Hood to Coast

As many of you know (and fewer care) I ran the Hood to Coast Relay last weekend. Following is my complete write-up. I think the Tribune may print an abbreviated version of it. Skip it if you find it incredibly dull (I realize it's incredibly long!):

On the weekend of August 27, 2005, a team of 11 Montanans and former Montanans, and one lifetime Bay Stater, competed in the 24th annual Hood to Coast Relay Race. This race runs from the Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood, Oregon, to the Pacific Coast at Seaside Oregon, or a total of 197 miles.

Each team consists of 12 people, divided into two vans of six. Each team member runs three legs of the relay, ranging in distance from 3.9 miles to 8.2 miles, for a total of 36 total legs to cover the entire distance. The legs for each runner are equally spaced, in other words, the person who runs leg 1 necessarily runs leg 13 and leg 25 too, the person who runs leg 12, runs leg 24, and leg 36. The race is ‘officially’ limited each year to 1,000 teams, although this year 1,060 teams competed.

“The Johnny Cash Runners” consisted of Jeff Jaraczeski, Doug Sexe, Dustin Young, Gary Morris, Mike Rydell, Jim Netz, and me, all of Great Falls, Bob Morris of Pullman, Washington, Nick Allen of Massachusetts, Jesse Young of Boise, Mark Pidcock of Virginia, and Burt Jones, MD, of Kalispell. The exact members of the team change each year, but Jeff Jaraczeski has organized the team for the term of its existence, and there has been a fairly solid core of people who run it year after year. This was my first year in the race, and I drew leg 12 (meaning I would also be the last of the 12 people to run, and would be able to run the “Glory Leg” over the finish line.)

The spacing of the legs results in unusual timing. For example, when we saw Doug Sexe off on Leg 1 at 7:15 p.m., Friday, August 26, I knew that I would not start my first leg until approximately 2:30 a.m., Saturday morning, August 27. This is because I would not begin until all 11 of the other runners had completed their legs.

Once the race begins, you are mostly either in your van or running for approximately 24 hours. You only see the members of the other van of your team 6 times after the start: the exchanges between legs 6 and 7, 12 and 13, 18 and 19, 24 and 25, 30 and 31, and the finish line. You don’t have much time with the other van, though, because as soon as the runner is off, that van needs to get on the road to beat that runner to the next exchange so the runner after is there to take the wristband that is used as a baton. The result of this fact is that the two vans, despite being on the same team, enjoy (using the term loosely) what are largely two separate race day experiences.

Here is a rough chronology of van 2’s race experience. We saw our first runner, Doug Sexe, off at 7:15, p.m. We hopped in the van, and drove down Mt. Hood. We stopped at a restaurant and had dinner. We then drove to the first exchange at the Fred Meyer store in Sandy, Oregon, to wait for their leg 6 runner. Several hours after we arrived, Van 1 arrived, somewhat bothered as I’ll explain below, and we all went up to the exchange point to wait for Dustin Young, van 1’s leg 6 runner. He arrived, and our leg 7 runner sped away.

We then picked up and dropped off runners until I found myself standing on a trail in the middle of some small Oregon town at about 2:20 a.m. Out of the darkness, I heard a voice call out our team number, 339, which meant our leg 11, Gary Morris was coming. Soon he appeared out of the darkness and, armed with a reflective vest and a flashlight, off I went. Shortly after I got running, a race official signaled me to turn to the right and I ran right into a steep hill, about two blocks long. That winded me right away.

While you run, you are constantly looking for “road kill,” or passes of other teams. As our van captain, Bob Morris explained, when you see runners in front of you, try to “reel them in,” or pass them. This forces you to push your pace by always trying to speed up.

I had a very interesting experience in a downtown Portland neighborhood. There was a gentleman in front of me who I had been trying to “reel in” for several blocks. Finally, I was within a half a block of him. I noticed a guy out in his yard pushing an old fashioned, mechanical mower. “What the heck,” I thought, “it’s 3:00 a.m.” As I got closer I saw that the man was grinning, and the door to his house was open. There were people inside, and there was a party going on.

As we got closer, I noticed a young woman standing in front of the house. She started to jump up and down to cheer, and on the third jump her dress fell to the ground and she was buck naked underneath. Her exaggerated astonishment, coupled with the guy mowing his lawn, convinced me that this was a planned effort to ‘support’ the race. The fellow I had been chasing came to a dead stop with his mouth hanging open, I passed him, and I never saw him again. I don’t know if his team finished the race!

Eventually, I completed my leg of 5.5 miles. The time was a 7:45 minute/mile pace. I was extremely disappointed as this was the slowest pace in our van, and much slower than I felt I was running. Nevertheless, my teammates gave me encouragement as I passed the wristband off to Doug Sexe to start his second leg, or leg 13 of the entire race.

Our van then piled in and we headed out towardthe next van exchange with me driving. I pounded a Powerade and some licorice for energy, and it took us 45 minutes to an hour to get there, so by the time we piled out of the van in front of Warren School just out side of Scappoose, Oregon, threw down a tarp, and got in our sleeping bags it was a little bit after 4:30 a.m.

About 6:10 a.m. I was awakened by one of myteammates’ snores, and we all began to arise. We packed up in about 15 minutes, and were to the next exchange at about 6:45, a.m., to await the start of our van’s first runner’s second leg. And off he went.

All I remember is a blur of exchanges, runners, and van trips until I began my second leg at the Natal Grange exchange in the Oregon countryside, at about 11:00 a.m., on Saturday, August 27. This was a relatively flat, 4.9 mile leg. I ran 7:20 minute miles, and passed a net of 14 teams. Faster than the first leg, but still slower than I had hoped to run. Here we ate a leisurely lunch of ham sandwiches, Powerade, Coca Cola, and other assorted junk food. Then we loaded into the van and rode ahead to the next team exchange.

I unrolled a sleeping bag under our van to get out of the sun, and took a quick 45 minute nap. I don’t think I really slept, but I dozed enough so there were several times I forgot I was laying on the ground under a van in Oregon, so that was good enough for me.

Soon, though, it became time for their last runner to arrive. As their van arrived to wait for him, we learned that one of their runners, Jim Netz, had nearly succumbed to heat stroke after his run. He was near to passing out at the finish, but finish he did. Doug Sexe and Dustin Young kept him from collapsing and fed him water in the air conditioned van. By the time I saw Jim at this exchange, he seemed fine. Van 1 was done, and could enjoy the leisurely ride to the Oregon coast.

Once our first runner began the third leg, the dread began creeping in. Our team goal was to break 24 hours and, due to some slow times, including my own, that goal was in jeopardy. It was around 3:30, p.m., Saturday afternoon, the sun was out and it was heating up. Our legs were hammered from the first two runs, but there was no safety net that would allow us to take it ‘easy’ on our third legs; we had to make good time. Everyone was joking about not wanting to run their legs, or at least half joking.

As our runners completed their legs, it became apparent that there was not going to be much of a ‘cushion’ for the last three legs if we wanted to break 24 hours. Mike Rydell tried to reassure us by saying that it wasn’t up to us to break the 24 hours, the time was lost long before the last 2 or 3 legs of the race. At this point, our van captain Bob Morris spoke up. All he said was “I disagree. I always blame the place-kicker.” Anyone who watches football is familiar with the argument raised when a place-kicker misses a game-winning kick: If the team had done its job earlier in the game, it would never have fallen on the place-kicker’s shoulders to win or lose the game. The import of Bob’s statement was clear. It was our responsibility to keep the team’s score under 24 hours.

As Nick Allen and I nervously waited for Gary Morris so I could start the final leg of the race, we continually did the math in our heads. “If he gets here in the next 2 minutes, I will need to run an ‘x per mile’ pace to keep it under 24 hours total.” Finally, finally, they called out “339,” and I got ready to run.

My final leg was 5.8 miles, and started with what the map showed to be a 2 mile uphill run followed by a 1 mile downhill, and about three flat miles into town to the beach and the finish.

In respect for the heat, I asked my van mates to meet me at the top of the hill with a water bottle, so I could eat an energy gel pack at the top, and then drink some water to carry me in. They did so, and it felt good to get that little burst of energy for what amounted to a downhill sprint. (The next day, they gave me the bottle of water from which I had taken my drink, teasing me that it was sure an awful lot of work for them considering I only drank about an ounce of it. “And thanks for dropping it as far away from the van as possible too,” Burt Jones pointed out.)

As I worked my way through the town of Seaside, I finally got my first smell of salt water, and that gave me a little push. Eventually, on the street, I encountered Bob Morris with a smile on his face: “Gregg, you have 22 minutes to make it about 4 blocks.” He was lying, it was longer than that. But he pushed me in, and we ultimately finished at 23 hours, 43 minutes, 13 seconds, enough to place 73 out of 1060 teams. I am not sure of my splits, but I think I was able to get my pace on the last leg under 7 minute miles. I crossed the finish line at about 6:58, p.m., Saturday, August 27.

According to race officials, the town of Seaside is flooded with over 90,000 race enthusiasts on this weekend. There was a huge party on the beach which I was able to enjoy with my teammates.

There are a couple other aspects I would be remiss to omit. The first are the ubiquitous “HoneyBuckets.” This is a company that provides porta-potties for the race, and there are lines and lines of them everywhere. As the race went on, they became nearly full and more disgusting, but their telltale deodorant remained strong. Mike Rydell said that the best thing about being done would be that he could finally get that smell out of his nose.

The event, though grueling, is about fun. Most of the vans are decorated, and there are many very original team names, like the “Nike Dairy Airs,” “Kiss Us We’ve Got Missile Toes,” “Shut Up and Get in the Van,” and “Eleven Runners and a Fat Guy.” Many of them are too brimming with double entendre to print in the paper, but they can be found at the website at http://www.hoodtocoast.com/htc/results/2005/htcrelay.htm.

Our two vans enjoyed pranking each other. Again, some of the pranks are not appropriate for a newspaper, but the agreed champion, the fuse prank, is still somewhat unclear of source.

Some unnamed member of van 2 (It was Gary Morris) suggested that it would be very funny if van 1 was unable to roll down its power windows or turn on its fan or air conditioning. Since both Morris brothers are engineers, we soon had the owners’ manual out determining the proper fuses to remove. Fortunately, Bob Morris remembered his Leatherman tool and, since the vans were identical, we popped out fuses 9, 10, and 34 in our van. We tested the lights, brakes and made sure it would run as we did not want to endanger the race, we just wanted to inconvenience it a little! (5 of us outvoted the one, unnamed van member who suggested disabling their brakes. We know you were kidding, Mike Rydell.)

Literally within moments of their last member exiting the van at Mt. Hood to cheer on Doug Sexe, Bob Morris was in their van with me standing guard. Moments later he emerged with the fuses wearing a huge grin. Mum was the word, Sexe got started, and off we went.

After we ate dinner Friday night, we called Jaraczeski’s cell phone and left a message that said merely “9, 10, 34.” We learned later how the prank played out in van 1.

As they were pulling out of the start, several race volunteers motioned for them to roll down their windows. They quickly realized their power windows didn’t work, but just assumed that it was a van issue.

Later, as a hot and sweaty runner piled into the van, they tried to use the HVAC system to keep the windows from fogging up. When that didn’t work either, they suspected something. When they checked the fuses, they realized that they weren’t just burned out, they were missing. About this time Jaraczeski checked his voice mail and commented on the strange message. The driver, holding the schematic from the drivers’ manual, quickly recognized the numbers as the fuses we had stolen.

We soon received a garbled, but spicy cell phone call, as we drove down the road laughing as we imagined them wiping the inside of their windshields with sweaty t-shirts just to see out!

The real point and real fun of the race is the camaraderie. I only knew two of my van mates when I started, but 38 hours after we woke up Friday morning, I consider the other three my friends. My sole purpose in training is now to get my race times down to the pace where I know I will be invited back.

But I know I can do it, because I will simply follow Mike Rydell’s new training regimen: “I’m going to go sit in my wife’s car for 7 hours, then jump out and run as fast as I can for an hour. Then I’ll get back in her car and eat junk food for an hour, sleep for an hour, and then sit there for 5 hours. Then I’ll get out, run as fast as I can for an hour, get back in the car, and do it all over again!”


a-fire-fly said...

Really good pranks should be a part of any team sport! Sounds like you had a good time. Did they manage to return the prankfavor?

GeeGuy said...

They actually started it. We finished it! :)

ZenPanda said...

Awesome finish! It sounds like an exciting time!

Dona said...

Nice article in the Trib today!

a-fire-fly said...

And they even gave you credit for writing it! Nothing about the awsome prank though.

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