Monday, August 26, 2013

Hood 2 Coast 2013: Team BRS

I remember thinking after last year's Hood2Coast that I wasn't even sure I wanted to do another one. And yet, then as the idea of a Barefoot Running Society team grew, I grew more excited. Et voilĂ , here we are, thanks for some awesome organizers to get us signed up, and lined up: Jen for doing all the paperwork, and Christy for advice and logistics and generally knowing what she's doing (because the rest of us certainly don't).

Turns out Christy and I are the only ones who have run H2C before, and I'm just a 'snookie', a second year rookie. Christy has done it like, five times already, and is in Van 2, where she will finally get to be runner 12, and finish the whole thing for us over in Seaside tomorrow. So, that means I'm the only one in Van 1 who's run this thing, and knows anything, and, god help us all, people might be looking to me for guidance.

The race starts up on Mt. Hood, at the famous Timberline Lodge, with Mt. Hood looming above us, and views out into the valleys around us. Wierd to think that tomorrow we'll be at the Coast, at the ocean. But, anyways, the chaos is already in full swing by the time us Van 1 folks arrive. We're scheduled to start at 11:15, but teams have been starting since 6:30 I believe. None of us are sure if the slowest teams start earlier, so as to have everyone arrive at Seaside at the same time (ish) or if some of the mondo in-shape teams (like Nike and Adidas) start early so as to avoid having to deal with us amateur peons. Anyways, it's a lot of people. Some teams have even had both vans come up to the start, though that's kind of discouraged by the organizers because of space concerns. But, I have to say that there's kind of a psychological difference actually being here on Mt. Hood, rather than how my team did it last year, with Van 2 just arriving in Sandy at the Safeway. This feels more begin-y-y.

I sign the team in, barely, having no idea what I'm doing. Note: one must show up to the sign in desk with at least one safety vest, two flashing lights, and two main light sources (headlamps or flashlights) and they make you turn on all the lights to make sure they work. After that, a state trooper makes me sign a safety waiver (which I didn't bring, but he has extras) saying that everyone on the team has read it. Which I say is true (and it is, I think). The third desk gives me our little wristband thingy that runners pass off to each other, and a timing chip, which only needs to be worn by runner 12 on the third leg at the end.

A big change, which I support, this year is that teams/vans do not have to keep track of individual times. Nor do we have to keep a running stopwatch time. None of that. Instead, each time already has a designated start time, and the timing chip is apparently already running, so we just register the end time. I think this will make things much easier, though I can see some teams still have all their clipboards with charts and whatever. I think that aspect appeals to certain personality types, but thank goodness we don't have to do that because nobody in this van seems like that type.

The weather is great! Sunny up here, and cool. We've heard rumors of rain on the coast tomorrow morning, but we'll see.

Our runner 1 is Erica, the only female in our van of dudes (poor girl). And (oh the shame) she's wearing regular shoes, whereas the rest of the van is either walking around barefoot or in huaraches. Teams leave/start at fifteen minute intervals, and there's an announcer announcing the team names as they line up. My favorite name: We Eat Between The Legs. And though each team usually gets a cheer, when he yells out, “The Barefoot Running Society!”: crickets chirping almost. Just us five guys yelling, everyone else looking at us like, 'What the hell are these weirdos doing here?' It's like the announcer just said something in Japanese or something.

Anyway, at 11:15 exactly, Erica's wave is released. Run Erica run! Her leg is all downhill, and some people are just out of the gate at a sprint, which makes my knees hurt just thinking about it. But yes! We have begun! Now it's time to get in the van!

Actually, our van is a big ole black SUV. Looks like something a Mexican drug cartel would drive around in, but it's roomy, with room in the way back for bags. And this year I'm one of the designated drivers, which I'm loving, if only because I tend to get carsick. But I also just like to be busy/engaged and useful. I'm hoping this year the exchanges will go smoother. Last year they were all backed up, so that we basically spent the whole time sitting in the van, and even had to have runners get out of the van and run up to the exchange points because we just couldn't get there in time.

But so far so good. We zoom down the hill to the first exchange, right on the edge of 26. Easy park, with time to get out and walk around and people watch and watch the runners go by. Daniel is runner 2, and though he's not dressed as a Hawaiian hula girl this time, he is going barefoot. Weird weather here: there's an inversion layer, or else just a regular cloud here, so that it's overcast and grey and slightly misty. But again, good running weather.

And here comes Erica! The hand off goes smoothly. She's faster than her predicted time, which will be the case for all of us on this first legs, but I'm sure it will even out in the next two legs, as darkness and exhaustion set in. Technically, H2C isn't a speed race. The goal is to arrive at the Finish at the predicted time, based on each runners race speed that they entered online earlier, though that may not be accurate, since, for example, I entered my time for a trail marathon, versus a 10K speed. Supposedly, if a team finishes within a half hour on either side of their predicted time, they 'win' an automatic slot in next year's H2C. It's really an exercise in teamwork, I think.

Anyways, we jump in the SUV and head down 26 to the next station. Again, easy park, plenty of time to get ready. I hope things continue this way the whole way! Daniel passes off to Pat, a new person, to me, who isn't a member of the BRS site, nor the local Portland BRS FB group, yet. He's in VFFs, and seems a cool dude to have along: quiet and easy going and up for anything. That's the thing about H2C, six people just get thrown in a van for two days, some without knowing each other. Last year I just joined at random team two days before the start, but this year I do know at least half the team, if only through the Portland BRS FB page. But some I've run races with already.

At the next station the cloud/inversion is breaking up, for some sun. Rick is up. He's driven over from Utah to do this, part of a longer road trip he and his wife are taking. But he's a cool guy. Super mellow, and an ultra runner. In fact, he says I inspired him with some of my write ups of ultra races, and he wants me to come run a Hundo in Utah. We'll see, but anyways, a pleasure to have him along. And he too is going pure barefoot. Yes! Nice to be a in a group of like-minded folks, even if everyone else is looking at us weird. We've seen a couple other VFFs runners, and one barefoot woman, though she was holding her VFFs and limping, so who knows.

Stations switches are just going way smooth, thank goodness. And, I'm up! My first leg length is five miles, plus come change. And Rick comes in at a good clip, slapping the wrist band onto me. I'm off! Still on Highway 26, running on the right side of the road, with four lanes of traffic and no cones or barriers or anything, though usually the nearest lane is taken up by slow moving chase vans. Usually. Still kinda....loud, with weekend traffic going in and out of Portland. No other time would I be running down a highway like this. The pavement is fairly smooth here, for the first few miles, then turns off on a side road, and gets kind o' rough and gritty. But, grr, grin and bear it. Btw, I'm getting passed, becoming 'roadkill', by a lot of runners. In fact, I don't pass anyone, making me feel very very slooow. I think I would be running a little faster over this rough section is I had some huaraches, but again, this isn't supposed to be a speed race.

But, nice to have encouragement from other vans—the barefootedness getting some comments. One van full of nice folks, while they're waiting for their runner, turn up the music and form a 'power tunnel' for other runners, making two rows and joining their hands to run under while they yell. Extroverted people can be good to have around in times like these.

I'm not wearing a watch or GPS or anything, just trying to enjoy the run, but can't help wondering after a while, like, how far am I? How much further? But there are race volunteers stationed along the road at intervals, who let us runners know. And soon, there's the next station, with Janson waiting to go in VFFs and a kilt. I slap the wristband on him and he's off. Whew! Alright, one leg down! Time to head to the exchange, where Van 2 will take over for a while.

In the meantime, with time to kill, we head to Erica's house in Sellwood, near-ish to the exchange at Oaks Park. This is the advantage of Van 1: a few hours off right around dinner time. So, why not treat ourselves to a good dinner? Nice to be with a group of folks that's up for that. We go to a Thai place, and I can't help but kind of laugh at our sheer indulgence whilst Van 2 is running in the hot sun.

An email update was sent out to race participants saying that the Oaks Park parking lot is/was full, but when we get there, it's fine. Traffic seems a little backed up getting out, which worries me (because I'm a worrier) but it's not all H2C traffic. The Park is in full swing and I think the roller derby women are playing tonight too, and anyways, after waiting around some more, traffic clears right up. And as darkness descends, we greet Christy coming in and send off Erica for her second leg. Erica btw seems to be getting the best legs with views, since she'll get to run along the river and see Portland lit up, though first she has to run through the now dark Springwater Corridor, where many homeless people camp out. Hopefully they'll be a lot of runners on the trail, and homeless people are mostly harmless. Cue Newt from Aliens: Mostly....

Anyways, onward! We're up again, and I surprise myself by actually coming up with an alternate route to the next station. Yes, I've lived here a year now, so know that rather than driving up the east side of the river, we can scoot across the Sellwood Bridge and head north with almost no traffic at all. And, driving up Naito Parkway, we have a view of the riverfront, but for a while there seems to be no runners and I wonder if we read the directions wrong. I guess it's that there's no people at all out here by dark, but there's a blinking light or two, so there are runners, they're just all spread out. Aaaannnnd, we're just in time to get caught at the train tracks by a train, where even the runners have to wait, amassing a group of twenty or so before the train passes.

Up into the industrial NW section of Portland. Train cars and warehouses, but again the station is an easy in/easy out. Amazingly different than last year. Erica comes in from her 7 mile-ish leg and hands off to Daniel, who impresses the hell out of me by still running barefoot, in the dark, in the industrial area, on the four lane Highway 30. True, the road is lit up, but still seems hard to see grit and stuff.

Again, we're back to four lanes of traffic, but mostly the H2C vans hug the inside lane and go slower, so not as potentially scary for runners. Just a weird sight though, seeing the string of runners with blinking lights on running next to all this traffic and through some kind of post-apocalyptic setting. Death Race 2000!

Farther up 30, Daniel hands off to Pat, who then hands off to Rick as we get into what I think is the town of St. Helens. Rick also is going barefoot for this leg. Dammit. That means, as a real man, I'm obligated to be as badass as them. Well, the streets are lit up here, and there's even a sidewalk, so might actually be doable. But, after Rick hands off to me, I'm immediately shunted over to the other side of the highway, facing traffic, so if a car hits me I can actually see it first, aaannnnd, I'm out of town, meaning no more lights. And no sidewalk. Just me and my headlamp. But, so, ok, I can do this. Yes, the shoulder of the highway is gritty. Less so right by the first lane, and in fact I take to running in the first lane, Which by this point in the night is doable, since traffic is lighter, and the cars that are out are staying in the middle lane, well aware by now of the crazies out on the road. Probably annoyed with us for shining our headlamps right at them.

And yeah, once again getting passed. Can't blame the grit too much, I feel like I'm running faster than I would on my own, though certainly sitting in the SUV all day after running hasn't helped. Glad we had Thai and not pizza though, otherwise I'd probably be puking. But, man, just a weird unique experience, running along a highway at night. I do get into another little town, not sure of the name, but big enough to have some sidewalks, which are smoother, but perhaps just as gritty, since I doubt anyone actually walks on them here. And, this might have happened even the daylight, but every once in a while I just just come down hard, on one of my sensitive parts (because I'm a sensitive guy) like the heel or ball of foot, on a big ole grit-pebble-thingy. So yeah, ouch.

Aaaannnd, a little rain. A light misting, not unpleasant, though enough to get my BRS shirt damp, which I'll need to wear tomorrow at the finish, for the group photo.

Interesting dynamics. In a marathon, you'll see people kinda pair up, or bunch up, and chat as they run. Not here. I guess because the pace is faster, in the same way people don't really talk to each other in a 10K. So, kinda on my lonesome, even if this is a seven mile leg, seeing the blinking red lights in the distance, until overtaken by pounding shod person, most of whom give a friendly 'good job' as they pass me. And the route takes a left, into the sleepy town, and then zags around into a high school parking lot for the next station. No strong finish: the parking lot is all cracked and gravelly. But hey! I didn't step on any hidden glass!

Onward onward onward! The route now off of Highway 30 and into the backwoods of Portland. Janson will still be on pavement, but starting to hit the hills, and Van 2 will get the gravel road legs later. In the meantime, we head to the fairgrounds for the van exchange. And for sleep. And, thanks to my experience last year, I know exactly where the best sleeping area is: along the side of the parking lot, between it and the actually fairgrounds, there's a row of ponderosa pines, which offer a nice soft needle-y area, and some protection from car lights. So, again the advantage of Van 1. We get to sleep at 2, and sleep until 6, a comparatively 'regular' sleep time, whereas Van 2 maybe got a couple hours before we got there, and won't get a chance for a longer sleep until into the morning. And btw, kudos to Rick, who's thinking ahead, and just being a generally nice guy, for offering to stay up later to great Janson in and make sure the handoff goes ok, while the rest of us crash. He and Janson don't get to sleep until 3.

And, I actually do sleep, despite the car alarms going off, and the car doors slamming, and the loud (exclusively male) voices talking and talking sometimes only twenty feet away. You'd think that people would be more mindful of noise, but who knows, they may not even know about us sleepers over here.

And in the morning, when my alarm goes off, I actually feel like I got some sleep. Feels like my old firefighting days, waking up in fire camp in the woods. But man, what a difference: What had been a packed parking lot last night is now almost empty, just about twenty vans still here. Where is everybody? Surely we're not one of the later groups? But as we wake up and get on the road, arriving at the next van exchange, I see that some groups just skipped the fairgrounds and drove out here before going to sleep. Something to consider next year, though, I'm not sure there's that much of an advantage, since the designated sleeping areas are still right next to the parking lots. The ideal would be to find a state or county park and sleep on the grass or in the woods. Surely those places must exist around here. But anyways, we're ready to go. We meet up with Van 2 and Erica is off on her third leg. Btw, if one is looking for the best legs to get during a race, runner 1 and runner 6 (and/or runner 7 and 12), but especially runner 1, seem to have the advantage of going first, getting their leg out of the way, and then being able to to just crash out in the back of the van for hours, knowing they won't have to do anything.

This exchange has been the only place where the vans have been backed up on the road to get in, and even then it's not that bad. The Honey Bucket lines are now long though, so a few times our runners have jumped out early to be able to get in line, though Erica points out that one has only to say to people that you're about to run and they'll let you cut in early, but it seems to only be women who do this.

Daniel and Rick both go barefoot again, lucking out with some relatively smooth pavement. My feet are already feeling raw from the previous runs, no lie, but no way am I going to get out barefooted on this thing. My last leg is 'only' five miles, but it's a lot of uphill. Fortunately shady, so not going to be too hot. If I weren't competing to be most macho, I might have carried my huaraches just in case, but no, I'm all in, should be ok, like running the last five miles of a marathon, right? But, so, as soon as I start, the road gets a little rough. Then smooth. Then rough. Then kinda just stays rough. Not gritty, but old and cracked and having that unique Oregon pavement that is just rough, so that even running on the white line in the middle doesn't really help. Fortunately not too much oncoming traffic, except for a couple of cars who seem to really not appreciate our presence out here, because, with both lanes clear, they stay in their lane and go right by me. One guy in a pickup even blatantly points his truck at me, wanting to make me get off the road and onto the shoulder I guess, but when I don't (I'm not jumping into that gravel, dude) he only veers off at the last second. So: asshole!

But on the other hand, other vans are cheering and honking us runners as the pass, and some especially are cheering me on as a barefooter. Our van doesn't do this, worried about time really, but some vans will stop halfway through the leg to cheer on their runners, and while waiting cheer on other runners, which is nice, especially this one van that we've been paralleling the whole race, which is an all women, really all amazon, ultra crew—doing the whole distance with only 8 runners. I'm not sure how it works exactly, how the legs are divided up, but they're certainly easy on the eyes, if a little scarily enthusiastic and energetic for this late in the race. But, maybe the secret of being energetic is acting energetic first, then your body will catch up?

And two people even hold a scarf between them at the top of the hill, as a 'ribbon' to run through, for any runner that wants to partake. So, that's a nice friendly funny gesture.

Speaking of women, as I peak up over the hill and begin my descent, a van of women slows down and cheers, whooping and holding out cameras, and I'm like, yes! Finally I'm attractive to women, because they think barefoot running is hardcore or something. But no, a guy passes me and they call out his name. I laugh and yell after him, “Aw, I thought they were cheering me!”

He laughs and says, “They're cheering everybody!” Which, you know, is nice and true, but not as cool as a van full of women hooting for you. Sigh....

I did finally pass two people on the uphill, but continue to get passed by others. Nice to be out in the woods and off the highway. One of the people I pass, a woman, is actually stopping at lot and taking pictures. She tells me, “I might as well have fun out here. My IT band is killing me.”
But there's Janson! I pass off the wristband et voilĂ , fini! I've done my part! We head to the last exchange and miraculously part right in front of Van 2. I get out to let them know we're here (no phone service out here) and Christy is sitting in the front seat. I tell her when Janson's due in and she says, “You better tell the others, I can't walk.”

“What? What's wrong?”

“I hurt my foot. And it's your fault.”

The thing with Christy is I can never tell if she's entirely joking. I think what she's referencing is the fact that we were both on the same H2C team last year, by complete coincidence, and she had been wanting to try barefoot running, and had been 'inspired' by me, so has been trying to run barefoot for the past year, though plagued by injuries. Thus, my fault.

Anyways, Janson passes off to Seret, and bam, Van 1 is done! Nothing to do be head to Seaside and wait. With hours to go, we indulge in yet another wonderful meal, and disperse for a while. I join up with my sister and her family up the beach. And the weather is amazing. No rain. In fact, sunny, and the water is actually bearable, so I go out and splash in the waves. Refreshing, and a good way to wake up and get rid of the lack-of-sleep grogginess, since I'll be driving the SUV back to Portland tonight.

We meet back up at the festivity site, where runners have been coming in since early morning, which is kinda amazing to think about. Hundreds of teams hanging out, some already done, some, like use, waiting for their last runner to come in.

Van 2 gets here, none of them wearing their BRS shirts, when it was Christy who emphatically told everyone to wear them. But, speaking of Christy, they inform us that Christy is in bad shape, her foot really bothering her, and that she'll be coming in a half hour later than expected. In fact, she actually texts Chris (who has been volunteering here but has joined us) and requests some help, so he runs off to help her in. I mean, this is bad: she's in danger of not finishing, and probably should have not kept running, which makes me a little annoyed. Not that I care about our time or anything, just that I get annoyed/mad when people don't take care of themselves. Except that, knowing that this is Christy's sixth H2C, and she finally has the chance to be the final runner—I would probably do the same thing.

And so, she basically leans on Chris' should all the way down the boardwalk and almost just hops on one leg over the finish, almost crying. And collapses in the sand. We're all in the chute now: The runner goes over the first, real, Finish, where the team joins her, and then there's supposed to be a 'group run' of a hundred feet or so over the sand, to another Finish, so that our picture can be taken running as a group. Then into a corral to get into one of the group picture taking areas. So, everyone in our group is standing around going, shit, how do we get her to the First Aid station?! Not helped by the guy in charge of getting groups through the chute, who has to butt in and offer his two-bit advice. But another worker goes to get a paramedic to come to us, so we all cluster off to the side. Interestingly, the group right behind us also stops, their final runner collapsing too, though seems to be from exhaustion/dehydration/heatstroke. Other groups go by us, all smiling and happy to be done, until they see Christy, then their eyes go wide.

An EMT finally comes, but all he can really do it tape up her foot and ankle. So Thomas, from Van 2 carries her to the photo op stage. We get a quick photo taken, which I'm not sure anyone is going to buy a copy of, all of us not looking too happy, worried about Christy (which she probably hates). Fortunately her parents are here volunteering, waiting for us, so we can pass her off to them and they can take her to the hospital for x-rays.

So, a kind of bummer at the end. But, we did it! The first barefoot H2C team ever! With three of us going completely barefoot for all three legs, and most every one at least going minimalist, except a certain someone (Erica, cough cough). Amazing that we pulled it off! And yet, it was mostly fine. Thanks again to Jen for signing us up and organizing all the behind the scenes stuff. And for Christy offering her years of experience and logical organizational skills. Also, our sponsor: Soft Star Shoes! They kicked in $500.

My dream now? Two Barefoot Running Society teams! BRS A and BRS B! Maybe one of them an ultra team??