Hood to Coast 2019 – Single Van Insanity

This was my third year doing Hood to Coast and we decided to do something that I’ve always been intrigued by, but that I knew would be a little crazy: combine two vans into one.

We did this for a few reasons:

  • There was a death in the family right before the relay, and we thought it would be better if we were all together (this was a family team).
  • Because of the death, 1 person had to drop out last minute. This meant we had one less runner whose running we’d need to cover. It also ruined our original van line-up and made the responsible driver situation tougher. One less runner made one van a little less daunting since there would be 11 people instead of 12.
  • Finally, we just thought it would be interesting, in a twisted way. And no one wanted to miss out on the party.

Those that have done a 12-person road relay know that the advantage of two vans is that one van can take a break (~3-5 hours) while the other van runs legs. Van 1 gets 2 solid breaks and Van 2 will basically get one break in the middle of the night (and start later the first day). Thus, without two vans, there would be no breaks. Knowing this going into the relay and given that we were using my Ford Transit, I assumed I would get nearly zero sleep. I was correct.

Talking after our pre-race dinner the night before the Relay

To make matters worse, we had a fairly late start time of 10:45am. We planned out our legs on Thursday night after agreeing on one van. We switched things around a bit so that three of us could cover a second leg. The coverage would occur by running two legs back to back instead of running 4 separate legs. On Friday morning the 11 of us piled into the van and headed to Mt Hood.

Our revised leg assignments

Kara was team captain and took Leg 1 because she wanted to start off with some fast downhill. She was followed by Ben (the only person not in our family) and then Chad. Chad was followed by my immediate family: Paisley, then me, then Cyndi.

Hood to Coast Leg 5

My run went well. I pushed pretty hard and ran it slightly faster than I did last year (I ran the same leg last year). It started with a little downhill then had a decent climb during the second half of the run.

Pro tip: After each leg in a relay, immediately drink a chocolate milk. It tastes sooooo good and it calms your stomach down. Especially if it’s fully loaded (full fat). Keeping your stomach calm during a relay is vital to a good experience.

During Cyndi’s leg we stopped at Safeway to grab some food. I got a roasted chicken, some rolls, and some JoJo’s for $10 to share with Cyndi, Paisley, and Ben. It was an excellent meal in my opinion, with plenty of good protein and some carbs. I overate a bit.

When everyone is in one van, the major exchanges (6, 12, 18, 24, 30) are not as major. Usually this would be the few minutes you get to see the other van and everyone is excited. If you’re in one van, it’s just another exchange. It does have a lot of people at it which makes it a little more interesting I suppose.

Cyndi handing off to Brenden at Exchange 6

Brenden came next, then Jaci, Kelsey, Kaden, and Tyrel. Tyrel ended up running legs 11 and 12 to cover for our missing runner, Christy. He did a good job and knocked out 12 miles despite having never ran that far. Ever.

Cyndi and Paisley at Exchange 12

During one of these legs I was able to lay down and just rest for a while, although I don’t think I actually slept. Although we were all in a van together, I tried to be more supportive of runners 1-6 and rest more during runners 7-11. All the in and out of the van and standing and waiting can really drain me, so I was purposeful about being supportive to the other runners about half the time.

Exchange 13, just after dusk

Hood to Coast Leg 17

As night approached I started dreading my second leg a bit. I was tired and didn’t feel like running very much. This is pretty typical. During the night is primarily when relays really start to wear me down. Nevertheless, I put on some tunes to pump me up a bit (The Final Countdown) and got into the mood the best I could.

Also, I was driving for most of this time. The only time I didn’t drive was during legs 4, 5, and 6. That was while I was getting ready to run, running, and just finishing.

My Leg 17 run started just after 12:30am. It was a flat 7.85 miler along a 4-lane highway. It took me about a mile to warm up my legs, particularly my Achilles which has been giving me trouble for a few months. Once I was warmed up I tried to maintain a strong pace. My goal was to hit 6:30/mile. For the most part I was passing people the whole time. I was surprised when an older gentleman came up behind me 2-3 miles into the leg and proceeded to pass me. He must have been going at a 6:00 pace and he had to be around 50 years old. I was impressed. I increased my pace for a while, but I wasn’t dumb enough to try to keep up for very long. I stayed under 6:30 for most of the first 5 miles. However, I realized during the last third of the leg that I still had a tough long run ahead of me (Legs 29 and 30 combined). As I grew more fatigued, I decided to back off and reduced my pace during the last 2 miles to upper 6:00’s. That would hopefully leave me with some energy for my last run. There’s a stoplight right near the end of Leg 17 which is really annoying, so after stopping at that I finished strong and gave Cyndi a kiss as I handed off to her.

One thing I insisted on before running my leg was that I would be taking a shower at Exchange 17. The showers in Hood to Coast are in unusual and seemingly random places. Some people don’t worry about taking showers during relay races. I love them — it feels so good to get all the sweat off my skin and to feel clean again. It helps me rest better and loosens me up. (I also try to jump into lakes after a day of backpacking for the same reason.)

After I took a quick shower, a couple of our runners grabbed food, I grabbed my chocolate milk, and we continued to Exchange 18 which is a “major” exchange. There were lots of people there and I was still awake and alert so I got out to get Cyndi from the big crowd.

I knew I needed to eat more so that I’d have energy for my big run later in the morning, so I asked Jaci to make me a PBJ. She doesn’t like peanut butter, but I told her to load it on. It ended up being the most peanut buttery sandwich I’d ever eaten. Delicious.

By about 3am I was feeling really tired and I asked someone else to drive. I took a back seat and laid down for an hour or two. I didn’t sleep a lot, maybe 10 minutes, but it was good to lay down.

Eventually we got to Exchange 24, which is another major exchange. I whipped out my backpacking stove and made a few of our team some hot cocoa and myself some hot oatmeal. Warm meals are wonderful to eat during relay races. I was informed by a volunteer that stoves weren’t allowed, but fortunately I was done anyways. (This was a green, grassy, wet field so I don’t know what the problem was.)

Hood to Coast Leg 29 and Leg 30

Eventually it was approaching my turn to run again. We were starting to hit some traffic. With 2.5 miles of Leg 28 left we hit bumper-to-bumper traffic. I got my shoes on and jumped out to warm up right before Paisley, our Leg 28 runner, approached us. This meant that I ran 2.5 miles with her, then my 5.97 mile Leg 29, then 5.32 mile Leg 30.

I took it pretty easy with Paisley during the last part of Leg 28. Leg 29 begins with a 3.5 mile uphill stretch. I was pushing pretty hard and passing people. About a mile from the top I heard someone approaching behind me, so I started running harder. Once we crested the summit, I continued a hard pace and the other runner stayed right behind me. I gave just about everything I had to hold him off — we ran two miles at about 5:33/mile. We eventually caught up to another line of cars in traffic and many of them were yelling funny things as us as we charged by. It was actually quite fun, but it pushed me to my limit. With about a mile to go I broke. I justified slowing down a bit since I knew I still needed to run another leg. My competitor finally passed me and I thanked him for pushing me.

He finished the leg about 50 yards ahead of me, and then I ran through the exchange as I started Leg 30. By this time it was raining and I became fully drenched. With all the traffic, I was wondering how long I’d be waiting at Exchange 30. I slowed down to ~7:00/mile for this leg and I was starting to feel tired from all the running and lack of sleep.

I finished the 13.91 mile run and was happy to be done. Amazingly, our van pulled up about 1 minute later, and I hopped in as our next runner, Brenden, hopped out and started running. I learned that our van had been in bumper-to-bumper traffic the entire time, and they were going crazy.

Can I just say that the traffic at Hood to Coast is awful? It’s really a problem, and maybe the organizers have tried everything to solve it, but it makes the Hood to Coast Relay almost unbearable. I remember how much I hated it the first year and how it ruined my experience. These past two years I’ve been more prepared for it, but it still grates on me. I feel like the issue is primarily how the traffic is controlled at some of the later exchanges. I don’t think some of the volunteers understand how holding up cars can really back things up. I think the organizers should put some very efficient people at the later exchanges and figure out how to get the traffic flowing the best way possible.

During my run I passed 92 runners! That’s about 8% of the teams, although I’m not sure how the walking and high school teams factor in. It’s crazy to me that all those teams were packed in the course that tightly.

We finished our last 6 legs without too much excitement. Kaden had a great run and Tyrel cramped a bit, but we finally made it across the finish line at the beach at about 5:45pm. Since it was so late, we just spent about an hour walking around town and then we headed home.

Finish Line

Finish line after a long night

Another Hood to Coast Relay in the bag. Going in one van was pretty crazy, but also pretty fun. I have an idea of how I can add in a little sleeping area in the back of my van for next time which would space things out a bit better. I think I’m going to try one van again…

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