Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Hood to Coast 2010

After running the Hood to Coast, I decided to wait a few days to write about it. My logic behind this was that if I wrote everything down right away, I would have way too much information to process and the experience wouldn't have had a chance to fully settle in. The dangerous aspect of this approach, of course, is finding yourself over a week (or two months) removed from the race and slowly forgetting some of the details that made the experience so memorable. So I guess it's time to finally write about this one. Coincidentally, this happens to be my 100th blog post and I can't think of a better subject. Let's get this going.

Before The Race:

As probably anyone who has ever run Hood to Coast will tell you, one of the hardest parts about the race is the wait. It seems like you're always waiting. And while the end result is always worth the wait, it can be tough on your nerves knowing that something so physically strenuous is right ahead of you but having to wait to get to it. I usually tend to overthink things like crazy right before the race. It varies, but usually my thought process right before the race goes something like this: "Did I really train enough?" "Have I been eating right to make sure my body doesn't sabotage me during the race?"" Why did I think this was a good idea again?"...etc.

This year, I didn't feel nearly as stressed before the race as last year. Maybe this was due to actually feeling ready for the race this year and maybe it was because I really knew what I was getting into this time. It also really helped to not have as much downtime before the race. This year, my girlfriend and one of her best friends accompanied Brian and I up to Seattle on Wednesday and then drove down with us to Portland the next day to get ready for the race. Having the time with all of them in Seattle really took my mind off of the race. We took a nap under the Space Needle, took the duck tour through the city, ate amazing food and all decided that we could see ourselves living there. On Thursday, we explored the area of Fremont and Gasworks Park and then drove the three hours down to Portland. By the time I was able to collect my thoughts, it was Thursday night already and the race was less than 24 hours away. It was the perfect way to spend the time before the race.

Friday came before I knew it and all of a sudden, we were on the road to Mt. Hood and late for our start time. After finally negotiating traffic and an Andretti-like performance by my dad up the mountain roads (in a minivan, no less), we made it to the start line about 10 minutes early. After a scramble to pick up our baton for the race and about 2 team pictures in front of Mt. Hood, our first runner, Dylan (one of my best friends since second grade), stood at the start line with the seconds ticking down until our second Hood to Coast would begin.

Ask me now what I was thinking as the race was about to start and I don't think I could tell you. I don't think that there was really a thought process as I was standing there, just a rush of emotions. There was a certain element of nostalgia present. Part of me couldn't believe that I had been standing in the same place exactly a year ago. But mostly, I was feeling a rush of excitement and adrenaline that I was trying hard to subdue. Being the sixth runner meant that I was going to be the last one in our van to run. So while our race was starting at 3:15 on a Friday afternoon, mine wouldn't be starting until it was almost getting dark.

Run 1

Total Distance: 7.4 miles

Average Pace: 7:30

Runners Passed: 5

Runners Who Passed Me: 3

Net Roadkill: 2

Song That Was Stuck In My Head: Arcade Fire's "Modern Man"

After waiting for what seemed like forever and seeing everyone else take off and finish, the last runner before me, Dylan's dad, Perry, took off. Finally, I was on deck. So far, we were already beating the ambitious pace we had set out for and I didn't want to be the one to ruin it. At the same time, I didn't want to destroy myself on the first run like I had last year. Since this was my longest run, I decided to try and find a good pace and stick with it for as long as I possibly could.

After getting lost trying to find the next checkpoint, we finally showed up a few minutes before Perry did. As I waited in the gate, my thoughts were racing. I kept asking myself if I was really ready for this. By now it was too late, but I couldn't help wonder if I had doomed myself by not training enough. In the van everyone else had been talking about the work they had been putting in for Hood to Coast and it had dwarfed my efforts. Still, not it was too late to do anything but run. And it was time. Soon enough, Perry came around a bend in the road and the moment was finally upon me. I took the baton and started running.

To tell the truth, running the first leg was a little weird for me. I had been waiting so long that it felt like I had used up most of my adrenaline while I was cheering for everyone else. In a way, I think this was a good thing. It didn't sap me of my energy, just my nerves. So while I was running, I felt more relaxed than I had in a long time. I remembered my fatal error from last year (putting all my energy into my first run) and I tried to find a comfortable pace as quickly as I could and stay there. Usually, this takes me a while, but this time, I was able to find a groove pretty quickly.

The first two miles had some nasty hills but, surprisingly, I found myself cresting each hill with relative ease. I couldn't believe how good I was feeling. Were these the same legs that had struggled to get through the tiny hills by my house? Had someone switched legs with me over night without my knowing?

As good as the running felt, I was beginning to get a little discouraged. I had run nearly 2 miles and didn't have any roadkills to show for it. I was sure that by the 2 mile mark, I would be way past my roadkill total from last year. I didn't expect the course to look like the PB boardwalk, where there are seemingly 30 people to pass every quarter mile, but I had expected to see a couple people to pass. Finally, I saw victim number 1 about a quarter mile in front of me. After a few minutes, I was past them and my roadkill total was in the positives. But it seemed like as soon as I passed that person, someone else came racing past me.

After passing the next runner, I was sure that my roadkill count was going to be in the positives for good. No sooner had I thought this than another runner came flying by me. Well, she looked like a runner, only smaller. She was about 4'9" and at least 50 years old and her gait was somewhere between an old man who can barely walk going out to get the morning paper and someone on one of those Gazelle aerobic machines. I don't think I can call it running. It was more like speed-shuffling. But she was speed-shuffling at a ridiculous pace.

Finally, I reached the town that was to be the end of my run. I felt surprisingly energized, even though it had been nearly an hour since I started running. I quickened my pace, knowing that each bend in the road could bring the sight of the finish line. There was just one problem- this was the longest town ever. Every time I was "sure" that the end was near, I would come around a curve only to find another long straightaway and no finish line in sight.

At last, I crested the final hill and saw the finish waiting about half a mile away. It seemed like it took 20 minutes to get there but, finally, I powered through the finish line and handed off the baton. The first leg was finished.

Run 2

Total Distance: 4.15 miles

Average Pace: 7:50

Runners Passed: 4

Runners Who Passed Me: 2

Net Roadkill: 2

Song That Was Stuck In My Head: Usher's "Yeah" (...don't judge)

After our first legs of the run were complete, we drove to my cousin's house near downtown Portland to get some much needed rest. While I didn't get that much sleep, I had some pizza that may have been the best pizza I've ever had. If this pizza had come into my life at any other point, I don't know that I would have thought as much of it. But after eating nothing but Powerbars and Power-gel for a solid half day, that pizza was looking real good.

Soon enough, we were standing at the next checkpoint in downtown Portland and it was freezing. Dylan was first up and he looked way more ready than I felt. I think at this point the only thing anyone was really thinking about was how much sleep they could be getting at home right now. Still, we were all about as amped as could be expected after getting an hour of sleep and running on energy bars.

After Dylan took off, it felt like the countdown had finally begun again to my next run. Still, with 5 runners before me, I had to control my emotions. By the time we got to my handoff, it was 3 am and I pretty much felt like doing anything but running. Still, I mustered up what energy I could and got ready for the handoff.

And here's where things started to go wrong. As I was checking my vest to make sure everything was on right (my number, my safety pins, my lights, etc.), I realized that my front light had fallen off. I found it beeping in the grass by my feet but couldn't find the magnetic back. I had no idea what to do. I scrambled around in the grass but it was no use. It was gone. I had no idea what to do and I could see Perry coming around the bend. If I was caught without a light, my whole team could be disqualified. I had to think of something. So with one had clutching the light to my chest, I took the baton with the other and started running.

Before the race, I had asked my dad (who had run the same legs last year) which leg he thought was the hardest. I figured he would say the first, if only because it was so much longer than the others. But he didn't take long to say that the second leg had been the one he had struggled the most with. I didn't really believe him until I got about halfway through the second leg.

Let me set the scene for you. The second leg goes gradually uphill through a little more than 4 miles of country road. During the day, I'm sure the scenery is beautiful, but at night, there's nothing to see, not even lights. Every once in a while, you can see the light of a house far off in the distance, but it's rare that the lights come close to the road. For the majority of the run, you're running next to huge empty fields and listening to the overwhelming silence of night pierced every once in a while by the sound of crickets and maybe a bird or two. With no runners around me, there were times when I was pretty worried about some creeper jumping out of the bushes to snatch me. I don't think I've ever been happier to hear the sound of someone running up from behind me if for no reason other than it meant I was still on the right road.

To make matters worse, the reflective vest I was wearing was being a jerk. Somehow, I had ended up with a vest that seemed to be made for a 450 pound man and it was being whipped by a cold wind that seemed to always be blowing at me diagonally. At this angle, it was coming under the vest and pulling it off to the side and I would have to adjust it every few seconds. The end result was that for about half of the run, I had to run with one hand over my chest holding the light in place and another hand trying to keep the vest from flapping around. It looked ridiculous. I didn't look like I was running as much as imitating a T Rex with it's arms tied around its torso.

As I neared the end of the run, I finally saw a halo of light in the distance. Surely this was the handoff and I decided to pick up the pace. Right as I did this, I felt a sharp pain on the outside of my right knee. Not good. I've had this before and it once kept me from running for 2 weeks. This was not what I needed with a long third leg ahead of me. So while I was happy to be done with the run, the grim reality was that I was going to have to get through the third leg with a bad knee. And as the knee felt right then, I wasn't sure if I could. Uh oh.

Run 3

Total Distance: 5.35 miles

Average Pace: 7:00

Runners Passed: 15

Runners Who Passed Me: 3

Net Roadkill: 12

Song That Was Stuck In My Head: Arcade Fire's "No Cars Go"

After the second leg of Hood to Coast, I was in bad shape. My knee felt like if I took another step, it was going to explode. Luckily, I had a few teammates who had a lot more experience with running pains than I did. Perry recommended I take ibuprofin, and while I wasn't sure that it would do much, I figured it couldn't hurt. Soon enough, everyone had finished their runs but me and it was time to get back to it.

I stood at the last handoff feeling about as good as I possibly could but really worried about my knee. It had been feeling better since I had taken the ibuprofin, but it still felt a little unsteady. I wouldn't know until I was on the road.

About a quarter mile into into the run, I realized that everything was going to be alright. Without a doubt, it was the best feeling I had the entire race. My knees felt as good as I can ever remember them feeling. It was amazing. Thank you, Ibuprofin!

Now, there was only one thing on my mind. I wanted to finally get some roadkills under my belt. Last year, I think I finished with a grand total of 6 and I was on pace for a similar total this year. I wasn't about to let that happen. My first was waiting about 300 yards ahead of me. There was only one problem: she was fast. After about 10 minutes, I had finally pulled even with her, but she wasn't going down without a fight. Finally, I nudged past her and saw nothing but open road ahead of me. Great, this roadkill thing wasn't looking so hot. To make things worse, about 2 seconds after I passed the girl, two elite runners passed me like they had jetpacks attached to their backs.

As I running up the last gradual hill before a long downhill, I was beginning to get discouraged. Everyone else had been coming back to the van with roadkill totals in the double digits and it appeared I wouldn't even be able to get five in one run. Then, I saw him. He was a guy about my age with long shaggy hair and he wasn't running as much as he was skipping. I don't know what it was, but something inside me went off. It was probably like the feeling a hungry lion would get if he saw a gazelle stuck in a pit full of honey barbecue glaze. I knew that nothing was going to stop me from getting this roadkill.

As I came up behind him, the guy went into a bit of a panic mode. He wasn't about to let me pass him. We started down the hill and his skipping became frenzied. Unfortunately for him, by the time he heard me coming it was already too late. I passed him and sprinted down the hill.

As I got farther down the hill, I saw two people running together. Voom! Roadkill! Soon enough, I saw two more people running together. Voom! I added two more to the total. This is what I had imagined my cousin Phil's (who routinely came up with returns of 20+ roadkills) runs to be like. Just one victim after another. Running had never felt this good before.

By the time I got close to the finish, I felt better than I had before I had taken my first step of the race. It was incredible. This is what I had imagined finishing would be like last year. As we all know, last year's finish was absolutely disastrous, but this year, I was rocking it.

I saw the handoff ahead and ran as fast as I possibly could, passing roadkill #15 on the way in. I crossed the finish line. I handed off the baton. And just like that, the Hood to Coast was over for me.

Final Thoughts

Looking back on the Hood to Coast, I learned that you can train as much as you want, but you never really know what is going to happen out there. So many thing went wrong for me on the road but, more importantly, so many more things went right. Time for a little tidbit called- "Things I Didn't Expect That Did Happen."

Things I Didn't Expect That Did Happen

1. The iPod was never missed: This is definitely #1 on the list of things I did not see coming. With the exception of my runs with Cesar and the one time I ran two miles before realizing I had forgotten my iPod, I had failed to run once without my iPod before the race. I thought this was going to suck. It didn't. The only time I think it really would have helped would have been on my night run.

2. I enjoyed my last run more than any of the others: Total surprise. I expected to be gassed by the time my second run was over and to survive the third run by sheer will. While I wasn't feeling great after the second run, I was able to pull it together and have a great third run in which I averaged a better time than both of my other runs. Thank you, Ibuprofin!

3. I would run at sub 7:30 pace for the whole race: Before the race, one of the guys in our van, Dave, asked what I was hoping to average for the race. I told him 7:30, but in my head I was thinking, "yeah, if I hitch a ride along the way." With the help of a ridiculously quick (by my standards) final run, I averaged a 7:26 mile for the whole race.

4. Chafing: 'Nuff said.

5. I would enjoy this year more than last year: Last year being my inaugural year, I was caught up in a tornado of emotions. I was trying to take everything about the race all in at once and I felt like I missed a lot. This year, I knew more of what to expect. I knew that I needed to train more. I knew that the Hood to Coast is something that everyone appreciates differently. And I knew that I was going to have a blast.

Thank you, Hood to Coast.

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