Sunday, August 27, 2006

Hood to Coast Race Report 2006

Captain's Report


Background:

Last year I ran my first relay, Reach the Beach, and had an awesome time. Therefore when I came to know about this year being the 25th anniversary of the Hood to Coast relay I began to look for a team to join. I found an opening in the New York Flyers' HTC team and thus began my adventure...

Our team captain Joe is a coach for the Flyers', a professional coach and a 7-time HTC veteran. As a result all the coordination activities leading up to the event (and during the event), which is so crucial to a team event like this, was spot-on. When I got the email from C'tain Joe with my leg assignments I was pretty intimidated. It was one of the toughest set (if not the toughest set) of the race - the only set with 2 legs rated "Very Hard" and had the second longest total distance. I posted a message on a yahoo group comprised of HTC veterans asking for advice and their experiences as runner 5. One of them asked me in jest, "What did you do to get your team captain so mad at you?" :) When I finished my last leg Joe confided in me that he assigned me such a tough set because he knew I would be up for the challenge. Hmmm... the next time I'll need to think twice before divulging facts like having run 7 marathons and the Knickerbocker 60k.

Pre-race:

We were assigned a 5pm start time. The start times for HTC unlike RTB are not assigned seeding from the slowest to the fastest. Slow teams also start late as long as their predicted time enables them to finish within the 9pm time limit the next day.

I headed for Portland on Friday with a couple of team members from Seattle. The bulk of the team had arrived from New York on Thursday. Both the team members from Seattle were in Van 2 so it was good to get a chance to know them during the drive. One of the disadvantages of relays like RTB and HTC is that you do not get to spend much time with members in the other van.

Once we got to Portland we grabbed lunch with the team while C'tain Joe reviewed the logistics. Then we headed for Mt. Hood. We had our first adventure of the race when both our vans got pulled over for speeding. The cop was very nice and on knowing where the team was from responded, "Gosh, you'll have come a long way to run!” He let us off with a warning and a smile.

Race:

At RTB I was in Van 2 so being in Van 1 was a different experience. Coincidentally, the start times for my legs ended up being at the same times as my RTB legs.

The course started off with a steep decent for the first two legs. I felt a little jealous of the amazing scenery that the first couple of runners were enjoying. I'm sure it must have been well worth putting their quads through those steep down hills.

Leg 5: Cherryville, OR - 6.1 Miles, 7:56 PM

Rating: Very Hard
Description: Long leg in length over very challenging rolling hills along Highway 26
Temperature: 79F, 38%
6.11 @ 7:40 min/mile
[7:17(175), 7:09(183), 7:19(187), 7:48(186), 8:05(185), 8:14(185), 0.11@ 8:20(183)]

As I began my first leg the sun had began to set. The first couple of miles felt great. I was running on the highway in the fading light. I knew I wanted to take it easy since the last few miles were all uphill but looking at my HR readings now obviously that did not happen. My team was waiting with a cup of Gatorade at mile 3. After that the course turned onto back roads. It had become completely dark and was the beginning of a climb to the end. It was kind of surreal to be alone in the dark in the middle of nowhere. I passed a volunteer who told me that I needed to turn left at top of the hill. As time passed I wondered what she meant by that because there was no end to the hill I was climbing and no place to turn left onto. I figured she must have been talking about 'her left’, which would have been 'my right'.

Even though there was no fork I was scared that I might have gotten off course. I really did not want to have to run any more of these hills than I needed to. Finally, I saw another volunteer who told me to run up the hill on the curve to the finish. I was pretty tired by then and did not need to be reminded of the climb to the finish but I was happy to know I was on course. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity I saw a lighted tunnel in the distance. I handed off to runner 6 and our Van 1 was almost done with the first leg.


There was another team wearing their RTB race T-shirts (I was wearing mine as well). At the vehicle transition stop I ran into them and we exchanged a "Wohoo RTB!!!" Leg 12 started in Portland so my team had kept a room in the hotel they stayed in, on Thursday. It felt awesome to have a shower between the legs and to actually sleep on a real bed. However, it felt horrible to have my sleep interrupted after a couple of hours to head out again. What woke me up from my stupor was to consume about half a large bag of Lays potato chips.

As we headed to the next transition point we passed people partying in the downtown clubs. Hmmm... at least we were not the only sleep deprived people at this time of the night. We figured we'd let Van 2 know about the option to head to the clubs instead of the hotel.

Leg 12 began under the Hawthorne Bridge in Portland. I envied the view that the runners had of nighttime downtown Portland. However, running on the concrete bridge through some creepy regions didn’t seem like fun. At an exchange a runner talked about her experience of passing a couple of homeless folks having a fight. Our runner mentioned passing them too but she did not seem too perturbed by the experience. The relay continued along the Portland marathon course - boring industrial warehouses. We missed nothing running these parts of the course in the night. I also decided that there was no way I would be running the Portland marathon - I didn't need to go through all this in the final miles of a marathon.

Leg 17: Scappose, OR - 5.7 Miles, 4:45 AM

Rating: Easy
Description: Basically flat terrain along Highway 30
Temperature: 56F, 87%
5.63 @ 7:07 [6:57(178), 7:05(184), 7:08(184), 7:10(183), 7:13(183), 0.63 @ 7:08(183)]
I knew that my second leg was the only chance I would have to run at a reasonable pace. If it meant that I would pay for it on my last leg then so be it. I knew that we were heading towards a high of 90F and I would be running at 1pm so it couldn't get any worse. This leg was very similar to leg 23 at RTB only a little hillier. The temperature was perfect for running and I guess 5am is the perfect time to run. I wish I could convince myself to get my daily run at this time. I picked up around 16 road kills along the way. I got killed about 4 times myself by some super speedy runners - they just blew by me. As I finished my leg the sun had begun to rise.

At the next transition point we had our only Team "boo boo". Van 2 was not there yet - I guess they were enjoying themselves too much at the hotel. Also, we were ahead of our predicted pace by 22 minutes but Joe had warned them about that. Later we learnt about how they got lost in downtown Portland without a map ... That cost us 16 minutes but luckily that ended up costing us only 20 places overall.

We drove to the next van transition area through some amazing scenery. It was so cold and misty that it was hard to believe that we were heading for such a toasty day. My teammates headed to get some pancakes and breakfast but there was no way I was willing to do anything but sleep. I remember negotiating with my brain - "Hot pancakes would taste great. However, that would require me to getup and walk and not sleep. Eat or Sleep... Sleep.

As we started our final legs it had become uncomfortably hot and was only going to get hotter by the time I started running. We noticed the runners struggling towards the end of their legs. Some had just given up and started walking. There were some pretty interesting vans blasting music – Team Go NADS, Elvis impersonators etc. That would have provided a boost to the runners. Luckily our runners remained strong through out their legs. After all, all we needed to do was hand over to Van 2 and head to the beach to enjoy the toasty weather.

C'tain Joe had brought some "Damsel in Distress" whistles for our female runners running in the dark. They did not use the whistles but I got a wise idea when Joe was running. We snuck up behind him in the van and started blowing the high-pitch whistles while cheering him. He remembered to tell us at the end of his leg about how we scared the living daylights out of him.

Leg 29: Jewel, OR - 6 Miles, 1:17 PM

Rating: Very Hard
Description: Very challenging up and downhills through winding wooded section of Highway 202.
Temperature: 88F, 31%
6.12 @ 7:50
[8:15(179), 8:00(178), 8:35(179), 8:25(170), 6:58(174), 6:55(174), 0.12 @ 6:23(180)]
My final leg had the steepest climb in the whole relay and perhaps the most difficult leg in all. The 88F temperature would not be helping... I decided to start off with a bottle of chilled water - I needed to hydrate during the climb.

At RTB I had hardly got any sleep. However, by some bizarre coincidence every moment I slept was so well documented that it had become difficult to claim that I did any running. My teammates had snaps of me sleeping. The official race photographer picked me sleeping out of 12*285 runners. The FOTBers saw me sleeping. That was not all! The official race video trailer had just one clip of a runner sleeping on a bench in a high school (guess who that was :-) I should have just auditioned for a sleep-number bed infomercial after that. Well, so I needed solid evidence that I did really run HTC!

For each leg we asked our runners what they needed (water, Gatorade etc.) and at what point on the course. I told my teammates that for my leg all I needed was a snap of me to show as proof that I ran this race to avoid a RTB like situation... I told them to ignore any other pleas for water etc. from me until they had gotten my snap.

I began my leg trying to focus on even effort and to conserve enough energy for the crest of the hill. By the end of the second mile it was getting really painful. I was still picking up road kills and maintaining a constant gap with a couple of runners so I didn't get too worried about my pace. Luckily there was some shade on parts to shield me from the direct sunrays for a bit. Some teams had chalked words of encouragement on the roads. Also, the amazing thing throughout the race was that the vans waiting for their runners to pass cheered all the passing runners. We did the same. Though runners had become so bitchy by the time they reached the crest of the hill on this leg that a runner scolded my team when they suggested that he was almost there. He responded - "No, I am not almost there!" :)

As for my race snap... When I reached the crest of the hill I found that my teammates had set up a victory tape with toilet paper to ensure that I had an appropriate backdrop for the snap I asked for ;)

It just felt so amazing to hit the downhills after reaching the crest - perhaps one of my most comforting running moments. I tried to accelerate to make up for lost time. I knew I would pay for the pounding that my legs would be getting but I'd deal with that later :)

Some of my road kills were in pretty bad shape. A couple of runners were walking with 1 mile to go (I knew thanks to Garmin which helped me a lot on this leg). I tried to encourage them - "Just 1 mile to go. Lets finish strong." However, they just were pretty zonked out.

When the finish was in sight I gave it all I had. I think I would have perhaps reached 800m pace... At the handover an elderly volunteer complemented me - "I haven't seen anyone finish our race so strong in a while".


It felt great to be done. Just one more runner and we could head to the beach while Van 2 slogged it out in the heat. That's one of the advantages of being in Van 1! However Van 2 does get to enjoy the pleasure of bringing it in and crossing the finish line.

Our last runner crossed the finish at 7pm. We joined in for the ceremonial finish and our HTC adventure came to an end. The 25th anniversary medals were pretty neat. They also had fireworks in the night to celebrate the event.

On Sunday morning we had one last joint team activity - washing our vans! We had used the wrong markers to decorate the vans so it was a pain to get rid of the markings. We discovered that plastic cards (credit cards etc.) provided an efficient scrubbing device. I knew that my Grocery store card had to be good for something!

Results:

Team: New York Flyers 197 miles - 26:02:22 @ 7:56
Overall - 196 /1032
Division - Mixed Open: 33 / 303
Me: 17.86 miles @ 7:33

HTC vs RTB

* RTB and HTC are both races surely worth experiencing.
* I felt overall the legs at RTB are more challenging (others who have run both have felt the same).
* If I could chose only one between the two I would go with RTB. HTC with 1032 teams obviously cannot cater to the runners in the same way as RTB with only 285 odd teams.
* At HTC rules are enforced more or less on an "honor system".
* HTC does not have perks like - free massage, free copy of team photo, free massage, free food at the finish.
* The Van transition areas at RTB are significantly better.
* HTC is extremely well organized which is not surprising for a 25 year old event.

Given that Portland is so close to Seattle I'm sure I'll be running many more HTC races. Perhaps I'll shoot for the 10th anniversary RTB race.

Conclusion:

This race confirmed that my fitness level is nowhere near where it was last year. I guess there's no substitute to putting in those miles every week :) Victoria won't be a PR marathon and I'll need to have an appropriate goal to race it.

Yet again, I had a great time at a relay event. The team atmosphere makes everything so much more fun compared to individual events where we are so focused on our personal performance. There's nothing like sharing jokes, doing goofy things and being "stuck" in a van with five others for a whole day!

6 Comments:

Anonymous Obscure Reference said...

Very nice report Sub. Love the blog too! -Ken

8/31/2006 11:28 AM  
Blogger Subhasish Bhattacharya said...

Thanks Ken!

You must be excited about RTB. Good luck for the race! I'm looking forward to reading about the next edition of FOTB RTB adventures!

8/31/2006 12:07 PM  
Blogger David said...

Excellent write up. This year was my second Hood to Coast, and I'm doing Reach the Beach this month for the first time, so I appreciate your comparisons. Btw, get yourself onto a Nike team next year for HTC, they get all of the nice post race amenities, free food, beer, massage, etc. ;-)

9/02/2006 1:28 PM  
Blogger Subhasish Bhattacharya said...

Thanks for your comments David!

I'm sure you'll love RTB. Good luck and have fun!

Last year fall was late so we did not get to see the fall colors during RTB. However, it can make for a truely scenic run.

Hmmm... I might be too slow to get onto a Nike team :) Let's see...

I've been considering forming a corporate team with folks from work as well. Atleast my entry fee will be comped.

9/03/2006 9:23 AM  
Blogger northwestcat said...

An excellent report. The photos are great too. I ran it for the first time last year also (Leg 4, so I was always running the leg before yours) and I have t tell you, the last leg you ran, with the winding uphill that never stopped, is the scariest thing I have ever seen in 20 plus years of running. Our guy called it "Mt. Olympus" and had run it twice. That leg takes some kind of guts. Congratulations.

6/20/2007 10:25 AM  
Blogger Sub said...

Thanks! Yeah, that last leg was pretty brutal especially considering the heat. I sure was glad to reach the crest of the hill :) I'll probably settle for another set of legs if I run this year.

6/20/2007 11:55 PM  

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