Last Thursday, was off to Big Kahuna land in Seaside, Oregon meaning a forced rest day just to travel. Having worked 8 days in a row, training several hours each day in hazy, hot, humidity, and feeling some relief from a Jessica Marriott Sports Massage, I think this could be the race my body needs. That and the fact that the weather out west was cool at 55-70 degrees probably doesn’t hurt at all either. But still, having NOT raced pretty much all year (other than as Ice Guy mascot), this was a good actual race.
I got up at 4:15am which is Gina time and though we didn’t have much time together the past few days, we made the most of the early morning hours we did have available. She dropped me off at the airport and by the time she got home, I was checked in and at the gate. Smooth. Little did I know that she slipped an inspirational card in my bag that I later found which I carried with me the entire race! Fellow teammates Curly and Punisher were on the same flight so was good to have company. The Kahunas all are not only great runners, but great friends, influences, and connections to a network that spans some 14 years of Coach Spano and Sandman doing this race. Once we got on the plane, which wasn’t full, and they didn’t put on the lights, half the passengers dozed off (me too but I did manage to read 2 of my magazines and a chapter in my book). After a 5 hour flight and quick bag claim, we met up with Maverick, grabbed some java and we’re now up and charged for the 90 minute drive to the Reunion House in Seaside – home of the Big Kahunas
Wow the weather was awesome. Sun me Sun me. Oh and hit me with some of that Pacific Ocean breeze. Thank you.
Coach took a few of us right away to Mo’s which is in Canyon Beach (remember the Goonies movie?) and had a nice cod fish sandwich with fries for brunch. As much air as possible keeps you awake now. I unpacked and claimed my futon bed with the great view and sounds of the waves which help put me to sleep. Went for a nice walk, then relaxed as the final members of the team came in and Coach organized his group dinner. Just a pleasure running with these guys – Sandman, Gasman, Buzz, Seahawk, Sticks, Achilles, ET, E-Dub, Danger, Ruby, Ladybug, Maverick, Jefe, Patron, and Little, and the many Kahunas not here that I have had the pleasure to race as teammates the 4 times I’ve done this relay. You can find the 4 prior race journals in the posts history section if you want to read about those to get an idea of my thoughts of it back then.
We had a brief meeting and Coach let us know that the departure time was 6am, so I had a little melatonin help to call it a night by 10pm, or 1am EST. It was time to get into race mode. Time to prepare the body for hard racing, no sleep for 40 hours, and timely, proper fueling to keep the mind functioning optimally throughout. It’s Hood to Coast yo.
How hard is it to get into this race? Unless you place top 4 in your division, you have a 40% chance to get one of the converted 1000 slots. Yes, that many teams run the roads from Mt. Hood to Seaside in addition to hundreds of volunteers at exchange points along the way. Nothing but runners. And a huge beach party awaits at the end.
I have Leg 5 – 19.66 miles total. Difficulty level #1. Distance total #1.
Having done this leg twice before, muscle memory is my intent to frame my mind when attacking it. We had a 10:30 am start time so off the Kahuna team departed in the darkness of morning at 5am towards Mt. Hood.
The good thing about being in Van 1 is that you start right away. We made it to Mt Hood in plenty of time to take a team photo, loosen up, and soak up the sun. Seriously I was surprised how warm it was up here. 6000 ft and the sun made the 60 degree morning feel like 70. Awesome. We got all the vans decorated in Kahuna style and by 10:30 Coach was lined up at the start. It was GO time.
Once he started, we made our way to the vans and headed to the next exchange. Everyone takes turns driving but I found a good rhythm by taking the wheel for the first few exchanges. Kept my mind distracted off things and focused on the team. We were in second place after leg 4 and I was amped to try and make up ground on my first run. Once I got the baton from Sticks I was off.
I may have gone out too fast as I saw I was hitting sub 6 pace. I felt it too. It was 12:30 and around 75 degrees. A good headwind to boot on the highway route. Once we started the 3 mile uphill climb I saw our lead in sight. With less than a mile to go I was able to make a pass and get a minute lead off to Buzz. Wow!! Welcome back to HTC Hammer. That one hurt a bit - 6.2 miles in 37 minutes @6:30 pace
Buzz lengthens our lead to a few minutes as we handed off to Van 2. We now had at least 4 hours to hop to the next rotation point but more important was dialing in on hydration, good light eats/fluids (banana/Bonk Breaker/aminos) and plenty of stretching. And more walking. Stay loose. Vitamins. Again. And repeat each rotation. But man the weather was so warm and beautiful! Soak up the atmosphere. Picture runners in droves like at the start of a major marathon but in teams of 12! With plenty of costumes and oddball Van decorations- with uncensored language to boot – that’s Hood to Coast.
Soon it was rotation 2 as the second Van did well. I took the wheel again and made our way through some congestion along exchange points but getting rolling again. Dusk approached then darkness. We lost our lead and were down some 6 minutes. I planned to cruise control this 7 mile leg but got a little competitive to make up time. I grabbed the baton once again from Sticks and off I went at 9:30 pm.
I had a seriously good rhythm going and dialed into everything: breath, air, pace, body check. And again. With only the light from my headlamp, I kept eye with my Polar and saw 6:07 consistent each time. I enjoyed the ease of it. The sky was lit with stars and though of Gina and said a few prayers. Was worth it, cause the route was extended more than half a mile towards the end in what became a blur of a run. I knew I would feel it later but I completed the flat 8 mile portion in 49 minutes @6:12 pace.
Back in the van and onward. Now it was close to midnight when we arrived at the Van exchange rotation zone but was able to cue a tweet and message to Gina since we had cell service (and though it was like 2am EST). Oh if I could only snap a photo of the stars. The sky was amazing.
Got a little chilly as everyone in the van took a nap. Me – I stayed awake by typing these notes. Pure adrenaline and energy pathways neurological stimuli fired up. It’s tough but worth it to experience. I relish the whole physiological aspect of it too. I’ll pass out when it’s over. I also was the alarm clock cause by 3:30am we will be set to start our final rotation. And the toughest. Every 20 minutes I took a walk outside in the nice cold air to liven up. Looked up at the stars, said a quick prayer, then back in the van to warm up again. This is the only time you have to make sure you stay warm by wearing the layers. Sip hydration. I made sure the van was awake by 2:30am as we expected the Van 2 to be done around 3. There is little if any cell service available during these final legs so communication between vans is critical prior to. We got Coach ready and though he was hurting bad with knee/calf pains ever since his first run, he was ready to gut it out no matter how slow. Sure enough at 3:15 Van 2 was here and the exchange came and off we were for our final rotation.
The roads though on back country were quiet for us driving and helped me stay awake for sure behind the wheel. We nailed each exchange on our end except when Gasman and I underestimated having him ready for Coach when he came by. That was hilarious as we had to help Gasman get stopped down just as Coach arrived. Only 20 seconds delay in the handoff, but one of those Kahuna stories to talk about afterwards.
Once Punisher went out for his leg, I made sure to get ready with Sticks who had only a 4 mile final leg before me. I stayed warm by layering Aquaphor and keeping my compression socks on with gloves. Sticks was now out running so it was going to be close to 6am when I went out and would get the whole dark/brightening sequence of day. As I warmed up at the exchange point I got a fist pump from Coach and set the mind set for one tough climb. As I grabbed the wrist baton from Sticks, I set off for my final run.
And up I went. Just as if I had done this last year as oppose to 4 years ago, it was the same images. Winding climb 1300 ft and never seemed to end. It was crisp air and I allowed myself to simply just get into it. Each mile up I got quicker, warmer, stronger, all while maintaining touch within to any soreness that may easily get exacerbated on this climb. Not many out here but enough to target and pass. They have a great crowd at the top and that’s when you know you’ve reached it. But then it’s a screaming 6:00 pace all downhill for the final 2 miles. Let it roll!! But just as tactically you MUST monitor the quads as the are some foot strikes that with another few pounds of force could easily end it with a tear. But I was all controlled and as I hit the line of cars awaiting the transition, I saw the Van a few yards back telling me Buzz was ready just hand off and wait for them there. And just as smoothly, I handed off to Buzz, jogged 20 yards, hopped in the Van, and off we went to the final rotation zone.
Done!!! The 6.3 mile leg in 37+ minutes at 6:45 pace. All 20 miles of my HTC was completed.
It wasn’t until we got to the zone as I went to get up did I feel the sharp stab pains of sore legs. My right side was sore as well. A time to really not joke with recovery methods. Once we made sure all was secure with Buzz and his relay to Van 2, we made the hour drive back to the house and finish line. We finally had some cell service and I got to send some messages to Gina. I took the massage stick and then rolled my quads and hamstrings all the way back. Everyone was beat up. We got back to the house around 8am and I immediately unpacked a bit, mandated stretches, and a much needed shower before drinking a big cup of java with a banana and another Bonk Breaker bar. I wanted to wait till the team finished before having the appetite to devour a bagel/PB/banana sandwich. Oh yeah. Move move move. I awaited at the beach watching the runner teams finish as the huge beach party was brewing up. By 11:15 our team finally finished and we all crossed the line together.
We lost in our division by 17 minutes as we finished 2nd and finished 33rd overall out of 1000 teams with a time of 24:39.
A true team effort and NOW the party time was to begin!
Well more like a slow party time. We all dispersed as half the team opted for long naps at the house, some like me just caught up on emails, etc and food intake and sun soaking (it was 75 and truly awesome weather). That sandwich was goooooood. I helped clean up some of the vans, soaked my feet in the cold Pacific, and soon the second team Kahuna recreational team was finishing by 6pm. We then went back to the beach to see them finish. Now on fumes around 7pm I made myself some good dinner and most of us were sharing stories of the race. Some went to try and see the boxing match but I was counting the minutes to 9pm. once the sun went down with this view I knew it was time.
After 41 hours awake, I prepped myself on the futon and said my Daily Examen before shutting my eyes and lying to sleep. Amen. Amen. Race over.
I woke up at 6am to the sounds of the waves and feeling totally recharged. I did some stretching calisthenics on the patio to assess any soreness and then was joined by Curly and Punisher for the quick walk to the 8am Mass at Our Lady of Victory (fitting name no?). A nice small Catholic church I’ve been to in the past to simply give thanks for a fun, healthy, blessed race for all. Nourishment for the spiritual MC each week, and here, allowed for a solid end to a great weekend. Granted today was just beginning, but it’s a day we all just eat, walk, do what we want, and simply recover before most of us depart tomorrow. I FaceTimed Gina after Mass that morning and personally look forward to going home and share the experience with her over dinner and wine! We did get another medal for our placing in the SuperMasters division. More sun to soak up today as it has been spectatcular 70+ degrees each day here. Those 2 guys came and joined me for an hour bike ride which I rented from a local shop about a 20 minute walk from the house. A great way to loosen the legs and see the town. Then helped cleaned the vans, did what was needed to pack, and just relaxed with most of the team who chilled out and watched baseball (after al with 3 hours back, we catch all the later games on east coast time!). Coach SPANO cooked each of us a steak as tradition and we all has a good final dinner together for everyone to end the celebrations and toast us all. Some chose to party out afterwards but I just waited till sunset again before heading to my futon.
Another great Big Kahuna experience Hammer has had with a great team effort. Much love, much friendship, much fun over 200 miles of racing and pain. But worth every bit of it in memories forever – again. Yo.