The announcer introduced the teams in the 10:15a wave, egged on the crowd to cheer louder, counted down from 10, and we were on our way back the way we’d come, having made the turnaround on the longest out-and-back course any of us had ever run.
As the runners burst from the starting line, we were proud of Dave’s discipline as he wisely hung back and saved himself for the efforts left to come. He knew better than to barrel down the 7% grade and trash himself, something that runners doing the conventional three legs are often lured into by the tempting downhill.
Sure enough, by the time he handed off to Jim in Government Camp he had moved up several places, none the worse for wear. Jim cruised down Leg 2 Westbound with a solid yet sane pace, neither smoking his brakes nor having to use the runaway truck ramp.
With Todd on the road, we approached Exchange 3 and Jim announced his intention to take advantage of Dairy Queen for a post-run ice cream cone. The cruelly placed DQ called out to me like Homer’s sirens, but with my next leg only one runner away I had to tie myself to the metaphorical mast and hold off on the dairy products. But I made a mental note to obtain a cone of my own at the earliest opportunity.
Todd added another leg to his strong performances and handed off to Mike, who ate up the miles on Leg 4 Westbound while I anxiously awaited what I knew would be my toughest leg of the whole CTHTC effort.
Leg 5 Westbound, which was my fifth leg, is a tough uphill challenge even when it’s the first leg on a normal team. I ran it around 1:30p with the sun beating down on Hwy. 26, and got passed early on by some speedster. Since we were just in it to finish and accomplish something unique, I wasn’t particularly worried about time or place, so I let him go.
But when a second runner deigned to pass me, something clicked and I had my first competitive spark of the race: “Some kid is passing me on his first leg?” I thought. “He has no idea I’m on my fifth leg! Show some respect for your elders.” That kind of woke me up, and I picked up the pace slightly.
I gradually caught up with him and we ran together for awhile, before I began to pull away on the hill just before Cherryville Lane. The narrow road through the woods at Cherryville was mostly shady, and that made a huge difference. It was very hard running, but I got into a great rhythm and finished the leg strong, holding off my challenger.
I’ve run Leg 5 several times before, always late at night (including Eastbound this year). There’s an especially steep curve before the final straight section leading to the exchange, and in the dark I always thought the straight was level and just hard running because I was totally spent. But in broad daylight I realized it was still uphill, just not as steep. No wonder that leg is such a tough one! I’ve always liked how the exchange, and the crowd of runners and teammates, is framed by the trees lining the narrow road as you approach. Though tough, Leg 5 is one of my favorites.
Having handed off to Kevin and Van 2, it was time for us five Van 1 runners to take a well-earned break, and Todd produced a sheet of directions to a co-worker’s house is Gresham. Our extremely generous hostess had kindly set us up with bountiful food and drinks, and offered us several beds in which to catch a few winks (though we didn’t have time for a full 40).
While Mike, Jim, and I set down our bags and considered our eating, drinking, sleeping, and sanitation/hygiene options, Dave and Todd immediately slumped onto the couch and were asleep literally within seconds, maybe even before they landed.
Mike took our hostess up on her offer of a real bed, while Jim and I scarfed down some delicious pulled pork and cole slaw sandwiches and fresh cherries. After a change of clothes, a toothbrushing, and a shave, I set a pillow on the floor, lay down, and immediately fell into a sound sleep.
A watch alarm brought us round well-rested and refreshed, and we thanked our hostess for her amazing hospitality, heeded her directions to the next exchange, and headed off toward the Springwater Corridor to meet up with Van 2 and start our 6th set of legs.
Steve toughed out a long, hot post-TImberline leg along the corridor, and handed off to Dave for more of the same, while Jim and I tried to stay cool in the shade of the van.
The afternoon heat was increasing by the time Jim set off on his Springwater leg. Todd, Mike, and I made the comparatively long trek from the Precision Castparts parking lot down the stairs and across the road to the exchange to wait for Jim to arrive.
We spotted Jim approaching the exchange around the appointed time, but after handing off to Todd he told us he had felt his hamstring or IT band pop a mere half-mile into his leg. Somehow, despite the injury and the oppressive heat, he had soldiered on and completed the run at a normal pace.
While Mike went to get the van, Jim and I headed straight to the local market for ice for his hamstring and refreshments for our stomaches. I stood over the ice cream coolers, savoring my choices, finally opting for a classic drumstick. It was the perfect snack at the time, and later I realized I had eaten it at exactly the same point in the rotation that I could have been eating that cool Dairy Queen cone at Rhododendron. One constant I’ve noticed in every relay is that after a couple legs, dietary caution breaks down and you begin to consume what you crave, impending running be damned.
We loaded up and headed to the Hawthorne Bridge, Jim riding with his sore leg resting on the ice. Though there was some speculation about substitutions and recruiting Dave’s friend (the one who had posted the sign at St. Helen’s – see Part 1) to run Jim’s final two legs, by the time Todd handed off to Mike, Jim was determined to complete his assignment and finish up with the rotation intact. The fact that his final two legs were 20 and 29, two of the hilliest and most demanding legs on the course, earned Jim my vote as UltraLords Ironman!
In the late evening sunlight, the straight stretches on Leg 14 Westbound didn’t seem as endless as they had heading east, and the presence of other runners also made it easier to maintain a solid pace. Again, I was able to settle into a good rhythm and push through the six miles to Linnton feeling good in the slightly cooler evening air. It didn’t even bother me that the westbound radar sign failed to flash my speed, just like its eastbound twin. I came in slightly faster than my eastbound leg and handed off to Kevin with the happy knowledge I had only two four-mile legs left to go.
We left Van 2 to complete their four legs along Hwy. 30 and headed to the Columbia County Fairgrounds, with a brief stop at the Scapoose Safeway for supplies. We conscientiously followed the van directions to Exchange 18, and were cruising along efficiently until we suddenly hit a backup at the intersection with Bachelor Flat Rd.
With traffic at a virtual standstill, we were glad we had allowed plenty of time to beat Steve to the exchange. Still, the extremely slow advance of the vans was nerve-wracking. Little did we know that this would be the norm for the rest of the race.
Luckily we had time for a little more rest at the fairgrounds, and most of us got between 5 and 10 additional winks while we waited for Steve and Van 2 to arrive. A surprisingly cool breeze kicked up and we added an extra layer as we headed across the field to the exchange. We were pleased to see our sign was still present and intact (see Part 1), and Dave asked us to keep it for him as a souvenir while he prepared to run.
Despite our best efforts at estimating his arrival, we missed Steve by about a minute or so, but Dave quickly took the handoff and headed out on the grueling Leg 19 Westbound. We got back in the van, and after a circuitous route out of the fairgrounds, we headed off in pursuit of Dave.
The van traffic began to slow even before we caught up with Dave, and we began to worry that he might reach the next exchange before we even spotted him. But eventually we saw him up ahead and passed him before the final sadistic uphill began. When we offered him water, he urged us to make a bee-line for the exchange because he could see the backup already beginning.
Sure enough, traffic ground to a halt, and before long Dave was running past us, and when Jim and the clipboard got out and reached the exchange on foot, Dave was already there. Our goal was simply to finish and accomplish something new, so losing time at the exchanges was not a huge setback, but the anxiousness of the waiting and the hurrying, and the lost opportunity to mingle with other teams was a disappointment.
Despite his injury, Jim looked smooth and strong as he tackled the seemingly never-ending climb of Leg 20 on the gravel road. We were amazed and inspired to see him passing people who were only on their second legs, while he was sore and running his 7th!
At each exchange from then on we had to get out of the van a mile or so early and hustle down the road to beat our next runner in. Todd kept his momentum going with another solid leg and handed off to Mike.
Somehow we made it through to Exchange 22 ahead of Mike, and I waited in the cold pre-dawn air of the rocky parking area for him to appear. He rounded the corner, and I was off across the rocks and onto Apiary Rd. for my penultimate leg.
It was a little chilly for the first half mile or so, but I soon warmed up and appreciated the cooler nighttime conditions. It was fun running in the dark with other runners around, and the dogs that had objected to my presence on the eastbound trip were nowhere to be seen.
I knew better than to take the line of vans I soon encountered as a sign that the exchange was imminent, but somehow running past the slowed traffic provided an additional boost. And it actually wasn’t long before I spotted the floodlight and a crowd of milling runners, and knew my four-plus miles were almost done.
But when I rolled into the exchange, there were no UltraLords to be found. I stood there catching my breath and soon spotted Mike with the clipboard and then Dave across the road. They didn’t know where Van 2 was either. Traffic? Wrong exchange? We didn’t know, and cell phones weren’t working.
Mike went off to search the parking areas, while Dave volunteered to run down the road and scout the sleeping area. I waited, feeling good about my run and the adventure we were near completing, and not the least bit worried about lost time. Eventually Kevin would show up, we would continue westward, and the journey would continue. I had no doubt we would complete our trip.
All of a sudden there was Kevin, apologizing and taking the handoff, and he disappeared down the road on Leg 24 Westbound. It turned out they had simply overslept, highly understandable given the circumstances of our situation.
With our seventh set of legs in the books, we rejoined the traffic slowly snaking toward Mist and Jewell, heading straight through each exchange. We finally made to the Jewell School in time for another 7 winks or so then went to meet Van 2.
When we reunited with the other van they presented me with some of Mark’s wife’s chocolate chip cookies as an apology for the delay. I will stand around at 4:00a on a back road in the coast range for cookies that good anytime!
Though the traffic was bad, and some of the participants’ tempers became a little short, nobody involved with the race stooped to the level of one driver heading the opposite way, who sped into the exchange, honked long and hard, and then left with a farewell finger and excessive acceleration. That was the only outright rudeness I personally witnessed, and it wasn’t even someone involved with the race.
Dave sped through his final leg with the consistency he had shown all race, and handed off to Jim for what many consider the toughest leg on the course, Leg 29. Roughly three miles up (steep up!) followed by three miles down (steep down!). Again showing few signs of his injury, Jim made steady work of the climb, and we presented him with another toilet paper “finish tape” at the summit. Though it was harder on his leg than the uphill, he survived the descent in decent shape, and handed off to Todd, his final run behind him.
The traffic backups continued unabated, and by the time we were approaching Exchange 30 Mike had decided to hitchhike ahead to his next exchange, and everyone else had a running, timing, or bringing-a-runner-back-to-the-van assignment, and I was left alone to drive. There was nothing to do but sit there and inch the van forward every few minutes, so I hooked up my iPod to the van’s stereo and cranked up my personal unofficial UltraLords theme song, Foghat’s “Eight Days On The Road”.
Not only is the song a typical energetic Foghat “blooze” boogie, ideal for running, with propulsive vocals and crunchy guitar, but with a slight tweak the lyrics are perfect for what we were taking on:
“Cause I’m tired, I’ve been eight [legs] on the road.
That’s right, eight [legs] on the road,
Travelin’ through the night,
There ain’t no time, ain’t no time, ain’t no rest tonight.
Broke and busted, standin’ on the county line,
I’ve been traveling eight [legs] on the road.
That’s right, well, eight [legs] on the road.
Travelin’ through the night,
There ain’t no time, ain’t no time, ain’t no rest tonight.”
Todd added to his consistent efforts, as did Mike, and then it was time for my final four mile leg from Olney. The mid-morning sun was out and the rolling pavement was hot and tiring, but I managed to keep moving, saving just enough breath to encourage the other runners I encountered.
The course crosses a bridge then begins a sweeping righthand uphill curve. The traffic backup had alerted me that the exchange was within a mile or so, but several false finishes raised my hopes prematurely. First I saw a crowd at the first parking area… not the exchange. Then a group milling around the volunteer spotter relaying numbers as runners approached… nope, not it! Finally, as I got further around the curve and the hill got steeper, I saw the exchange itself and sprinted (relatively speaking) toward the pylons.
But where was Kevin? No UltraLords were visible, and it was a few minutes before I saw Dave and the rest of Van 1. Dave tried calling everyone in Van 2, but cell reception was still out, so we had no way of knowing where they were. This time traffic was to blame, and it was 29 minutes before Kevin appeared. But I had completed my eighth leg intact, and barring catastrophe we were going to accomplish our mission, so an extra half-hour wasn’t going to dampen our spirits.
Happy and tired, the five Van 1 runners headed toward Astoria and south to Seaside to our rented house for showers and rest. At our turn off Hwy. 101 we came upon the aftermath of a collision between two vans, one of which was being unloaded by a team of high school runners. We were hopeful that there had been no serious injuries.
After a brief rest at the house, we donned our UltraLords garb provided by Portland Running Company, drove into town, parked, and walked down to the beach to wait for Steve’s triumphant finish. The crowds were considerably larger than they had been on Thursday morning (20,000 vs. 9), but it was fun to observe the various groups of similarly-dressed fit people milling around.
Around 53-and-a-half hours after we had started, the announcer called “746, UltraLords!” and Steve came charging down the promenade, around the corner, and onto the beach, beaming widely. Our goal had been reached, and some small measure of Hood to Coast history had been made.
We waited for the rest of Van 2 to arrive then took our group run under the finish banner, draped our finishers medals around our necks, and stood proudly for our photo. A lazy stint in the beer garden and pizza back at the house rounded out an amazing weekend.
It was a fantastic adventure, and as long as it took, it really seemed to speed by. Dave, Jim, Todd, Mike, Kevin, Mark, Lance, and Steve. What a team, and what a great group of guys! I can’t imagine how it could have gone any better or have been more fun. Thanks guys. Viva UltraLords!