The team that Leah is part of, and now I am too, is none other than Kult Kervorkian. Running for 20 years strong, the Kult was featured in the Hood To Coast movie, appeared in the German version of Runners’s World (with the feature writer embedded in the team) and has also been in the Portland Tribune.
Kult Kervorkian of the more unique and well known names in the history of the relay. The captain of the team is the same. Randy Gibbs has run 26 straight Hood to Coast Relays and his unique view on life and the race made it a fun for all. He is one of those guys who the announcer picks on at the start and isn’t afraid to put on a little show.
In my return to the relay I was assigned leg six, which meant the privilege of being up at Timberline Lodge at the start. Randy, clad in a tie dyed shirt the team’s name and skull & crossbones emblem, wasted little time in getting the race started right, taking off with matching tie dye flag a-flying when the countdown hit “two.” Thankfully, that false start was not grounds for disqualification.
While early in the week temperatures had pushed well into the 80s, a marine layer kept the sun from warming things up past 75 all day Friday. With a west wind coming across the mountain, a sweatshirt proved handy well into the noon hour. The ideal conditions provided for some great times for everyone in our van. The only notable exception was Quin, whose 65-year-old body kept him slowed down on the grueling fourth leg.
THE FIRST LEG: LEG 6
In pulling leg six, I knew that my first run would be the longest at 6.82 miles. With the weather as it was and with net downhill coming into Sandy, I had a feeling I could push the pace and have a shot for a really good time. Our leg five runner, Patty, turned in a good performance and the wait at the exchange zone was minimal. I used the uphill over the first mile as a brisk warmup (the exchange zone had little room for more than stretching).
From there, it was on cruise as the hills rolled along Highway 26 towards Sandy. As their are no mile markers for the legs, it was hard to determine what kind of pace I was running. I tried to figure it out at point using the highway mile markers, which was thwarted by a missing mile 28 sign. So it was run by feel, and I felt good. The 4 p.m. climate was not bad at all…and picking up numerous “roadkills” (passing people) provided motivation.
There were two markers that I had committed to memory. The first was Calamity Janes, a burger joint just east of Sandy, that put me with about 2.5 miles to go. The second was the turn onto Bluff St., which led to Sandy High School and the exchange zone. The corner put me at a half mile to know and I knew then that I was home free.
My pace per mile time that was entered in the team entry was 7:34 per mile, and that nearly caused our second van to miss my arrival. I pumped in at 47:57 for the 6.82 miles, which put me at a 7:01 per mile pace. The teammate I handed off to made it to the exchange zone with 53 seconds to spare. In all, a very successful first leg.
From Sandy it was back to Randy’s house where a hot tub, hot showers and hot chicken fettuccine awaited us. It also provided a chance to check out the “Rogue’s Gallery” of Kult Kervorkian teams past. The walls of the Gibb house are lined with photos of the family and their kids. But the second floor hallway is dominated by Hood To Coast photos. A storied history to say the least.
By 8 p.m. it was back in the van and off to downtown Portland to start it all again.
THE SECOND LEG: LEG 18
One of the unique parts of a relay race is the prospect of running in the middle of the night. The night legs seemed to go well for all the members of van one. Quin’s second leg went better than the first and Patty also ran a strong leg before handing off to me in St. Helens. This exchange was the easiest of three. The exchange was in the St. Helens High School parking lot and there was ample parking at the retail establishments around.
After a strong first leg, my plan was to run the second leg slower. I was anticipating eight minute per mile pace. The temperature cooled off thanks to a wind coming down the river, so I chose to run with a long sleeve shirt (as it ended up, it was 65 degrees and I could have worn short sleeves easily).
The route from St. Helens High School to the Columbia County Fairgrounds ran along Highway 30 for the first 1.25 miles before traversing neighborhood streets the rest of the way. i just ran by feel and despite having sat in a van for four hours things felt good. I picked up another 20 “roadkills” along the way and finished the 5.23 miles in 38:55, a 7:24 per mile pace.
This leg was a good lesson in not always trusting the elevation map in the race handbook. The map was labeled as hard and showed steady and significant uphill climbs. The course was far from hilly and I felt like I could cruise much of the way.
With our second legs over, it was quickly off in the van for the one hour trip to Mist and the next van exchange, where a well-deserved sleep awaited us.
The sleep that we hoped for never came. Not long after getting past the No. 23 exchange, we hit a traffic jam that made the 405 in Los Angeles look easy. For two-and-a-half hours, we crept along at a snail’s pace. We didn’t reach the No. 24 exchange until 6 a.m. What should have been a three hour sleep ended up being less than a hour.
When a jam like that happens, you know that something has gone wrong. We heard a couple of different stories of what caused the backup. One was that the parking lot at Mist had filled up and there was no place to put any more vans. Another story had people pulling out their sleeping bags and sleeping on the road (or near the road) and ODOT shutting things down for a time.
Whatever happened, everyone suffered. Our wait of two hours in traffic ended up being minimal. We talked to some people who waited in the backup for at least three hours. Randy likened the collection of runners at the exchange as “a bunch of orphans,” with some people waiting as long as an hour and a half for their next runner. By the time Randy left, some people talked of the backup stretching back through the 22nd and 23rd exchange zones, a backup of some 12 miles.
It will be interesting to see how long Kenneth, our 12th leg runner, had to wait before our second van could pick him up.
Nobody I think was happier to get through that maelstrom as Randy. He drove the entire way from St. Helens to Mist and was obviously frustrated by the backup. His final proved strong, covering his 3.75 mile leg in 39:10.
And we were finally back on our way, but we never completely shook the traffic until we finished.
THE THIRD LEG: LEG 30
It was obvious that the traffic issues and the general wear and tear that a relay race can take had gotten to our van, but despite that all of our van one runners put together strong final runs. Randy ran perhaps his best leg to start things off and Kathy was solid on a six-mile second leg where she got bogged down in the final two miles by heavy traffic.
Aaron proved strong despite some Achilles’ tendon soreness and Quin closed out with his best effort of the race. Patty had the unenviable honor of leg 29, which started with a grueling three a half mile climb to the top of the coast range on Highway 202. She walked a bit but persevered well.
When Patty started the two mile downhill run to end her leg, it became obvious that our van would not get to the exchange point on time. At one point she passed the van back before the traffic allowed us to move about 150 yards back ahead. At that point, Aaron and I jumped out of the van and made a 1 1/4 mile jog down to the exchange point. I made it with about 75 seconds to spare.
Being the last leg, my plan was go let it all out. After a gradual two-and-a-half mile climb, my leg finished with three miles of downhill. I felt like I could let myself go in that final three miles and cruise into the finish for a good time.
I started the leg quite strong and immediately started piling up roadkills. I started the climb up the hill before the van caught up with me on its way to our final exchange. I was able to crest the hill and get about three-quarters of a mile down before it happened: the quads seized up a bit. I also realized that I might not have fueled properly. Despite the strong start, I needed three short walk breaks to get through the run.
I made it through the 5.35 mile segment in 39:50. It was my slowest leg with an average of 7:24 per mile, but I was still satisfied by what I was able to accomplish. I made it into the exchange before the fan, being picked up about 10 minutes later. I was waiting in the exchange zone for about 30 seconds as the team had trouble hearing the volunteers announcing the numbers.
Our van greeted me with cold Gatorade, a chance to stretch out a bit and a one-way ticket to Broadway Middle School in Seaside, where a hot shower was in my future.
It was right around 6 p.m. before Kult Kervorkian crossed the finish line together n the beach at Seaside. From years past, the act of crossing the finish line was anticlimatic. We had to wait until Kenneth, our final runner, made it down the promenade, hand our bib number to a staging announcer before we were assigned a corral where we were called out to cross the line.
When we called our number up to the main announcer to cross the line, he replied, “I know who you are.” The Kult Kervorkian tradition was alive and well within Hood To Coast.
I remember fondly the finish procedure in 1999, where we were called forward to a holding area as our final runner made their way down the promenade. We then joined him as we all truly finished the race together. I like the symbolince of everyone finishing together with the final runner.
This year’s Hood to Coast also did not have any action photographers on the course, somewhat disappointing considering that they are great souvenirs of the experience. A team photo was able to be taken, with a photographer charging $4 for a 4×6 print of the team against a background of the beach. We opted as many teams did to take our own team photo in front of a whimsical course map.
All-in-all, my Hood to Coast experience was a positive one. I enjoyed the company of Randy, Cathy, Quin, Aaron and Patty. My times exceeded my own expectations and those of my teammates. And despite the weariness, I finished the experience with energy and gratefulness.