It's really strange actually. Even at my most tired points, I've always LOVED relays and would return home chomping at the bit to plan the next one. I don't want to feel this way and most of all, I don't want my teammates to think it was the team. It most definitely was not! We had fantastic people, got along great, and I truly enjoyed spending time with every single one of them.
Our team was comprised of people from a few different places and parts of life. The team name 'We're Feeling Lucky' (and team members: Kevin, Eddie, Jason, Amy, Kim, me) started with my first relay at Ragnar Napa in 2012, a team of mostly Googlers. Many of the above plus Derek ran on our team for Ragnar Napa in 2014. I know Jess from Oiselle team and Ragnar NWP in 2014, and her husband Gavan joined us for HTC too. I met Wes a few years ago thanks to the San Francisco Marathon Ambassador program and Ragnar SoCal, David runs with us in Go Far run group, and Eddie's friend, Steve, came all the way from Boston to join us. I had a really fun time with everyone, and I loved traveling together and having time to hang out before and after the race.
On Thursday, a few of us had the same flight to Portland in the morning, giving us time to enjoy the local food and beer. We started off with my favorite Oregon restaurant, Cafe Yumm!, for lunch. We then went for a beer at Bailey's Taproom, dessert at Voodoo Doughnut, and more beer and snacks at Deschutes Brewery. After taking a few hours off from eating, we went for a late dinner at Apizza Scholls, which was amazing. A big thanks to Jason and Derek for their food and beer research on this trip!
Voodoo Donuts, hitting the touristy spots. (Me, Kim, Kevin, Jason, Derek)
Yum, huge pizzas. Amazing dough. (Kevin, Derek, Wes, Jason, David)
Moving on to race morning. We woke up in time to send Van 1 off to Mt. Hood and to wish them good luck.
Van 1 pre-race! (Amy, Derek, Steve, David, Kim, Eddie)
Those of us in Van 2 staying at the hotel had a low key morning and breakfast at IHOP. We then met Jess and Gavan around 2 pm to head to the exchange. After yet another great meal find by Jason and lunch at Bacchi's Italian Deli, we arrived at exchange 6 excited and ready to run!
Decorated and off to the exchange.
We headed over to the exchange staging area to find...basically nothing. It wasn't the upbeat and energized atmosphere I love about races, it was merely a couple of quiet food sample tents with no runners hanging around the area at all. We thought ok, everything must be somewhere else, so we followed the crowd to the runner exchange area to find...still nothing. There was no check in for Van 2 at all, which was incredibly strange to me. I asked at a couple of the tents to be sure, and not even the person with 'Race Official' on her shirt had a clue what I was talking about so we let it go. (Didn't we at least have to show our safety stuff? Apparently, no. I'd read everything online but had not come across mention of this.) I would have liked to have a printed Race Bible, but they would only give Van 1 a single copy because they were running out and they were not available at exchange 6 for Van 2.
This weirdly quiet state of affairs at exchange 6 took me by surprise. Where was the music? Where was that feeling of excitement that gets you going? Where were the energy and awesome atmosphere that differentiates a huge event from a regular weekday run? It was nowhere to be found. (Side note: if you saw my tweet about wanting my Ragnar Relay back, this was the cause of it.) I thought to myself, it's ok, no big deal. We'll make our own excitement. The race is what you make of it, after all!
Kevin and I waiting for Van 1.
Van 2 ready to run! (Kevin, me, Gavan, Jess, Wes, Jason)
Soon we found Van 1 to say hello; they had rocked it and were 20 minutes ahead of our schedule by then. We grabbed our race bibs and timing chip from them and had a few minutes to talk while we waited on Eddie to run into the exchange. It sounded like the first set of legs went smoothly both from a running and exchange perspective, which was great to hear.
Eddie coming into exchange 6.
And we were off! However, it turned out Kevin was off to a faster start running than our van was driving. Our printout of the online Race Bible had missed some numbers and lines of wording for some reason, and we hadn't gotten a real copy from the race as expected, so we resorted to the website and a miscalculation put us at exchange 8 instead of 7. Hood to Coast has absolutely no signage at the exchanges, so we didn't even realize we were at the wrong exchange until we got a call from Kevin wondering where we were. Back to exchange 7 we went to swap Kevin and Gavan, unfortunately adding an extra 30 minutes to that hand off by the time we got back there through traffic.
It was not our best start, but we shook it off. Things happen. I was irritated at the lack of signage that could have shown us our mistake before it was too late (we waited at exchange 8 for about 30 minutes and could have gotten back to 7 if we'd have known,) but it was our fault after all. Van 1 had a good printout and also the real Race Bible, so we grabbed one from them at the next major exchange to help our navigation situation. Gavan handed off to Jess and we continued on our way.
Jess starting leg 9.
The next four legs, 9 through 12, ran on a paved trail toward downtown Portland that was incredibly nice. It was dark by the time I started running as runner 12, and I love running the night legs so I was very happy about it. I ran the trail, then through a little neighborhood, and back on the trail again. People in the neighborhood were out cheering and there was even a little campfire cheer group on one street they had closed. Very cool! As I was finishing the 6.4 mile leg, we came into Portland and I loved the beautiful lights along the waterfront. I ended up loving all 3 of the runner 12 routes and really enjoyed handing off at the major exchanges.
Jason's warm up, complete with fake butt in the background.
Jess passing to Jason, who was running leg 10.
During our first break we grabbed food at McDonald's due to not having many options and went to exchange 18 to rest. There was an outdoor sleeping area at exchange 18, but by this point it was raining so only one guy wrapped in a tarp was using it. There were no indoor sleeping areas at this event that we'd found in the Race Bible, but Van 1 said there actually was indoor sleeping at exchange 17. I wish I had known! We attempted to sleep in the van, but I pretty much didn't sleep at all between being uncomfortable and the loudness of the number announcements for incoming teams being in close proximity to where we had found parking.
The rain fluctuated between heavy and light for the next few hours. Kevin picked back up for Van 2 and had a misty leg 19, then Gavan got pounded by rain on a very uphill leg 20. We almost missed Kevin's exchange again because traffic had gotten incredibly bad by this point; Gavan (and everyone running that leg from other teams) hopped out of the vans to run ahead to the exchange.
Our section of night legs continued like this: sit in long line of traffic for whole time between runners, make runner get out and run to the exchange, continue driving through exchange and pick up the runner who finished (or find them when they walk back to the van because we still hadn't gotten to the exchange), repeat. Anyone in the van who needed a porta potty had walk to the exchange while the van sat in traffic so they could stand in the excessively long porta potty lines. There was no drive to exchange-park-stretch the legs-foam roll-use a restroom time at this relay, and we didn't arrive ahead of the runner for any of the exchanges during leg 2. We were in the van almost the ENTIRE time of the relay due to the traffic situation. My left hip flexor is already making me pay for this one.
My second run was 4.87 miles on a country road, it wasn't particularly scenic but had a nice view overall. It was around 6 am by then so it was back to being light outside. I handed off to Amy, but I didn't get to see anyone else in Van 1 because they left ahead of her in an attempt to beat her to the exchange.
We left exchange 24 thinking we'd go straight to the next major exchange and grab food along the way. Well, the joke was on us. We sat in traffic along with other van 1s and 2s for hours until we finally got to exchange 30. I feel like there should have been a better way to go around the traffic, but the Race Bible was missing a page for 'Van 2 directions to exchange 30' like it usually has and we had no cell phone reception to use phone navigation or maps. So, in the relay traffic we continued to sit.
By the time we arrived at exchange 30, we estimated we had about an hour until Eddie would arrive and it wasn't enough time to attempt more sleeping. I was excited to get breakfast at the exchange fundraiser, but they sadly were out of almost all food when we arrived. They did the best they could and were making croissants dipped in french toast batter (i.e. the only things they had left), but I needed protein and that wasn't happening. It wasn't their fault, but it was a big bummer since we hadn't eaten a real meal in so many hours. If I were to do this relay again, I'd have a different food plan due to the lack of places to buy food through the middle section.
The weather had gotten pretty rough by this time, adding wind to the rain, so we once again stayed inside the van the whole time. The exchanges we went through on the relay had no indoor access at all; this was totally understandable due to the nature of the course, but it made the weather situation rougher. That said, it would have been nice if the porta potty lines would have not been so long in the rain. They needed many more for the number of people.
Around this time, we started hearing rumors that the finish line was closed due to the weather, they were pulling all course support but you could continue on your own, van 2 should consider dropping out, etc. We never heard an official announcement but decided we'd keep going and see what happened. It was fine; they didn't pull support or close the finish line, although they did have to move it off the beach and onto the sidewalk.
Moving on. Kevin took the slap bracelet from Eddie and off we went. Van 1 hadn't made it to the exchange by the time we left so we missed them again. Amazingly enough, we made it to the next exchange a couple of minutes before Kevin did and Gavan didn't have to run ahead to make it in time. Traffic was still extremely backed up, but we made a couple of the exchanges (still not all) during this cycle without runners having to hop out of the van. That was a nice change of pace.
The memorable part of this last set of legs was the WIND. To me, it was reminiscent of the wind on the Verrazano Bridge at the NYC Marathon last year. The kind of wind that stops forward movement when it's coming at you and causes your feet to land in unexpected places when it's coming from the side. We all had the chance to experience this craziness, but I have to say that the weather turned out better than I expected based on the forecast because the rain let up.
Waiting to head out on leg 36. You can't see it in the photo, but the wind was nuts.
After Wes faced a difficult and rocky 7 mile run into the headwind, he passed off to me for the final 5.19 miles of the relay. I felt really happy and good for this run and was very excited to have the finish leg for the first time ever in a relay! I enjoyed some of the rocky dirt road and had a tail wind to push me forward on it. But shortly after my start, I made a turn and found the headwind and crosswind that made the run a big challenge. I didn't mind it and sort of even enjoyed the craziness of the wind until I arrived at the coast, at which point the sand-to-the-face became a little painful (although cheaper than a facial, yes?) No fear, it was only about a half mile or so from that point to the 'new' finish line on the sidewalk. My team joined me when I got closer and we crossed the line together. Success!
Team We're Feeling Lucky at the finish! (Photo Credit: Gavan)
I was very happy to see Van 1 again because we'd seen them even less in this relay than we usually would. Hood to Coast had a contingency plan for the finish festival and moved it into the nearby hotel, so we were still able to hang out together for beer after the race. I don't think most teams took advantage of this space and it was more like going to a bar than a finish festival, but I'm really glad we went anyway. The finish festival is the only real time you get with both vans together, and I love that part.
The real finish area was destroyed by the wind, and I feel bad for the event organizers because they will have to replace so many damaged items. It looks like it would have been a fantastic beach party!
Porta potty down. (Photo Credit: Kim)
The finish line party area. (Photo Credit: Derek)
We finished in 27:56:59, only about one minute off of our estimated finish time on the HTC website. Pretty impressive! We had a great group of people - thanks to all of you for joining this adventure!
Van 2 found a Sasquatch at the finish area.
Time for the race details. As you've likely gathered from this post, I wasn't a fan of the event itself for a few reasons. Now that it's a day later and I've had sleep, I think I've moved past 'never again' and would consider trying it again from van 1 to see the other part of the course. That said, I've had much, much better experiences at basically all of the other relays I've done (except maybe Ragnar SoCal, which had issues similar to those at HTC) so I'm not sure if I'd pick this one again over others. We'll see.
The Course. The course is scenic and very rural through the middle. I liked this about it because it made for cool run routes; however, this is also what caused there to be a lack of places to stop for food as we usually would during a relay. Now that we know this, it'd be easy to be better prepared. Not having a meal outside of van snacks for so long was tough - you can only eat so many bars and crackers. There is also no cell service for most of the time, which is good to be prepared for if you do this event.
I loved going through Portland at night, and I think we all enjoyed running on the paved trail. Van 1 said the sweeping views coming down from Mt. Hood were amazing, and the routes through the tall trees were great. There is a significant section of the course along two-lane highways with fast moving cars, which is less than ideal but doable. It's not my favorite relay course based on route (that's a toss up between Ragnar NWP and Wasatch Back) but it's a nice one for sure.
The Logistics. I'm sad to say it, but HTC gets a big, fat F from me in this category. Things that make a relay awesome to me include the start line/exchange 6 excitement, getting to stop along routes to cheer for runners, cheering at exchanges, and hanging out together at major exchanges. None of these things happened at HTC. There was no exchange 6 excitement, nor was there anything fun going on at other major exchanges. We were too tight on time to stop and cheer mid-run, and we hardly ever made it to the exchange before the runner to cheer there. We didn't get to hang out with our other van at major exchanges even for a few minutes because of traffic taking so long. Contributing to the overall meh vibe, basically no one was cheering for runners when driving by in the van, and we even got yelled at once by a volunteer (not during quiet hours or in an area marked as no cheering, either) for cheering from the van!
As you've already read a million times, traffic was terrible for essentially the entire length of the course. I felt like I spent a whole day sitting in Bay Area rush hour, and that is something I do way too often to handle it well when I'm supposed to be enjoying myself. I know HTC wants to add teams to make people happy they got in, but if this is the resulting experience I'd rather be told I have to wait another year or two to run it.
Signage at exchanges was another issue. I couldn't figure out where to go when we arrived at exchange 6 (in the end this was due to them not having check in), and not having number signs at the exchanges truly can cause trouble if you are in the wrong place and don't know it. Had we arrive to see an exchange 8 sign, we would have immediately left to go to 7. I resorted to asking volunteers what exchange number we were at to confirm. It's a little thing, but the reassurance that you're in the right place can go a long way in a logistically complex situation.
Porta potty lines were very, very long. Longer than I've personally experienced at any other relay exchange, and this was an issue for us at almost all of the exchanges. Considering we had no time at exchanges to wait in said lines due to traffic, I spent a hours holding it. Obviously, this is less than ideal and is rather uncomfortable, especially when you can't go before your run. You might say 'go use a bush!' but the race rules say you can get penalized for that, so...I didn't. I'm not sure why they had so few porta potties available at the exchanges.
Last, I think some issues would have been solved by us having an actual Race Bible from the beginning, but unfortunately they ran out and our own printout had missing pieces for some reason. Also, missing the page that should have told Van 2 how to get to the next major exchange in an area with no cell service was bad. The addition of sitting in Van 1 traffic to the major exchange and corresponding lack of sleep due to late arrival does not make for a happy relay runner...and may or may not cause a Twitter rant.
On the bright side, we did find Dutch Bros Coffee at one exchange. Yum. Who needs sleep when you can have good coffee?
The Dutch Bros lid told us to take a selfie, so we did.
The Weather. I'm adding a weather section because it's been talked about so much with respect to this race. Yes, we had heavy rain and crazy wind, but in all honesty I don't think it changed the logistics of the event aside from the finish area party. I also don't think this contributed to my overall feeling of apathy toward the event; I've run so many races in terrible weather (yes, even worse than this!) that I'm generally not bothered by it.
The Support. Course support from the volunteers was incredible! The had volunteers at every turn to let us know where to go on the course, which was amazingly helpful. At one point, a volunteer even ran with me for about 30 seconds to explain an upcoming turn that could be confusing. This was one of the big highlights of the event in my eyes; a huge thank you to all of the volunteers for being out there and for enduring the weather with us!