Running is my drug, and the Hood-to-Coast is my new dealer of choice.
I've done a lot of interesting, amazing and relatively difficult things in my life. And today, I am proud of none more than the medal hanging around my neck (still, a day after the race ended).
Do you know about the Hood-to-Coast? It's the world's biggest relay, spanning 197 miles and comprising 1,000 teams, 12,000 runners. The race begins near the top of Mt. Hood, at Timberline Lodge and ends at Seaside, a few dozen feet from the waves lapping the tawny Oregon sand. Our team's estimated time was about 30 hours, meaning each of our 12 mama runners would be on the road about 2.5 hours, around the clock, in their three legs. Our two vans were packed full of bagels, bananas, monstrous jars of peanut butter, blocks of cheese, cold cooked red potatoes and eggs. We had matching shirts with our team name -- .run.mama.run. -- and our slogan (good mama) on the back.
I can't begin to explain how it feels to run the race. Even thinking about it, goosebumps pop all over my cheeks and my eyes water with the magnitude. First it is hard, and second it is fun. And all together just getting to the starting line marked us as a part of an unknowably exclusive club.
We trained. A bunch of our team ran a half-marathon in the fall, before we knew we'd get in (we got in, off the waiting list, in April... long after the October entry deadline), and we'd established a Saturday morning running date. By spring, I'd long since given up on trying to make a Saturday morning, 8 a.m. run, and instead did most of my training alone; but we all cheered each other on through a Yahoo! email list, and through the occasional meeting.
When we all got together to pick leg assignments in June, I chose something with more up than downhills, and no outrageously easy legs. I'm all about challenging myself. My leg, #5, was rated the second-hardest overall, although I didn't realize this until later; but I really picked it for the brutal third segment, #29 [PDF link]. The thing is, I love hills. And I loved this leg, because it seemed like something I could so easily train for. Run uphill, then run back down. It's what I already did, so often, running from my home on 39th up to Mt. Tabor, and back. Up, down. Up, down.
Besides, I'd learned while running the half-marathon that my body doesn't love long distances. Anything over eight miles, and my pace would slow to 10-minute-plus, and my knees would ache, no matter how much I'd trained (granted, I never really trained like a marathoner for the race, but did I really want to?) Now 10K? Well that's my sweet spot. I love a 10K.
While the other mamas were meeting on Saturday mornings to run their 6- to 12-mile monster runs and doing two or three other short runs each week on their own, I had planned to do a Sunday evening long run of between six and 10 miles, two other 4- to 5-mile fast runs up, and then downhill, and one speedy day at the track if at all possible. My goal pace was eight-minute miles, and I worked hard to run most of my training runs at that pace, or faster for downhill. Going down I wanted seven-minute miles to balance out those slower climbs.
The closer the end of August became, the more obvious it was that I was never going to achieve these 20+ mile training weeks. On good weeks, I'd just crest 12 miles, and my longest-ever run, about six weeks before the race, was just over six miles. Would I ever be ready?
But there was hope. I'd been car dieting for the two months leading up to the event. And with car dieting, comes biking. Have I already mentioned that I like a challenge? Yes, the challenge. It turns out that going on errands, kids in tow, on your bike? It's quite the challenge. While I'd been running 12 or fewer miles a week, I'd been biking 20 to 40 miles, often while pulling 60-some pounds of boy, 20-some pounds of trailer.
Here's the question: can biking substitute for running in a Hood-to-Coast training diet? I'd be sure to know the answer soon.
The other mamas, it's possible they wondered, too, whether I could really do it. Erica offered to switch me but I looked at her first leg, #6, was 7.4 miles. I thought about the possibilities... and realized there was no way I could switch from a longest run of 6.1 miles to a longest run of 7.4. Erica's like the Energizer Bunny with the long runs, she keeps going, and going, all at the same pace no matter what. I knew she was far more equipped to start out in the heat of the day with a seven-miler.