|So many views of Mt. Hood, like this one snapped with my cell phone, awaited me in Oregon.|
Back in January, the night after the Charleston Half Marathon, I went to Windjammers to hang out with Adam Mayes and friends. There I met a bunch of the Big Kahunas and one of their leaders, Chris ‘Coach’ Spano. Each and every one of them told me that Hood to Coast was an incredible experience. It sounded just like the Blue Ridge Relay to me until one of the Kahunas that had run both races told me “Hood to Coast is to the Blue Ridge Relay what the Super Bowl is to Pop Warner football”. A bit of hyperbole, sure, but I was sold nonetheless. Where do I sign? I told Coach Spano I wanted in and he told me he’d let me know if he had any openings.
A few months later, Coach had openings. After a lot of email exchanges, some flight reservations, and some money sent via online banking, I was a Big Kahuna. Here’s the story of my 2011 Hood to Coast experience. Grab your soda and popcorn, you’re going to be here a while.
Early Wednesday morning, I picked up Coach and we headed to the airport – we had separate flights but virtually identical timelines. If all went well, we’d be arriving in Portland within 20 minutes of each other. All went well, Coach and I arrived in Portland at nearly the same time, and we shot over to Alamo to grab our rental van. Coach asked the guy at the counter if we could get a van with a luggage rack on top – this was a necessary component in order to secure the Big Kahuna totem pole on top of the van. A girl at the counter interrupted, piping in to say, “Nope. No luggage racks. None of our vans have luggage racks.”
So the first snag of the trip was upon us, but what choice did we have? Coach and I walked outside to acquire our luggage-rackless van. But as we stepped on the lot, the first van we spotted did indeed have a luggage rack, as did the other van on the lot, as did 2 more that were pulling out. Every Alamo rental van within sight had a luggage rack. How very shocking in this day and age to find a cocksure person in America that is blatantly wrong. We grabbed our van, complete with luggage rack, and headed out.
After a quick lunch at Uncle Vinny’s (not to be confused with your cousin Vinny) and a trip to Fred Meyer (grocery store chain) for a wine run (Coach likes his wine nearly as much as he likes to run), we were back at the airport to pick up Dustin, aka D-Train, and Jessa, aka Mustang.
Now’s as good a time as any to explain nicknames. Coach assigns each Big Kahuna a nickname, not unlike this scene from Reservoir Dogs. He dubbed me Tracker. Over the course of the week I heard various explanations, but my favorites were “…because you ran track at Carolina and you track people and run them down”. Some of the other Kahuna nicknames – Ice (Kathy Rink, because she’s from Detroit, a hockey hotbed. Get it? Ice Rink.), Sandman, G-Dog, Howatzer (sic, as this gentleman’s last name is Howat), Black Jack (I was expecting Jack to be a black guy, but he wasn’t – apparently this has to do with hair color), Shazam, Ghost (Mike Moran – for multiple reasons but his nickname is the best of the bunch, visually), Money, Hammer, Elektra, Braveheart, Big D (never understood this one – this was a small girl named Laree?), Cajun, Maverick, Colonel (former Army Ranger), etc. By week’s end, I knew most of the other runners only by these aliases.
But I digress. Back to Wednesday. Coach and I picked up D-train and Mustang and then headed over to a little sushi joint to have dinner with Money who is a full-time Portland resident. After dinner, we ran Money home where we picked up a few supplies for the race – all part of Coach and Sandman’s master plan – these 2 guys run the logistics of this thing with military precision, which is exactly what you need in a race like this.
After dinner, we drove to Seaside, Oregon, the coast in Hood to Coast, where our coastal rental house resided. The idea is to stay near the finish line, and more importantly, near the post-race party. We could see the massive scramble going on to erect the finish-area tent city by Saturday.
|The temporary home of the Big Kahunas.|
Coach, D-train, Mustang and I went on a little shake-out run. Coach informed us that several Big Kahunas always went on a ceremonial run the first full day in Seaside. He suggested we take things easy and “not crack an 8″. I kept my mouth shut when we ran the third mile of 5.5 in 7:51.
Coach was busy all day fielding calls from folks as they landed in Portland. He directed traffic, navigating people through a minefield of logistics as flights were late, cancelled, etc. He adeptly guided everybody to join recently-landed teammates to ride together in one of our rental vans.
But he still found time to join several of us for lunch. We shot over to the beautiful Cannon beach where we ate at Mo’s (no, not the taco joint). We ate outside so we could bask in the beauty of the Oregon coast. I snapped this photo of Haystack Rock from the deck:
|Surreal postcard-esque beauty as seen from the deck of Mo's.|
Later that night, back at the house, a fear of mine became reality. What is it about me that attracts snorers? Asheville, Peachtree, now Hood to Coast – every time I share a room for a race, I find myself kept awake by snoring. We had 4 guys in our room, one of whom started snoring the second the lights went out. I’m a light sleeper – it’s virtually impossible for me to sleep when someone’s snoring. And somebody in this room sounded like they were trying to start a lawn mower every 2 seconds or so. Eventually there was a lull in the cutting of the z’s and I drifted off, only to be awakened again shortly when the snoring resumed. I think I might have slept 2 hours, and that’s a generous estimate.
The competitive team had our vans loaded up and headed towards Mt. Hood by 5:30 a.m. Although sleep deprived, I was amped and ready to race, even though it would be hours before I would run.
As we neared the mountain, we, along with what seemed like every other team in the race, stopped in a Safeway parking lot and started decorating our vans. It was here that the smack talking began. I heard Coach yell “Big Kahunas are here! Prepare to become road kill!”, or something akin to this, several times. I snapped this pic:
|Hammer (you may know him as Mark, the manager of the Dilworth Charlotte Running Company) lashes down the Big Kahuna totem pole.|
On the drive up, the race became real for me when I caught breathtaking glimpses of Mt. Hood beyond the treeline. And once we got within a few miles of the mountain, we started seeing runners streaming down the road. I was a little taken aback by how many folks were already walking, on leg 1! Many folks that ‘run’ Hood to Coast are not actually runners – they muddle through the running bit so they can participate in the post-race party.
By the time we pulled into the parking lot at the base of Mt. Hood, I was downright wired and oh-so-very-anxious to run. How I envied Sandman, our first runner. Hundreds of vans were parking as thousands of people milled about. This is one of the big differences between Hood to Coast and Blue Ridge – the Blue Ridge Relay starts in a little parking lot with only a handful of teams at a time. Hood to Coast begins with a huge festival atmosphere, with hundreds of people on site. This event was no longer some abstract thing, it was now real, alive, and the excitement, palpable, ran through the parking lot.
Ubiquitous vendors handed out free stuff galore. Jordan will be glad to hear that Nuun was on hand to give out out free samples (I drank like 4 shots worth as I felt dehydrated). I ate a few delicious Clif bar samples and snagged some free shoe laces. I soaked up the experience and took this photo of Mt. Hood, looming above us:
|The view of Mt. Hood from the parking lot at the start.|
|Big Kahunas "Spring Break" team ready to rock and roll.|
At the first exchange zone, Sandman handed the baton ( a flexible plastic strip that doubles as a bracelet) to Gasman (David, a gastroenterologist lest you were wondering about the nickname) who took off as we continued to cheer loudly.
We shot ahead to exchange #6 (another Safeway parking lot) where our van’s first runner, Ice (aka Kathy Rink) would be getting the baton. This was the first spot where teams would have both their vans in the same lot and it was a complete madhouse. God how I pitied the random local who showed up to buy some milk and was confronted with thousands of runners jammed into one spot.
We still had a few hours to kill so we grabbed groceries and other supplies and then we loitered around in the parking lot. Ice, Howatzer, and I found a nice shady spot and plopped down. We chatted with a pleasant older couple who turned out to be Swedish runners sponsored by Nike. We found it humorous that they bad-mouthed Nike for giving them crappy shoes and watches. Gift horse! Mouth! Don’t look!
I got more and more anxious as my time to run grew near. I was also frustrated as the temperature soared – wasn’t it supposed to be cool in Oregon? I found out later that this was one of the hottest days of the year. By noon, it was in the 80′s and climbing.
As the time neared when our runner, Braveheart (aka Art), should be approaching, we lined up on the street to cheer him in. Watching runners coming in, I cheered furiously when I spotted Bart Yasso. He only runs a few select races a year these days since he’s had to battle Lime Disease. If I wasn’t already motivated enough, I became even more inspired at the site of Bart sprinting it in. I screamed “Go Bart!” when Howatzer turned to me and asked, “You know that guy?”
“Yeah, man. That’s Bart Yasso.”
“Oh. I did his workout last week. Go Bart!”
Moments later, Braveheart came through and handed off to Ice. Now our race began in earnest – van 2 had begun. From this point on, the race became a flurry of activity as we rushed to beat our runner to the next exchange zone. This may sound easy but it can actually prove to be quite difficult, especially after the Hood to Coast powers that be decided to add some 250 teams to an already huge 1000 team field. Nearly every exchange zone featured traffic jams of vans backed up. We would pull into line, let our next runner out of the van with another to carry the stopwatch and clipboard (used to record the official split times and to keep track of our overall time) and they would run to the exchange zone while the van was stuck in line.
The faster the team, the more problematic this proved to be. The Nike/Bowerman team had several occasions where their runner beat their van to the exchange zone. On at least 1 occasion, when the Nike runner arrived at the exchange zone only to discover that the person he was to exchange to was not there yet, he continued on and ran the next leg in addition to his. This proved to be quite costly as the price for running out of order is a one hour penalty. Ouch – this cost Nike the win as the Knoxville Track Club (many of you will remember the ultra team that won Blue Ridge last year was comprised of Knoxville Track Club members) eventually won, thanks to the penalties.
Leg 10 “Moderate”
I’ll spare you the stream of consciousness minutiae of the entire race and fast forward to my first leg, leg 10. Hammer, the fastest runner on the team, would be handing off to me. We really had to hoof it in the van to stay ahead of him, but luckily he was running a 7 mile leg. It was nearly 3:30 in the afternoon and I was so wired by this point that my heart was beating like a hummingbird’s. As we neared the exchange zone, Howatzer, with the clipboard, and I hopped out of the van and jogged over.
As I would be running leg 10, 5 miles completely on the Springwater trail, I expected to be under shade for the majority of the run. By this time, the temperature had skyrocketed into the 90′s, one of the hottest days of the year. I threw on my visor in case I hit some sunny stretches. I nervously ran a couple of strides as I waited for Hammer.
I didn’t have to wait long. Weaving in and out of slower runners, Hammer came blazing up to the exchange zone and I took off to try and come close to matching his speed – a reflex from the old track days. Coach had been emphasizing the hand off. “This is a race. We won’t be doing blind 4 x 100 exchanges but we will be doing 4 x 800 controlled hand offs.” Hammer and I had a relatively smooth exchange and finally, I was racing.
As shocking as this may be to most of the regular followers of this blog, I went out fast, very fast, faster than I have in any race in a long, long time. A tenth of a mile in, I looked down at my Garmin and the pace read 4:42. Oops. “Dude! Slow the @#$! down! What is your problem?!?” I screamed inwardly at myself. I throttled back but I was well past a quarter mile before I slowed to over 6-minute per mile. By then, the damage was already done and the lactic acid timebomb had been tripped. The countdown to crash and burn had begun.
I hit the first mile in 6:15 and knew that with this heat and distance (not to mention the fact that I still had 2 more legs to run) I was still running too fast. I tried to settle into about 6:30 pace, but I was already beginning to struggle.
There are so many ‘slow’ (slower) people in this race that an illusion of speed gets created. Throughout the entire race, I felt like I was running much faster than I actually was. I blew past so many people that I thought I must be running 6:30′s or faster, but every time I checked my watch, the pace was significantly slower than it felt. Mile 2, 6:45. Mile 3, 6:58. “For chrissakes Allen, keep it under 7′s!” No such luck – I had a reservation on the pain train and the wheels were already falling off.
The stifling heat didn’t help. And so much for shade – there was virtually none to be found on the trail. To hell with tangents – when I saw even the smallest section of shade, I made a beeline for it, no matter if it was on the opposite side of the pathway – it was at least 10 degrees cooler in the shade and it felt heavenly to run through it.
The only thing that saved me was that I was completely accustomed to this. Most of my training runs over the last couple of months had taken place on the University trails – in the late afternoons, on black-top asphalt, in 90+ degree temps. I was trained for this – this was what I did daily. If there was some Portland Allen out here – some guy with my exact ability who had put in the same training mileage as me but in the usually cool temps of the northwest – I would drop him in this heat (unless, of course, he was smarter than me and hadn’t taken off like a bat out of hell).
My last 2 miles were 7:04 and 7:18 respectively. I came in about 2 minutes slower than my predicted time. Which was actually fortunate for my van mates who had just arrived when I rolled in. Had I run my predicted time, I would have gotten there and had to wait for our next runner to make it to the exchange zone. Maybe I subconsciously deduced this and therefore slowed down. Yeah, that’s what happened (sarcasm, yeah, that’ll work).
I don’t think I’ve ever been so grateful to see someone as I was to see G-Dog. I handed off the baton and jumped back into the van. I had 36 road kills. I was road killed 3 times. I explained it in the van like this, “I beat everyone I should have beaten and lost to everyone I should have lost to. The 3 people that passed me, blazed past me – I couldn’t have beaten them on my best day. They were a couple of young bucks. Well, actually, a couple of young bucks and a doe.”
Leg 22 “Hard”
At a little after 11:00 that night, I started my second leg. Leg 22 was nearly a 7-miler with the first 2 miles straight uphill and the next 5ish down. I felt good on the climb and I had learned my lesson on the first leg so I started out oh-so-very-much-slower, keeping the pace reasonable for the elevation, averaging 7:45 (which seemed sooo much faster yet again as I was passing a bunch of folks). When I creasted the apex, I took off, or rather felt like I took off. I could have sworn I was running sub-6′s, but no such luck as mile 3 was 6:24, then I ran 6:48, 6:52, and 6:44 respectively. I was angered every time my watch beeped at the mile mark and I looked at it – I felt like I was sprinting! Here’s the Garmin elevation chart:
|Very similar to the Cooper River elevation profile. Why was I so much faster there?|
Leg 34 “Easy”
I basically felt done after my second leg as I knew my third leg would be my easiest. But in the words of the brilliant Christi Cranford, “They’re all hard if you run ‘em hard.”
My final leg was only 3.5 miles long. Barring complete disaster, I’d be finished running in less than half an hour. Despite the sleep deprivation, I felt rejuvenated as the sun was just peeking over the horizon. Let’s do this.
Hammer, just as he had in our previous 2 exchanges, came in blowing by other runners. I grabbed the baton as he screamed at me, “Go kid, go!” He insists on calling me kid even though I’m probably 15 years older than him, but it’s fine – I kinda like being called kid.
I took off, but under control. “Just like racing a 5k”, I told myself. There were very few runners left to pass at this point, but lots of walkers. A slew of people were participating in the “Portland to Coast” walk, the walking version of our same race. Again, I got a false sense of speed whenever I passed someone. 7-minute pace feels like 5-minute pace when you pass someone walking 20-minute miles.
Conditions were perfect. I felt like I was sprinting, but my first mile was only 6:39. The van passed me and Hammer leaned out of the window and screamed, “252 is right behind you and coming! Go kid, speed up!” 252 was the team number of the Bandidos, a team we’d been trading spots with since the beginning. We’d pass them, then they’d pass us, back and forth all day long.
I tried to speed up but my legs vehemently objected. 252′s girl zipped by. A few seconds later I passed a guy who said, “Come on, you can get her. Catch her.” I believed him – his little speech was very motivating. I don’t know if Knute Rockne or Vince Lombardi could have motivated me more. I sped up.
But the legs just weren’t there. The earlier 12 miles had taken their toll. I ran on auto-pilot. I got dropped faster than a fantasy football player on IR (I had to work in a fantasy football reference somewhere) and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do but watch her pull away. At least she was pretty. I handed the baton off to G-Dog and I was done.
We made our way to the final exchange zone where Howatzer would take the baton for the final leg. He’d be finishing on the beach. Things nearly got nasty when the volunteers here seemed just a little too Nazi-esque, continually asking the runners to stay off the pavement, even though there was no one around, with only a few vans parked here (we had finally outrun most teams and therefore beaten the congestion). I for one was a little cranky as I was going on 48 hours now with less than 3 hours of sleep and had to bite my tongue not to mouth off to the volunteers. After all, it was super nice of them to give up their Saturday morning to be here and help out, even if some of them did seem to be enjoying the petty power just a little too much.
G-Dog finished his leg, handing off to Howatzer. We hopped into the van and headed back to Seaside for the finish. We parked at our house and jogged down to the finish line to meet up with the rest of our team. There we chatted and swapped war stories from the race until someone spotted Howatzer on the boardwalk and the post-race MC announced, “Here comes the Big Kahunas!” We all cheered wildly. With our race now complete, we gathered for the following team photo:
|You would think the photographer would tell me that I was leaning off to the side, but no such luck. I'll show him by not buying a copy of the photo.|
While the Hood to Coast race is great, the post-race is epic. After getting the above photo made, we went back to the house and caught some much needed rest. I slept at least twice as long on this day as I had 2 nights earlier.
A little before 5 that afternoon, we made our way back to the beach for the awards ceremony. We had finished in 22:06, good for third place in the sub-masters. I was told that we only beat the fourth place team by 30 seconds – thank god for the 4 x 800 handoffs!
I enjoyed a few Widmer (brewed locally in Portland – I like to try the local beer when on vacation) beers, but not too many as they were $6 apiece. I was content to just sit around and soak up the afterglow of the race. And there were lots of sights to keep me entertained, like this team:
|This team had a picture of Yoda on their van with the caption, "Road kill you are". How very clever of them. I was digging Darth Vader enough to join the dark side.|
The next few days are a blur as a combination of sleep deprivation, race fatigue, alcohol, and probably early onset Alzheimer’s make everything run together in my mind.
Sunday, during the daytime hours after the race, those of us still around hit some of the other nearby beautiful beaches:
The heavy partying went down on Sunday night when what was left of the gang – a lot of folks had to fly back earlier – hit the Seaside bar scene. After an incredible dinner at the house where Coach grilled up some delicious steaks, we headed into town.
|The gang thoroughly enjoys Coach's delicious, grilled-to-order steaks.|
I wish I had some photos of the party to post here. Some incredible ones were taken. But I think they all must have been destroyed since quite a few were rather incriminating. You know, the kind that keep you from ever running for public office. An all-girl Portland to Coast team befriended me and applied some of their team’s temporary tattoos along various strategic spots on my body. I really wish I had a photo of this taking place. While I probably wouldn’t post such a picture here (some of my family might read this blog!) I would like the photo evidence of the event unfolding. Various Big Kahunas saw the tattoos the next day so at least there’s that.
By Monday, we were down to Coach, D-train, Maverick, and myself as everyone else was headed home. I was pretty much a zombie after the crazy night before. We wandered around Seaside for a bit, stopping to eat lunch at the Big Kahuna Pub and Grill – I mean we pretty much had to eat there before leaving, right? I asked our waitress, “Which came first, this place or Pulp Fiction?” She admitted that the movie came first but her boss swore that he didn’t know about the movie when he opened the joint. His sign says otherwise. But I will admit, it was one tasty burger.
|Which came first, Pulp Fiction or this restaurant?|
That evening we bought seafood and Coach and Shazam cooked up some spectacular shrimp scampi. At the age of 45, I finally learned to de-vein shrimp.
By Tuesday, the troops dwindled even more so that only Coach, Shazam, and myself were left. We drove to Holy Ground – Eugene, Oregon, the site of the University of Oregon and famed Heyward Field. Unfortunately, they were working on the track, site of next year’s US Olympic Trials, so we couldn’t actually run on it, but we were able to walk around and snap these photos:
|Statue of legendary track coach and co-founder of Nike, Bill Bowerman.|
This weekend I do the relay thing yet again, this time in the Blue Ridge Relay. I will see many of you there! Until then…