So what did I do for my birthday? Well, I stayed up for something like 32 hours and almost witnessed two altercations on a red-eye flight into O'Hare, then drove 3+ hours through construction season in Wisconsin to pick up 3 kids so we could bring them home and panic-pack their school supplies because we missed the Open House. Fun, right?
Fantastic husband and I just got back from running the Hood to Coast relay in Oregon. It is the "Mother of All Relays" and basically spawned the Ragnar phenomenon.
Here's a shitty PDF of the course. You're welcome
There was a documentary made about it in 2011 (it's called Hood to Coast, which is an extremely creative title) and since I watched it on Prime I spent at least a little time geeking out about various people and places on the course (Heart and Sole, Dead Jocks in a Box, Leg 1).
My team was made up of people from my online running group. It's called the Sub-30 Club, and it's the brainchild of Ted Spiker who wrote a blog for Runner's World entitled "The Big Guy Blog". His goal was a sub-30 minute 5K, and since that was my goal for a long time I joined the group. I got my sub-30 last fall, but I stay in the group because the people are weird and fun. I like weird and fun. We were team Neon Banana Hammock. Neon because the team captain Lonnie St. John has an unnatural fixation on brightly colored running clothes. On the plus side, he's easy to spot. Banana Hammock, because that shit is funny.
Bananas are inherently funny. It's a fact. It's a fruit fact.
So basically I did another long distance relay with a bunch of random strangers that live in my phone. And fantastic husband. Who I believe qualifies as stranger than most, so there's that. I'm starting to get used to this whole "strangers" thing. If you've known me a while you know that strangers scare me. I hate parties, small talk does not come easily to me, and I say a lot of dumb shit. Maybe it's the commonality of running that makes it easier. This time I'm going to see all these people again in 6 weeks. I hope that when I see them next they won't have gone over from "That chick is kind of funny in a profane way" to "That chick is really fucking irritating and I wish she would shut up. Also she stole my drink. Whore."
We arrived on Wednesday via Break your Spirit airlines. I popped for the Big Seats, and the flight was fine. We took a cab to the Airport HoJo where I paid a whopping $38 for what amounted to a room that was built around a queen sized bed (thanks Orbitz!). I'm pretty sure this place was built in the 70s, and I'm really glad we couldn't see the neighborhood when we arrived. Thursday morning we picked up a rental car and waited for the lovely Michelle to arrive. She'd had a couple free drinks on the plane and I could tell she was going to be a hoot.
So this was afterwards and she may have been
2 jars of moonshine in. Still soooo pritty.
We followed the incorrect directions out to Camp Neon, and were saved by Google Maps. When we got there we found a refrigerator full of booze and got to work. Priorties, man. Booze is legit carb loading. The rest of the team started filtering in and we made introductions which is easier with booze. Everyone seemed pretty non-violent. We grilled steaks for dinner on the new grill Lonnie bought (and Jim and fantastic husband disassembled and reassembled so he could get it home from the Depot) and ate and chatted. We also got a bag of awesome swag courtesy of Team Neon (Lonnie and his fantastic wife Roni...I'm so happy that we aren't the only ones with rhymey-wimey couple names).
Did that banana bandana (say that 3 times fast) brought to you by
Jennifer. Those are banana runts. They are disgusting.
Every relay race has at least 3 major problems in my experience. Often it's a team member dropping out at the last second. Sometimes it's equipment failure or an injury. This relay our major challenge was not having 15 passenger vans. We were in minivans for the duration, which made the luggage situation a panic point for people. Turned out we didn't need to worry, as everyone packed smart (WTG people, for real) and there was more cargo space in our little vans than anticipated. See above photo of me making out with an inflatable banana in the trunk. Truthfully, I prefer the minivan. So much easier to drive. If it hadn't rained it would've been perfect. More on that later. We all went to bed early, and I slept fitfully. I should've been exhausted as I worked on Tuesday night and only got a couple hours nap on Wednesday morning. But I wasn't apparently. Such is life.
We got up well before dawn to get breakfast and head up the mountain. Only Van 1 is allowed at the start, so Van 2 slept in. Here we are looking so happy to be awake.
Here we are, the people of Bavana1. Susan is so small she didn't have to duck for me to be seen.
Me, Susan, Lonnie, Cathy, Christine, and Sheri.
After filling our bellies we headed for Mt. Hood. We had an inflatable banana lashed to the van (you can see it in the photo if you focus). It bit the dust before we got out of Portland. Here's where we were going.
Shrouded in mist. Not intimidating at all. Nope. Not a bit.
I was Runner 1. That means I got to go screaming down the mountain for 5.6 miles. 2000ft elevation drop over that distance. I decided I was going to let gravity do it for me, which turned out to be a good strategy.
When we got to the start village it was a bit chilly and a bit windy. Some of the shoulders (or lack thereof) on the way up were concerning. I was able to poop before starting, which (as every runner knows) is a good omen. We started at 7:15am.
That's me in the orange shirt and super flattering horizontal striped pants.
The race started and I went hurtling down the mountain at a frightening rate of speed. I'm not going to pretend I worked for it, because I didn't. Gravity grabbed my 162 pound ass and dragged me down. All I had to do was stay on my feet. Mile 1 ticked by...7:32. Mile 2...7:58. Mile 3...8:05 (oh shit, that's a new 5K PR). When I ticked over 4 miles in 32 minutes I almost passed out. I walked a bit to fix my shirt which was bugging me, then continued running. When I hit the exchange my total time was 45:51. I had averaged 8:21 the whole way down. With 2 walk breaks.
That leg was beautiful. I was actually able to appreciate the scenery through my abject terror. There were mountain vistas, ancient pines, and motherfucking waterfalls, y'all. It was so scary, and yet exhilarating. Although I will say that if running fast feels like that? I'm not sure I want to. I felt like a runaway freight train.
I handed off to Sheri, who continued the free fall down the mountain. Then Cathy took the reigns (and didn't have to wear a safety vest...whew, just made the cut off). We waited for runner 3 to come in at a convenience store where Sheri purchased a quality box of Triscuits for $5.49. They might have been the most important crackers I've ever eaten.
Susan took over from Cathy, and in spite of not sleeping (thanks to staying at the Murdertown Inn) she ran strong and finished well...except for the fact that she almost walked right past us and down the course. We stuffed her in the van and viciously forced her to eat Triscuits and S-caps.
Lonnie went out for his leg next, and there wasn't really anywhere for us to support, so we just went straight to the (totally fucked up) rolling exchange 5. I may or may not have scraped the Bavana along the guardrail.
This exchange was a cluuusterfuck.
It wasn't my fault. The volunteer kept telling me to get farther to the right. So I did. Because I always follow directions. Lonnie handed us our next problem by falling on his run and bruising the shit out of his knees. One of which was already injured. We spent some time fretting in the van waiting and wondering where the hell either of our runners were, and then we saw highlighter man limping toward us...with blood running down his legs. Major downer.
The whole morning it was overcast and lightly raining, until Christine took over. Then the sun came out, the humidity climbed, and the asphalt started steaming. It's a good thing that woman is from Florida. We stopped partway through her leg to offer support and witnessed her stomping up a hill cursing violently under her breath. She finished like a champ, though, and we had officially made the first major exchange. Vanana2 took over and Bavana1 headed back to Camp Neon to offload trash and unneeded gear. Then we showered (aaaaahhhhhhhh....perfect) and reloaded for the trip downtown for some chow and to wait at the next major exchange.
I had a recovery beer. It was tasty.
Most of us ordered desert (I was too full of beer). Sheri had a monstrous piece of carrot cake that had to be boxed. We hatched a plan to convince her that we didn't box her cake but rather ate it while she was in the bathroom. Susan made a show of licking the plate and hiding the box, but Sheri was oblivious. Sad. Still a funny picture, though.
Cake? There was no cake.
Exchange 12 is under a bridge. It was a mob scene at first, then started to empty out. During our time off course it had begun to rain. The faster teams were catching us and passing, and we were falling off pace. Our start time was later than it probably should have been, and now we were over the line for finishing before time ran out. This was the beginning of our third problem. The resolution wouldn't come until the morning, but for the moment I was waiting for fantastic husband (runner 12) to hit the exchange.
When he did, I took off up the stairs to the bridge and was on my way.
Oh, also at exchange 12 I practically had an apoplexy when "Ironic" came on the radio. HTC is a headphones free race (or is supposed to be, don't get me started) and the thought of having that goddamn abomination swimming around in my brain for 4 miles through murdertown was too much to bear.
I woke up Susan. Sorry, Susan. Truly.
I so rarely get pictures where it appears I'm actually moving.
It was spitting rain when I set off and it was much warmer than I originally thought. Downtown Portland was beautiful all lit up, but it was offset by the astonishing number of homeless people camping out on the Esplanade. I've never seen encampments like these. Every bench was occupied, every bridge was set up with tarps and tents. Men, women, children, dogs...all congregated together under each of the 4 or 5 bridges I ran under. I was feeling my privilege pretty acutely by the time I left the riverside and entered murdertown. Murdertown was a 2 mile stretch of empty warehouses and construction sites. Hidden body central. It was creepy and I wasn't thrilled about it, but there were other runners and it was well lit so I can't complain too much. Near the exchange there was a van full of Aussies that passed me. One hung out the window and shouted "Hey, you look great! You don't even look scared!". Ummmm....thanks? I was pretty stoked to hand off, as it had started full on raining around mile 3 and I didn't feel like doing my third leg in wet shoes.
The next 2 runners had long legs and rain. I did not envy them. Poor Christine ran along country roads in the pitch black while a thunderstorm raged around her. Vanana2 was stuck at exchange 18, sleeping in the van to stay dry. Unless you pack a tent and rain fly, it's hard to sleep on a wet relay. Here's where a 15 passenger van comes in handy. 6 people can sleep inside a 15 passenger with minimal squishing. Not so much a minivan.
As a side note, I'm really surprised that the HTC people didn't issue a safety advisory or move runners off the course to the major exchanges to wait out the storm. There was no communication about what to do. I know we're all grown ass people, and we don't have to run in a storm if we don't want to, but it's nice to have the race director acknowledge the issue and give instruction about what to do if you skip a leg or leave the course.
Once we had all our runners we headed to the next exchange. The piss poor directions provided (and you can't GPS this part of the state-there's no signal half the time and the hills confuse the app) sent us down a "highway" that I'm sure is beautiful during the day when it's dry. It was harrowing in the extreme at night and in the rain...and fog. I became convinced we were driving to Narnia. At any moment a talking lion or a manticore or some shit was going to pop out of the woods. It was 3am, I was exhausted, and I was reaching the point where I just wanted to stop the car, walk into the woods, and sleep with the Children of the Forest.
When we finally got to the exchange several things happened:
-we were parked 100 miles from the tent city, the food, and the bathrooms
-there were exactly 5 portolets for our entire section
-Sheri said "fuck waiting in the line, I'm a trail runner" and dropped trou to pee next to the van (an impressive stream, I must say)
-I slept in the driver's seat with my sleeping bag wrapped legs hanging out the window
-We realized we were going to have to leapfrog to finish
-I had a near altercation with a concession stand person about the price of a bowl of coffee
You can't really tell here, but it was a double rainbow.
Once we formulated our leapfrogging plan (basically you drop multiple runners on the course at once and you run your legs simultaneously to save time or catch up) the stress of the night lifted. This rainbow was a perfect complement.
I went up to the exchange and introduced myself to the other team still standing there. Their runner identified herself and told me she was slow, but her team was going to have a PBR for her at the end of her leg. One of them asked if I would like one. Ummm...yes. So they promised me a beer when I made the exchange. Their runner set off and a few minutes later I was given the go ahead. It took me 3.2 miles to catch her, but I finished with that runner as we chanted "PBR! PBR! PBR!" while chugging up the final hill. Her team made a toilet paper finish tape for us, and handed me an icy cold beer. I hugged that total stranger (her name was Lindsey) and I don't hug.
Those Sparkle Ponies. They are quality people.
I stood around and drank my beer while I waited for my team to pick me up. I managed a 10 minute pace on that run, and I'm proud. It rained on me for 1.5 miles and I started puddle jumping for funsies. My shoes were soaked and I didn't care at all. The road surface was good, the scenery was beautiful, and the whole fucking world smelled like earth and pine. The whole race was worth it for that run, including the PBR.
So we played the drop and run game for the rest of the race. We enjoyed the scenery, thanked volunteers, offloaded banana runts, and chit chatted with the other back of the packers. We also became very familiar with a woman we'll call Grumpy McSourpuss who said at one point "Oh, team 406? I know all about you."
YOU DON'T KNOW ME! YOU DON'T KNOW MY LIFE!
Then when we emerged from the land of no telecommunications, we found out that the finish line had been moved and the finish party cancelled due to gale force winds.
I guess something like 50 boxes of merchandise blew away. All the tents and finish line festivities blew away. I was exposed to the wind for all of 10 minutes and I swear I had sand in my teeth. We went out to the finish area to wait for fantastic husband and the photo finish (less dramatic with a moved finish line). But we finished, we got our medals, and we posed for a cheesy group picture.
Look at all these fucking weirdos.
After the race we hustled back to Camp Neon for pizza and many drinks. And showers, because we were disgusting. But mostly drinks.
Apple pie moonshine. So much moonshine.
Amaretto from a measuring cup. Because it was clean.
We compared notes and laughed at injokes and stupid shit that happened along the route. We compared horror stories of difficult legs and rain and van sleeping and snakes (no, really) and hunger. We compared notes on Triscuits and wet shoes and awesome teams and douchecraftcarriers who selfied all their kills. We talked about what we liked and didn't like and life in general and running and drinking and kids and work and every other goddamn thing imaginable. When you spend 36 hours in close quarters with people you either love them or hate them when it's over. I made some pretty awesome friends this past weekend.
I also ate some awesome donuts.
VooDoo donuts. I would weigh a metric ton if we had one locally.
I'm so sad I didn't catch Roni who made us feel so at home.
Shari, Michelle, Lonnie, Cathy
Susan, Jim (who has the right to feel pretty), and fantastic husband.
Jennifer (yes, I'm feeling her up), me, Princeton Kate, and Dave.
Not pictured Sheri and Christine who had to go to the airport early.
We went to the airport at 10pm on Sunday for our red eye. We witnessed what appeared to be a domestic altercation in the terminal, I was crammed into a ridiculous seat with no armrest next to a drunk-and-benzo-tranquilized dumbass who never shut up, there was an old man with no volume control behind us, and the nice man who spent the whole flight getting bugged by Benzo Boy almost throttled him as we were making our final descent. Once we finally made it home I realized that all the water I drank on Sunday didn't keep me from getting the post-airplane puffies. My whole body is puffed up to crazy proportions and will be for the next day or two while my system normalizes after so many days pushing hard and then being crammed into a little seat (that's what she said).
Trotted out my ProCompression to help with the pitting edema.
I also washed every neon thing I own.
I know I left shit out, I always do. So many #TWSS jokes, references to bananas in suggestive context, every possible idiotic adolescent snort inducing joke about "hard legs" and "third legs". Since I was in Bavana1 this is Van 1 centric, but I know Vanana2 had their share of crazy shit go down. Maybe I'll convince fantastic husband to write his side of the story. He has a blog. I think.
This was an amazing experience. I have a lot of relays under my belt, but they've been with just 2 organizations. HTC has the advantage of a spectacular setting, but I feel as though they could do a much better job with communication. Yes, there are blackout zones where phones don't work. Information should still be relayed (put a staffer in a car and have them float the legs passing out information to volunteers), especially as it involves safety. The exchanges were so crowded and clusterfucky (you know, until we fell so far behind that the way was clear) and there's no real way to solve that except cutting the number of teams. There were 1050 teams on this route. That's insanity. Big Ragnars get congested...not like this. This was something else entirely. This race is so popular that it's a lottery entry, so there's no way they're going to cut down, but getting stuck a mile away from your exchange and having to put your runner out to walk down to the hand off really blows.
I'm sad that we didn't get our finishers party, because the setting is beautiful, but by the end of most relays I mostly just want to eat and shower. It's more about the shenanigans with your team than the finish line anyway.
I want to say a huge thank-you to Lonnie and Roni for making us all welcome in your home, even though it was basically like adopting a fucked up fraternity. You have to know how much we all appreciate you and your leadership in Sub-30 and on the race course. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to meet the friends in my phone and turn them into real life friends (in my phone). Some future year I'd like to come back and be in Van 2!
It's going to take days to catch up on sleep, just in time to go back to work. The experience was fully worth the discomfort. I'll leave you with words of wisdom from Jennifer.
Lucky me I get to see all these freaks in about 6 weeks at Runner's World Festival and Half. I'm not sure I'll be able to run multiple races in a weekend with sleep. I might have to sleep in my car with my legs hanging out the window.