Standing on the side of the road, in front of a grocery store of all places, it was time. Time to do what I had come to the Pacific Northwest to do.
Run. Run for Team Lemonade. Run for Nuun.
My stomach was in knots and adrenaline pumped through my veins as I grabbed the slap bracelet from Kristen and set off on Leg 7 of the Hood to Coast relay. With parts of all three Nuun teams at the major exchange and the first runner in my van, I desperately wanted to set off at a good pace and run strong. I wanted to show them that I deserved to be on the team.
But I knew I couldn't go off like a banshee. I was not only running a hard 6.32 miles but had two more legs on little sleep to look forward to, as well.
So I made a deal: Run strong but don't look at the watch. Instead, set my sights on the beautiful Oregon countryside and soak in every ounce possible. When it gets hard, don't be a brat and focus on enjoying it for those who would gladly take your spot.
And that's what I did.
I struggled a bit at times, first with breathing (altitude change?) and then the hills, but when the going got tough, I opened my eyes to all that was around. There were mountains in the distance and vineyards dotting the roads. There were residents sitting in driveways and vans parked to support their runners. There were children playing and a dog that was really a donkey.
With each passing step, I felt stronger and more invigorated and as I rounded the corner to hand off to Karen, I felt like I had conquered the world.
Predicted: 6.32 miles, 56:24, 8:55 pace
Actual: 6.39 miles, 56:24, 8:50 pace
"Are you shitting me?"
It's the only thing I could muster to voice when the alarm rang at 3:22 a.m. and I was told that I needed to start getting ready for Leg 19. While I had tried to sleep in the down time, my body screamed with exhaustion and my mind had retreated to a dark, scary place. I desperately wanted someone to tell me it was all a joke but I was assured that it was time to hit the Honey Bucket and get suited up in the requisite safety gear.
I meandered in slow motion and was certainly in no mood to run when I got to the exchange. My spirits were lifted by the bright, shiny faces of my teammates from Van 1 and I reminded myself of all the times I've gotten up at 5 a.m. when I didn't want to. I just needed to put one foot in front of the other and get the shit over with.
This leg was my hardest of the relay, with challenging inclines and declines, though I don't remember many descents. I just remember hills. And lots of them. I focused on putting one foot in front of the other - relentless forward motion - and not walking. I nodded to the men who passed me and did my best to hold off the women along the way.
As I ran, I had no idea of time, pace or distance. The sky was dark and the route only marked by the flashing lights of other runners. At times, there was a light mist and the Knuckle Lights would catch the droplets falling to the ground. Those were the moments of night-run magic.
More magical? Calling it done and handing off to Karen. After all, there was a travel pillow and gummy bears waiting for me in the van.
Predicted: 5.89 miles, 54:29, 9:15 pace
Actual: 5.9 miles, 58:24, 9:55 pace
I had one plan and one plan only for my final run, Leg 31, of the race: Grind. It. Out. I was going to go out hard and if I blew up, I blew up. It was only 4 miles of mostly downhill, and it was the perfect opportunity to lay it out on the line. I had seen my vanmates KILL IT on their runs, and I was antsy to do the same.
I grabbed the bracelet from Kristen and took off like a bat out of hell. I focused on quick turnover and took advantage of the loss of elevation. My stride opened up, and I found myself picking off runner after runner. "Kill, kill, kill," I noted.
But it was me who nearly died when I managed to spy my first split on the Garmin - 7:52. Holy. Shit. I have not ran a mile that fast since Miles was born. I know I had help from the downhill but considering my tired legs and lack of sleep, I'm going to own it.
The following two miles weren't quite as fast - in the low 8's - but I continued to repeat my "Grind it out" mantra and not give in to running slow.
That is until I hit the last hill. Stupid bitch. It was a good 0.6-mile climb through winding woods that dropped my pace to the mid-9's. I didn't want to give in, though. I had been running strong and I was going to stay strong no matter how hard I had to work. I came up on a runner walking, and I tried to cheer her on through labored breaths. She picked up her pace and I briefly contemplated staying with her but was ready to summit. Relentless forward motion.
The course flattened out and graded down. With one last surge, I was done.
Predicted: 4 miles, 34:02, 8:30 pace
Actual: 4.03 miles, 33:38, 8:20 pace
Final thoughts: Running Hood to Coast was everything and nothing that I imagined. It was more difficult yet easier than I anticipated. I ran strong. I ran mad. I ran my best and felt my worst. I could have done better but gave it all I had. There were lows and there were highs. But of all of it, I am proud.
In case you missed it: A love letter to Nuun
Coming soon: Trip highlights