Race Recap: The Bubble of the Hood to Coast Relay

We waited at a restaurant in Sandy, Oregon for Enterprise to deliver the correct-sized Van 2 because the initial van had a broken mirror, and the replacement was not ready. When it did arrive, it was not big enough, so we waited for another as we waited for our food. We waited,
and waited…

Service was slow at the Trattoria Sapori. Tony, our charming waiter, was proving that charm and humor can only take you so far when you’re serving a pre-race dinner to twelve runners and two van drivers the night before a 198 mile relay.

In the grand scheme of things, these were two minor bumps in the road on the way to Seaside from Mount Hood. The good news was that Jackie from Enterprise showed up donning sunglasses in the dark, and delivered a sweet van. Plus, the food finally made its way to our tables, albeit served in a manner described by Tony as a “Staggeration”method. This meant two dishes at a time over a twenty minute period. Not ideal, but we were still fresh with enthusiasm ahead of our upcoming adventure.  We adjusted. Isn’t this what runners do?  We adjust and move forward.

Our Team consisted of runners from Colorado and Pennsylvania, so we became the CoPa
Bananas, mostly because we are “crazy runners,” but also a tip of the cap to the Philadelphia restaurant(s).

Race Morning involved a 40 minute drive to the base of Mount Hood where it was a cloudy, breezy 54 degrees. Mount Hood is a majestic peak, but because of an unusually warm summer, had no snow covering it at all.

We had time to decorate our vans, take team photos and buy race souvenirs before Runner 1 (Walter) lined up for our start time of 9:15am.  Before Hood to Coast, I had never met Walter. I only knew he was the oldest runner on our team.

By the time we would made it to Seaside 28 hours later, I knew Walter was a retired professor, a wine expert, a strong coffee fiend, and a closet potato chips lover.  His ancestors were almond farmers. When he was 22, Walter had half of a lung removed because of an illness caused by the Donora Smog in the Pittsburgh-area back in 1948.  So, he is a survivor, and a tough, compact runner, no more than 5′4″. Walter insisted on being Runner 1. He brought quiet civility to our van.

After the start, our team separated into two worlds: Van 1 and Van 2.  Van 1 would soon learn the logistics of Exchange Zones and changing weather conditions. Van 2 was still four to five hours from sending a runner onto the course.  I was in Van 1, but Runner 5, so I had time before getting my “Hood to Coast legs.” However, as Walter passed the bracelet to Greg (Runner 2) at 10:02am, the remaining runners in the van started to get into race mode. It was on.

Greg had a super-fast leg, partially from adrenaline, and partially from some serious downhill.  He, like myself, is a fan of pop culture, 80s music, and movie quotes. In such situations of finishing strong or if our van was driving and had to abruptly stop, Greg would quote “I”m coming in hot!” His humor and movie-quoting ability came in handy during down time and
edgy moments.

Runner 3 was Jeff aka Jefe. Jeff, besides my wife, was the only teammate I really knew well heading into the race. I have known him for fifteen years, and paced him to his first marathon finish back in 2008.  He and I share a similar balance of quiet seriousness and silliness. Jeff is a true gentleman.  He had been recovering from a calf injury, but his legs held up nicely as he handed off to his significant other, Katy (Runner 4).

Katy is relatively new to road running. However, soccer was always her sport, so she knows all about competition, running and endurance. She doesn’t love running, but she’s learning to like it.

She would hand off the HTC bracelet to me. When you’re in a relay, you develop a bond with your teammates, but you particularly develop a bond with your exchange partner.  The moment
your teammate passes off to you is so brief, but it is a lasting bond. In the past, I have written about this kind of phenomenon that occurs in running: The temporary yet lasting bonds it creates.

The Exchange is that brief moment you’re able to cheer on your teammate coming in, say something quick like “Great job!” and they, in turn, send you on your way with encouragement of their own. “Go get it!” or as one super-competitive team kept saying along the way: “FUCKING CRUSH IT!!!!” We found this entertaining.

I was Runner 5. When runners from other teams would find out I was Runner 5, the response was usually “You got the shaft” or “Oh no, you have the toughest parts of the race.” To make things more fun, the sun finally came out just before my leg was about to start, so the temperature was now just under 80 degrees.

Adrenaline carried me through my first three miles pretty fast (this leg was 6.05 miles and labelled “Very Hard”).  I started to labor during miles 4 and 5, and the last mile was completely uphill, so my pace suffered here a bit. However, I managed 18 Kills, which is what it is called when you pass a runner at Hood to Coast: A Kill. You either Kill or become Roadkill.

At the top of the hill, Runner 6 was waiting for me. Runner 6 was my wife, Jill. Seeing her was a sight for sore eyes and tired legs. What I didn’t realize was that parking at this exchange area was a challenge, and Jill had to walk/run nearly a half mile to make it to meet me in time.

Jill would take us back into Sandy, Oregon again, where we would meet up with Van 2 for the
first Van 1 to Van 2 exchange. This occurred just before 2pm when Jill handed off to Tim (Runner 7). Seeing members of Van 2 was a morale boost. We were reminded that we were a team of twelve runners, not just six.  Van 2 was having its own experiences and stories to tell, and we
wouldn’t really be able to fully hear or share these stories for another 24 hours.

Total mileage for Van 1 through the 1st Leg: 35.34 Miles – We were back in Sandy, Oregon, and we had about 4.5 hours of downtime before meeting up with Van 2 again in Portland.

We were hungry and sweaty, so we stopped at a Subway in Gresham where we ate in a church parking lot. Fortunately, our driver and wife of Runner 2, Sarah, had a friend in Portland that offered up her place for us to shower and recover before gearing up again.

Speaking of Our Driver…

The unsung hero / MVP of our van was SarahShe did ALL the driving along the 198 mile course. She had to deal with six personalities and parking challenges at just about every exchange zone, not to mention her own fatigue.  Sarah was able to remain even-keeled throughout the race. This kept the rest of us calm and focused.

2nd Leg

At 6:37pm, Paul (Runner 12) handed off to Walter, and our van resumed running in Portland. This is when we transitioned from daytime to night time running. We each wore reflective vests, headlamps and two additional lights to see and be seen.

When it got dark, the weather began to change. It rained on and off, but all in all, our van was spared the truly awful downpours yet to be experienced by Van 2. Actually, just before Jill handed off to Tim for the second time, it started to lightning and thunder, and at roughly 11:29pm, our van was finished with the 2nd Leg.

The rain became more steady as we drove an incredibly dark road with constant curves to Exchange 24 in Mist, Oregon. We decided this would be a good place to attempt to sleep before our 3rd Leg was estimated to begin at 4:07am.  We arrived in Mist just before 1am.

Sleeping was difficult. It was stuffy in the van, so we opened the doors; however, it was noisy outside with runners talking and walking past on a regular basis. Also, the exhaust smell from the other vans was not the ideal air quality for sleeping. Furthermore, we were all slightly haunted by the fact that it started pouring overnight. Rain pounded the roof of the van. We worried about our runners in Van 2 and how awful it must have been to be running under such conditions in the dark.

Somehow, we managed anywhere from 40 minutes to two hours of sleep, and before we knew it, Walter was dressed and ready to run. He had some uncertainty about when Paul would be arriving since we hadn’t heard from Van 2 yet. We had limited to no cell service, and the two-way radios didn’t appear to be working. Walter didn’t want to spend more time outside waiting in the rain than was necessary, but at 4am, our van collectively (and coldly) sent him on his way.

We all felt guilty about this, so Greg decided to go wait with Walter at the exchange, and somehow my phone call to Van 2 went through…”Paul should be arriving between 4:20-4:30″ is what Shannon, our team captain told me. So, I went to meet up with Walter and Greg to let them know. Since Greg was next to run after Walter, he went back to the van to get ready and I waited with Walter. This is when Walter said “Is that Paul?” and sure enough, Paul was there…panicked because he initially didn’t see Walter, but the exchange was made at 4:14am.

3rd Leg / Finish

At daybreak, the rain began to ease as our team started progressing through our final legs; however, just before Katy handed off the bracelet to me, the winds kicked up. Fortunately, the rain wasn’t too bad, but the winds began gusting at an alarming strength.  As I made my way up a 3.5 mile ascent, tree limbs started falling, and runners had to be vigilant about debris on the road and above the road. My final two miles were downhill, and I knew these would be my final miles of Hood to Coast, so I tried to savor them. I took in the beauty of this wooded country road despite the weather. “I’m running in Oregon!” I thought to myself.

I barreled down the hill and saw Jill waiting for me again. I attempted humor by mocking the “FUCKING CRUSH IT” team by saying something in a similar tone, but more CoPA Banana-centric. So,  I went with “PEEL OUT!!” and I proceeded to miss her wrist with the bracelet. I sheepishly tried again, and off she went.

After we parked the van at Exchange 30 to meet Jill for the final time, the winds were even
stronger. A large tree fell near the parking lot. Fortunately, it fell away from the vans, but it made an eerie crackling sound and caused the earth to shake. Those of us who witnessed it fall gave a collective pause but we all moved on from there.

As Jill became visible, so was her enthusiasm. Wet leaves were blowing all around, but she was smiling from ear to ear and her arms were up in a celebratory motion. It was as if she had no idea what kind of weather she was running through. As soon as she handed off to Tim for the final time at 8:45am, it began to pour, and the wind somehow got worse. We started to wonder if Van 2 was cursed.

Now that we were “finished” until we needed to meet up with Van 2 to finish as a team in Seaside, we had one goal: Coffee.  So, we set off for Astoria to Three Cups Coffee House. When we arrived, we were all in a happy, exhausted fog, so the coffee and food was such a boost.  Our van thought of Van 2 and we hoped everything was safe for them and that they were somehow able to have a positive experience despite the weather. After coffee, we drove to Seaside to await their arrival.

In Seaside, it was clear that the race would not be finishing on the beach because of the weather. The wind and rain were just too much for such a location. The tents were abandoned / coming apart and some of the Porto Johns on the beach had been knocked over by the wind. The finish line had been changed a couple of times while we waited. It was a bit deflating, but we all understood that runner safety came first.  There was still a palpable enthusiasm on the Promenade as teams finished. Fortunately, the rain let up, but the winds only became more angry.

Sometime around 1:30pm, Paul ran down the Promenade, and we joined him to all finish together. The moment was surreal. We were all awake for over 30 hours, yet we were all smiling, relieved, weary.  We had made it:198 miles, 36 legs, and we were all safe.

After we finished, we got our team medals and took more photos before checking in to our rooms.

Van Life

Something strangely amazing occurs when you’re doing a relay and your home for 28 hours is a van: You become insulated from the outside world: No television, and very limited cell service. You become protected by the Hood to Coast Bubble. You’re unknowingly “in the moment” with your van-mates and running mates, and we all know how difficult it is to “be in the moment.”  To
me, being able to be in the moment is a rare and beautiful thing. It helps us feel alive vs. simply being alive.

When you’re in the bubble, you have no idea what is going on with current events or what day of the week it is, and it feels good. You’re in the Hood to Coast world, and more specific: You’re in the Van 1 or Van 2 bubble. You eat, travel, run, plan, laugh, joke, sleep, bond, bicker and take care of the less glamorous things in a tight space over a long time-period.  The bubble is intense yet safe. It is freeing.

Somehow, in this bubble, we managed to gel. A collective “I don’t want to let the team down” way of thinking evolved. I hadn’t felt this way since my track and cross country days. Now that
the van has long been returned to Enterprise, and most of us are back at work, we collectively miss being inside the “Bubble.”

Random Memorable Moments:

-The mountain coffee shop at Exchange 4

Leg 2 in the dark…quiet, peaceful yet an amazing experience to run from Scappoose High School to St. Helens High School

-Learning about Hawaiian onion chips and church coffee

-The vinyl record collection at Trattoria Sapori, and Tony, our waiter, referring to every customer as “Tony”

-The woman with the green hair at Plaid Pantry who made us our Subway sandwiches

-Passing our teammates on the road with the van and honking the horn / shaking the cowbell each time they ran

-Being stuck behind the team with the horse’s behind on it as we waited at a train crossing

-The great music pumped out of a speaker on the roof of Team Hoodzillas’s van

-The parade of blinking LED lights of the other runners moving in the dark

-Soup at the Columbia County Fairgrounds just before midnight

-A chocolate chip cookie at 5am

-“I have a hard boiled egg in my purse.”

-The music…a 6hr11min playlist, which of course included Copacabana by Barry Manilow. Some members of Van 2 did not like this song.

-Shopping for food supplies at Safeway in Sandy, OR

-”I like chips.”

-The amazing volunteers: 3,600 of them enduring the same weather as the runners

-The natural beauty of Oregon


Team pace: 8:32/mile over 198 miles

Start Time: 9:15 am on 8/28

Finish Time: 1:32pm on 8/29

Van 1 Kills: 198

Team CoPa Bananas: 258th out of 1,050 teams (Top 25%).


At the start



Our home



Gassed from a long hill. Oh, hi to Runner 6



Van 1 – Portland



“Normal” for Hood to Coast



The Bananas…



At the Copa



The wind…Seaside, Oregon