Just about this time last week–it’s nearly 7 p.m. in PA at the moment–Van #2 of Nuun‘s Team Watermelon was gearing up to kick off our first legs of Hood to Coast. Thanks to the memories created in that (thankfully not too stinky) van, it’s been seven days, and I’m still feeling the #HTChangover. Damn.
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of facing over 24 hours of van “sleeping,” Stacy’s and gummy bears doubling as dinner (although there was no complaining in my corner of the van about it!), and three mini races. And that’s just the start of it. A relay is like sleep-away camp crammed into 200 miles worth of running. Even though you’re up for hours, the time flies by. You witness the sunset, and, though that nighttime run was exhilarating, you welcome the sunrise. At times you can’t keep your eyelids open. But after each leg, without fail you’re wide awake, high on life and endorphins. Somehow, when it all comes to an end, that van feels like home away from home and your teammates feel like family. Parting with both leaves a lump in your throat.
So now that I’m back to reality, I’ll try to capture what Hood to Coast with Nuun was really like without writing a novel. Onward to the ocean!
After Van #1 crushed the first six legs down Mount Hood for Team Watermelon (and then were subsequently renamed Team Holly Roberts), our first runner, Meghan, got Van #2 on the road, rockin’ our team’s green sparkly skirt. We joined the parade of vans, slowing to cheer on Meghan with our duck boat quackers and cowbells. And then… she yelled this to us before we drove off to the next exchange:
— Megan Hetzel (@megrunnergirl) August 24, 2013
Oh yeah, we were off to a good start. 🙂 Before I knew it, I was up to bat.
Leg 8 – 4.55 (Finish Time: 29:54, 6:36/mi)
I knew going into Hood to Coast that I wanted to try to challenge myself and really race. However, when I saw that my projected time was in the 6:XXs, I thought, Man, there’s no way in heck I’ll hit that pace! My brain’s in slow marathon mode, so 6-somethings seemed fast. But once I got my bib on and saw Meghan cruising toward me baton in hand, the track runner in me took over. I set off out of the exchange–God forbid I start slower to actually let myself warm up a bit–and focused on keeping a steady pace, notching as many “road kills” as I could. (Side note: It’s sweet passing people in a sparkle skirt. Ask my teammates; they’ll agree!)
I felt alright, but it took most of the run to work the kinks out of my legs. I’d already been sitting in a van too long. Then just when I needed it, my van drove up beside me, music blasting, cowbells clanging. I’ll never forget seeing Casey grooving to the music while the girls cheered. I wish I could’ve captured their awesomeness from my perspective, but instead, here’s my (overly excited) reaction:
I realized during my run that I had inadvertently trained for Hood to Coast while training for Marine Corps. For over a month, I’ve been doing speed workouts and two-a-days almost every week. Yes! Talk about a confidence boost. Maybe I could race this thing without killing my legs.
The sun was already setting when I finished, but I was thrilled when I caught a glimpse of Mount Hood in the distance from the exchange lot. It gave me chills to think that the girls had run alllll the way from its peak already. And this was only the beginning!
With the baton (a.k.a. slap bracelet) handed off to Laura, we set off for the next exchange. I took the opportunity to break open the trail mix and gummy bears, which made for a quality sugar rush to build on my post-run high. I also dove into the huge bag of Nuun tubes, otherwise known as the “Nuun bar.” We were all still very giddy with excitement each time our baton was handed off, not to mention the high-energy craziness that is getting to each exchange on time despite the darkness and vans-on-vans-on-vans traffic. It’s absolutely nuts, but Casey navigated like a pro from the gun. We all reported great first runs and it felt sweet marking off that first checkbox on the window.
One down, two to go.
Our first big break around 11 p.m. meant real food. It also meant my energy levels were taking a nose dive. We stopped at a bar/kid-friendly restaurant (it even had a play area, which we turned into a stretching spot) near Portland, briefly considered drinking a beer, thought better of it, then ordered some pre-run-friendly dinner. Mid-relay meals are always tricky: you want to eat a lot, but it has to sit well in your tummy for your next leg that’s only four or five hours away. I settled for some margarita pizza and kept chugging Nuun like it was my job so I’d stay hydrated. Dinner was delicious, but all I could think about was sleep.
I curled up and passed out the second we hit the road toward the next big exchange. I think I managed a couple hours of sleep before it was time for Van #2 to take over again. I was incredibly groggy, but I forced myself to wake up so I’d be alive once Meghan finished her leg. Our second round meant empty one-lane roads through the wilderness. Not only was it pitch black, but there was really nothing out there but the runners, vans and nature. It was wild.
Leg 20 – 5.75 (Finish Time: 44:18, 7:50/mi)
My second leg was insane. Running in the darkness with only a flashlight or a passing van’s headlights to guide you is equally terrifying and thrilling. The adrenaline rush kicked in quick, which meant I, again, probably took off too quickly, especially because this leg was longer and quite a bit hillier. I’m not a huge fan of running in the dark–I got a nasty gash on my shin during a night run a few years ago–so I had to work to stay focused on the road ahead of me. Man, was it spooky running at 4:30 a.m. in the middle of nowhere. It’s silent other than the sounds of your footsteps and breathing.
The whole way up, I was so thankful for PA’s gigantic hills. They’ve made me actually enjoy running hills, so I had fun getting after it from start to finish. The only downside to this leg was running on a gravel road for the last few miles. It made seeing the now rocky ground that much harder, and I got a mouthful of dust that made my teeth feel gritty. Breathing was okay, but now I was grimy on the outside and inside. Yuck! The few times I was able to look up, though, and all I could see was a string of headlights climbing the road ahead of me. It was surreal and awe-inspiring. Definitely one of those pinch-me-can’t-believe-I’m-actually-doing-this-right-now-moments. Ahh it was incredible.
I was able to finish strong thanks to that lovely downhill, and with that, my favorite leg of the relay was over.
I absolutely loved the second third of the race because the runners pretty much owned the road. By now it was daylight, and other than the vans, there were no other cars in sight for miles. So here we were, among thousands of other runners, racing through the night and into the sunrise from Mount Hood to the Pacific Ocean. It was a remarkable human feat to witness and be a part of. You were near other runners the entire time, so it really felt like you were racing, not just running along alone with a bib number on.
We also became familiar with a other vans, some of which were flat out fascinating and creative. My favorite was the Superhero van, which had six huge flags emblazoned with superhero logos attached to its rooftop plus a cape coming off the back of it. The Bed Intruder van was also hysterical. Oh, and if you thought “Spit don’t swallow” on Van #1 was dirty, we saw plenty of vans with slogans that were way worse than ours (“My wife is doing my third leg” and “It’s too late to pull out” to name a few). That’s Hood to Coast for ya folks!
Since we had to follow the course for our second chunk of downtime, we got to cheer on a few of the girls from Van #1. We blasted Taylor Swift for Hannah, sang Ke$ha a capella for Mallory, and blew our duck quackers like crazy from the side of the road. Oh, and did I mention the now sun-soaked Oregon countryside is GORGEOUS!?!I also loved this section because we had no cell service for over eight hours. It felt amazing to be able to unplug and take it all in. Every second of it. It also sparked the #tweetsfromwhenwehadnoservice hashtag. What can you expect from a bunch of bloggers without internet?
And then….the real traffic set it.
Leg 32 – 4.09 (Finish Time: 27:40, 6:42/mi)
To make it to my last exchange on time to catch Meghan, I had to hop out of the van and run a half mile or so with Lisa. The quick jog was a blessing in disguise because I got to shake out and warm up my tired legs. Lisa also offered some wonderful words of encouragement that stuck with me for the whole run. This inspiring mother runner is a saint, that’s all I need to say.
I wanted to leave everything I had left out on the road for that final leg. My legs definitely felt the first two runs, but I tried to dig down and hold my pace as long as I could, soaking up every second. For the last time, my van pulled up beside me, this time blasting Justin Timberlake. Ahh, it made the run. Team Watermelon #Van 2 = My heroes.
I pushed it up one last insult of a hill toward the exchange, and with that, my three checkboxes were filled. The moment was incredibly bittersweet, rewarding, but sad. The race was almost over.
For the final four legs, the name of the game was hurry up and wait. Traffic made getting to each exchange on time even harder, but our ever-patient driver Casey handled it all with skill. The warm sun was out now in full force, and Laura, Lindsay, and Lisa absolutely crushed their legs. We all squealed with excitement when we saw the Pacific Ocean peaking out from between the mountains.
Once Devon set off on Leg 36 screaming down the mountain toward the beach (left), our drive became a mad dash to the finish. Casey’s patience finally (and hysterically!) broke while we inched down the road to the shore. When we arrived, we all hopped out and sprinted through to the finish in time to meet Devon who had just crossed the line. We had made it.
Ending our 200-mile journey on the coastline of the Pacific Ocean, toes in the sand with a cold beer in hand, was perfect. I think it’s safe to say that we all took in every second of it, appreciating the significance of what we’d just accomplished and experienced together. Though we came from all over the country, here we all were watching the sunset over the ocean and the fireworks later that night together, not as strangers, but close friends. It was hard to believe that just a few days earlier, we were struggling to even remember each other’s names.
This relay encapsulated so many of the reasons I love running. We might’ve come from different backgrounds, but running unified us. It didn’t matter that our ages, abilities, lifestyles and goals weren’t the same. We’re all runners and that’s what mattered. We got to explore the Pacific Northwest on foot, which was even cooler than the Duck Boat tour through Seattle. We got to meet our online running community IRL (a term that Mason learned means “in real life”). I thought the girls were inspring enough through their blogs and social media, but they’re even more amazing in person (not that that’s surprising!). It makes me so happy that I can now call them my friends, not just my “twitter friends.” Running is usually considered an individual sport, but relays like Hood to Coast elevate what we do to another level with greater meaning. We couldn’t have done what we did without the tireless effort from every member on the team, gutting it out in our sparkle skirts from the first leg to the last. Again, I can’t thank everyone at Nuun for making it all happen.
With that, I can only hope that our paths will cross again! I’m SO thankful for the opportunity and yes, for social media that’ll keep us all connected until that day comes!
Here are more photos from the race:
Want to read about my pre-race adventures in Seattle? Check out Part I of my Hood to Coast Race Report.
#HeardInVan2: “I feel like f-ing David Copperfield!” – @
“I can’t justify paying for chocolate.” – @
“Use your indoor duck!” – @devonamills