Tuesday, October 9, 2012

2012 Hood to Coast Relay

Cresting the second of three hills on Leg #6
Wow, I can't believe that it's already been six weeks since I took part in the 2012 Hood to Coast Relay on August 24-25 as a member of Random Acts of Running, one of the 1,068 teams of 12 people each in a race that started 6,500 feet up on Mt. Hood in Oregon and ran nearly 200 miles to the Pacific Ocean in Seaside, Oregon.  This race consisted of many ups and downs for me personally over two days, but it is definitely an experience I will never forget.

After a great time leading up to the race that included an amazing complimentary dinner at the Outback Steakhouse in Tualatin where the staff went all out to treat us as celebrities and my love affair with the chain just continued to grow, we packed up our vehicles and tried to get a good night's sleep for the adventure that awaited us.  Fortunately, we didn't have an early starting time, so we knew that we should be plenty rested heading into the two-day event.

As part of Van #1 for our team, we needed to finally load up and head to the starting line for our 2:45 p.m. start.  However, on the way, we stopped at the local Krispy Kreme store to pick up a dozen donuts and some chocolate milk that they had graciously agreed to donate to help fuel us on the trip.  If you know much about me, you know that I love my donuts and see them as a great reward for all the running that I do.  This proved to be a great treat and I'm thankful to Krispy Kreme for donating them to us and for all the love they gave us on Twitter during the race.  Interaction with brands is priceless and it's why I'm a big fan of several you see mentioned in this post.

Random Acts of Running posing in Krispy Kreme

A look at all the goodness we had to leave behind.  :)

Our elite runner, Peter Arbogast, fueling up with a glazed donut prior to his run. I later showed the group how to eat one in a single bit.  :)  Yep, it takes skill and years of practice.

With the donuts and chocolate milk secured, we continued the drive to Mt. Hood.  Pretty soon, we found ourselves on the actual course for the race - just going in the opposite direction.  As we passed the exchange zone for the end of Leg #6 (my leg), I began to get excited and started studying the course that I would be running in a few hours.  The rest of the group did, too.  We knew that we had some challenges ahead of us, but we were excited to get the adventure under way.  As we got closer and closer to the starting line, the views just kept getting better.

The view of Mt. Hood from the parking lot as we approached the starting line.

We spent a little time at the starting line getting ready for the race and just soaking in the energy of all the teams around us.  I even ran into a couple of Central Ohio friends there, Brandon Button and Molly Stout.  It's always great to see a familiar face, but especially 2,000 miles away from home.  Molly's team was actually starting the same time as our team and she was running the same leg as me, so I knew that we might see her a couple of times.

Peter, Brandon, and I

O - H - I - O at the start.  Me, Molly, Sarah (a Twitter friend on Molly's team), and Peter.

Just before it was time for our first runner to take off, our van of six runners took a moment to all go to the starting line together and capture a picture to commemorate the start of what would be a great journey together.

I'm not sure there's a more picturesque starting line anywhere

When 2:45 rolled around, we all cheered as Sarah Suever, our first runner, took off straight down the hill on Leg #1.  She cruised over those 5.64 miles at an 8:18 pace and the race was on!  Before I knew it, Ryan Halley, our captain, had knocked out Leg #2 at a 6:29 clip, Brett Milliken hammered out Leg #3 at a 6:20 pace, and Amanda Smithberger rocked Leg #4 at a 7:34 pace.  As we dropped Peter off to do Leg #5, the butterflies were really stirring big time in my stomach as I realized it was almost time for me to get to work.  I had been waiting nine months for this opportunity and it had finally arrived.

It had been 11 days since my previous run as I had battled shins and just rested the legs in hopes that I could somehow pull out the three legs I was assigned for the race. However, after a brief little jog on the top of Mt. Hood earlier in the day as we waited to start the race, I knew that I was in for a lot of soreness if my legs even allowed me to attempt these runs.

I arrived at the exchange point for Leg #6 and eagerly awaited the arrival of Peter, who had the unenviable assignment as the #5 runner - the toughest assignment in the race.  I bumped into Molly briefly at the exchange and we encouraged each other.  Then, I saw Peter cruising up the final hill towards me and I began to get geared up to go. He handed me the relay bracelet and I was off!

I cruised through the first mile in 6:38 with a max speed of 4:49 during the initial acceleration. I passed one person during this stretch and then set off after two others who were in the distance on an uphill. I eventually caught both of them before the third mile ended as I covered those miles in 6:53 and 7:20 to stand at 20:51 after the first three miles for a sub 7:00 pace.

Approaching the exchange zone

This was where my legs began to really fall apart as it was just a constant struggle to manage the pain of what I thought at the time was really bad shin splints with the lack of fitness that I had to run that pace with all my time off as I started to really suck wind.  However, I started thinking about all of my Daily Mile friends along with those following on Facebook and Twitter who were cheering me on. I also thought about my goal to not walk at any point in my next marathon and I just kept pushing myself to finish the leg and then worry about what was next.  In the back of my mind, I also was trying to stay as close to the time of my friend, Carrie Jarvis, who had run the same leg a few hours earlier, and I knew that if I slowed down too much that Molly, who is super fast, would catch and pass me.  So, I just kept going.

Peter coming back to help run me to the finish...in flip flops nonetheless

The leg ended up being more hilly than I anticipated, but I knocked out the next three miles in 7:39, 7:28, and 7:29 before closing the final .70 at a 7:31 pace with a 5:41 burst at the end. I was utterly spent by the time I handed off to Brad Petersen to go on to Leg #7, but I had finished my first assignment. It wasn't the 7:09 pace I had predicted months ago when healthy, but I just missed by seconds (7:16 pace) and I was pretty pleased. I had to be helped to the vehicle as my legs were total mush and shaking, but I had accomplished my first goal of completing at least one leg.

The face of total exhaustion and pain right after I finished

Once I got back in the van, I began to realize that the pain I was feeling was not something that was going to subside any time soon.  Not that day and probably not in even the week to come.  I knew it was bad and that was confirmed in the days ahead when I was diagnosed with a stress fracture in each leg to the point that the muscle was pulling away from the bone.

Fortunately, I had taken a boot with me since I had been having issues with my right leg and that had seemed to help take some of the pressure off.  By the time we stopped at Amanda's house for an amazing spaghetti supper that her husband, Luke, had so graciously prepared for us, I could barely stagger out of the vehicle.  Going up stairs to shower or use the restroom required crawling and I ended up just collapsing on the floor in a heap and staying there for what seemed like two hours, but was probably more like 45 minutes.  I knew that I was in for a very long night being cramped up in the vehicle and I was also feeling really bad about the fact that now my team was facing the challenge of figuring out what to do about my remaining two legs that needed run.

We met back up with Van #2 after they had pounded out Legs #7-12 in better than expected time and it was time for our group to do its thing again.  We switched the order around enough so that Ryan ended up with an 8.82-mile second run, while Peter did two runs in the second round as he absorbed my second run on top of his own to do 11.31 miles in a short span of time.  I do admit that I wallowed in self-pity (and a lot of pain) for awhile and really questioned why I was there.  I just shut down and went into a shell and didn't say much.  I'm a team guy and I really felt like I had let the team down.

However, the more I watched my team rally to the occasion, the more I began to feel better.  The entire group just continued to pick up the slack and didn't complain and I stood by and watched with amazement and appreciation for great teammates as there was nothing else I could do. Or so I thought.  I started to look for little ways to help.  I hobbled to the exchange points with the clipboard to jot down times.  I gave up my jacket to the waiting runner so they could stay warm until they needed to start their leg.  I tried to be an encouragement just as much as I possibly could.  And I kept just soaking in all the amazing sights around me.  So many people working so hard to do things that individually would be impossible but together were doable.  I learned a lot of life lessons over the next few hours.

There were plenty of challenges the rest of the way.  Due to congestion on the roads, what should have been a four-hour opportunity to sleep in an open field never materialized to much more than about 20 minutes.  The final 12 legs of the race it was a constant adventure to try to get the next runner to the exchange point before the previous runner arrived.  It often meant that the a runner would have to run an additional mile or so to be there in time.  It must have been a good warm-up because our van just kept busting out amazing mile after amazing mile.  Brett ran my leg and his leg over the final round to finish with 12.55 miles in the round and he was stoked to do it.  In fact, I'm not sure on a healthy day I could have done what he did.  Once again, just super impressed with my team.

Kade coming to the finish and you can see me in neon green under the arch

When our final six legs were done, we headed to Seaside and the finish line.  We made one stop for a well-deserved meal where I chowed on a plate of french toast.  Then, it was on to the beach to wait for the arrival of our other van.  When we finally saw Kade Chambless, our final runner, approaching with her trademark smile on her face, we all began screaming and cheering her own until she crossed the checkpoint.  Then, we lined up to cross the official finish line all together and get our official team photos taken and be presented with our medals.  Somehow, I hobbled boot and all through the sand across the line and grabbed my medal.  Wow, our team was amazing.  We were predicted to finish in just over 27 hours but had come in at 25:55:38 which was good enough for 97th place out of 1,068 teams.  Even better, we were 14th out of 360 teams in the mixed (6 guys and 6 girls) division.  Great job, Sarah, Ryan, Brett, Amanda, Peter, Brad, Becky Peach, Spencer Dries, Taylor Bailey, Claire Bailey, and Kade!

Here's five of the six members of Van #1 at the finish...the stranger who took the pic cut Ryan out of the shot. :(

Some other thank yous that I need to make sure to mention include my running friends who called me or texted me while I was on the trip and encouraged me even when I was down and hurting.  You guys are amazing!!  Thanks also to the MVNU athletic department for allowing me to take a rare couple of vacation days during the fall season to soak up this amazing experience that I haven't come close to describing in this post.  Seriously, I could write numerous posts about numerous sights, but let's suffice it to say that every runner should have this event on their bucket list.  You won't regret going.

I also need to thank several other brands in addition to Outback Steakhouse and Krispy Kreme who made this trip possible.  We received two of the latest sets of Knuckle Lights that were just available weeks before the race and they are amazing to use in the dark.  I highly recommend these over headlamps because you control the direction they shine AND they are much brighter.  In fact, I used them this morning at 5:45 a.m. on a foggy bike ride.

We also received a donation of the SC Johnson to get free XXL size Ziploc bags.  Let's just say that when you are traveling for more than a day in a vehicle filled with sweaty runners that being able to zip up your sweaty clothes and running shoes in an airtight bag really helps keep the vehicle smelling a lot fresher.  So, a big thank you for these!

We also enjoyed some chewy granola bars from the great folks at Quaker who sent us a very generous supply for the trip.  I can attest to the fact that I personally inhaled quite a few and it was great to have that as nourishment to keep us going towards are better-than-predicted performance.

One more thank you goes to Chipotle for donating a free burrito card to each of the 12 runners so that we could refuel after the race.  Thanks to Joe for making this happen and to the brand for always interacting with customers.

Hood to Coast shirt, bib, and medal

As you can tell, we had a blast, we ate well, and the team performed amazingly.  To me, that makes this trip a hands-down success.  I'm still in the process of recovering from the stress fractures that were already there before I went, but my hope is one day to return and successfully complete all three of my assigned legs.  I do know that I am a better person and runner from having gone on this trip!


Emily Nickles said...

Great job, and I really hope that you get the opportunity again next year, this time with HEALTHY legs!

MVNUSID said...

Thanks, Emily! I WILL go back at some point. :)