Posted by: Joe English | September 4, 2008

Hood to Coast: Coach Dean’s HTC adventure (part II)

Coach Dean Hebert at Hood to Coast 2008

Coach Dean Hebert at Hood to Coast 2008

In yesterday’s episode, Coach Dean Hebert introduced you to his enthusiasm and then fears about running in the largest of all road relays — the Hood to Coast Relay in Oregon. We left Dean after he had run through a dark and hilly mountainous road, besieged on all sides by the dangers of Oregon’s woods, and then slept on a patch of grass next to train-tracks, besieged on all sides by the dangers of Oregon’s cities. Dean picks up as he takes on leg 17 of the race, which is back outside of Portland, heading toward Oregon’s Coast Range.

Part II
The mother of all relays

Leg 17 was my easy leg. My chance to use some leg speed while not being too beat up. It’s 5.69 mostly flat and fast miles. I actually feel pretty good. It’s dawn. I’m ready to roll. I get the hand-off and notice a couple teams not far off behind. The most immediately behind me is a team from the Netherlands who started the race at the same time as us. It was up to me to hold him off. Just then, woosh… this guy flies past me within 400 meters going about 5:30 per mile. I’m running comfortably hard around 6:15 pace. I think to myself, if he can keep this pace, I’m done. I resolve to follow him and hope he’ll pull me along and I’ll pass other teams along the way. I see far ahead vague images… must be half a mile in front of us.

I put my head down in the early morning haze. He almost disappears off the front. Suddenly around a mile and half, there he is, not gaining. In fact, I’m slowly reeling him in! I’m invigorated. Time to go hunting! Hunt them down! He’s going down! I push the pace and catch him faster than I imagined. By the two and a half mile mark I’ve passed him. I hear his panting and footsteps behind me for the next three quarters of a mile. It spurs me on. I’m running a bit panicked now. The last thing I want to do is fade only to have him pass me again.

I get totally focused on my effort and refuse to look back. I’m deafened by my own breathing and cadence on the pavement. I don’t hear him. I don’t look back. I look down only to see mile four pass by, I can’t believe I still have more than a mile and a half to go. I’m straining to maintain the pace. I pass another team… and then a second team. I’m up 2-0 on this leg and feeling inspired. I can’t let my team down. I’m not thinking about my condition. I’m not thinking about my knee. I’m not thinking about my aching legs. All I can think about is getting to that finish line before I get caught.

I see way off in the distance almost like an illusion the turn off to the transition zone. I continue a steady effort on a slight upgrade. I don’t move into a sprint knowing I still have another leg to go… but heck, that’s five hours from now, I have to keep the effort up. Pushing through to the hand off, Andy and I have a perfect hand-off once again (editor’s note: “they didn’t drop the baton”). I cannot tell you the relief as I look back and realize I had built up almost a minute lead on the Dutch team. Nobody, but NOBODY beats me in the last mile!

After Andy’s leg we once again hand-off to van two; this time we’re off to breakfast. We’re starved. We chow down at a simple country diner. We were so hungry it didn’t matter what it tasted like. But it was quite good as I remember.

My third leg is 6.14 miles – 3.6 miles up; 2.5 down. The leg is rated a “9” on a scale that appears to go to “9.” There are no 10s otherwise this mother of all legs in this mother of all relays would qualify. (editor’s note: there is some debate over this. Some people think that leg 33 — which is 7.7 miles — is harder, but it is flatter.) By now we are in the thick of competition. Runners were passing and being passed in droves. I love competition. I hate competition. I enjoy that sense of pushing and testing myself. I absolutely love what I call “going hunting.” That’s going after runners in front of you and picking them off one at a time. It’s a real rush. On the other hand, the pressure is high. It’s all self created. The team is so supportive and everyone is doing great! I don’t want to let them down. I don’t want to be passed (remember still faster teams are coming up on us from behind). They’ve worked hard to get us into the thick of things. I’m also a bit nervous about my condition. Can I pull this off?

It’s now 80F degrees and humid. I notice that runners are suffering from the heat. Even my team members show concern about the heat. Everyone is from up this neck of the woods. I’m from Arizona. I just came from 108F. I’ve just endured four months of 100F degree temps, which peaked in the one-teens. This is not bad. They repeatedly ask if I’ll need water along my six mile route. My response is the same, it’s only a little over 40 minutes of running – I don’t need water in that amount of time. I’ll meet you at the end. They thought I was kidding. At my one mile mark, there they were checking on me. Two thumbs up… I’m going hunting.

This is tough going. My legs are tired and lifting each stride is becoming “challenging.” Within the first mile I pass a couple teams and I get passed by two teams – I’m 2-2 on this leg. Not what I wanted, but these guys fly past me like I’m standing still. I’m not going to fish for whales. I’ll stick to minnows. I continue to churn up the mountain. Every corner I see more runners appear in front of me. I pass them as easily as I was passed. My record improves. 4-2, 6-2, 10-2… I love hunting. It spurs me on. I feel like I’m barely moving yet it’s faster than most on the mountain at this time. The crest appears none too soon. My legs are numb and rubbery. Each foot strike requires concentration so I don’t fall in the ditch or on my face. It was cool climbing to the top. As I near the crest, cars are parked on the side like a mountain stage of the Tour de France; cheering; there is even a line on the road signaling the crest. I wonder if I got any points towards the polka-dot jersey. (editor’s note: the jersey for the mountain climbing king in the Tour de France)

I have expended almost all my energy as I crest. I work to keep momentum and take advantage of the downhill. I move from 7:45s uphill to 6:15 pace down… but my legs are rubber. I can barely keep them underneath me. There are fewer teams to hunt within view. I push on now trying not to be the “hunted.” Several times my legs almost buckle. The heat is a non-factor. This is a mind game now.

I can only think about one step at a time. I hunt down a couple more. I’m afraid to look back to see what is gaining on me. With about 600 meters to go I see one last team almost 100 meters in front. I’m not sure I can catch her. She looks strong and steady but I do see my leg turnover is quicker. I gain. I fight the thoughts that I’m running out of gas. I fight the thoughts creeping in about my lack of conditioning. I fight off giving into my rubbery legs and slowing. I won’t let the team down. I have one more to hunt. With less than 100 meters to go to the transition zone, I pass her. I am more than relieved to leave this now to Andy. My final record for this leg: 15-2.

After our final hand off to our second van, we were off to the coast. Seaside is a quaint coastal town. The beach is gorgeous. And there were an estimated 90,000 people in the finishing area. I think the beer garden was busiest. I soaked my legs in the very cold ocean waters. A live band blasted music as each team was announced.

The teams congregated in chutes and awaited their anchor leg runners. Then everyone was ushered forward and merged with their anchor. Twenty four and a half hours after starting Nicole brought us home. We charged across the finish together. Ok, it was a slow charge.

We finish 12/284 in our division and 95/988 finishing teams and we averaged 7:27/mile for the 197 miles. As a bonus there was a film crew for a documentary being made on the race. Complete with helicopter filming. I can’t wait to see it when it comes out.

This was totally great. I have to figure out how to beat the lottery and get in for next year!

This is only my story, I know there are 11 other stories on our team and more than 12,000 stories out there. Paula, Joe, Bonnie, Jen and Andy made the best teammates I could ask for. Other than a little vomiting amongst friends we came through it great. I only wish I had been able to get to know our other van better. Sean, Karl, Nicole, Lauren, Holly and Richard: they rocked.

Coach Dean Hebert, Tempe Arizona, USA
Contributing Editor and Guest Author
Running Advice and News


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