Zero to Hero in 200 Miles: Insider's Guide to Hood To Coast
Editor's Note: PRC owners Dave and Paula Harkin are veterans of umpteen Hood To Coast relays, and counting. This is their definitive guide to meeting the unique challenges of the Mother of All Relays, penned by Dave. Of course, this advice applies to many other multi-leg relay events, like Ragnar, Cascade Lakes, etc. Good luck!
How does one survive Hood to Coast, you ask?
Well “surviving” may be a bit overstated. However, when you wake up in a dark field in the middle of nowhere at 3 a.m. with your head propped up against the wheel of a 15 passenger van, and you try to move your body after two arduous legs just mere hours apart, if not “survival,” then at least self-preservation.
Some basic know-how can help you avoid the most common mistakes when competing in the Hood to Coast relay.
I’ve run Hood to Coast numerous times, as well as helped thousands of Portland Running Company customers prepare for what is one of the most physically challenging races many runners will ever face. Most runners just aren’t prepared for running 200 miles in under 30 hours with minimal sleep and a van full of foul smelling and fouler feeling runners.
Most of the subtleties of surviving Hood to Coast are simply learned by experience. You cannot predict how your body is going to respond—although I cannot remember a single person exclaiming that they felt better than they thought they would when beginning leg three.
When you are asking questions like, “Is this a good idea?” “Why did we agree to do this?” “What are the physical limits of the human body…?” remember that you can go from zero to hero, novice to expert, F to A+ in a few simple steps. Some basics:
Have Two Sets of Keys—Separate Key Holders
Just let your imagination run wild for a second….
Never Underestimate the Value of Good Food
You have time to eat real food during Hood to Coast. Eat food with which your body is familiar. So why do so many people gobble eight energy bars, drink 2 gallons of sports drink, and take 13 Advil? Because without planning, it seems like the endurance/ultra thing to do.
After some of the trauma, stress and exertion of running, sometimes food just doesn’t sound good. There is a simple recipe for adding in supplements: CARBS FOR FUEL (energy gels, Clif Bloks, etc.) and PROTEIN FOR RECOVERY. My favorite non-food food is Hammer Recoverite. The chocolate flavor is especially good with chocolate milk!
You have time. So sleep a little. I have heard so many people say that they would rather not sleep because it’s too hard to get going again. Then I look over two minutes later and they are sawing logs. Commit to a schedule. Cool down after your run. Eat, put on some warm clothes, drink 20-24 ounces of water and go nighty-night—even at 4 in the afternoon. It will help.
Anti-Blister/Anti-Chafe…a.k.a. Body Glide
There’s only one way to spell relief on Hood to Coast: D-O-N-T-C-H-A-F-E. You can rip your muscles in half, go 23+ hours without a wink of sleep, eat 3 lbs. of beef jerky, and still manage to run 5 or 6 miles. One short episode of good chafing, however, can reduce even the most seasoned runner to a whimpering ball of fetal-positioned humanity.
Body Glide is a non-petroleum lubricant. There is no downside unless you eat it, so don’t. However, apply it anywhere you might chafe. For guys, this includes the feet, the inseams, the nipples (yes, I just typed “nipples”) and under the arms. For women, all of those areas plus your sport bra strap line, especially front and center.
Honorable mention in this category to the product known as “Nip-Guard.” It’s a ring shaped piece of material that quite simply protects that region.
Get to the Van Exchanges Early
They are the most important hand-offs. Tardiness is frowned upon by the other van in every case and will cause a significant amount of unnecessary stress.
Change Your Socks & Don’t Wear Cotton When You Run
Find a good sock, one that fits properly, that you have worn on some longer runs, and that is aesthetically pleasing when you look down on it, and buy three or more pairs. There’s nothing worse than wet socks inside wet shoes, softening up your poor feet for their next run. Your socks must be non-cotton (polyester is the primary ingredient in most running socks). Avoiding cotton is simply the easiest way to avoid blisters.
This non-cotton credo carries over into apparel as well. From your briefs to your bras, avoid cotton. It loads with moisture, stretches when it gets wet, and can cause everything from simple discomfort to severe chafing. Did we mention, don’t forget the Body Glide?
Personal Reflective Kits for Night Running
Have you ever put on a sweaty, oversized, bulky, nylon traffic vest? Not so good, especially for you ladies. Try a product called the Amphipod Xinglet. The Xinglet is adjustable, elasticized, and very user-friendly.
Also, headlamps and their accompanying straps gets nasty sweaty, so having your own is recommended. Petzl is great, well-priced ($29-$39), and quite durable.
Finally, a flashing red light is such a simple item but a critical one when you’re out on the course. It works like a brake light on the road since most of the running will be done WITH traffic. Try these bad boys.
Hydration, Hydration, Hydration
When thinking of simple ways to suggest how much water one might require for full hydration during Hood to Coast…Lake Michigan comes to mind. You have to balance a few things here—water is essential and most other fluids are going to have something you don’t need. Gatorade for example is going to have some sugar in it that you could essentially get from a bagel.
My recommendation would be to skip the sugar drinks and go for straight up electrolytes. Endurolytes by Hammer are capsules that provide all of the essential electrolytes for endurance performance. If you have time to eat some Lays Plain Potato Chips, do it. If not, a couple of Endurolytes and a swig of water should help your with dehydration, stomach discomfort, and muscle cramping.
Though there are many factors including urine output, weight, and sweat rate, if you are expelling approximately 1.5 liters of clear to almost-clear urine a day, you are hydrated. When you start running, you have to add that into the equation. When you run, it’s hot, and you may not be eating a balanced diet (food accounts for about 20% of fluid intake in a normal diet), you should try to drink 5 ounces for every 20 minutes of running.
Here is the fluid ounce equation for everyday hydration: Half your body weight in ounces. If you weigh 150 pounds, you should drink about 75 ounces of water per day. If you run for one hour, add 15-20 ounces. Drinking while you are exercising helps with recovery and performance. For 5-6 mile distances, a hand-held device with a bottle attached is always great. We have 10 oz. – 22 oz. products from Amphipod, Nathan, and FuelBelt. Negative-hydrating fluids include coffee, soda, and beer. For hydration purposes, they simply don’t count.
SHOES (my favorite subject!)
It’s time. Every summer about this time, I see people all over my neighborhood dusting off their seventh-grade PE uniforms and their old-school running shoes—Christmas gifts from 1999—and strolling out to see what their bodies can do before the big race. It’s not too late to start logging some miles and it is certainly not too late to get some new kicks.
Even shoes that are slightly worn can be broken down and cause injury, especially if you run on the treadmill or if you have spread out your running miles over the past…four years. Come by any one of our stores and get evaluated for a new pair of shoes.
Seriously, there is nothing more hindering than an old or poorly suited pair of running shoes, ESPECIALLY during Hood to Coast. The evaluation is free, so don’t let that stop you. We can help. We want to help.
The right shoe can make all the difference between successfully running all three of your legs, and running one leg and then vowing to never run again, and then running your other two legs anyway.
See the difference? Avoid injury and bathe in positivity just by getting new shoes. It is also wise to rotate shoes if possible. A fresh pair will feel amazing. Trust me, your feet will thank you!
I usually use my newest pair on legs one and three and then rotate in another pair for leg two. My shoes dry out and the foam decompresses. When rotating, you can use the same shoe model or you can rotate between two different types.
Ha! Just kidding. You won't be taking any showers. Well, maybe you will. But you will definitely want to slip your feet into something soothing and supportive between legs. And something that isn't, erm, stinky. We highly recommend you let the Oofos Oo get to you and your feet. These cushy slides, flip-flops, and even slip-on shoes provide relief for sore feet in the form of plush foam and arch support...and while you can't wash yourself, Oofos are washable, meaning you can hose them off and keep them fresh. Or wear them in a shower, if you find one.
Run twice a day a few times before the big day. It’s fun. Wake up super early, put on your most comfortable running outfit and run 4-5 miles. Shower, feed the kids, go to work, come home, feed the kids, run again, shower, and go to bed—seriously, it’s like resort living! Part of learning how to run Hood to Coast is teaching your body to expect the varying degrees of, well, pain.
Know your Route
Know your leg profiles and prepare accordingly. You might be the type of person who likes a surprise, who can find joy in the spontaneity of surging up a three mile-long hill, or descending down the face of a mountain at top speed with dust in your face from a thousand vans driving past you in the middle of the night. You can still have that joy, just familiarize yourself with the approximate distance and elevation gain and loss of each of your legs. You will be better for it.
I have never heard anyone claim that they wished they had not known that a hill was where it was or that they would’ve gone out faster had they realized how easy their leg was.
Know the Weather
Also, prepare yourself for the different weather you will experience. You can expect fairly warm temperatures during the day on Friday, especially through Sandy and Portland. Once you are beyond Scappoose and into the coast range, expect the weather to drop 15–20 degrees or more. As the sun sets, you can expect as much as a 40-degree drop.
This means you could have one leg in 80-degree weather and one in 40-45 degree weather.
Our rule: Dress like it is 20 degrees warmer than it actually is. So, if your leg is 60 degrees at the start, you can expect to feel like it is 80. The last thing you want to do is wear a long-sleeve shirt or a jacket just to peel it off after 5 minutes of running. Stay warm until you are ready to run. Make sure you have pants and a jacket so you can warm up at the exchange points while you wait for your runner. Check out our jacket options for men and for women.
From sweatbands, to visors, to billed caps, somewhere in the diversity of headwear options, find one that works for you. Coming off of Mt. Hood at 4 p.m. in August, you’ll want a bill. Some people wear sunglasses. New sunglasses are affordable, polarized, and look good...er. And a comfortable hat or visor? Always a must.
For women, hats and visors can take care of even the most unruly ponytail, and you can get some pretty cute options as well. Trendy, cotton/nylon, trucker lids—they are cute and cool (looking) and will work okay but are impractical for racing. Grab a technical run/walk hat for optimum comfort. Save the cool lids for the beach where they are absolutely called-for.
Prepare to Swear (this is a side note, not a typo)
The reduced capacity in which you may find yourself might lead to some uncharacteristic behavior. Most notably, I have seen a serious increase in profanity during this mother of all relays. Not belligerent. Not self-aggrandizing. Just satisfying. It’s like a combination of what you might say when you almost get in a car accident right after someone tells you that you have won the lottery. It’s okay. It’s a bar fight, a wedding, and a family reunion all in one.
Enjoy yourselves out there, and remember, if someone you know thinks being prepared for this race is over the top or in some way won’t make a difference, I encourage you to shout back, “Shut the front door!” (But not literally because most of you will probably be near a van and that could result in locking your keys in the van with the engine running while you are pumping gas in Sandy…true story.)
Ahhh, THE STICK
Little, yellow (or red), different. It’s a massage tool and is the easiest way to recover from one run, while simultaneously preparing for another run. Some big-budget teams have a massage therapist on board. La-di-dah! For the rest of us, The Stick works great. It is a segmented rolling pin designed to massage and penetrate the muscle tissue to help reduce lactic acid build up and work out fascial and adhesions and muscle trauma (knots).
Sounds fun, huh? Areas of focus: Lower posterior (back) leg (soleus, gastroc, posterior tib. IT Band: outside of upper leg between hip and knee. The Stick is the single reason, outside of my loving wife, that I am able to run the way I do.
Kneed To Go
OK, for your small- or mid-budget team there is an alternative to kidnapping your favorite massage therapist for the weekend: Theragun Mini percussive therapy tools. These powerful little dynamos hammer away at those muscle knots and soft-tissue adhesions without the need to set up a folding table at your next transition spot. Small enough to stash in your duffel, Theragun Mini charges in 80 minutes and massages for 150 minutes. The person who brings a Theragun will be everyone's favorite teammate, guaranteed, far exceeding the popularity of the person who brought the jerky cannister and the Pringles.
For recovery, compression socks or calf-sleeves are fantastic. I wore them during Hood to Coast last year and found that my muscles felt less knotted and better prepared to perform. They also double as a warm, long sock when you get to the colder legs.
Recap: What Are You Packing?
Here is the list:
- Shoes (2 pair)
- Socks (4 pair)
- Change of Clothes (3)
- Warm clothes for non-running time – gloves, always bring gloves!
- The Stick
- Body Glide (Nipguards)
- Amphipod Xinglet
- Headlamp and flashing red light
- Billed Hat/Visor – not mentioned above but a knit beanie is good in the coast range.
- Run Gum (because you don’t have a coffeemaker in the van)
- Good, Nutritious, Wholesome Food
You can find a lot of these items at PRC. Click here to see our annual Relay Essentials buying guide.
Basic Camping Goods: Flashlight, sun block, bug repellent, Advil, Band-Aids, Neosporin (first aid-ish stuff), fresh water, Map of Oregon (never a bad idea. No phone reception in coast range).
Good luck. Love your team and they will love you. Some see opportunity as a challenge. With preparation, you will see every challenge as an opportunity. Run like the wind (and don’t forget to watch where you step in the woods)!