As August ends, I’m feeling nostalgic and so bummed that we couldn’t run the Hood To Coast relay this year, yet another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately all the teams are deferred to 2021, so we’re locked in and won’t need to go through the lottery again. If you’re not familiar with racing or Hood To Coast you may be wondering, lottery, huh? This “mother-of-all” relay races is so popular that it sells out every year; only about 1,200 teams are permitted out of the 40,000 applicants. It’s kind of a big deal, and to many, it’s a lifestyle! Though they kept the spirit alive in 2020 with a two-week long virtual celebration, it’s just not the same.
In a normal year the lottery system is weird. Teams must send in their application postmarked on a specific date, usually in early October; not the date before, not the day after, but whatever date they tell you it needs to be post-marked. After dropping that application in the mail you wait anxiously for three-to-four weeks, hoping that your credit card will be charged for $2,000. The wave of acceptances stretches on for a few weeks, so you start hearing about all your friends getting in, hoping you’re the next one to receive that precious “You’re In!” email.
When I first learned about Hood To Coast, I thought it was insane and couldn’t quite wrap my head around the idea of running 199 miles from the mountain to the beach, but I also decided I was going to do it someday, and I wasn’t even a runner (then)! I’ve always been attracted to adventure, the outdoors, and doing things that most people consider crazy. It’s a relay race, which means you compete as a team, in this case up to 12 runners who split the 200 miles, each running three legs ranging between three to eight miles. The race starts at the top of Oregon’s Mount Hood, continuing west through downtown Portland, up over the Coast Range (mountains), ending with a finish line on the beach in Seaside, hence the name, ‘Hood to Coast.’ There’s even a 130-mile walking race, Portland To Coast, that kicks off on the waterfront in downtown Portland and culminates at the beach party with the runners.
Whether racing Hood To Coast or Portland To Coast, both routes sport such an array of scenery! One truly gets to experience what Oregon has to offer, including its largest and weirdest city, Portland. The runners begin on top of one of Oregon’s Seven Wonders —Mount Hood — at the historic Timberline Lodge (it’s exterior is featured in the movie, The Shining) and ends at another wonder — the Coast. Entering Portland, runners take to the scenic multi-use trail, the Springwater Corridor, which snakes through multiple parks, nature refuges, neighborhoods and waterways. Under the Hawthorne Bridge is a major exchange; these exchanges are major (fun) because it’s where van one and van two runners switch off, and one of the few times your whole team gets to gather during the race! For the majority of Hood To Coast your team is split into two vans, six runners in each, so that one van has a chance to rest while the other is out on course. Not only is it awesome to be with your whole team, but this is the time to shine — this is where you see all the teams in their glory, costumes on and celebrating! Portland To Coast also starts here, meaning the runners and walkers are on the course together from there on out. Our van was fortunate enough to have plenty of time to grab some delicious Portland eats from a local sandwich shop, but there’s also tons of food carts under the bridge. Racers really get to experience ‘Bridge City,’ a nickname for Portland because of the 12 bridges that span the Willamette River, as the route travels over the Hawthorne Bridge and past the majority of the city’s other bridges. After passing the last and most northern, the St. John’s Bridge, runners continue up Route 30, a major highway, until dipping off into the Oregon countryside in St. Helen’s, a.k.a. “Halloweentown,” as featured in the Disney Channel Halloween Classic, which is celebrated today every October during a monthlong celebration called the “Spirit of Halloweentown.” If you’re into trolls, we highly suggest taking a short detour off Route 30, about 20 minutes before reaching St. Helen’s, to the Troll Bridge (keep your eyes peeled for NW McNamee Road on the left).
From St. Helen’s the race course climbs in elevation over the Coast Range. The scenery is gorgeous, lush and green — you’re literally in the woods, passing by streams and fields of elk, it’s amazing! Because you’re on a mountain, it gets pretty cool at night, and often damp and foggy. Now we can only speak from the experience of van one runners, but this has to be the best set of legs (the third and final for van one). Both years I’ve been fortunate enough to run the last leg in the early morning when it’s still cool, a little misty —so Pacific Northwest — over gently rolling hills, which also keeps the run interesting and fun.
There’s one final major exchange as you’re leaving the Coast Range, which is the final switch off between vans one and two — this is where van one is finished running, and heads off to the beach party in Seaside to wait for van two at the finish line. We had plenty of time to stop at a local spot on the way to grab some Bloody Mary’s to celebrate our huge accomplishment too! Another bonus about being in van one, we also had time to stop at our beach house and shower before meeting our teammates! The finish line is pretty spectacular, as it’s literally on the beach; I’m not sure there’s a better way to end a race than having your feet in the sand overlooking the mighty Pacific Ocean! In Seaside you’re welcomed to a huge beach party, where there’s plenty of food, booze and vending to keep you busy, along with bands throughout the day and evening to keep everyone entertained. Even if you didn’t participate in the race, it’s a great time with lots of positive energy and excitement, and if you’re in the area you should definitely stop by to rage.
If you’re a runner or a walker, enjoy team camaraderie (and a bit of self-punishment), and looking to experience some of the coolest things about Oregon within two days, we highly recommend adding Hood To Coast or Portland To Coast to your bucket list! Even if you’ve never competed in a race in your life, we promise you can do it if you prepare — we did!
Keep checking back or subscribe to our blog as we plan to add more posts on the Hood To Coast Relay, including:
- The race experience, from costumes and team themes to the awesome and supportive camaraderie along the course.
- The Hood To Coast packing list!
- Our lessons learned, like the importance of tracking runner times and communicating between vans so you don’t leave your runner in the chute…especially if they have to poop (true story)!