Monday, August 30, 2010

Hood to Coast 2010 - Better Than Real Life

This year's Hood to Coast experience was different from past Hoods to Coasts in that (a) I ran with a new-to-me team, (b) we had a late-afternoon start time of 4:45PM befitting our speedy projected pace, which translated to a different sort of time-warp effect in which the hours passed rapidly, and (c) I ran leg six, which I have never done before.

Beginning near sundown, my first leg, leg six, takes runners from the outer foothills of Mt. Hood westward to the far end of Sandy, and is notorious for little more than its above-average distance. I was fortunate in the timing of the stoplights as I passed through the town, and completed the 7.42 miles in a time of 51:25 (6:56 mi/min pace).

Mt. Hood, 8/27/2010, a few miles east of Sandy, Oregon
Something of the magnificence of the sunset toward which I ran is suggested in this image of Mt. Hood as it appeared from the start of leg six just a few minutes before I started running at 7:30PM-ish -- so while it would have been terrific to be able to see this vista as I ran, be assured I ran toward a sunset that was equally inspiring.

My next leg, leg 18, began in the oh-so-very-dark and wind-swept climes of outer St. Helens at 4:46AM. I covered its hilly 4.15 miles in a time of 30:10 (7:16 mi/min pace) -- a little slower than I wanted, and so much the more disappointing in that it came after almost two full hours of sleep. Good enough is good enough, hills are hills, cold is cold, wind gusts are wind gusts, and enough said about leg 18.

My final leg, leg 30, was the first and only leg I got to do during daylight hours, and therefore without the annoying-but-mandatory trappings of reflective vest, flashlight, and blinking lights both fore and aft. (More on all this below.) I finished its mostly downhill 5.35 miles in 37:02 (6:55 mi/min pace), and whatever else might be said of it, it represented my maximum level of effort.* I honestly think that if I don't come up with shin splints over the next couple of days based on the pounding I gave my legs during this leg, I'll be surprised, and quite possibly invulnerable to shin splints. And that would be awesome.

My cumulative 7:01 pace was only the third fastest on what was, this year, a very fast team, thus accounting for the late start time of 4:45PM. We finished in 7th place out of 99 teams in our division, and 94th out of the total of 1023 teams.

As always with these post-race recapitulations, I have my cavils, starting with the event's increased safety requirements. The most awful of these: we were forbidden from wearing any form of earphones, meaning I had to listen to the awful sound of my own feet slamming against the pavement and my own breathing, and that's not a happy song, nor one that anyone would willingly dance to. Depriving us of music -- OK, fine, we were permitted to attach our MP3 players to external speakers that mount at shoulder level or below, but that's ridiculous in many ways -- is just too much.

The music ban had some slight plausibility as a safety precaution, unlike the second most odious of new requirements, blinking safety lights attached to both front and back of each runner for all legs starting between 6PM and 7AM. This came in addition to the longstanding requirements to wear a reflective vest and carry or wear a light source during those hours. The purpose, I gather, was to make the runners more visible to passing vehicles, but I watched this carefully all along the way, and I declare it a failure. Reflective vests work very well to highlight the presence of a runner because they pick up vehicle headlights, but these same headlights utterly wash out any blinking from a portable light. These extra lights did nothing to increase or enhance the ability of drivers to see runners.

I grant that for runners on the roads not illuminated by any vehicle headlights, the flashing beacons we lugged made other runners more visible, but that does nothing for safety.

I further grant that if the intent was to make us more visible to motorists who weren't using headlights, then it was a success. Then again, to plan for vehicles without headlights makes weird and scary assumptions about drivers, and any such drivers surely pose dangers beyond what any little flashing light can address.

Cavils aside, it was a magnificent experience once again -- so much better than the so-called real world and its daily ruts. I thank the volunteers, coordinators, planners, and fellow participants -- we lucky 12,000 -- for all the amazing work that made it so.

finish area in Seaside

* The generous reader will grade that "maximum level of effort" on a curve formed by these self-pitying and true facts: it was the third leg, and happened after almost two full hours of uncomfortable sleep. It was fueled by barely anything a civilized human being would count as real food -- by this time I could no longer even look at or think about my cache of Clif bars, and even the trail mix -- even my special proprietary mix optimized for the kind of crap I like and think I need based on whatever runner's nutritional advice I most recently read -- was getting close to that status. Did I mention the paucity of sleep and that this was the third long timed run in well below 24 hours? Waa waa. The whining of distance runners is much like the whining of playboy billionaires who talk up the formidable hazards of circumnavigating the world in a sailboat or a dirigible -- if it's so goddamn difficult, just don't do it! Stay home! I know, I know. Guilty.


Pete said...

Found my way to your blog for a non-running reason that I can't now recall — yikes, that's kind of scary — and then saw this HTC post. I ran the same set of legs, 6, 18 and 30. And because our team started an hour and 45 minutes after yours, and we were a bit faster, I think you and I might have run 18 right around the same. OK, so that's not very exciting news.... But what I really wanted to say was this was my first HTC and I heard a lot of vets complaining about the light requirements. Quite understandable. But as a newbie, I couldn't imagine running those night legs without flashers front and back. I think it's mostly true what you say about the reflective vest being enough, but I can imagine scenarios where the lights could heighten a driver's awareness of runners. Anyway, as you say, it's a great experience. I'll be back.

Dale said...

Pete, thanks for the comment. Sigh. I think you're right about the flashing blinkies -- I expect they'll be with the event from now on, whether I like it or not.

I hope and expect that we'll start seeing more and better options for this as LED lighting technology takes off. The ones I wore this year were a little too bouncy and annoying.

On leg 18 ... it was dark, but someone was pretty close behind me for what seemed like about 2 miles of it, and then he passed me right toward the end. Could that have been you? You don't have to answer that. ;-)

It sounds like you ran with a pretty fast team. Well done.

I'm already planning to be out there for next year's event, one way or another. There's nothing quite like it.

XLMIC said...

Enjoying your recaps! I'm in the process of selecting my leg preferences for this year's race and am finding the descriptions actually helpful!

Dale said...

XLMIC, you really can't go wrong. Leg 5 is the hardest, followed closely by leg 9. There are some who criticize the posted difficulty ratings, but I think they pretty well line up with reality.

So long as you train on hills beforehand, you'll be fine no matter what leg you get.