Following a two-year hiatus, Mies Van Der Run, Bora’s Hood-to-Coast team, was back in action this past weekend, participating in the 40th running of the world’s largest long-distance relay. While the idea of running 200 miles over a two-day period is a bit on the crazy side, the concept is pretty simple: 12 runners, traveling in two vans, complete 36 segments that stretch from the Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood to the coast at Seaside, OR. Along the way are mountains, country roads, exchange stations, porta-potty lines, napping attempts, middle-of-the-night radio playlists, and lots of Trader Joe’s snacks.
Last Friday, our team set 2:00am alarm clocks to meet up, pack our hybrid minivan, and head up Mt. Hood for a 5:10am start. Attempting to sleep on the drive up might have been wise, but with pre-race adrenaline and Sirius XM radio in our rental van, there was way too much excitement to even think about it. The top of the mountain provided breezy 50-degree air, a full display of stars, and hundreds of other participants decorating their vans in preparation for the start. Fighting the drips of the car window markers, we managed to sketch a mural of the course, our boar mascot, and the requisite checkboxes next to our names to track our route progress.
Just before first light, our assigned wave gathered at the start and with a 2,000-ft. vertical drop over 6 miles, we were off on our 200-mile journey. Soon, the sun was up, the fog rolled in, and after a few more legs, we had descended more than 5,000 ft., heading back towards Portland and the Pacific Ocean beyond.
By now, all six runners in Van One had completed our first legs. We handed off the baton (an industrial-strength snap bracelet) to Van Two before heading to Portland for breakfast and a bit of rest.
Back in Portland! Right where we met in the dark 7 hours (or a few days) earlier. Our Day One post-run meal featured a backyard barbeque feast of breakfast tacos with eggs, grilled veggies, chorizo, avocado, and an endless supply of corn tortillas, followed by a brief siesta in an attempt to make up for barely sleeping the night before.
We were back in the van, refreshed and ready for the baton hand-off from Van Two. The second legs for the first van began in Downtown Portland, with a run over Portland’s newest car-free Tilikum Crossing bridge, and then headed north between Forest Park and the Willamette River. The afternoon sun was warm at this point and shade was minimal as we passed along the waterfront trail and then on through industrial NW Portland. The next series of segments went over smoothly, with the sun slowly setting, providing welcome shade and cooler air just in time for some pleasant afternoon runs.
As we approached the second hand-off to Van Two, the need for McDonalds French fries became increasingly urgent. Luckily, a drive-through was nearby and we got to refuel on this classic runner’s amuse-bouche. We did manage a hearty dinner that night after handing off once again to Van Two for their second legs around 8:00pm, then driving to the spot where we were to meet them again a few hours later. At this point, we were well out of cell phone range, and cooking hot meals was only a distant memory. Were the breakfast tacos yesterday? This morning? Last week? About 12 miles of running and maybe two hours of sleep into the event, we gathered together on picnic blankets in the dark to share a meal of cold sandwiches, prepared with a single one-and-a-half-inch pocket knife. Satisfied with the meal, we set up sleeping bags in the field to catch a few hours of sleep, peacefully dozing off to a light drizzle and the sound of race volunteers calling off numbers of the runners coming in at the nearby exchange.
It turns out that scattered sleeping bags in the dark all look exactly the same; we almost lost a few team members who wandered off to the porta-potties and then attempted to return to the group in the dark. But in the end, everyone was accounted for by the time the alarm sounded at 12:30am on what in hindsight must have been Saturday morning. Coffee and tooth-brushing provided much-needed normalcy, and we managed to receive the baton from Van Two right around the time we had predicted. We then headed off on Van One’s third set of legs that would take us right up to sunrise. Those predicted times were how we managed to stay on course, and ensure that the next runner was there to receive the baton from the previous, but after 20 hours on the road and two sleepless nights, simple arithmetic became all but impossible. Throughout that night, it took more of us an increasingly absurd amount of time to add or subtract 15 minutes from the pre-race prediction, until figuring out the next runner’s arrival time became an all-hands-on-deck activity. While the rest of the van was estimating finish times, for the runner on the winding country roads in the black of night, the entire universe was reduced to the few blinking lights on the vests of the runners down the road ahead.
Van One had completed its final legs just as first light began to emerge. Tired, hungry, sweaty, confused, and glowing with accomplishment, it was time for a celebratory breakfast before catching up at the finish line with the rest of the team. We drove through Astoria on our way to the coast, where we had two sequential breakfasts: a continental spread at 7:00 and then a full-on brunch at 8:00, as we lounged in a cafe that slowly filled with runners from other vans as the race continued to progress towards the ocean.
Arriving on the beach by mid-morning, we were greeted by beautiful Oregon coast weather—cloudy for sure, but the sun was streaming through just enough to allow for a not-too-frigid ocean swim. By noon we were uniformed and gathered by the finish line to join our final runner for the last 100 meters to the long-awaited, hard-earned, victorious finish.
31 hours, 10 minutes, and 46 seconds after first heading down the slopes of Mt. Hood in the dark of a seemingly distant night…we had arrived.
Who’s ready to join us next year?