By Jonna Mary Yost Explore Big Sky Contributor
Runners dressed in tutus, bunny ears and scarlet-hued lingerie waited in line for free granola under sunshine and blue skies near the starting line for Portland’s infamous Hood to Coast relay.
The 198-mile race leads more than 12,600 runners from Mount Hood’s Timberline Lodge to Seaside, Ore., and it’s a massive production, with 1,050 teams and 3,600 volunteers.
I drove 709 miles from Bozeman to Portland, just for a chance to spend the two days running with 11 family members from the area. We began on Friday at 11:45 a.m. when the starter yelled, “Get outta here!” rather than the traditional ‘ready, set, go.’ My husband’s oldest brother took off on that first five-mile leg, starting our relay that ended on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
Three legs per person, varying from four to eight miles, lent to shaky knees at the finish. We ran through the afternoon and through the night. At 4:30 a.m. the following morning, I was grateful for the workouts on Pete’s Hill and the trail runs up South Cottonwood. Bozeman’s elevation had prepared me for the race.
My first leg was a glorious four-mile warm-up. Downhill for the most part, I ran quickly through the pack, giddy to be part of such an incredible endurance event, and passing as many runners as I could. Still descending the mountain, my section was surrounded by immense cedars and foliage. Though participants are required to stay on the roadside, this part of the run felt more like a trail due to the surroundings and wide dirt shoulder.
Leg two began at Marina Way on Highway 30 and wound past the rowdy Burlington Tavern, past the vacant Wildwood Golf Course. I ran through the dark, guided by headlamps propped on baseball caps and blinking, winking LEDs.
These 7.25 miles followed the shoulder of a four-lane highway along gently rolling hills and the Willamette River. Running in the dark brings out the little girl in me, and even though my team stopped at various spots to cheer me on, I still felt the need to go fast and steer away from whatever lingered in the forest depths to my right.
Adrenaline and excitement chased away thoughts of stretching after my first two sections, and after hours of bouncing along in a six-person van, I felt stiff on my last stretch.
As I jogged along a paved country road near Jewell, Ore., in the morning light, I noticed I was not the only runner who had tightened up overnight. But we had our surroundings to keep our minds away from the pain.
Dew droplets sparkled on surrounding trees and blackberry bushes, and weary teams stopped their vans at frequent pullouts to cheer us on, the runners clad in wrinkled, sweat-stained Nike apparel. The slow, winding river lent to mossy bridges and massive weeping willows.
To allow all runners the excitement of crossing the finish line, HTC organizes the end so that each team meets on the coast at Seaside, Ore., and runs through together. Most of us in sandals, finally showered after the arduous race, struggled through the sand and passed below the finish arch, smiling and exhausted.
Jonna Mary Yost is an outdoors writer from Eureka, Montana. She spends most of her time running, hiking, fishing and hunting to fuel her life as well as her writing.