In August 2006, I was sponsored by my company to participate in the world’s longest and largest relay race, Hood to Coast, in Oregon, USA. The course starts at Mt. Hood and travels 200 miles down to the Oregon coast. It is an overnight race that consists of 36 section where teams of 12 runners take turns at completing each section. Each team has two vans to carry their runners to the next starting line. They sometimes drive along the race course to cheer the people already running. The whole set up is a sight in itself with runners and their support vehicle overtaking Portland area for the weekend.
This was a weekend of many firsts for me. It was the first time I participated in a relay race. It was the first time I was asked to run at 2 in the morning. It was also the first time I was part of something so big and awesome as can only be expected in North America.
Our day started at the corporate office near Portland where we decorated the van which would be our home for the next 30 hours. The artwork on the van is part of the fun. Each team puts in a lot of effort in making their van stand out and add all kinds of weird and wacky props to it. Hood to Coast is a major tourist attraction in that area and having crazy looking caravan of auto mobiles just adds to the bonhomie factor of the day.
At noon, we drove up to Mt. Hood and registered our team. It was a lovely bright day with not a cloud in sight and just watching all the runners at the start line gave me a thrill. I was booked to run the second section of the race at the base of the mountain. When my turn came I had butterflies in my stomach but once I started running, with baton in hand, thing eased out and everything fell into a rhythm. As the day went on, each of us took turns to run one of the sections. In between, we cheered other runners and engaged in “corporate bonding”.
By night time, we were completely exhausted and badly needed a rest. As some us were not flagged to run for the next few hours, the CEO of the US division very gratefully took us to his home and gave us warm food and shower. We were then driven back to the scene of action. It was past midnight by this stage and we were required to wear head torches powerful enough to illuminate the course. I found this to be the toughest section as my body was not conditioned to run at night. However, I was cheered all the way by my supportive team who couldn’t have done more.
By dawn, we had completed two-thirds of the race and were geared up to do our best on the home stretch. The last few legs go through some stunning Oregon countryside with forests on one side and ocean on the other. It is at the same time very hilly as well. I remember I had to stop and walk a few metres every now and then because trying to run up those hills was not any great deal faster!
We completed the race in approximately 28 hours and were welcomed by great views of the ocean and lovely sandy beach at the finishing line. We spent the rest of the day chilling under the sun, going for a swim and later watching fireworks which were put on for the end of the race party. The Hood to Coast organizers and volunteers do a superb job at making sure this event runs smoothly every year. The logistics of an event like this must be a nightmare and, yet, there was no panic from the organizers on the day. Everything went like clockwork. It’s been a while since I have done any big races and writing this post is making me nostalgic and wanting me to put on my running shoes and go for a run right now by Lake Geneva where I am at present.
Here are some photos: