"Hood to Coast Relay? What's that?"
That was pretty much my reaction when I was told that I was in the running for the contest at work. I didn’t know at the time what a Relay like this was or that there were people that had this event on their bucket list. But as the contest went on, and as I started playing out the various scenarios of who would win the contest, I started to get really excited about the possibility of going.
Fleet Feet Sports & Nike partnered up and put together a contest for full-time Fleet Feet employees nationwide. Broken up into various tiers (based on the store size), there was a total of 24 Fleet Feet employees that formed two 12-person teams. To win the contest, you had to be either one of the top 4 in overall store sales, the top salesperson in accessory sales, the top salesperson in apparel sales, or one of the top 3 in Nike specific sales. At the end of the contest, Serena and I were the winners from the Mishawaka store. The prize was an all expenses paid trip to Oregon for the “Mother of all Relays”. Out of all Fleet Feet stores that participated, there were 2 stores that each sent two employees. Quite a big deal for the little running specialty store in Mishawaka Indiana with only 5 full-time employees!
Once the contest ended, it was confirmed that Serena and I had each won spots. We started trying to figure out what this thing was, we had been checking out the race website, checked the various running legs and their distances, tried to guess what legs we’d be assigned, and prayed that we wouldn’t get assigned certain legs. We watched old youtube videos, and searched pinterest. We freaked out just a bit.
It seemed like it took forever to get any kind of information regarding the trip. We didn’t know when we were leaving, we didn’t know when we’d be coming back, we didn’t know who was going to be on our teams, or what legs we were going to be assigned. Finally when everything came together, it was confirmed that Serena and I would be able to fly together, room together, and not only were we going to be on the same team, but we were going to be in the same van. Which was perfect.
We arrived early enough on Tuesday that we had time to explore Portland for a while before heading to the Nike Welcome Dinner party. (We had heard that Nike sponsors 100 teams each year, however there were not 100 teams at this particular dinner. My estimate was that there were about 10-15 different Nike teams at this particular dinner.) Nike had reserved an entire restaurant for a number of their teams for dinner that night. We had appetizers, dinner buffet, dessert, drinks, and got to meet others on the two Fleet Feet teams.
Wednesday, Nike provided breakfast for their teams at a hotel about 4 blocks away from where we were staying. We walked there for breakfast, then boarded a few charter buses that took us from Portland, up to the city of Eugene to learn and see where and how Nike got its start.
We learned about Bill Bowerman and Steve Prefontaine. We visited the Historic Hayward Field at the University of Oregon and had a surprise visit by Ashton Eaton (retired American decathlete and two-time Olympic champion, who holds the world record in both the decathlon and indoor heptathlon events).
Lunch was provided at the University and dinner was provided by Nike by giving us vouchers worth $60 that could be used at any one of 30 or so different restaurants back in Portland.
Before dinner, however, we needed to get in a run…afterall that is what we came here to do, but we found that we spent a lot of time in buses!
Thursday, Nike provided breakfast again, then we boarded charter buses again for a short trip to Beaverton to Nike World Headquarters.
We toured the Nike WHQ campus, had lunch, snuck out to see their test track, went to the Nike Employee store and got 50% off our purchases, decorated our race vans, then got to hang out at their weekly Thirsty Thursday event.
This weeks event had Kevin Durant (basketball player for the Golden State Warriors) and Steve Nash (former basketball player, eight-time NBA All-Star and a seven-time All-NBA selection, NBA Most Valuable Player while playing for the Phoenix Suns) as special guests. When we were done there, we drove our vans back to Portland and did some grocery shopping for race day snacks and anything else we needed for the 29 hours we were going to be stuck in the van.
Friday was race day!
Due to the number of teams that participate in this event (1050+), the start times are staggered every 15 minutes. Teams had start times as early as 5am and as late as 3pm. However, it didn’t necessarily mean that the faster teams started later, and the slower teams started earlier. The two Fleet Feet teams both had start times of 1pm.
(The following is just a brief summary, a fast forward version, of what the relay was like, to keep the blog post from getting toooo long. I’ll have a more detailed post on how each of my runs were like, in a follow-up post.)
Each 12 person team was divided up into 2 vans of 6. Runners 1-6 of each team was in van 1, runners 7-12 of each team were in van 2. So there was Team 1 Van 1, T1V2, T2V1, and T2V2 (got it?). Van 1 from both teams would leave Portland about 10am and drive up to the start line on Mount Hood. Driving up there we would see runners that had already started and were making their way down the mountain.
Van 2 from both teams got to stay back in Portland and hang at the hotel until they needed to meet us at exchange number 6 so that our 6th runner (last runner in van 1) could hand off to the 7th runner (first runner in van 2).
While runners 7-12 in van 2 were out running, we were back in our hotel in Portland, getting cleaned up, dropping off what we no longer needed, grabbing anything that we may have forgotten, getting dinner, and trying to put our feet up for a bit. Before long, it was time to head to exchange 12 for the runner rotation to start all over again.
Runner 12 from van 2 was to hand it back off to Runner 1 from van 1. At this time it’s dark, and we’ve completed 69.15 miles of the 199. It’s right about midnight and we’re heading into our 2nd legs now. Serena was most concerned about this night run. I was feeling pretty good about it and was looking forward to it (more details to follow). Once our van finished the 2nd leg, we met van 2 at exchange 18 and handed the baton off to them. We then drove up to exchange 24 to wait for van 2 to finish their portion of the 2nd leg. The driving route was very curvy and twisty and difficult to drive while sleep deprived. We switched off drivers for a bit and finally made it safely to the field where we would wait for Runner 12 to come running in. Somewhere during the second leg of van 1 we lost all cell phone service and had no communication with the other van. We got about an hour, maybe two, of sleep in the van, and woke up shortly after the sun came up. At this point, we are 135.92 miles into our 199 mile race. And it’s time to head into leg 3 for all runners. Now this portion of the race is full sun and it’s starting to get a bit warm. The hills are rolling and there is very little shade. At some of the runner exchanges traffic is getting backed up, and at one point, our runner made it to the exchange point before the van did! As runner 6 finishes the 3rd leg, and we hand the baton off to van 2 for the last time at exchange 30, we can now say that we are DONE! Runners 1-6 have each finished all 3 legs and ready to head to the beach, celebrate and wait for runner 12 to cross the finish line!
Once runner 12 was dropped off at the last exchange, and runner 11 is in the van, van 2 heads to the beach for the finish. As a team (minus runner 12) we are standing at the finish line, waiting for the announcer to announce our team name and number alerting us that our runner is coming in, so we can all run across the finish line together as a team. As we are standing there, waiting, Kyle comes walking up to us standing there and we are all like “where did you come from!?!” He had already finished and ran through the finish line! So we gathered together, into one of the finishing shoots (for teams to wait in until their final runner comes into sight) and ran through the finish line as a team (Kyle for the 2nd time!). The volunteers at the finish line handed us a bundle of 12 medals that were all tied together, we got a few team photos and then led van 2 to the Nike after party tents where all the food was!
Nike does a great job with this event. You can tell they’ve been doing this for years! They have got everything figured out and definitely make it an unforgettable memory for all of us. I would love to do a Relay, of any kind, again. But I would have to say, that I can’t imagine any of them comparing to the experience that we had with Nike at Hood to Coast 2017!