Flyers for this race in October 1996. By January I had 6 committed runners and we officially registered. By May we had a full team of 12 runners. Unfortunately injuries and changes of plans resulted in several personnel changes, and by race week we had only 11 runners going to Oregon. Luckily we were able to pick up a local runner in Portland (Jan Rice) who had experience running the race, and on race day we had full complement of 12.
In order of rotation, the Flyer team consisted of Gary Heard, Philippe Pages, Jan Rice, Anna Sank, Anne Jamieson, Tom Paridiso, Gina Figueroa, Stacey Bonett, Dean Thomas, Sara Dzikiewicz, Tom Dessereau and myself. The official (non running) driver of Van 1 was my son Peter. Van 2 had to rotate driving between Tom D and Dean.
When we got to Portland we were in for a number of surprises. The most pleasant by far was the hospitality of our friends Karen and Baird Smith and their daughter Liz. Looking back, it's hard to imagine a nicer place to stay or a nicer family to stay with.
Philippe: I took an early flight where the next person on line to catch the flight was also going to run the Hood to Coast Relay. Dean and Tom D were at the airport to pick up some of us. We then went to the Smith's!
The Smiths (Rich's friends) were nice enough to invite 12 unknown crazy runners from NYC to stay over at their
lovely house. We were amazed by their friendliness and we felt at home!!! We took over the kitchen to cook dinner.
Then we had a "strategy talk" by Rich. He didn't need to motivate us, we were already very excited!
The mountain was beautiful when we arrived about 12:30. Mostly clear sky with some wisps of clouds hanging on Mt. Jefferson to the south. Looking up to the summit from the Timberline Lodge, there was nothing but gray dirt and rock interspersed with dirty snow framed by blue shy. A long line of summer skiers were trooping up to a lift with garish ski clothes so they could say they skied Mt. Hood on the 22nd of August! A few of us broke into the food we had just packed away and had our turkey sandwiches. Most were a bit too nervous and excited and just hung around. The eeriest feeling came over me as I looked around at our group, each momentarily lost in their own private thoughts. HOT DAMN we actually got here! We're really gonna do this thing!
I dutifully checked the team in at the desk, showing the two safety vests and two flashlights (demonstrating that they both worked) and signed us in. We got our "baton" which was really a plastic wrist wrap. This had two stable configurations: straight and wrapped around your wrist. We soon learned there was a technique for passing this from runner to runner: The incoming runner ("in") would barrel in with the thing out stretched in the right hand while the out going runner ("out") would hold out his/her arm. At the point of contact "in" would go WHAP! with the thing onto the wrist of "out" and the next runner would be off. The "cool" teams must have practiced this since they took such pleasure in doing it.
After the 1:30 start had run off, we got under the starting line, and with the mountain at our backs, got a nearby volunteer to take our picture. It seemed like 13 people (including Pete the driver) had at least 15 cameras. This was greatly amusing to ourselves and to the hapless camera man. That done, we got ready to send off Gary, our number one man. The announcer called up the teams by name and gave the usual speal about not peeing on peoples lawns and the runners shook hands and awaited the count down. Anne stood ready with the team watch and the clipboard with 36 empty rows which would fill up over the next 26 hours with our names and split times. As 1:45 PM, our official start time, approached ...
The exhilaration of the start ... the pounding pain ... the majesty of that mountain and the surrounding terrain ... the running verbal gun battle between Anna and Philippe ... Pete on the make - how to score in the midst of the Hood to Coast? (I think we need a special follow-up report) ... true confessions ("Men suck." - "Beg your pardon?") ... Dean and Stacey "come-out" ... awesome running by Tom, Dean, Anne and Anna - not that the rest of us did so bad ... trying to get some coffee at the diner in Astoria (tabs were different you know) ... that first beer when all was finished (nice stash Van 2) ... for Tom and Dean -- Jimmy the barkeep - and I know where I can get you some - Japones Elephants ... and finally the unswerving devotion (and nice recovery!) of our leader, Richard.
I know, I know, this is supposed to be about leg #1.
I am not running leg #1 again !!!
I am not kidding. Ruined for life. Whoever runs this next time should get their head examined! The only redeeming aspect of this leg is the honor of starting.
What a set-up. One feels great standing there among the starters, mid-way up Mount Hood, the team yelling encouragement (some knowing full well that there is one born every day), big crowd, lots of hoopla, adrenaline flowing ... then the count-down and off ... but soon one is gasping for air (6000 ft elevation) and a half-mile into it, one realizes that the cramps developing in your shins, from the pounding against the 12 degree pitch to the mountain course, is going to be with you for the next 5 1/2 miles! For those who might like the challenge or want to take one for the team next year -- feel more charitable or whatever -- the road was winding and narrow through beautiful tall pines, glimpses of beautiful vistas and it was exhilarating. I managed to run down one guy and outlast someone else on my tail the whole way to finish about 4th among the 20 or so starters in my group -- about 6:30s, definitely PR speed at that distance. Hand off to Philippe.
Remember, if you run the first leg, you need some cotton around your toes and extra cushion on the ball of the toes to absorb the blows. A good loosening up before the start and a good icing and massage after the finish of the leg would help.
The view was on the mountain magnificent. By the time we took the mandatory pictures, Gary was strolling down the mountain and it was time for me to get ready. I ran leg #2, that was 5.6 miles downhill, which explained my 7:02 pace!
I had a problem before the race with my shins; the pain was there, but it was not getting worse, so I was hoping that I would finish the race without too much pain. The great thing about this race is the team spirit and the camaraderie.
Time flies, you are cheering the teammate who is starting, you are congratulating the one just finishing, then
you have to jump in the van to go to the next exchange. If your teammate has been nice to you before, or if he/she
has a very grueling part of the race, you would stop during his/her leg to give away water and cheers.
My first leg was down from the mountain. It was a gradual downhill along Highway 26. I found it to be easy and enjoyable mostly. The time was around 3:00 in the afternoon and the heat and wind gusts from the passing trucks was not too pleasant, but to be expected.
The last time I ran along Highway 26 it was very hot and I was inhaling the fumes from bumper to bumper traffic -
vans trying to reach the mountain with their teams. So this year was really good. A good start also, only 4.3 miles.
What can I write or say that hasn't been written or said before? NOTHING!!
I had an incredible time which is clearly evidenced by all my goofy, toothy grins and all my enthusiastic, ecstatic recounts of our many trials and tribulations.
The truth of the matter is that when I run, I "zone" ... I didn't notice the beautiful Oregon scenery ...
I didn't ruminate on the group dynamics of Van 1 (bizarre though they were!) ... I didn't even think how
my body feels when I run (much to my podiatrist's, orthopedist's ... and my mother's dismay!). It's an amazing
feeling which I know my fellow runners can appreciate. This is after all why I run in the first place and I hope never to stop.
We have just gone through the ritual celebration of The Start and watched Gary begin his downhill assault on Leg 1. Van 2 has several hours to kill before we send off our first runner. Van 2's first layover actually came before we started running, as the Van 1 runners were knocking off the first few legs of the course. We head for Sandy Triftway on Leg 6. Fortunately we realize that Sandy Triftway is the end of leg 6 and not the start of leg 6 where Tom P, our first runner, is to begin his leg. After all the careful planning, this is a wake-up call that in this race, we can take nothing for granted.
We picked out a peaceful "camping" spot - in the Safeway parking lot a few miles past the exchange point where the last Van 1 runner would hand off to our first Van 2 runner. We made ourselves right at home - some laid down on the sidewalk on beach towels to get some rest. This turned out to be a bad move, since the sidewalk was actually a pretty popular skateboard route for the local youth. In retrospect, trying to rest while kids whizzed by on skateboards just inches from your head turned out to be good practice for sleeping in the van while I honed my race driving skills with Van 2 between exchange points.
We made good use of the relatively clean facilities at the Safeway, anticipating that they would be the last "flushing" models that we would see for many hours. We loaded up on shaving cream and water balloons, ammo we never had the energy to unload upon our unsuspecting Van 1 teammates.
We meet some of the locals -- including some who are as warm and friendly as overstressed New Yorkers on a hot August day struggling up Fifth Avenue among a sea of tourists. Despite their friendly appearance, some Oregonians could be wearing T-shirts that say "Welcome to Portland -- Now Go Home!!" Thankfully, these types are an extremely small minority. We did manage to make some friends during our short stay at the Safeway. The forklift driver assured us that we would have a good time and that the band on the beach, Frankie Limbo and the Lugnuts, was a hell of a good time. A cute couple in a monster pickup truck who noticed the signs on our van stopped to wish us well and welcome us to their hometown just before we left the Safeway to begin our first legs . . . Oregon is such a friendly place!
Anticipation for my first leg differed from regular pre-race jitters. I found myself awaiting not a gun start but a wrist snap, I was the only one to start at that particular time, and I had to end the race by starting another's leg! While Philippe, intrepid Van 1 photographer, took a last shot of my still intact tattoo, I waited to cross a busy highway, take a last visit to the porta-san, and get psyched. Anna came in like the wind, which on each leg inspired me to a stellar start.
I was off, then, into the thick of this running melange. Late afternoon sun glared off the pavement but my feet quickly registered the climbing elevation. Yes, this was just Leg #1 of what became suspiciously like some sort of non-Flyer initiation rite! Yeah, give the non-dues paying chick the hard legs. Let her sweat a little. And I did. With water and support halfway up the first hill, and seeing Van 2 whiz by to deliver me into the arms (sort of) of Tom P at exchange #6, I got through.
Finishing the first leg let me settle in a bit, and though I had no appetite for the colossal, obscene burgers and beer at Calamity Jane's following my first leg, I was excited. BBC interviewed us at exchange #6, and though our reactions this early into the experience were still unformed, our elation trickled out and into his recorder.
Afterwards, when it was over, I was a little dissapointed at my pace (9:39). But then a week after the race I get this note from Papa Bear telling me they had moved the interchange .6 miles further along, so I really ran at an 8:42 pace! They had issued an updated map for this leg, but he "forgot" to tell us! That sounds like a much better pace, but I'm glad I didn't know in advance they had just made me run longer up that awful hill!
Here I am. Power Bar #11. Packed in a box of 35 of my friends. Tom and Dean looked so happy earlier in the week when they picked us up at the store. Now I'm not so sure. I've been stuck in this box for 2 days in close quarters and no one has come close to eating me. I used to be in full view of everyone in the van but I've been shoved under the seat underneath someone's stinky T-shirt. The jelly beans, fruit, soda and water are everybody's first choice. Even the cold cuts have been opened.
Maybe it's because I melt all day and harden all night. Or maybe it's because they gave away several of my friends for free at the start of the race.
I hear there is a gel version of me out there somewhere.
Maybe they're afraid I will come back to haunt them at Port-O-John #535!
I was to be Tim Decker's replacement. No pressure -- yeah right!
But then Richard informed me that speed and time would not be an issue -- we were really going out there just to have fun!
Gary was the first runner. We were all at the start to cheer him on. I can still feel goose bumps when I think about it. Then we got back in our van and went on our way.
My first run was leg #7. I had already been in the van for hours. I remember getting out of the van to warm up. My legs felt heavy from the long time sitting in the van.
I was so afraid of being lost. So I decided to follow Stacey's lead: not only did I carry the little map Richard had given me, but I actually wrote each turn on my hand! Paranoid, huh!
But it was great. At about 1.7 miles on my leg I saw the van. Stacey and Tom were yelling "Go Gina, Go", and then Dean was running beside me with the bottle of water. Somehow, some way I felt empowered! Crazy, right! I guess that's what camaraderie does for you!
I'm psyched my first leg will be run during daylight ... I'm even more psyched that I have a "4.6 miles easy" leg according to our HTC itinerary! I've been lounging in the mini-van for days, or so it seems, so I decide to warm-up and prepare for my HTC debut; I jog a little, double tie the sneaks, make a ponytail, go to the Porto-potty, hand off my camera to Tom P who will capture the Kodak moment, and wait for Gina.
My teammates tell me I have time to spare before Gina will arrive, but I prefer to get into my exact exchange position early, just in case, hey, you never know. Runners, more runners, more runners and finally "3-2-1". Here comes Gina, she's looking good ... and ahead of schedule. All smiles -- after a "5.9 mile hard run" -- Gina hands off the sweaty wrist band ... and off I go.
On my wrist I have the cryptic directions, "L-327, R-Altman, L-Revenue, L-Orient, R-Compton" -- the last thing I wanted to worry about was making a wrong turn. I ran a "short leg over downhill and rolling terrain along country roads and paved shoulder" according to the HTC guide! In realty, I ran through a beautifully landscaped countryside surrounded by nurseries. Volunteers tell me how much further I have ... "only 3/4's of a mile". I pass several runners ... "only 1/4 of a mile"... I'm approaching the exchange and the volunteer is slow to call out my number. I'm trying to focus on the crowd. Where is Dean? Where are my teammates? Fellow Flyers? ... Van 2 where are you? As I pass the volunteer, I impatiently yell out "3-2-1". The volunteer should have yelled it sooner but wasn't paying attention -- I copped a NY attitude. I sensed a problem. Still no teammates ... I begin to wonder if I am in the right place? As she yells "3-2-1", I see Dean spring out into the narrow exchange area inches in front of me and within a second he takes the wristband and is off!
Later, we have some math to do, because the official watch was not waiting for me. They said I was ahead of schedule ... hey guys, isn't this a race?
Some HTC definitions:
The most interesting part of this leg was that we almost missed the exchange. Everyone was getting pretty excited about the exchanges and how smooth everything was going. We were even eyeing up the off-road go-cart track adjacent to the exchange parking lot, thinking we might have time for a few laps.
The next thing I know, the course workers are shouting out "3-2-1", Stacey is coming in ahead of schedule. I call out to the long line in front of the Porto-sans "Sara, they're missing the start!" We were able to reconstruct the split times from Stacey's watch, my watch and the "official" Flyer watch, so there really was no problem, but it was our first Van 2 drama.
I ran a couple 6:05 miles because of the excitement of the event, the adrenaline flowing as I am finally running. I end up paying for these miles in the uphills that followed. It was just starting to get dark. I should have worn the reflective vest, but I didn't need the flashlight, yet.
The leg seemed like 6.2, not the 6.4 miles that the course map indicated. I picked up a net of 9 roadkills, after being passed 3 times and getting two of them back in the last mile plus another 7 along the way. I handed off to Sara who was the first Flyer to run a true night time leg and the only one to run two legs in the dark.
As number 10 of our 12 runners, my feeling at the start of my first leg was one of overwhelming relief, both at getting to the start in time (after that near miss at the previous leg and my doubts that Tom could drive faster than Dean can run) and at finally being able to get out of the van and do what I had come 3,000 miles to do. As the first runner after dark, I spent mile one experimenting with the ways to run with a flashlight and finally settled on aiming it downward, reasoning that if that didn't do much for my own ability to see, at least it would maximize the auto drivers abilities to see ME. I was on a curving, two-lane road with about a foot and a half of shoulder before a steep drop-off into a drainage ditch. Whenever cars would pass (and especially during the dreaded simultaneous passing of two cars in opposite directions) I had to move over onto the shoulder, negotiating a careful trade-off between the danger of the road and the danger of the ditch. Ultimately this was not a bad thing; I didn't get hit or fall in, after all, and my efforts at watching my feet, listening for cars and gripping a smooth metal flashlight with a hand that was slimy with the day's sunscreen kept me from feeling or even thinking about the pace I was running. Consequently, I was surprised during the mid-leg moving water stop at the pace my water bearer told me I was running. I definitely recommend a nighttime run on a narrow road for those interested in experimenting with dissociation! About a mile and a half into the run we were instructed to switch to the other side of the street, and as I slowed to let a car pass me one of our opponents loitering outside a nearby van noticed my plodding pace, read my shirt, and shouted derisively: "You're not flying." I didn't catch his number, but let's just hope it was 311. Fear for my life did not, thankfully, prevent me from appreciating the pervasive scent of strawberries coming from the other side of that ditch for a mile or so, something I have not experienced on an August run in New York, even in the nicest neighborhoods. One final potent memory of this run was passing a MacDonald's later on, when the road became more civilized, looking down through the windows (it was in a shopping center set down lower than the road), and having those nasty feelings of superiority to the patrons inside that occasionally strike even the humblest runner.
P.S. Sunday night as I waited in the airport a couple sitting across from me noticed the Hood to Coast logo on my sweatshirt and struck up a conversation. They said a friend of theirs had been driving along the route the night of the race and described to them how "freaky" it was to see all these people running in the dark. And that he was so glad he hadn't hit any. Me too, pal... me too.
After Anne had cooled down after her last leg, around 5:30 PM, Van 1 began to think about eating. We had almost 5 hours to kill before our next runner was due to start. Jan, our local honorary Flyer, suggested there was this great place called Calamity Jane's in the town of Sandy. She said this place had the most fantastic hamburgers. Well there it was right up ahead so the consensus was to go for it. Fantastic was an understatement! 3 sizes, 1/3 pound (the "City Slicker"), 2/3 pound (the "Wrangler") and One Pound (the "Trail Boss")! And not your meager cheeseburgers, mushroom burgers, etc. No - How about a roast-beef burger (that's roast beef on top of the hamburger)? How about the marshmallow and hot chocolate burger, which the waiter assured us a little old lady came in for every other Sunday!! No one was quite that brave (this was, after all, a running event), but we were served an enormous amount of food including deep fried mushrooms, large size drinks (seemed like at least 32 ounces) and the obligatory pitcher of brew. And here I'm sitting and I haven't even run yet! Gary decided he would try the strawberry short cake for dessert and what came could have fed at least 6 people. This looked like it would be an interesting trip, yes indeed.
We moseyed out of Calamity Jane's and headed for the Valley View Evangelical Church at interchange 10, where the promise of showers awaited us. Well consider a couple of dumpster in a parking lot. One labeled MEN the other WOMEN. In front, a desk with some Boy Scouts selling tickets. We weren't sure anyone who went in was actually coming out, but a few of us took the "plunge" and had a nice (luke) warm shower. Hey, I gotta tell you - it felt good. We then lay on the grass in front of the church whiling away the several hours left to us talking of life and love. It doesn't get much better than this!
Around about 9:00 PM, I called Van 2 on the cell phone, only to learn that they were ahead of schedule and were in fact sitting in the same parking lot, ready to send off Tom D, runner # 11. We scurried around, packed our stuff back in the van and took off for interchange #11 where finally, nearly 8 hours after the start, I would run my first leg.
It's about 9 PM and I am finally getting a chance to run more than 7 hours after the start. I wonder how Rich feels since he has not run either. I study my laminated map (great idea Rich) and try to memorize the course. How dark will it be? How fast should I go out? Will I get lost? It's only 5.3 miles, but I am nervous. Pop Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London", a theme song (I don't know why) but it has always brought me luck. The whole van gets into singing and dancing to it. Finally, nervousness has turned to excitement.
Out of the van to stretch and get ready. A volunteer calls out "3-2-1". Here comes Sara ahead of schedule. The exchange goes smoothly and I am off. The course starts on a heavily traveled road, two lanes in each direction. The headlights of the oncoming cars make it difficult to see. Hey, where is everybody?? No footsteps behind me and no runners in sight in front of me. I'm I lost already??
Finally, about ¾ of a mile into the run, I see a reflective vest and a flash light. O.K., if I'm lost, I'm lost with someone else. I catch this runner and two more—say hello to all three with no response. All three are wearing headphones. Oh well, so much for being social. Most of the course is downhill—I'm holding back a little but feeling good. No mile markers, so I'm not sure how much distance has been covered. I hit the first turn, and see Van 2 - loud cheers and water - adrenaline kicks in and I attack the incline around the turn. Footsteps behind me coming up quickly. I pick up the pace a bit. He passes me, but I fall into his pace. We start casual conversation, but we are both more interested in the competition. I try to ask short questions that lead to long answers from him. It's not working. We are both evenly matched. The next two miles are a stride for stride, shoulder to shoulder run. With one mile to go, we turn off the road and onto an pitch black bike path. This is the only time that we need our flashlights. We hear voices and see lights ahead of us. This must be the exchange. Where is Rich?? Is he here?? My competition gains a step on me, but I'm too concerned about the exchange to follow. A volunteer calls out "3-2-1" -- A LOUD cheer from the crowd -- I have the benefit of coming into a van exchange point, so the whole team is here. Rich appears from the crowd and is ready to go. Hand-off made. High five's exchanged. Its great to see everybody and have my first leg complete. Two to go.
One might ask what was runner #12 was doing in Van 1 with runners 1 through 5? Well, we were trying to be clever and avoid the massive van congestion (and porta-potty lines) that normally occurs at interchanges 6, 12, 18, 24 and 30. The idea, which we got from Erik Sten's 36 legs - 24 Feet, was to vary the rotation of the vans so that the van-to-van hand-offs occur at interchange 5, 11, 17, 23 and 29. This makes it a little tough on runner #12 (me) since I must sit through legs 1 - 5 and then sit through the first layover before I get to run. But this scheme certainly did help our logistics and it ranks as one of our good ideas. What happens to runner 12 at the end of the relay is also a little tough, but we'll get to that later.
Leg 12 starts on a bike path in Southeast Portland. This area is quite lovely with nice residences, small shops, coffee houses, cafe's etc. Finally getting started on the run was exhilarating and I let the runner ahead light the way and ran in the dark with my own light out. The long wait got me going much too fast and I told myself to slow down and relax a little. I was out of breath more from excitement than from exertion. At the end of the bike path, we turned right up a steep little incline and got onto some residential streets. There were several turns, so I had prepped myself by studying the map ahead of time, but with plenty of runners, a few strategically placed marshals, and city street lights, there was no danger of getting lost. In fact I could almost have run this entire leg without turning on my light at all, except for part of the bike path where there were no houses or street lights, and a portion later that went along the river off to one side of a highway on a side walk. I passed 4 or 5 other runners and I realized that a great many of these teams were slower than us. I would say I passed 4 runners for everyone that passed me. The vans did not follow the runners here, so we felt more like we were just out for a late night run in a nice neighborhood. The one disconcerting aspect of this is that I would not see our van pass me, as was usual up until this leg, so I had nightmares of my van being lost somewhere in Washington State. Forgive me Van 1, for doubting you!
The houses gave way to shops and I ran by trendy restaurants, bars, coffee houses, cafes, etc. where patrons were sitting at tables right on the same side walk I was running on. I could have snatched their cappuccinos out of their hands had I been I so inclined. We runners probably provided an amusing contrast to the usual Friday night ambiance. The weather was a lovely cool August evening - somewhere in the sixties. This area was quite a contrast to the hot sun up on the mountain and the dust kicked up by trucks along the highway coming into Portland.
A right turn put me on Tacoma Street and I was headed for the Sellwood bridge over the Willamette (will-AM-et) River. As you may know, Portland sits astride the Willamette River at the point where it flows (from the South) into the Columbia. One sees little or nothing of the Columbia, but the Willamette provides the main artery and scenic beauty of this city. This bridge is clearly one of the older bridges across the river and was roughly at street level, unlike the monster interstate bridges a mile or two further down stream.
After crossing the bridge, I circled down through a park and ran the remaining 2.6 miles on the sidewalk next to a boulevard that paralleled the river. At the end of my run , the course turned to the right and crossed some railroad tracks and ended in front of an old warehouse. I was delighted to find not only my team waiting for me, but my wife Joy and Karen our hostess who had arrived with several thermoses of hot coffee.
The hand-off was accomplished smoothly and I cooled down as Gary sped off into the darkness.
Beautiful downtown Portland. Too bad it was 11 oclock at night. I can't find a portasan before the start, dumpster behind a building will do. Anne and Anna get me to the start, Richard hands off and away I go into the darkness. Soon we are running along the developed waterfront of Portland, people cheering from the bars, shops and bistros hugging the boardwalk, but soon alone again through a park. Halfway through this relatively easy run now, my shins begin to cramp up again and I am running in pain, unable find any soft ground to cushion my step. Thankfully for me -- not for the team time -- a long freight train is making its way across the river, right across the course! 40 -50 runners bunch up anxiously waiting for it to pass (10 minutes). Not me! I am trying to uncramp the shins and thankful for the chance!
Soon we are off again into the night along an industrial area crisscrossed by railroad tracks. I catch a toe on some street level tracks and go down hard, bloodying a hand, a knuckle, and a knee. Soon after I limp into the exchange point, way over budget on the time, but looking for the sympathy vote ...
I was lucky enough to run my "night shift" in Portland. So I didn't need to use the flash light and I ran my 6.1 mile in an easy 8'00 pace. My shins were still bothering me, but I knew I would finish.
My second leg was around midnight along Highway 30 to St. Helens. It was dark and the headlights of the passing cars blinded me some. But the hardest part was dealing with a bout of asthma that was triggered by the cool night air. This was frightening, but after about 3 miles it stopped. Then I calmed down and didn't have to struggle so hard to breathe and run. When I passed the Burlington Tavern at 3.5 miles into my leg, I thought about running in for a quick "margarita", but then the reality of continuing to run with this in my hand and my stomach didn't appeal to me. Also, I didn't want to worry anyone when I didn't show up at the predetermined time. So, even though this leg was not too pleasant for me and about a mile longer than my first leg at 5.4 miles, the thought of having only one more leg to do was good.
I can tell you this as the race went on (and on and on). Thinking back to the comforts of the Smith's house I wish I could have "zoned" while in the portosans.
And did I mention that hour long, full-body shihatzu (or is that the dog?) massage I received from Tom D?
With our first running legs behind us and several hours to kill before we'd begin running again, around 3 AM, we were anxious to get to Sara's hotel room for showers and some time out of the minivan which seemed to get mini-er and mini-er as we went. Before heading off, though, we went to the next exchange point where Richard would be handing off to Gary. Van 2 didn't need to be at this exchange, but our hostess, Karen, called on the cellular phone and said that she and Joy, Richard's wife, were trying to hook up with Van 1 at the exchange but couldn't reach them on their cell phone. We sprinted to the exchange, found Joy and Karen, and led them to the runners' exchange just in time to hear the familiar "3-2-1" being called over a megaphone. The look of excitement on Joy's face as she saw Richard come running out of the darkness and make the hand-off to Gary was worth the sleep time we gave up to join our teammates at that exchange.
Once we meandered our way back to the Best Western, we were treated to a mixed duet of snores from Gina and Tom Paradiso. Tom D curled up the corner with all his belongings, doing his best impersonation of a homeless runner, while Sara, Stacey and I limbo-ed somewhere between sleep and actually watching the Late Show. I can still remember a few of the Top 10 McDonald's Excuses from that show . . . "Condoms, condiments, it's all the same" being a personal favorite.
Since we were unable to make a call to Van 1's cell phone, we were out of touch with them, wondering if we were behind or ahead of schedule. Our vans were too far apart for the CB's at this point. (Next year, short-wave radios!!) We took the safe route and calculated that if every Van 1 runner pulled off a PR we'd end up about 25 minutes ahead of Richard's detailed schedule. We left the comfort of the hotel room early, after re-energizing the coolers with ice, courtesy of Best Western, of course, in order to be waiting at the exchange point in plenty of time. By the way, it is now about 2 AM, if you haven't been following closely.
Well, it turned out that we had time to kill at the exchange, as little things like fatigue, giant hills and crossing freight trains slowed our brethren enough to put us right back onto Richard's schedule. Tom P took the hand-off from a tired, but fast, Anne, and Van 2 was active again.
Vans were not allowed to drive on the course for the next leg, and the race organizers conveniently left out alternate directions. With some sketchy help from a volunteer and a little dumb luck, we found the next exchange in time to wait for Tom to arrive. This was our first experience at witnessing what happens to teams that don't have a captain as organized as Richard. A runner came in for team 861 and stood there at the exchange point for over 20 minutes, waiting for her next runner, or any teammate for that matter, to show up. She was still waiting after Tom handed off to Gina and we left for the next exchange. I can't image pouring it on in the middle of the night, running so hard to help out your team, only to find yourself standing alone at an exchange while the clock ticks away. We would see this same scenario play out several more times before we'd finish the race, making us appreciate even more the hard work that Richard put into organizing our team's effort.
Running in the dark, as Sara comments, is like flying. The darkness, the accentuated scents, cool air -- the general lack of visual references made the night leg seem like I was flying, though my split begs to differ. Nevertheless, I enjoyed every time I stretched my leg forward.
On this leg I passed the runner from team #320, which had had me spreading panic at previous exchange points as I'd jump to attention when hearing "3-2...." and frighten our next runner into premature readiness. Finally we had passed this team and obliterated exchange point panic. I sent Tom on his second leg and faced sleepy team members and a strange drive navigated by Peter and Richard to the Grange. Here I nested in the trunk and slipped into a light sleep.
They never told me I would have to work so hard when I volunteered for this thing. So far, 400 people have graced my shrine. I've been depleted of stock and replenished three times. I grew up believing men were messier than women. Not true! I can vouch for that. I am amazed that all men sit down in here.
Oh. Oh. Celebrity sighting. Is that Mary Decker Slaney? It is. Pick me Mary, pick me!
Thank you. Is it true you are that fast?
This leg was described as challenging up and down hills over back country roads. But I had to do it in the pitch black!
Stacey and I were really frightened! We had promised ourselves to make sure that the van would follow us closely in the dark. But then I found that I wasn't the least bit frightened running in the dark. I remember it was really pretty, really peaceful. I remember thinking this is probably the only opportunity in my whole life I will ever have to run in the pitch dark, by myself, without fearing for my life.
According to the HTC official guide, this is a "moderate leg in length with very challenging up and down hills on partially paved and gravel back country roads ... no provisions, no cellular phone communication ... a bandanna, or painters mask is recommended ...". This is so I can breathe on the dusty gravel sections. I'm terrified and shaking. We sent Gina off at the Columbia County Fairground Exchange -- the middle of no-where. Darkness. Runners in reflective vests with flashlights pointed at the ground, running single file. A sci-fi movie? No, it's HTC. I'm next -- nervous and afraid of the dark, of bears and of my shadow. I'm trying to be tough. Pretending to have fun. We make it to the exchange. I wait in line with the other runners. Finally, they call out our number "3-2-1". Once again, here comes Gina. The hand-off is quick -- or it should be -- I remember that Gina is trying to hand me all this "stuff" -- but for the last 2 hours, all I'm thinking about is the flashlight. I reach out for the flashlight and Gina keeps saying "take this, take this" I ask, in a panicked voice "What is it?" She's trying to hand me the whistle -- "Oh forget it, I don't need the whistle". Again she says "take this -- you have to" and in a more panicked tone I say "I don't need it" "Yes you do" she says and shoves the wrist band in my hand. I look at it and say, "oops ... I almost forgot. Thanks Gina!" -- for knocking some sense into me. I take the wrist band, clutch my flashlight, and I'm on my way.
Single file and up a hill that I can't see. (Dean and Tom warned me that the climb was much steeper than 110th street -- and told me I didn't want to see it. They just said "Do your best!") I start to run. I breathe. Hey, this isn't too bad. All I have to do is keep a human being in sight and I'll be OK. My luck, the runner who starts closest to me is running about 100 miles per hour and I can't keep up. I keep a slow and steady pace. The climb doesn't seem so bad since I'm concentrating on staying on the road. I keep falling off to the left and ending up in loose gravel. I experiment: running in the middle works, only I have to move for the vans. The headlights from the vans allows me to see the road as they approach, but leave dust as they pass. I don't need the bandanna the entire time, but have it tied around my neck and use it when I start to "eat dust".
Where am I? Where am I going? My flashlight is aimed at the ground immediately in front of my feet. I stay behind the same runner for some time, even though I know I could pass him. (This could have been 311.) I eventually pass him. In fact, I even say "I'm going to pass you, OK?" What was I thinking? Next, I pass a runner who ran by me earlier. I say "Hey, what happened to your flashlight?" She replies, "It died" ... I say "Follow me". And before you know it, the pitch black road opens up to more flashlights, more reflective vests and the end of my run. "3-2-1" is called and this time Dean and the rest of the Van are waiting and ready to go! I give him the flashlight and the wristband ...
Lessons of Leg 20:
I took the wristband and flashlight from Stacey who just finished what was arguably the toughest leg of the race, leg 20, with two monster uphills gaining a total of 750 feet over 5 miles on gravel roads. I was the beneficiary of her climb.
I started the leg, which was run totally over a gravel road, on a nice steep downhill with another runner going out just ahead of me. I let this runner set the pace, as I tried to adjust to running with the flashlight and the surgical mask (necessary due to the dust) and on the gravel. It is very hard to tell how fast you are running with all the conditions being so foreign. It turns out that there is a real science to being fast on the gravel. So many vans had already passed through on the road that there were two tracks on the road that were actually very packed down. The rest of the road was very loose, deep gravel, almost like running on very coarse sand.
The trick was to stay in these grooves as much as possible, only yielding for the vans approaching from behind at the very last second, then getting right back in to the groove. After an initial short decent, the rest of the leg was completely flat.
After the van gave me water around a mile and a half in, my surgical mask got wet, and air didn't pass through it very well. I had to abandon the mask and just deal with the dust.
At just over 2 miles into the leg, my flashlight completely died. That runner that started right ahead of me had pulled out a lead of about 100 yards, so his flashlight really didn't do me any good. Fortunately, there were enough vans passing so that their headlights lit the road. When it was completely black, I had to feel the grooves that I mentioned earlier with my feet to stay on track.
My van eventually came by, gave me a new flashlight, let me know that I only had about a mile and a half left and gave me the moral boost I needed to hunt down one more roadkill, the guy that started right in front of me. I caught him with about a quarter mile to go and never looked back. This run is just for fun, right? Ended up with a 6:26 pace, faster than I thought I was going. Sara took the wristband and started the steepest, if not longest, climb on the coarse.
My second leg started with a vicious .2 mile uphill that then tapered into only a mildly nasty hill for the remainder of the first mile. I was shortening my stride, pumping my arms, picking up my knees, and all the other good things Coach Cliff has recommended and that all can be synchronized so neatly with desperate gasps for breath. The road for this first mile dropped off on the left into a valley with hills on the other side, and I would periodically look back over that shoulder in hopes of seeing a magnificent sunrise, but unfortunately my teammates had run a little too well and I was an hour too early. So I just plodded up in the dark, thinking bad thoughts about hills but knowing the sooner I got over it, the sooner I would be running down the other side. Once over the top, I was in the pitch black of a wooded-over area. The only vehicles on this leg were team vans, so it was much easier to take it all in: the sound of invisible brooks in the dark on the side of the road, the smell of pine, and the dancing reflective stripes on the vests of two or three runners up ahead. For a long time I saw a light on someone's illuminated vest down below, but couldn't see another detail of the person wearing it, and that bouncing red dot of light reminded me of nothing if not Tinkerbell, just zipping along showing me the way. I was planning to take it easy and coast, letting the hill do my work for me, but something about a man who passed me about half a mile down the hill made me want to catch him, so I hung on about five yards behind and tried to imagine I was just along for a free ride. He was hard to keep up with, and at times he got up to maybe ten or 12 yards ahead, but I just couldn't let him go. Together we "roadkilled" several other people, so I reasoned that even if I didn't pass him, the effort wasn't wasted. Near the end, after several bends in the road, I thought "this is going to be it": I would turn one more curve and see the exchange. After several false alarms I was (finally!) right. At that point my friend up ahead seemed to slow a bit to collect himself, scan ahead for his next teammate, and announce his number to the marshal, and I took the opportunity of picking up the pace and passing him only five or eight yards before the exchange area. I usually feel so petty and almost guilty passing someone in the home stretch -- it seems such a cheap victory -- but this time it felt more like triumph.
By the time I finished, it was lightening up out, so I claim for myself the special honor of having been the first Flyer to run with a vest and light and also the last.
Legs 18 - 23 are probably the toughest part of the course. Van 2 runners have told their stories, but Van 1 was not without adventure. After picking up Anne, and turning over the clipboard to Tom D, we got in and began to make our way over the "alternate" route to interchange 23. Between #18 and #23 the roads are so narrow, that they only allow the active van (Van #2) to drive the route of the runners. The other van had to find it's way over obscure back country roads without the benefit of marshals, or that ever reassuring line of runners along the road. We went up to the town of St. Helens (yes the same name as the mountain that blew up a while back; you could see Mt. St. Helens on a clear day), turned left at the appointed road and promptly got lost. Now maybe we weren't lost, there was really no way to tell. After a few lucky turns we arrived at the entrance to the Columbia County fair grounds, which was interchange 18, where we weren't supposed to be! We asked directions to the "alternate" route and the marshal had no idea what that was, but he said that everyone had to go "thataway", so we went "thataway". We found another marshal at what looked like the right corner, and she said yes, "alternate vans, that way". It is now almost 3:00 AM.
A word about Columbia county - if you were to look at a county map (which we were so lucky to have gotten a hold of) , you would see about a zillion roads, all nicely labeled. It looked like it might be as populated as say Nassau county, just looking at all those roads. NOT! These were what Orgonians call Logging roads. Mostly dirt, almost none of them with any markings. But hey, we've walked through Times Square at 3:00 in the morning, this would be a piece of cake. I had the map and a little flashlight, Pete had the wheel and I said "Go round those vans, that's gotta be the way". There were 3 or 4 vans making halting movements in random directions, obviously lost. Off we went with great speed and assurance, and what do you know, these lost west coasters followed in line and we had a caravan of vans following us. Talk about the blind leading the blind! Well the landmarks started to show up on schedule and sure enough we were on the right route. First the town of Spitzenburg (3 houses) then a campground and then the town of Pittsburgh (just an intersection as far as we could see) then onto route 47. Now route 47 is about as wide as my father's driveway on Cape Cod, but this was the first road that actually had a sign identifying it so it was really good news. About 35 miles after leaving the race route, we rejoined it, and followed the weary line of runners, in the dark, to the Natal Grange, Interchange 23. Now this point in Oregon has the distinction of being the farthest point away from every other point on the earth's surface. Keep in mind also that the technology of cellular phones has not yet made it's way into Columbia County, so we were completely cut off from Van 1.
Philippe said he ate what he thought were the best pancakes that he have ever had! He said later that when you are tired and hungry and it is late, your ability to be objective is long gone! Most of us tried with little success to nap in the van. We had about 2 1/2 more hours to wait for our team and it was 4:00 AM. Sleep was not to come. Vans would show up, slam their doors, runners would get in, get out, shout encouragement and shine lights in our face. Some of us were bothered by a car alarm going off near by. Philippe said it just reminded him of home sweet home! I don't know if anyone else got any sleep, but I didn't. Anne had cleared the coolers out of the back and got into her sleeping bag in that cozy corner but I would say she still couldn't escape the noise. One by one we would get out of the van and give up the idea of sleep. Around about 5:45 AM, Anna and I walked over to the Grange and heard what sounded like Billy Joel playing on a beat up piano. Well who was it, but our own Pete, a.k.a. Silver Bullet, entertaining the sleepy volunteers and runners at the piano. We got some pancakes and coffee and started to wake up from our sleepless sleep.
Around about 6:00 AM the CB started crackling and after about 5 minutes of static, it was none other than Gina calling us. We were very lucky to have brought Pete's CB's. It saved us missing each other - especially here where cell phones didn't work. Now finally I would get to run again after about 8 hours in the van. I jogged up the road to warm up, hoping to see Van 2 somewhere in the traffic jam of vans waiting to get to #23, and who do I meet but Gina, jogging down to meet us, going past the same traffic jam. Life is good! Gina had the clipboard, and Tom D would show up in about 10 minutes. It was time to get ready for my next Leg!
Dean and I have driven this part of the course earlier in the week. I remember it as being picturesque: beautiful small, rolling hills on a quite country road -- complete with babbling brooks and shady trees. If the team is on schedule, I get the added bonus of running this as the sun comes up. Sure enough, the exchange from Sara to me takes place at around 6 am. I am could not be happier. This is going to be one of the most beautiful runs of the race!!
It is rather poetic. With the rising of the sun, the last runner from Van 2 starts off leaving behind the night of running on pitch black, mountainous hills and fears of having either the van or a runner getting lost. The new day has found us all healthy, safe and on schedule. Congratulations to Tom P, Gina, Stacey, Dean and Sara for enduring those hills and rough roads.
The run is everything I hoped for and more. Its cool and crystal clear. A few wispy, white clouds hang in the sky. The air is fresh and breathing easy. I pass a few runners with a friendly "Good morning". This is perfect.
I haven't quite stretched enough (this is critical to remember for the future). My lower back is tight, but I remember all those Alexander Technique sessions with Monika Gross. "Let my neck be free", "Head moves forward and up, body release up and away" .... Wow, it works. The tension eases. Thanks Monika.
The Flyer van is just ahead. Dean is standing outside and says something about "wild jellybeans" and throws a handful across the road and into my path. Nineteen hours after the start of this adventure, this is funny. At this point, just about everything becomes funny.
Oh no. Fast feet coming up behind me. Very fast feet coming up behind me. Quickly. A voice says something like "have a good run" but is well out of range before I can respond. A Nike runner. They're right. The last thing you hear is Swoosh!
About three miles into the run, and the Flyer van appears around the turn. More encouragement, more jelly beans. Wow, I am getting hungry. With the morning sun still filtering through the trees, casting a golden hue on the lush greens and yellows of the hills, the exchange to Richard is made. Leg 23 is complete. Time to eat.
The light of day had now arrived and I could run sans vest, sans flashlight. The early morning was damp and it would soon begin to drizzle for an hour or so. Those in Van 2 who had just showed up and were eating breakfast in the Grange, missed this. It was a light cool sprinkle and it was very refreshing.
The course for this leg was a short relatively flat sprint of 3.8 miles. The shortest leg of the race. For once I could run full out and forget about logistics. I passed a few runners but was distracted by the beautiful clouds and fog sitting in the valleys of this rolling farm land. This leg ended in the town of Mist, which I swear must be named for this early morning weather.
After running for a little under 28 minutes I arrived at the interchange and handed off to Gary for the last time. Starting with Gary, every runner was on their final leg. But for me it would be another 8 hours until I had my final effort.
Now I had the unenviable position on the team of continuing in Van 1 for runners 1 through 5 and then switching to Van 2 for runners 6 through 11 and then run again for the very last leg. I would be moving along for 13 legs (including the one I just ran) without a "layover" break. So while the others in Van 1 could take off for brunch after interchange 29 and then make their way to the beach and hang out, I was still moving along the course, leg after leg. It was very hard to watch runner after runner finish and exclaim "Woopy I'm done - take me to the beer" and have to wait and wait for my time to come. But this inconvenience was more than made up for the thrill that was to come ...
I was a little worried that I was going to have to run the 24th and 25th legs, because Richard was nowhere to be seen as Tom P approached the hand-off point. (I think he was making accommodation arrangements with someone at the Grange for next year's stop. What a leader!) But, Richard appeared and went off in a fine mist in the early morning light.
A short ways down the road, I started in a light rain along a country farm road in the Oregon back country just short of the Cascade forests. The short rest had done wonders for my legs and desire to finish this leg well. I ran at an even pace: no spring in the legs, but little pain. A few elite teams whizzed by, waking me up to the reality of my speed. But after chugging up a short hill and around a bend the finish was in sight. I sprinted to the notice of no one. Richard quietly recorded the event. Pretty tired now, but enormously satisfied and proud.
I ran this 5.7 miles in a 7:51 pace. I was very happy to be done with my running and was still very excited about our race. It was not my race, it was our race and this is a great feeling!
Leg 3 for me was in the morning at about 8:30. It was still cool and I was thankful for that. But it was an even longer leg, 5.9 miles. Unlike my other teammates, I didn't stretch as I should have and wasn't popping ibuprofen for stiff muscles. So on this leg I felt like the Tin Man in the movie "The Wizard of OZ". I thought that except for this I wasn't that tired which was amazing to me after sitting up during the night trying to sleep in a van with five other people. Again, the thought that each step was bringing me closer to the end of my last leg spurred me on. I enjoyed the rural scenery and the excitement that goes with everyone supporting you along the way on your last leg. For me, after my last leg I always feel calm knowing that at last I had really made it (didn't let the team down), and that I could finally eat whatever I wanted since I didn't have to worry about having an upset stomach or feeling stuffed for my next leg.
Why can't I write this stuff up? I'm not a power bar and I'm not a Port-O-John!
Maybe just a case of post-post-adolescent rebellion!
OK, this is not a formal essay but I did manage to churn out a couple of paragraphs and at least got myself emotional.
But the Hood to Coast was a blast!!! It had all the ingredients of a good time ... a great beautifully
organized event (thank you Richard!) ... a spectacular setting ... "shiny, happy people" (if I may borrow
from R.E.M.) ... combine that with a runner's high, and it's easy to understand why it's taken us all a
while to catch our breath!
This part of the course runs along narrow country roads. The 2000 or so vans traveling this route tend to congest it more than just a little, so the drive to our next exchange point was slow. Tom did the driving while I did my best to navigate while simultaneously getting some much needed sleep.
Some charity group at the next van exchange was smart enough to set up and sell breakfast. We all wolfed down a few pancakes and some bacon or sausage, the breakfast of running champions!! Remember, we still all have another leg to run.
This exchange point was special for another reason, as well. We got to see the Nike women's elite team hand off to none other than Mary Decker Slaney. She was so fast taking off, I could hardly believe it.
We settled into the forward exchange point to wait for Van 1. We slept in the van, kicked around outside and waited in line for the nastiest port-o-sans we would encounter during the race. Also, a group of men from the US Marines team started to gather around our van. Flyer women tend to draw a crowd no matter what coast they're on, I guess.
We made the final hand-off with Van 1. The next time we would see them would be on the beach in Seaside. We also took on Richard in Van 2, who would be running the very last leg of the race. As great as the race was, it was nice to know it was soon going to be over.
Gravity is not my Friend
At this point in the race we couldn't keep blaming Philippe for the van aroma. It was truly a messy, funky smelling van with our fearless driver more in love than ever with his mini van. Gummy bears on the floor, wet singlets hanging from the ceiling, and rolls of TP all indicated the ongoing, vital needs of our determined team.
My last leg turned into an immediate ascent. I ran through a primeval forest with huge moss covered trees, steep waterfalls, and a peacefulness that somehow spurned me on. I began a mantra of "I will take this hill," and it helped. The team was there for me twice, with both sympathetic looks and encouraging cheers. Anna gave me water and Gatorade but refused my request for a lift. Darn!
I found a groove with the mountain and had very intense feelings. I thought about the pure challenge of what I'd done and the power I felt both from myself and my teammates. The hill continued; twisting and teasing towards a top -- somewhere. A runner named Bill had a creative team which thought a full team moon (that's six moons or is it twelve??) would inspire him to push to the crest. I just laughed and lost stride briefly. Chalk written inspirations on the road told me the top was near, really.
Other runners who 20 legs back would never share water, did so now. Finally, 3.5 miles later I reached the top. I saw across to more mountains and secret forests. I prepared to descend and let the pull of my body and nature take me in. It was spectacular. I felt like I could go on forever and yet I so wanted to keep the rest of the team to be on their way to the final leg experience. At the exchange, Gary handed me a beer and without a second's hesitation I took that celebratory beer and then hugs.
He used me on leg #1. He ran well. It was an honor. But he took me off for leg #2. Where did I go wrong? I bounced when he bounced, I stretched when he stretched. He removed me quickly after his leg. I know he has a second set somewhere. Is he trying to psyche me out? I made my way from the floor of the van to his bag in the back of the van. When he went to the hotel room and stored me in the bottom of the bag, I thought my trip was over.
His last leg ... forty five minutes to go ... he takes me out ... the Marine Team is watching closely ... he puts me on ... I'm ready ...
He never told me about the hill!
Short and sweet! This leg was rated 4.4 miles, moderate.
By this time I was really exhausted ... I had slept, like the rest of us, a whole one hour of sleep in the over 40 hour time period. I was too excited ... go figure!
But then it was over ... but there was still the excitement of the end!
This leg was supposed to be a "short leg over basically flat terrain on narrow country roads around a bay" and it was, except I felt a few uphills. Our Van arrives at the exchange early and we wait for Gina. I do the usual preparation -- jog, fix my hair, wait in line, check out the other runners, cheer for everyone, double tie the sneaks and wait. Most of the runners are in good moods as we all prepare for what will be our last leg of the race.
We've been noticing the same runners at each exchange and the New York Flyers have a secret mission to "road kill" team 311. Team 311 is called out ... and off he goes ... several minutes later we hear "3-2-1" and Gina is in -- and out I go. I'm going at a decent pace and feel pretty strong ... that's easy compared to my last leg up a gravel road at 4:00 am. I pass lots of runners and finally I spot him. Runner 311. I tell myself I won't pass him and will just stay close behind. Before you know it, I'm speeding right by him on the uphill and loving every second of it.
I gave my usual HTC greeting of "hey, how is it going". He was having a hard time and said "take me with you" ... sorry 311! I continued to race the rest of the leg thinking that 311 was right behind me. At mile 4, there was a long winding downhill and I was dreading the up hill that I thought would be around the corner. To my surprise at the last turn I realized I reached the exchange. Dean was waiting for the very sweaty wristband and I proudly told him "I passed 311!" Dean took off at what seemed to be at least a hundred miles per hour to finish his last leg ...
Epilogue: While at the beach party, waiting in the beer line, team 311 is right behind us! ... where they belong!
My last leg was the longest individual leg of the race at 7.6 miles, but the elevation chart hinted at a pretty easy ride, just keep turning over the legs and bring it home, I thought. But after 21 minutes of climbing, I began to curse the elevation chart! I had decided to carry my own water on this leg, and it is good that I did. Anyone running the Hood to Coast should be very aware that the dehydration effect of running hard multiple times so close together is cumulative. Take more water than you think you should!
About half way through the leg I came across quite an inspiration. Cindy, a woman turning 40 on that day, was running the entire course solo, trying to beat 48 hours! The man running with her told me as I passed (surely, I can't count her as a roadkill) "She is 43 hours in and is fighting the dark forces now. But she's shooting silver bullets."
This was the inspiration I needed to carry me the rest of the way home. I passed my "rabbit" on the last uphill. As I started to pass another would-be roadkill with about 150 yards to the exchange, he decided to put up a fight. I looked over and said, "Let's go!"
We broke into a full out sprint, the course workers in a panic trying to read our numbers and shout them ahead to the waiting runners at the exchange. So here I am, totally fatigued after racing 19.4 miles in the last 24 hours, sprinting all out, uphill, shouting out "3-2-1", our team number. Luckily, not all runners are as stubborn as New York runners, and my sprinting competitor gave up with about 50 feet left to the exchange. Hurts so good . . .
Sara, again subject to a bizarre exchange, carried the wristband on to another great run.
By leg 34 most everyone else was already finished, and I was SOOO wanting to join them. It was in the afternoon, and I've never been a strong daytime runner. Somehow I feel that the sun is sapping my strength in addition to wrinkling my skin. This was also my only leg with actual turns: the other two had each had one little turn just after the start (and since I only moved to New York with its numbered streets because of my appalling sense of direction), this was cause for some anxiety. I could only hope that someone would pass me just before the turns and then show me the way. On the map this leg looked absolutely flat, so I was a bit surprised at the hill in the first mile. Sure, there s a little blip on the map, a minor bump, not worth noticing hardly until that ¼-inch-to-100-feet scale is returned to l ife size. I passed a woman on the hill and asked, "Did they tell you this one was flat?" "Yes," she replied. " Bastards!" And kept going. But lest I seem to be complaining relative to those of my teammates who had REAL hills to contend with, I will say I enjoyed the back side of that same hill, and then the course evened out into a very pretty run between some fields. Along the way I passed a couple kids fishing in the smallest, most stagnant looking fishing hole on the planet (and right on the road it must have been more polluted than the East River). I passed a flock of a dozen geese in another little pond up ahead. Fishing too, I suppose. I passed a couple other runners, a guy with earphones passed me, and when I reached the dreaded Y in the road there was actually a sign to guide me to the right. I hadn't really noted the mileage at the various turns, so when I reached the second one and asked the marshal how much farther it was and heard "about three quarters of a mile," I could only gasp, "really?" My legs were feeling decidedly sluggish, and I had estimated that I had another mile and a half. Of my three legs this was the only one on which I could consult my watch -- forgot to activate it on the first one, and hit the wrong button in the dark on the second -- but knowing the elapsed time isn't much help without those reliable Central Park mile markers. I made the turn to face a bit of an uphill (which wouldn't have even deserved comment only 24 hours before). A marshal halfway up said, "almost there," and I asked, "last hill?" and was delighted at his answer. So I ran along with "last hill in Oregon, last hill in Oregon " repeating in my head, until I saw the cones and people and florescent orange tape. For the first time in my three hand-offs, I didn't have to tell them my number; it was light enough to read. I handed the wrist band off, begged a couple of hugs, and was very pleased to be finished.
After Van 1's last runner (Anne) finished, Rich left us to get into Van 2 since he had another leg to run. The rest of us went for a big breakfast and then drove to the beach.
The waiting on the beach was a great experience. We were waiting first for Van 2, then for our Team Captain Rich who
was the last runner. When we spotted him, and overwhelming feeling and excitement came to us ...
At this point it is sunny and hot. According to the map Leg 35 is flat with no turns. It is on a gravel path called a Mainline. It is one of the only legs that Dean and I have not driven over earlier in the week. I am not sure what to expect.
A short jog to warm up tells me that my legs are tired and don't really want to run. This is not an option. Time to get psyched up. Warren Zevon helps. Intense stretching, some sit-ups and sprints. Get psyched Tom. Think only positive things. Calculate an under 7 minute pace and go for it. The brain is pretty dead at this point and calculating a sub-7 for 6.7 miles is proving difficult. Somewhere around 46 or 47 minutes sounds close. Keep moving; get the legs loose; visualize a good, fast run. The energy is flowing now.
Here comes Sara. I can almost taste the beer waiting for us at the beach. Sara is running strong and the exchange is made. No vans are allowed on Leg 35, so it is 6.7 miles of just runners all hoping to be done soon. It is hot and the sun is directly overhead. The course is flat and straight. I can see about a mile ahead. I try to focus on the runners in front of me. I pass a few. One runner is about 100 yards ahead. I focus on him but he seems to stay about 100 yards ahead. There are no mile markers on this leg, so I can only approximate the distance by my estimated pace and the time on my watch. Slowly the runner in front of me gets closer. I don't know if he has slowed down or I have picked it up. I pass him at what I guess is about three miles. Almost half way home.
Up ahead about a half a mile is one of the scariest sights of the race. A runner down. He is flat on his back on the side of the road, trying to stay in the shade. Several of us slow down and yell out to him. He responds, very weakly. After thinking a bit, he tells us his number. There is not much for us to do, other than to keep running and tell the nearest race official, who is probably at the exchange point. The sight of this runner sends a shot of fear through all of us. Its hot, we're tired. We're running pretty hard and the runner on the ground could be anyone of us. Fortunately, the exchange point has to be close. My watch reads 40 minutes. One other runner comes up behind me and we charge for the exchange point together. There are the Flyers and there is Rich. The final exchange. It is time to head for the beach!!
The main problem with leg 36 is that it is short (4.7 miles) and the van hardly has time to take off and get to the beach for the finish. But this was their problem, not mine. Tom D came in well under his projected time and I was off on the last leg. By this point in time, it had become sunny and hot, with more than the usual amount of humidity for Oregon. I took off on a winding road with some genuine hills, and even some gravel patches for about 2 miles.
Soon thereafter signs of civilization appeared in the form of condominiums, of all things. We then approached highway 101 which goes all the way from the Olympic peninsula in Washington, to the Mexican border along the Pacific coast. The race course parallels this for about another mile. At this point most of those I was passing were either walkers, who had started in Portland, or runners doing the same distance. These groups had started early Friday morning and this had to be the last remnant that we were catching up with. Technically these people were in another race so I didn't feel a particular sense of triumph in passing them.
We then turned to cross 101 and get into the town of Seaside proper and would you believe it, they had constructed "one last hill" in the form of a temporary footbridge over the busy highway. The ramps up and down were flimsy plywood and the slope seemed like 30 degrees. At about the 194th mile, this was truly adding insult to injury. I got over this hurdle and started moving through the streets of Seaside. First 12th street and then 9th and then 5th. Somewhere along this portion I saw Van 2 safely parked and I was relieved to know that they had got there in time before me.
A lone male runner appeared from behind and said "I've been chasing you for 2 miles". I smiled and toyed with him, because I knew I had a secret weapon waiting for use at the very end. We got onto the boardwalk, actually a concrete strip called the Promenade, and ran several hundred yards on this strip. The announcer continually announced runners entering this spot to prepare the spectators and other runners for who was approaching. Sure enough we heard "runner 3-2-1 is on the Prom" and then as I turned right down a little slope onto the sand: "runner 3-2-1 is on the beach". I made sure to get a jump of a couple of yards on my friend at this point for I knew he had no chance since he didn't know what was waiting at the finish ...
Meanwhile those other 11 New York Flyers had already made their way to this point. First Van 1 showed up in the early afternoon and had promised to stay awake and sober enough to join me at the finish. Van 2 had arrived a scant 5 or 10 minutes before me and had just found their colleagues. They were in a holding area set aside for this purpose, and when I came down off the Prom onto the beach they were ready. Out they jumped with the Flyer banner unfurled as we held hands and sprinted together across the line. My friend who had chased me those last two miles had no chance. How could he!
No running experience I've ever had; not my marathon PR at Grandma's in 1992, not my qualifying for Boston in 1995, not my running the 100th Boston in 1996 came close to the emotional high of this moment. The work and sweat of 12 friends over this long trek had forged a bond of love and friendship that would not soon fade. I was given the privilege of presenting the finishers medals to my teammates after crossing the finish line, and I could not help but let my spontaneous feelings of affection for them flow out.
The higher you fly, the further you have to fall, and the bigger the crash. The festivities at the beach soon became a haze of one or two or three beers, wandering around trying to find people, trying to find my wife, trying to find the van, trying to find the motel room we had rented - all in an ever increasing stupor of exhaustion. The brain was quickly shutting down and the body was soon to follow. Suddenly the constraints and demands on our every movement, which had held us so close for nearly 30 hours, was gone and the result was disorienting. I managed to offend several of my good friends before finally succumbing to a fitful sleep where phantasms of runners, vans, lights in the night, never ending hills and sore legs chased around in my subconscious.
But even as the labor pains of hills, sweat, work and sleep deprivation are forgotten when the moment of triumph arrives, so also the post partem blues are forgotten in the morning after the first good night's sleep.
As we waited for the plane to take us away from this place, back to our jobs, back to the city, back to our lives - one thought was in all our minds - "We'll be back next year!"
Many individuals helped to make this adventure the great success that it was. First and foremost I want to thank the whole team: Gary, Philippe, Jan, Anna, Anne, Tom, Gina, Stacey, Dean and Tom, and Pete the driver. You are all the best, and I love you one and all!
Next, the ones who turned a great trip into an extraordinary trip: Karen, Baird and Liz Smith, who truly treated us like family when we invaded their lovely house in Portland.
Thanks go to Suzanne Dodge for her design, Bob Roman for his preparation work and the folks at Race Ready for the delivery of our custom race singlets and shirts. And special thanks to Sandy, Jonathan, Ken, Tim and Julie and all the others in the New York Flyers who supported us all the way.
Lastly, let me thank my wife Joy who allowed me to turn a family vacation into a wild and woolly running adventure!