By SCOTT BECKER
Imagine the insanity of a crowd of fourth graders running toward the cafeteria as the lunch bell sounds. Then, mix that with about 12,000 sore quads, groins and calves.
You’d probably get a bunch of irritable school children who walk funny. But, if you tried a little harder, you would probably get the largest relay race this continent has to offer: the Nationwide Insurance Hood to Coast Relay.
The 21st running of the race starts at 9:30 a.m. Friday at Timberline Lodge. Runners from each team start the five-mile downhill leg from the start every 15 minutes. Leg lengths range from about four to eight miles, with minor alterations being made nearly every year, and the total distance always around 195 miles.
The course’s 36 legs are divided among the 12 runners on a team. Teams make their way down Mt. Hood on Highway 26 through Sandy and Portland, before heading through St. Helens, Jewell and finally ending on the shores of the Pacific Ocean at Seaside.
Teams typically finish from 20 to 35 hours, with the elite teams finishing in under 17 hours. The course record is 15:44.
The relay began as a small event in 1982 that incorporated eight teams of 10 and has grown to a point where race directors will only accept 1,000 entries that are filled within the first few hours of registration.
Hood to Coast has two sister events that make a shorter 126 mile trip from Portland to Seaside. The Portland to Coast Walk is for fitness walkers and uses the same format as the Hood To Coast. With the shortened length, walkers are only required to do two legs.
The other event is the Portland to Coast High School Challenge that usually involves about 50 teams of high school aged athletes. It’s a way to get kids into a Hood to Coast style race without the intensity of an all-night event that can easily ruin a cross-country season.
These other events lead into some successful Hood to Coast careers. And, despite the agony that they go through, most of the runners who participate in Hood to Coast have been doing so for many years.
“I am somewhat incredulous that I pay money to be sleep deprived, eat gravel dust, forgo decent morning coffee, cram myself into malodorous undersized living vehicle for 24 hours with a bunch of people who desperately trying not to whine and are failing,” said local team captain Steve Becker. “They had better cash the check before I change my mind.”
For a full report on the 2002 Hood to Coast race, see the Aug. 28 edition of the Hood River News.