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How a Relay Race Changed my Life and Made me a Runner

Prepare yourself - the words that are about to come out of my mouth and onto the page you're reading right now, are ones I never dreamed of saying, not in a million years - I am officially a runner. It's been a little over a week now since I ran 17 point some odd miles with 11 other people over the course of 32 hours in Hood to Coast and I'm still very much experiencing that runners high and loving every. single. minute of it.

I'm not going to launch into my running background (or lack thereof really) just yet (saving that for a very exciting future post - yay!!) but I am going to share the amazing experience I had participating in my first Hood to Coast.

Let's take it back to the very beginning, the moment I said yes.

So Hood to Coast is a VERY popular thing for people within my company. Tons of people make teams and participate every year and that being said, lots of people also drop out and then teams scramble to find people to fill the gaps just weeks before the actual event. As a result, I was very familiar with H2C and have had it on my bucket list for a couple years now. About a month before the race, I received an email from a coworker saying she was looking to fill two spots on her team - this was finally my chance. It honestly was an act of fate no doubt about it.

The moment I had been waiting for was literally presenting itself to me, practically slapping me in the face. I couldn't say no, nor did I want to! I jumped at the opportunity and suddenly found myself searching for flights to Oregon the weekend of August 24th as well as a partner in crime to join me from my office on this team full of strangers. Eek!

It was really happening!!

Thankfully I have been doing a ton of running and was never really concerned about the mileage, more so just the other "elements" if you will. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, Hood to Coast is an overnight, long-distance relay spanning 199 miles over the course of a little less than two days. The race begins at the top of Mount Hood and ends at Seaside, along the Coast of Oregon. The main thing to note is there is no stopping as in rain or shine, sunshine or darkness, the race goes on until your team completes that 199 miles and finds themselves crossing the finish line at Seaside.

THOSE are the elements I'm referring to. Potentially rocky or hilly terrain, hot temps with little to no shade, cold temps even (this is Oregon after all), lack of sleep, no showering, all in the name of completing some silly race - sounds pretty wild right?

Would you believe me if I said it's one of the BEST experiences I have had in my life?!

Over the course of 32 hours, I went from never having met 9 of the people on my team of 12 to essentially living with them full time, in a mini van, sharing moments of triumph and moments of hardship and growing closer than I could have ever imagined.

Hood to Coast was by far one of the most challenging things I've ever participated in but without a doubt one of, if not the most rewarding.

Picture by Martha Kirby @martha_kirby

With 12 runners, we each had 3 different legs to run, varying in difficulty and distance as well as time of day. Being in van 1, my team kicked off the race at 7am on Friday morning at the top of Mount Hood (it was 37 degrees btw). We watched our first runner cross that starting line and then drove to the next meeting point to congratulate her on finishing her first leg as we sent off runner 2. It continued on like this throughout the course of 32 hours alternating between van 1's 6 runners and van 2's 6 runners.

I was runner 6, so the last runner in van 1, the runner who would pass the "baton" between van 1 and van 2. My first run was by far my hardest distance and terrain wise, coming in at just over 7 miles, most of which was along the freeway and plenty of which included some uphill climbs.

That was the fastest 7 miles I've ever run in my life.

It was exhilarating. I crossed that finish line, stopped my timer and looked for runner 7 in van 2. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw what I steadily averaged for 7 miles. Just like that I was hooked.

Picture by Martha Kirby @martha_kirby

We had a few hours to kill while van 2 was running and we all prepared for our second leg, in other words, it was time for real food! More than just car snacks. We found a couple spots to eat but before we knew it it was time to dash off to our next location and get ready for our second legs. By this point, the sun was just beginning to set on Friday.

By the time it got to my run, it was pitch black, 10pm at night. Needless to say, my second leg was my worst and personally, my hardest. I struggled through those 5 miles in the darkness running through Oregon neighborhoods. Not to mention the fact that I had to wear a safety vest, carry flashing lights in my hand and wear a headlamp to illuminate the ground in front of me. There was a lot going on and it was not ideal.

Some people really enjoy the night run - the opportunity to be at peace, running through the darkness on this personal journey with nothing but your thoughts taking up the space in your head. Yeahhh, I was not one of those people.

I struggled.

I learned a very important life/running lesson following my second run however. I ran in a long sleeve and crop pants and got back to the car covered in now cold sweat. My body could not and WOULD not get warm. I felt agitated purely for the reason that I was fighting to keep myself from chattering while sitting in the car.

My team captain asked me what I was wearing and if I had changed out of my running clothes to which I responded no, that I hadn't changed yet. She told me she dealt with similar issues the first year she participated and that I had to change my clothes immediately.

Just like that, I was good as new. Body warm, teeth still, and personally much happier than I had been the last thirty minutes.

Picture by Martha Kirby @martha_kirby

Nevertheless, despite my struggle, I still managed to maintain an average pace faster than I've run the majority of my running "career."

Now it was time for sleep. We drove to our next meeting point where we were given the luxury of "sleeping" - I use that term very lightly. I "slept" upright in my chair, utilizing my arm as a pillow for about two hours before going with our first runner to meet up with van 2 around 4am.

That cold, crisp, Oregon morning air hit me the moment we emerged from the place we'd called home for the last 15+ hours. But it was time to kickstart our third legs. How were we already nearing the end?!

I had to wait for five other runners to complete their third and final leg but then it was my turn to end this glorious ride. Thankfully, my final leg was my easiest and gifted me with lots of downhill action, something I hadn't really experienced before this point.

My body ached, my mind faced the challenge of feeling like this was the longest 5ish miles of my life, despite the majority of it being downhill, but once I crossed that finish line I felt immediate elation at the feat I had just conquered.

Was that real life? Yes, yes it was. And it was MY real life.

Picture by Martha Kirby @martha_kirby

I sat there in the drizzling rain under a cloud covered Oregon coast sky celebrating with my team, taking in this once in a lifetime moment. I truly couldn't believe any of that had just happened. But boy am I glad it did.

Over the course of Hood to Coast, I challenged myself both physically and mentally and came out on the other side better for it. From the moment I signed on to be a part of my team I immediately felt a mixture of anxiousness and excitement. Both parts anxious and excited for the unknown.

I went into the weekend with no expectations and the mindset to simply "go with the flow," and I would recommend that to anyone considering participating in this emotionally and physically exhausting relay race.

Surprises (both good and bad) will be thrown at you throughout the course of the weekend but know that they are all part of the magical journey that is Hood to Coast.

My catchphrase over the weekend became "It is what it is," and let me tell you, it was a beautiful, magical journey. One that I'm anxiously awaiting repeating in 2019.

Picture by Martha Kirby @martha_kirby

(Originally Published September 4, 2018)

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