The Hood to Coast relay is an overnight, long distance relay race held in Oregon every year. It has been dubbed “the mother of all relays” for a reason – it’s one of the longest and largest relays, covering more than 200 miles from Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood to Seaside on the Oregon Coast. I’m a passionate runner, so Hood-to-Coast, being one of the most iconic races around, has been on my bucket list for some time.
Finally, this year was the year. I was fortunate enough to find a spot on a team, there wasn’t too much going on during the summer so I could focus on the training, and I felt very comfortable with the people that were planning to run with me. And so I jumped in. As anticipated, it was a truly amazing and unique experience. It’s also a long enough race to allow for a few moments of reflection along the way. Here are my top 5 takeaways:
It’s the people that matter
It’s all about the people. It’s your team that makes this experience really exceptional - the runners, the coaches, the team captain.
What made my experience really special was the three months of training and preparation with my team. I was privileged to join a team of serious runners, trained by professional coaches. All women, all moms. Some of them I knew already, and some I didn’t know at the beginning of this adventure, but I got to know them all a lot better. Over the course of a summer, I went from being somebody that exercised on a regular although sporadic basis to feeling like an athlete, part of a team, meant to do something. Serious stuff. The training was intense and quite a commitment, but I loved it.
And all of that hard work in training culminated on that special day - race day – and not only for our team but also for 13,000 other runners who have all gone through a similar journey to get there. Ultimately, we all merged into this event we’d spent months training for, surrounding and being surrounded, encouraging and being encouraged by each other. The collective energy of the team and the other runners was an incredibly inspiring source of motivation.
The Epic Runner’s High
I’ve always been a fan of the runner’s high (this is one of the reasons I run, btw), but I think what you get at HTC is truly something…addictive. I don’t know the exact amount of endorphins circulating, but essentially you are living in a state of constant euphoria. You’re in a good mood, you’re content, you’re connected to 13,000 fellow runners, and you feel like you belong there.
I don’t think there could be a more beautiful course for a race than the scenery provided from the incredibly stunning Mt. Hood to the Oregon coast. Running through the rolling hills on the outskirts of Mt. Hood for my first leg, or the memorable, magic night run on a midsummer night on the coastal range slopes for my second leg, I was reminded once more of why I live here and why I love Oregon so much.
We had an amazing, fearless, unstoppable team captain, and there were some remarkable leadership lessons to be taken from the Hood-to-Coast experience. I learned a lot from her on how to be selfless and always put the needs of the team ahead of your own. Although it might appear like a short time interval, there are many things that happen (or could happen) during the short-but-long 30 hours of HTC. We had no shortage of surprises, including a variety of weather conditions, unhappy stomachs, clouds of dust, uncertainty in navigation, lack of cell coverage (and thus difficulty in communicating with the other half of the team), and finally a trip to the fire station. In all these situations, you have to support your team, think on your feet, and figure things out – all while keeping the team enthusiastic and focused.
Life lesson: It’s the coffee, not the cup – i.e. Don’t freak out over lack of sleep, not eating, etc.
I recently watched a great video titled “It’s the coffee not the cup”. The gist of the message is that life is like a cup of coffee – and jobs, comforts, money, social structures, etc., are really just the cup (i.e. containers for life). Be assured that the cup adds no quality to the coffee. Sometimes, by being too focused on the cup, we fail to enjoy the coffee. So it made me think – what is my coffee and what is my cup?
Leading up to the start, I was kind of freaking out about the discomforts normally associated with HTC. Lack of sleep, not eating well, not showering, sitting in a van for 30 hrs. None of that would be comfortable. But the reality is, while all of that is true, it doesn’t really matter at all.
Yes, you don’t sleep, and you live on adrenaline for the entire 30+ hours. And it’s very easy to forget to eat in the frenzy of HTC, especially when it’s 97F out. And it’s a fact, you spend a lot of hours in the van, going from exchange to exchange. But all of that doesn’t matter. It’s the cup.
What really matters – the coffee – is the sense of purpose and incredible experience that is derived by facing a big challenge with a motivated group of people and the feeling of accomplishing something big. It’s the sense of being part of something bigger than yourself, the feeling of being somehow more alive. When that happens you discover you have a reservoir of unbounded energy that just gets unleashed. And so sleep doesn’t really matter. Go get your cup of coffee.
Paola Moretto is co-founder and CEO of Nouvola, a nextgen performance testing solution. You can also find her on Twitter at @paolamoretto3.