This past weekend’s Hood to Coast Relay (in Portland, OR) will go down as one of the most meaningful and memorable experiences of my life.

I’ve been very fortunate to have participated in a variety of cool events over the past 5+ years. I am very intentional in signing up for stuff like this for 3 very specific reasons:

  1. Have something on my calendar to look forward to (and to train for).
  2. Participate in something that will stretch me physically, mentally, and emotionally.
  3. Enjoy the experience and make incredible memories (and friends)!

This past weekend checked all 3 of those boxes in an emphatic way. Hood to Coast is affectionately known as ‘The Mother of All Relays’ as over the past 40 years it has grown to 1,200 teams, 16,000 runners, and 2,500 volunteers (and have a waiting list of 40,000+ runners)!

This iconic race starts at the top of Mt. Hood (Oregon’s highest point) and finishes 200 miles away (and 36 hours later) at Seaside Beach (Oregon’s lowest point). The course is made up of 36 ‘legs’ ranging from 4-8 miles in length… with drastic variances in difficulty (based on incline/decline elevation, time of day, etc.).

Most teams are made up of 12 runners (the max allowed) which are split into two vans (each person runs 3 legs). A common goal is to complete the 200 mile course in under 36 hours (which means for 36 straight hours, you’re either running, in a van, or in a port-a-potty!). Part of what makes this event so fun (and so challenging) is the lack of sleep (trying to sleep when you’re hot, sweaty, and sitting upright in a crammed van with other people ain’t easy!).

Many teams choose funny team names like ‘Run Burgondy’ or ‘Resting Beach Face’, wear matching t-shirts or costumes, and decorate their vans with window markers, lights, and other outrageous accoutrements. This event has a fun, playful culture… and there is an unparalleled amount of support and camaraderie that takes place between runners, between teams, and between volunteers. It’s really, really special.

I was Runner #6 in Van 1 (I ran legs 6, 18, and 30 for a total of 18 miles). I averaged an 8 minute per mile pace and felt great! I had only met two of my teammates in person prior to coming to Oregon. But it’s amazing how quickly – and how much – you can learn about someone during an experience like this.

We completed the race in just over 30 hours and finished 396th out of 1,200, which was respectable given we were way more focused on enjoying the experience than competing. But for context, the team that finished 1st completed the course in less than HALF of the time it took us! Our team averaged a 9:46 minute per mile pace… the winning team averaged around a 4:30 minute per mile pace! There were a few times when runners ran passed me like I was a statue.

One of my favorite parts of experiences like this are the lessons I learn and principles I have reinforced. Here are my 3 biggest takeaways from Hood to Coast:

  1. Accomplishing a massive group goal (like running 200 miles in 36 hours) requires both individual & collective preparation and execution. Each person needed to be responsible for THEIR role and held accountable to OUR goal.
  2. Our team mantra was the epitome of this race: “If you want to go fast, go along. If you want to go far, go together.” Finishing the race was a feat that required more than the ‘sum of the parts.’
  3. We created team agreements in advance. We collaborated on a set of standards that we promised to honor no matter how tough things got… and we each gave permission to being held accountable to upholding them at all times. The foundation of our standards was respect (respect for your teammates’ personal space, respect for their potential roller coaster of emotions, and respect for their preferences on controversial topics of discussion, use of profanity, etc.).

Oh, and I was reminded that laughter and levity makes most things better. When you’re cramped in a (stinky) van for 30 straight hours with a group of ‘strangers’ – it’s easy to feel a bit ornery or cranky (especially for an introvert like me!). But cracking stupid jokes and quoting silly movie lines provided instant relief!

With Hood to Coast in the rear view mirror, I have a quick turnaround as my next event/experience is this coming weekend in Maine (for the Last Man Standing Ultramarathon) 🏃🏽‍♂️