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Hood to Coast came and went last weekend. Three years ago, I was in the thick of it: I ran legs six, 18, and 30 of the relay, completing 17 of the 197 miles, along with 11 amazing teammates. The route spanned a beautiful course, from the top of Mt. Hood (just east of Portland) to the beach at Seaside, Ore. I fell in love on my first visit to the Pacific Northwest. 

Approaching my team's stop-and-cheer on leg six.

Despite the gorgeous scenery, the hills were killer. Especially for a Midwesterner like me, used to training on Illinois’ flat prairies. Plus, the temperature was constantly changing. When our first runner started at the top of the mountain, we bundled up in hats, coats, and gloves. Within three hours, everyone had stripped down to tank tops and shorts. My first leg lasted eight miles along a hilly stretch of open, unshaded road, at noon on a sunny day. Looking forward to my teammates’ stop-and-cheer was the only thing that kept me going.

The race was tough– I’d say comparable to a half marathon. I ran farther than 13 miles, but in shorter, more manageable spurts. Teams of 12 take an average of 30 hours to complete the course, crammed into vans from handoff to handoff, sleep-deprived, stinky and cranky. At the end, the entire team crosses the finish line together, as a unit. The Nike team wins most years, but finishing first wasn’t our goal.

A team of filmmakers made a documentary about the race the same year I participated. If you watch the movie in slo-mo, you can see my leg as I cross the finish line (it’s now on DVD, check it out). The movie does a nice job capturing the spirit of the race and portraying distance runners in their true light. It’s a must-see if you’ve run this race or plan to in the future.

My Hood to Coast experience happened during my glory days of running. The previous year, 2007, I had completed the Chicago Marathon– the year the heat and humidity brought the race to a halt. Those days, I lived and breathed running.

Running was my nature connection, my alone time, my keep-the-weight-off program. I subscribed to Runner’s World magazine and flagged all the destination runs, dreaming of running marathons in places like San Francisco, London, Quebec City and Southern France.

Every time I travelled to a new city, I mapped out new running routes. A four-mile loop along Ocean Drive in South Beach, a 12-mile sweat-soaked run along the bay in Tampa, an eight-mile loop from downtown to the Plaza in KC. It was a way to explore new places– I experienced things I wouldn’t have otherwise seen. 

During my pregnancy, I gave myself a nine-month hiatus. Problem is, I gained 42 pounds, and now none of my pants fit. I resumed running and returned to work both when Elena was 6 weeks old, but I was over-ambitious, tackling one transition too many at a time of tumultuous change. I couldn’t quit my job, so I quit running.

A month’s passed since my last run. And that last one wasn’t so hot. Barely made it three miles, and my pace was way off. Earlier this year, I signed up for the Chicago’s Hot Chocolate 15K as a carrot– great course, manageable distance. Now, I’ve got two months to train for nine miles. It’ll help me lose these last 10 pounds, but it’s gonna be tough. I’m nowhere near the level I was when I ran the Hood to Coast Relay in Oregon, but I have to start somewhere. Wish me luck!