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Death Race 2003
by

I'm a fairly competitive person, at least that's what my Yoga instructor tells me I've always enjoyed sports and recreational activities, especially races. This includes running, although I tend to prefer the stopping over the actual running. I've participated in a few 5K and 8K runs but am not much for distance running. As such, it made complete sense when a friend asked me to join his team a few years back for the Hood To Coast Relay. Naturally, I accepted the offer.

For the uninformed, this event translates into a 195 relay race involving 1,000 teams and 12,000 runners. The name is apt, as the course starts at Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood, and ends on the beach at Seaside on the Oregon Coast. The primary challenge isn't the 16 plus miles each runner averages, nor the terrain. Rather, it's the lack of sleep. The race starts at noon on a Friday and ends the following day, so no matter what time you start, you always have one leg late at night or one early in the morning. In other words, you don't sleep for more than a few hours.

With that said, my first Hood To Coast involved very little training or preparation. That was an advantage, to some degree. I didn't have any idea how much pain or tedium or how many horrific odors I'd have to endure over the course of the event. Each runner has three legs to run and I happened to end up with one of the steepest for my first — a nearly 1,500 vertical drop in five miles. Since I'm a taller guy, my stride generated a fast pace, but at a huge price.

When you're running in a race of this magnitude, it's an adrenaline rush. Unfortunately, as soon as you get into a groove (assuming you don' have painful side aches like I did), you're at the end of your first leg and back in your team van following the next runner. Going from full speed to sitting translates directly into cramps, even if you stretch and walk around a bit. The average runner waits eight hours between legs, which means lots of downtime. It is not enough, however, to catch any real sleep as you're busy driving around in the van with your five other team members.

The second leg offers an opportunity to run earlier (or later) than you've ever run before. In my case, it was 2 a.m. I was standing at the relay point, waiting for my teammate to hand off the bracelet, and realized there were hundreds of people doing the same stupid thing as me: preparing to run full speed in the middle of the night, after no more than two hours of sleep and battling sore muscles from the first leg.

Strangely, the second leg was refreshing, as it wasn't hot, or as crowded, though it was tiring. I thought it would be easy to catch some sleep after that leg, but it wasn't more than a few more hours before my third and final leg. By this time, I was extremely sore, tired and had a new friend to deal with: multiple quarter-size blisters on both feet. It was the longest four miles of my life. By the end of my third leg I couldn't walk as the blisters had doubled in size and my quads were rock hard with lactic acid.

As I tended to my injuries, we headed slowly toward the coast. Since we were in the first of our team's two vans, we headed to the finish line to wait for our last runner to cross. While those of us who had finished our portions were excited to be done, we were all quite tired and unable to party with any intensity. The general rule is that they call out your team when your last runner rounds the final corner and you all run across the finish line together. We did so, then hobbled over for greasy pizza and beer.

While I was hungry, I could barely function due to exhaustion. To top it off, we had to head home afterwards, as we had no reservations at the coast to stay overnight. We were all jealous of those that were able to hang around and relax. The ride home offered my first opportunity to sleep in almost 48 hours. Unfortunately, it took another week for me to be able to walk normally, due to the blisters and sore leg muscles. One consolation was that I bonded with a few team members, who I would've describe at the time as just casual friends. Since the race and the misery we shared, we've become quite close.

With that fond memory of friendship on my mind, I was convinced to run again last year. I trained much harder, so I was in less pain, but had much less fun. Even though I was in better shape, I was even more tired after the race and couldn't enjoy the keg and fancy food that we had waiting for us. I wanted to sleep in my own bed after the race, but ended up renting a house with friends and sleeping on a lumpy bunk bed. At least I could walk the next day.

It was with great pleasure that I responded to various queries about my participation in this year's event with and emphatic "No way in hell." Why would I want to train for weeks, or even months, then hammer my sleep-deprived and extremely sore body for 24 hours, only to be too tired to celebrate at the end? I prefer to lie in the comfort of my own bed and sip a beer to celebrate those brave souls who made the mistake of saying yes.