It was 4:30 a.m. and I was packing two army blankets into our Hood to Coast van. Taylor and I had spent the last 3 hours cocooned in these and other
blankets, sleeping on a tarp on a mist-covered field. I was freezing.
"Were you warm enough in your sleeping bag?" I asked Andrew, our van driver.
"Yeah, it's great. Rated for as low as 20 degrees, although it rarely gets that cold here."
I was envious. 'Twelve years of marriage, and I've only wished I'd had a sleeping bag twice," I said. "We never camp, and it's not like we have slumber parties to go to anymore, so owning one just isn't practical."
"I would love to go to a slumber party!" Andrew said.
We both considered the statement for a moment. I saw myself surrounded by a bunch of other adults, all with our own gross adult problems, making ourselves purposefully uncomfortable for an entire night. It was eerily similar to what we were doing at that very moment. Andrew must have been thinking along the same lines.
"Actually, maybe not," he said.
While the memories are fresh, Taylor and I both wanted to write our thoughts about each leg, and the experience overall.
Leg 2 - Maria
I've finally gotten over my fear of going uphill, but I still love going downhill. So I was a bit thrilled to find out I would be descending 1500 feet over the course of 5.59 miles. This was going to be a chance to find out how fast I could go in the very best circumstances, and to see if I could do it without injury. The answer at this point in my life is an eye-raising 5 minutes faster per mile than my training pace, even being deliberately steady!
It was a lot of fun, a good course with nice scenery. By the time I was done my legs ached a bit, but I felt great.
Leg 6 - Taylor
I looked at this leg closely when I picked out my runner assignment. It looked like a couple of rolling hills at the beginning, with a large downhill starting about halfway and continuing to the end. The biggest worry was a 1/2 mile hill a little before halfway through that looked pretty sizable. When we actually got around to running the thing, we had to walk a mile from the van to the exchange and I got there at exactly the same moment our runner did, so I had no time to think before running. I took off grumbling about the organization of the event. I'm glad I had runkeeper on and with me because I glanced down about half a mile in to discover I was running about 6:30 miles on the slight uphill I was running. Not wanting to burn myself out at the beginning, I reigned it in a bit. I remember passing a large hill and thinking "that must have been my big hill, smooth sailing from here". After cresting another hill, I saw the big one, a nice curving uphill that seemed to climb forever. Before starting the leg, I had told the van I didn't want support, and I would be fine without water, after getting up that big hill I really regretted that. It was starting to warm up for the day, and a lot of the side roads are dirt and were putting up dust as people passed. Thankfully, my team is smarter than me and was waiting at the half way mark with water. After a drink and pouring some water on my head it was a smooth run to a large downhill into the exchange. I was a bit warm at the end, but overal it was a good run. I didn't feel too terrible after this one, but I probably should have drank a lot more water.
Leg 14 - Maria
We'll call this the Hate leg. It was hot. I was running through boring industrial buildings and beside smelly train yards. The Saint John's bridge never seemed to get any bigger in the distance. I was also having every kind of stomach problem you could imagine. Meanwhile, the high school divisions joined us in these legs, so I was unendingly being passed by jaunty 17-year-olds.
Leg 18 - Taylor
One review of the legs we read before the race called this leg the crucible. It looks simple on paper, it's rated hard, but it seems to be a 5 mile gradual uphill. When running it, I felt every step of those 5 miles, and every inch of that climb. From the start it seemed like I was always looking up a hill. The sun had set a few legs before this and it was getting towards midnight during the run. The moon had also set and for a good chunk of the route, the only light was from headlamps of myself and other runners. I remember feeling a little pull in my left ankle towards the end that I thought would pass. An ominous portent of things to come.
Leg 26 - Maria
My final leg, a run through forest and farmlands and fog. I started in darkness and discovered, to my delight, that running in fog in a headlamp produces the same "warp speed" field that driving with headlights in a blizzard creates. I ran by mooing cows and singing birds on a variety of up and down hills. I passed a guy! This leg made me feel like everything might just be ok after all.
Leg 30: Taylor
This leg was at the top of the coast range, a little uphill to get over the last few ridges, and then downhill into the valleys. Before getting to the exchange, my left ankle was very sore and tight. I tried to stretch it out and warm up a bit, but nothing helped. It felt like my tendon was about an inch short and every step hurt pretty badly. With the runner before me coming down the hill, I decided to gut it out and run. This turned out to be the most harrowing run of my life. After taking off every step on my left was agonizing. On the uphills I would occasionally have levels of pain that made me see star or dark spots in my vision. I found a way to block it to ty to ignore what was going on, but it was pretty afwful. I hit a steep downhill about half way through and took it easy to try and keep the pain down, to discover the downhills actually felt ok. This run was actually pretty beautiful aside from the pain. I was running through wooded hills with streams and dense forest. At one point I passed a pasture and a horse came to trot beside me. I kept thinking the exchange had to be right around the next bend, and when it finally was, I handed off and immediately stopped moving and called for an ice pack from the van.
Overall - Maria
Having finished Hood to Coast, I can best describe it as what you'd get if you threw a road trip, camping trip, marathon and slumber party all in a blender. I don't want to romanticize it at all: it was hard. The legs (legs are the 4-7 mile segments each runner does, which were spaced about 5 hours apart for us) were hard. The lack of sleep was hard. Eating nothing but power running food for 48 hours was hard. Not being able to go to the bathroom when you needed to, and then having to do it in portapotties that became increasingly disgusting was, shall I say it? Hard.
I won't do it again. I will not look at the photos, and imagine that we're all smiling because we're happy. I won't be swayed when people exclaim "How cool!" or "I want to do that!" into thinking "hey, yeah, that WAS really fun." But I do have that little niggling part of my brain saying "If only I'd known to prepare for XYZ." Or, "oh, yeah, it seemed hard at the time, but it was worth it."
Did I really not enjoy Hood to Coast at all? No, I have to admit, in all my grumbling I WAS glad I did Hood to Coast once.
Overall - Taylor
My ankle was dodgy all through the final day after that run, to the point where I could barely walk on the beach at the end. We rested and took it easy and kept ice on it as much as possible. It's not hurting now, but man was that awful.
Having done Hood to Coast, I can honestly say it's the hardest thing I have ever done. I don't think I'll do another one, but am not completely dead set against the idea if I can work on my strength and endurance a bit more to fix whatever is going on with my legs. The physical and mental control required nearly beat me, but only nearly.