August is always a special time of the year for me as it elevates one’s focus and training on completing another Hood to Coast event. As the years flow by, this will be my 33rd consecutive year of running this wonderful race and I am now known as the “last man standing” who is the only runner left that has run in every H2C run since the initial race back in 1982! I am also a long-standing member of the Dead Jocks in a Box team and if you have seen the Hood to Coast movie you know who we are. Whenever I am asked which marathon or which running event I have done is the most memorable, the H2C stands above all other races and events. So I decided to provide just a few of the reasons why this event is so unique and memorable.
After 50+ years of competitive running which includes 15 marathons (Boston, Avenue of the Giants and many Portland Marathons), I still consider the initial H2C is my most memorable running event of all. The concept for this wonderful event was first discussed while on one of many marathon training runs done with Bob Foote and a gang of 6 or 7 runners who did those required 20 mile workouts that all marathoners learn to both love and hate. Our group had been running the Portland Marathon for several years and many of us had progressed from a 3:30 first marathon to running in the 2:35 level which is just under a 5:55 pace per mile. At this level of pacing and being in our mid 30’s, the prospect of dipping down to 2:30 was a diminishing prospect. Under these circumstances, Bob brought up the concept of an endurance run consisting of 10 runners, covering 150 miles in 30 separate legs. Each runner would be required to run 3 x 5 mile legs from Mt. Hood to Pacific City. After much discussion while running one of our 20 mile workouts, in addition to believing that we were a group of “hardcore” endurance runners, we decided that it would be better to enter our team insisting of only 5 guys and we would do 6 x 5 mile legs for a total workout of 30 miles each. Everyone agreed to enter our team (which included Bob Foote) to see how the initial race would be accepted by the local running population.
A week before the initial race, some of my teammates were doing intervals at Duniway and noticed another group of runners also completing a set of sub 70 second intervals on the track. When asked what they were training for, they replied that they were going to enter this crazy race from Mt Hood to the Coast. Our guys were concerned that our concept of running 6 legs might be a bit much so we asked the other team how many runners they had. “We could only find 5 runners to do this so we are going with 5!” The light bulbs went off rather quickly and it was decided that rather than battle each other all the way to the coast, we agreed to join forces with this other team and try to take the title for sure.
The first race consisted of no “on course management” being available. To get to the coast, Bob explained that he had ridden his bicycle on the entire course and put a double line marker on the road every 5 miles….exactly every 5 miles! To find each exchange point, you looked at your odometer, traveled exactly 5 miles and you would eventually see the H2C marker on the road. It was a bit unorthodox for sure, but it worked just fine. There were 8 teams entered with 80 runners in all. We stood up on Mt. Hood at 5:00am and waited for the sun to come up to start the race. At approximately 5:30am, leg 1 runners started running not down the road, but down the Glade Ski trail to Government Camp. This was more treacherous than Bob had imagined as the trail is almost straight down with no switchbacks so the first set of runners exited the trail with many sets of scratches, bruises and small cuts which just made the race even more exciting. (Please note that this was the only year Leg 1 was completed on a ski trail. Bob moved Leg 1 to the Timberline Trail in year 2 which was a very smart modification)!
Two of the teams entered were high school cross-country teams and since we were 15+ years removed from high school we were asked at the start, “what are you old guys doing up here trying to run this race?” Nothing triggers the adrenalin more in a marathoner than being called “an old guy”! Youth does have its virtues however and for the first 6-7 legs it was a dog fight between the “high schoolers” and the old men Marathoners. As you all know, the first leg of the H2C can be run at top speed if you want to do this, but the 2nd and 3rd legs will highlight what “smart” pacing and payback is all about.
After the first rotation, we had established a small but growing lead on the youngsters as we maintained a steady 5:30/mile average pace and the competition had a few weaker links in their last 2-3 runners who were in the 6-7 min/mile range. By the time we hit Portland, we had gained almost an hour on the young bucks and they were all fading quickly on their 2nd legs (slipping to 7:00 min/mile paces andeven some walking was required). At this point, some of our guys were also contemplating an easing of our pacing since we were no longer being challenged. This is where the magic of the Hood to Coast kicks in as you are no longer running alone as in a marathon so the sense of being on a team means that no one wants to be labeled a “slacker”. Since this was the very first H2C, it was decided to maintain our 5:30 pace as long as possible to make a statement that old guys can still run fast. We also added a caveat that and anyone who went over a 6:00 min/mile leg would risk be replaced next year. All in jest, of course, but it was so amazing to be racing on a leg heading to the coast, running all by yourself, knowing that exactly 5 miles down the road, 9 other guys would be waiting to see how you did. The cars that passed by had no idea why this one individual would be flying down a country road with no one else in sight and then they would see a small group of runners standing around a van waiting to make the next exchange. A truly unique concept was being experienced that day and the results of this magic would extend beyond everyone’s expectation as to how well accepted this race might become. On this day, however, we were definitely have a wonderful time and had already committed to return next year to defend our title.
We did finish the first H2C at an average pace of 5:35/mile despite have no competition for the final 100 miles. The magic of this race was that we were running with some new friends that quickly became “best friends” and this bonding of running together as a team was something that we all missed since our days of high school cross-country. It is an amazing emotion that running with a group or team creates. When you are in a marathon and things start to unravel, you feel the isolation of being alone. However, when you are in the H2C and feeling a bit tired while climbing a tough leg, you know there are people at the end of your leg ready to cheer you on and the pain does seem to magically subside as you get to the exchange and the energy levels at each and every exchange is unbelievable!……the magic of team camaraderie and being so supported is the key element what makes the H2C so special.
As each year has progressed, many of my original teammates succumbed to the rigors of running long distances and new runners had to constantly join the team. In my 10th year, one of my original teammates hooked up with the Dead Jocks and I have been running with this team for the last 23 years. Over the years, the original Dead Jock Team has also experienced a steady attrition of runners with always a new guy waiting to enthusiastically join our group and keep the magic of this team concept alive and well.
After the first race was completed, we all thought that this race was so much fun and envisioned that it could probably attract 50-60 teams once the word got out. This level of interest was easily exceeded in the 2nd year with 60+ teams and in the 3rd year we saw a doubling to 125+ teams then upward to 500+ teams in year 4. So much credit needs to be given to my good friend Bob Foote who conceived this idea back in 1981 and then had the perseverance to work with all of the towns on the course to gain their support and enable this race to continue.
At 65 years of age, the H2C is the race that keeps me training in the winter and helps me get to the track in the spring to run those now more difficult interval workouts. Although the sub 5:30 pacing is now a distant memory, the excitement of running this race with a bunch of wonderful teammates never seems to fade. Running is a sport that can help keep the body young and strong if you maintain sensible training schedule with a balanced cross training program. Running the Hood to Coast with 11 other friends, however, is what keeps me going strong and I hope to continue running this race for another 15 years or more.
Looking forward to seeing you on the road next weekend. If you see one of the Dead Jock vans go by, stop over and say hello, we love to meet all of the runners who are enjoying this race as much as we do……..
Safe running everyone……