Friday, November 6, 2015

Runicorns' Hood to Coast 2015

This year's Hood to Coast was singular, if only for the weather. With gusts of wind up to 70 mph, rain from all sides, and lots of lightning, it was very unusual for August in western Oregon. Despite that, we had a great time in van 2, did some running we were all proud of, and reveled in our new team name: after years of being the Honey Bucks & Buckettes, we are now the Runicorns.

We were lucky to get a team this year after last year off; my dad and brother, Ted, came out for it and Ann's dad, Fred, and step-brother, Noel, did too. At the last minute her step-sister, Gretchen, was able to join us, which meant that Noel got a reprieve from running to help out as one of our required three volunteers. Our team start was 6:45am, the earliest I've ever had, which meant that van 1 had to get to Timberline Lodge on Mt Hood at a painful pre-dawn hour.

Awesome tshirts designed by Travis

Gretchen kicked butt as our first runner, but Fred wasn't feeling well after his first leg, so he swapped out with Noel. We later learned that Fred really enjoyed his volunteer job seeing all the runners at the Hawthorne Bridge and telling them what to do. Noel, always strong and steady, kicked out the second and third legs.

In my van, I ran first with leg 7, then Ted with 8, Sara-- who was training for the Portland Marathon-- ran 9, Erik ran his first Hood to Coast with leg 10, my dad ran 11, and Alex-- the 16 year-old son of my friend Kari (who has also run the event for many years)-- was our anchor on his first H2C with leg 12.

We arrived at our first van exchange in the early afternoon with not much time, so we didn't get to hang out with van 1 as much as we'd hoped. I didn't feel much of anything until it was suddenly my turn to run, and then I felt slow in the heat with short gasps of breath. I was certain my inability to calm my breathing was slowing my pace, but as the road gave way to a series of rolling hills, I began to pass people.

I hadn't realized I'd want something to listen to until we were nearly at the exchange, so I had only cobbled together a short playlist of songs on Spotify; about 10 of the songs had the time and connection to download to my phone. I got to listen to all of them and then a few over again-- Leon Bridge's awesome debut album. It's pretty low key for running music, but it was just what I wanted.

Alex and unicorn 'do rag

Along the way I passed a kids' lemonade stand and stopped for a cup-- something I've always wanted to do. It was fun to chat with them for a minute. I finished my leg and was surprised at just how fast I'd run. Soon it was time for Erik's first leg, which I really wanted to run with him since it was his very first Hood to Coast. We were worried about both heading out of the exchange together, so he took off solo and then van drove around to find an access point to the protected Springwater Trail. Luckily, just as soon as I hopped onto the trail I saw Erik coming. We enjoyed  running together. He kept a nice, steady pace and I was impressed.

The rest of the van went went well until we got to our final exchange of the round, at the Hawthorne Bridge. We enjoyed some time with van 1, but when Alex came in he had pulled something in his leg or hip and was limping. We went back to my house-- very close to the exchange-- to eat and rest. Sara had brought five light beers and a non-alcoholic one for Alex, and we all cheers'd in an awesome tradition we'll be repeating from now on.

A few hours later, we headed to the next van exchange at the Columbia County Fairgrounds. We got there fairly early, so we had time to hang out and I had time to get ready. I saw a police car slowly circling the field and I had a fleeting thought: Wouldn't it be funny if my coworker-friend Jeff, who volunteers regularly as a deputy... No, that would be too much of a coincidence. Not five minutes later, I heard my name called out and turned to see Jeff leaning out of his cruiser. He stopped and we had fun chatting while other runners begged him to take photos of him pretending to arrest them. He demurred.

It was almost my usual bedtime, but seeing Jeff got me jazzed to run in the soft, cool night. Rain began to sprinkle down as I started out into the darkness, enjoying the awesome headlamp Ann gave gifted me last year for my birthday. I soon realized that I had forgotten to update my music playlist, and furthermore this time only six of the songs would play.

Deputy Jeff making Hood to Coast safe

To pass the time I set my sights on the person in front of me and enjoyed their music as I passed them (headphones aren't allowed, so people with music blast it out from little, portable speakers). I was surprised when I came to the van-- it seemed too soon-- but they assured me I was halfway done with my longest leg. I picked it up a bit and felt triumphant when I finished much faster than anticipated.

For Erik's second leg, the van dropped me off just down the road. I was surprised to see him running without the headlamp; he just hadn't been able to figure out how to turn it on. It was raining harder now at times, but Erik held a good pace, aiming his light up at the trees so he didn't have to see the distance and undulations of the road.

Then came time for Alex's second run. He took off in the heavy rain, and we stopped for him about halfway. "Do you want to run for me?" he asked me as I handed him water. "Sure" I said, "I just need to change out of my flipflops." He had seemed earnest at first, but then said nevermind or "just kidding."

How I wish I had just put on my running shoes and pushed him into the van!

We drove on to the exchange, and were surprised to find our van 1 teammates quickly despite the dark and having no phone signal. We hung out until close to when we thought Alex would arrive, and then went to the runner exchange with Shawna, who was up to run. She was the only one of us allowed across the street to the actual exchange, so I waited in my sole, soaking jacket, getting more and more worried as the minutes ticked by.

Nearly 20 minutes later, Alex limped up the road into the light of the exchange, and I burst across the street to grab him and try to put my jacket around his bare shoulders. The muscle he pulled on his first leg had worsened and he had barely been able to walk the rest of the leg since we had seen him. My stomach was in knots from worrying about him-- after his mom trusted me!-- and we hurried back to the van.

This next part is always the low point of any Hood to Coast. Race traffic is at its densest and slowest, and you have to just follow the race route and bear it. As we sat in traffic in the worsening wind and rain, I began to feel nauseous and dizzy in the way back of the van.

Finally, I couldn't take it and asked my brother, who was driving, to pull over. I knelt in the gravel next to the van the side of the road and puked as I watched the rare lightning flashes and marveled at the thunder. We just don't have thunderstorms in western Oregon.

Thoroughly voided of all I had eaten that day and exhausted, I got back in the van. We finally got to the sleeping grounds just after the final van exchange, and Sara, my dad, Erik and I set out with our sleeping bags and tarp while the others stayed in the car.

By setting out the tarp, laying on it, and then pulling it over us, we made a cozy cocoon that protected us from the rain and wind that was really picking up. I only fell asleep for about 25 minutes, but it was heaven to stretch out in the fresh air.

When my alarm went off, we picked up and noticed the damage the wind was beginning to cause in the brightening morning light. Leaves and small branches were coming down, things were blowing around between the vans, and people were struggling to set up tents.

We roused the van-sleepers and I got ready to run. Standing out at the runner exchange, waiting for Travis, I heard a massive crack and saw a huge tree snap and fall-- luckily away from the sleeping field it grew at the edge of. Travis came in, and I learned we no longer had the exchange snap bracelet. Oh well. I took off down the road and saw Ann and Gretchen running up toward me with Leif's unicorn hobbyhorse that they were using to help find each other at the exchanges. I laughed, happy to see them, and ran on into the sideways rain.

The wind shifted, at my back for the first half and a headwind for the last. Branches were breaking off and flying through the air, littering the road. Emergency vehicles ripped past with sirens blaring, paying no heed to the runners on the side of the road. Some of us had to jump aside a few times.

I was relieved when I finished my leg, but it had been exhilarating to have a good run in such weather. Ted took off on his last leg, Sara killed her long leg in really heavy rain, and somewhere in there we heard from an official at an exchange that the party at the end of the race was cancelled and the finish line moved due to the extreme weather.

Then I got txts from Ann in van 1 that we should stop, not finish, and just go home. I thought she was joking until I got the same thing from Travis. I couldn't believe it.

They were eating and resting in Astoria and thought the weather was just too dangerous to continue. We were halfway through our final round and incredulous-- we would finish the race, as slow as we needed to, given the conditions. We continued on, and van 1 returned to Portland.

Erik ran his last leg solo (I was running Alex's final leg) in total chaos. He ran more through lakes than on roads. Still, it was warm enough and he had a great run. We had decided that my brother would run with our dad on his last and longest leg, since it was isolated, there was nowhere for the van to stop and us to check on him, no phone signal, and the winds were pretty dangerous. I was so glad to have them running together.

Then it was time for the last leg of the race, and I felt good. It didn't matter how fast I was, since I had already run all of my legs and most of two additional, besides. I've tried to run a new position each time I've done Hood to Coast, so this was a very rare opportunity to run a leg I was familiar with.

I wore a cute new running skirt I had saved for the end, realizing my mistake but with nothing else remotely dry or unoffensive-smelling. Let's just say that someone told me I looked like Marilyn Monroe in her iconic skirt-blowing scene, and I was basically running in bright purple hot pants while the skirt flew up around my waist.

Still, I set out to give it all I had and tore through the forest road, knowing that some great downhill was coming up. I passed a good number of people but then heard someone come up behind me and stay there. I encouraged him to pass me, but instead we struck up a conversation. He really pushed my pace, and I enjoyed asking him questions so I could hear about his running at home in Colorado while I tried to catch my breath.

We rolled into Seaside and the intense winds made it impossible to stay upright. We had to lean into the gusts, staying low to avoid being pushed backwards as our feet left the ground mid-stride. We missed a turn because there weren't many volunteers out, but got back on track and then finally made it to the promenade, which was surprisingly lined with spectators. They cheered us on, facing us with their backs to the wind as we ran right into the stinging, blowing sand. I tried to pull my hat down to protect my eyes, but got pretty burned on my chest.

The beach was in a shambles with scaffolding and tents knocked over and blown about. I was relieved to not have to run out onto the sand, which would have been especially painful. Instead, we ran to the end of the promenade where I saw my van-mates and said a grateful goodbye to my Coloradan running buddy. We turned the corner away from the beach to the impromptu finish line.

It was done! We went to Dairy Queen, exhausted, and I was finally able to consume some food. Well, just fries. On the drive home, everyone fell asleep and Ted, who was driving, started to as well. I took over and got us home. That's when the exhaustion (having only slept 25 minutes) and the hunger (having voided my stomach and not eaten in the 12 hours since) finally caught up to me.

The next morning, some of us went to breakfast and relived the highlights and low points of the race. We all agreed it was an epic one and we were glad we persevered to finish. Ted-- who turned 40 on the first day of the race-- said it was his favorite yet and Erik said he was excited to do it next year. We had such a great van full of strong runners who all took care of each other. I can't wait to do it again next year. Van 1 might feel differently...

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