What is Hood to Coast?
In August I was lucky to have the opportunity to participate in the world’s largest relay race, Hood to Coast (HTC). It’s dubbed “The Mother of All Relays” holding the world’s record as the largest relay race with 12,600 participants. Starting from Mount Hood in Oregon, the relay travels 197 miles through Portland and finishes on the coast of Oregon.
We called ourselves the “Pain Train” and our carriage was twelve people strong. Our engine included a few Boston qualifiers. I’m certain I was invited not for my speed but because my friends thought they could tolerate me for 50 hours in the car (about 20 hours round trip to Oregon plus another 30 hours racing). Or was it because they thought I could tolerate a close confinement with intensely competitive, sweaty, athletes who have not showered for more than 24 hours? In either case, I’m flattered.
This race requires a bit of planning. There are 2 vans, with 6 people in each van, and each person runs 3 legs, about 4-8 miles each, in a specific sequence each time. We also had to coordinate eating and sleeping while the race was in process. This level of organization is easy to do for some of us anal, type A triathletes. I was not surprised to receive detailed instructions from our team captain five months prior to our race.
Eating on the Run
The Hungry Athlete was assigned the responsibility of providing nutrition for the team during the race. The best type of food to pack are healthy, ready to eat and portable. Here’s some of the food I packed:
- Boiled eggs
- Salted boiled potatoes
- Quick oats
- Instant cup of chicken noodle soup
- Pop tarts
- Peanut butter
- Sliced turkey
- Potato Chips
I was assigned to be runner #8. I almost missed my first leg. We had misread the driving instructions and ended up at the wrong exchange. Once we realized our error, we quickly drove to the correct exchange where our #7 runner had been waiting and looking all over for me. Once we found each other, I grabbed the wristband/baton and took off. I had never run a 24-hour relay race before so I was not sure if it was necessary to pace myself. After all, I would have hours to recover before my next segment. I decided to run conservatively and save it for the last leg. It was a warm but fun run.
I was on a mission to rack up some “road kills”, an HTC tradition of tracking the number of people you passed less the number of people who passed you back. Unfortunately, while I had as many as 12 road kills on one run, I ended up being the road kill almost as frequently. The net result was an unimpressive couple of road kills. Some vans proudly tallied their road kills on their windows.
My second leg started around 1 am and it was cold. I had to change from shorts and a tank top into warmer capris, gloves, a long sleeved top layered over a run shirt and a headlamp. This part of the run was on a steep uphill dirt trail. I made the mistake of foregoing the handkerchief/bandana/bluff and left it in our vehicle. I desperately needed one to cover my nose and mouth. Chase vehicles driving by were kicking up a lot of dirt. I could feel the grit on my teeth while I was running. Although I wasn’t the fastest runner on our team, I think I was one of the best prepared to run on a steep trail in darkness. I had completed my first trail marathon several months before and was use to running up and down steep terrain. This gave me added confidence pacing up the hills and running fast downhill with limited visibility. The air was cool and the sky was full of stars. I had never run under so many stars before. It was amazing and I loved every minute of that dirt eating run.
Things were going smoothly until highway patrol decided to shut down one of the main roads leading to an exchange because it was clogged with too many vehicles. Realizing that our two teams were not going to make it to that exchange on time, we desperately tried to communicate with one another. There was no cellular coverage. We also had a couple runners standing around in the cold waiting for our warm cars to pick them up. Somehow, our runner, Mark, found us. We were rolling slowly in traffic when he came flying out of the dark and bear hugged our vehicle. We were worried and so happy to see him. Judging from the big smile on his face, he was happy to see us. Poor Mark. We’re so proud of how he took it in stride. Mark has a wonderful, mellow, go with the flow personality. It’s this positive attitude that turned a sucky situation into one that we can sort of laugh about now.
I got really sleepy after my second run. It was the wee hour of the morning. I curled up in the car and managed a little catnap while my car mates played the closest thing to a lullaby from our playlist for me. Good thing I got some rest. Later, when I took over the helm, I found myself driving a bunch of sleeping runners.
The last leg started out quite warm. After a little shut-eye, our team was full of energy and excited to run to the finish. As we got closer to the coast, the temperature had dropped and sunny skies were replaced with grey skies.
Pain train finished 541 out of 1049 teams in 30 hours and 15 minutes. The first place team finished in 17 hours and 32 minutes with an average pace of 5:18 min/mile. How they achieved that pace with traffic, I have no idea. Somehow they were able to get their runners to each of the exchanges on time.
Overall, it was a fun event to check off my bucket list. We had a great group of people who I enjoyed getting to know. It’s not for everyone though. If you know what to expect, have a good group of runners and have the right attitude, it is totally worth it. Organize your teams early though. It took our team captain two attempts before he got the lucky draw of the lottery to enter our team.
- Plan far in advance. Hotels get booked up in Oregon very quickly. If you have any “locals” on your team, you will need to provide 3 volunteers for each local racer.
- Encourage your teammates to pack efficiently. One of our cars drove up with 7 people, our luggage, sleeping bags and food. Determine in advance if a few bigger bags work better than lots of smaller bags per person? There are pros and cons to both.
- Portable Kettle Pots are a must have for heating up water quickly.
- Have a contingency plan in case your van is unable to locate your runner. There is no cell phone coverage for much of the course and you will be unable to communicate with your other team’s van or your runner. Consider using long ranged Walkie Talkies.
- It wasn’t an issue for our group, but you may consider bringing a portable shower. At one of the exchanges on day two, another van drove by our vehicle slowly with its windows and sliding door wide open. We caught a whiff of the ripe odor that exuded from that van. We were immediately grateful for our teammates’ much lighter scent. That van decided not to park near us. Thank gawd!
- Plan out the food.
- Bring enough food for the entire race. We only planned to bring enough to be consumed between midnight and 4 am. We thought we would be able to stop to buy a meal at least a couple times. It turns out that we were only able to stop for one meal in Portland. During the race, we were often in rural areas with no restaurants or had no time in between exchanges to get food.
- Let your team know what food you have for them. I volunteered to provide sustenance and updated our team spreadsheet with the food list but apparently I should have made a big announcement about the Pop Tarts. (Sorry Birdy!). Yes we had Pop Tarts.
- Bring plenty of water and Wet Wipes.
- Bring markers to write on the outside of your vehicle and if you are so inclined, decorate your vehicle or consider a team costume.
- Don’t expect to sleep much but bring a little pillow to help you catch a little snooze in the car.
- Come with a fun playlist.
- Go with the flow and just have fun with your team.
- Pack well. Be minimal yet thoughtful about what you bring. I packed everything into a traditional triathlon bag that had one big main compartment and a few small outside compartments. If I had to do it again, I would bring the Story38 Alliance Carrier* (http://story38alliance.com)
*Packing your Personal Gear and the Story38 Alliance Carrier
Here’s the run gear I packed. Be prepared for changes in temperature and to sleep in what you are wearing. Wet wipes and a big towel are a must.
I found that the “Carrier” made by Story38 Alliance is designed well for this type of trip and event. Multiple compartments, a detachable pouch and a separate bag within the bag makes this triathlon bag very versatile. All of my toiletries fit into a pouch that was easily detached and carried into the bathroom.
The pouch is held securely inside the Carrier by velcro. In this position, it created two separate compartments within the Carrier. This helped to keep the contents organized. Inside the top flap compartment, I stored run nutrition. This location made it easy to find and quickly grab whatever nutrition I wanted without fumbling through the bottom of the bag.
There is a separate small bag that fits inside the Carrier.
This small bag, which is meant to hold a wetsuit, is big enough to pack my makeup and everyday clothes for the evening before the race and the day after the race. What a great way to separate my run clothes from my everyday clothes.
I recommend packing one of those towels that goes over your head and fits like a poncho. The poncho will make it easier to change your clothes in less than private surroundings. A big beach towel also fits nicely at the top of the Carrier with plenty of space available to pack a few more items.
On the top outside pouch, I stored my race belt, heart rate monitor, headlamp and GPS watch. The location guaranteed I’d find these items quickly.
There is room to hold a total of 4 water bottles, 2 on each side of the Carrier. I would store 1 large water bottle inside the Carrier’s side pocket since we had a big jug of water that we carried for the team. On the other side pocket, I would store a small face towel, a garbage bag and Wet Wipes.
For more information on the Carrier, visit their website here: (http://story38alliance.com)