This post comes to you from Hawaii, but after spending the middle two weeks of August in the Pacific North West of the US, I can definitely say I’m a fan. Actually, I’m a huge fan of the PNW now – mainly thanks to the experience that was the Hood to Coast Relay and the efforts of the team at Nuun HQ in Seattle. Let me explain.
I was first introduced to Nuun by my friend Alex, who recommended that I start using an electrolyte replacement drink to aid with recovery from long runs on Oahu and basically I haven’t looked back – or at another electrolyte drink since. With no sugar, and the main components to replace salts lost through high rates of sweat loss (as we see in Hawaii), Nuun meets my hydration needs – without upsetting the whole GI system!
Fast forward a few months, and many successfully completed long runs later – I applied to become a Nuun Ambassador because, well, because it helps me out and I feel ok with spreading a little #nuunlove. Fast forward a couple of years, and a few Facebook clicks later – I find myself applying to join the 2014 Hood to Coast Relay Nuun Ambassador team – and I made it!
But what is the Hood to Coast Relay? And why is it such a big deal? The relay, from here in called ‘HTC‘ – has also been called ‘The Mother of all Relays’. It started in 1982 with just 8 teams, but this year over 1000 teams took part – each with 12 runners. The relay covers just under 200miles, from Mount Hood to Seaside in Oregon, and each runner completes 3 legs, ranging in distance anywhere from 4-7 miles at a time.
Nuun had arranged for two teams to run in the relay, which were aptly named Lemon + Lime, and Wild Berry. Each team consisted of 10 ambassadors and 2 Nuun employee runners/ drivers. We’d all met up in Seattle the day before the HTC kick off and had a great time getting to know each other and meeting the Nuun gang – over beer and pizza, a visit to Pikes Place for coffee (after checking out Seattle’s gum-wall!), a shake out morning run (that was followed by doughnuts) and a tour of the brand new, eco-friendly Brooks main office.
The relay started in waves on Friday morning at the Timberline ski resort on the side of Mount Hood, which is up in the Cascade Mountain range. Just driving from Seattle to the start line was beautiful – watching the scenery change from the low lying coastal areas to dense forests as we climbed up winding roads into the Cascades. When we arrived at Mount Hood for our allotted wave-time, the volcanic peak was shrouded in low cloud, but we still had some sunshine and the atmosphere was a buzz of anticipation – mixed with pumping music and a loud MC introducing all the teams. Justin was the first runner for van 1 of Team Nuun Energy Lemon Lime – and over the course of the next twenty-eight hours our team would fall into line behind him – handing over the green snap bracelet, aka the relay baton – covering the miles in the following order: George, Carrie, Zoe, myself and then Lisa. Jay was our chief time keeper and essential van driver – who thankfully stayed awake keeping us all on track whilst navigating through the sea of highly decorated team vans. Van 2 would piggyback with us over the distance of the course, and our final leg runner Lisa, handed over to Lauren at the designated exchange spots on the route.
The opening leg of the relay was super tough – a downhill quad-buster – and Justin did a great job of surviving this until I tried to feed him a recovery snack of peanut butter filled pretzels – which he is allergic too!! (Sorry Justin!) Thankfully Justin didn’t have a serious reaction and carried on to run his remaining legs in fine fettle – read more of his thoughts on the #nuunHTC weekend HERE. 2nd leg runner George hails from Las Vegas and has already completed 4 races since finishing HTC last week! Must be the Nuun… Carrie – our third leg runner is a phenomena! With a Guinness World Record in Dance Dance Revolution Carrie has an amazing attitude and was a true inspiration to be around. Runner #4 Zoe was also amazing and at 22 weeks pregnant made relay-ing look like a breeze. And last but not least was Lisa – a fellow Brit (now Florida resident) but of the slightly more bubbly, super duathlete kind!
The legs that I ran were a mix of undulating hills, flat roads through farm land (at 2am watching all the lit-up runners bobbing along in an array of flashing reflective vests!), and final ‘mountain stage’ – on Saturday. I’m calling it the mountain stage since it was the closest experience to something like the Tour de France that I’ll probably ever see! Ok, ok it wasn’t quite as intense as I imagine the TdF can be and the #upness might not have been as high, but with vans lining the roadside, words and phrases written in chalk on the road, and people at the highest point holding up a toilet paper banner for runners to stride through – it was pretty awesome and overall my favourite stage. In between stages we all took turns in catching naps (trying not to drool on each other) in the back of the van, pulled on our compression socks, ate a bunch of snacks and drank a gallon of nuun. I even managed to cross paths with a couple of Oiselle runners who were on the team ‘Puke & Rally’ – and that was in addition to the Oiselle Team runners on Lemon + Lime and Wild Berry: Melissa, Sophia, Megan and myself – not bad!
The final leg for Team Nuun Energy Lemon Lime came down to van 2’s runner Hyla, and as she ran across the finish line and on to the sand in Seaside, the clock stopped at 28:22:29. We had finished a very respectable 64th out of 333 teams in the Mixed Open division and celebrated with beer & pizza – but only after a dip in the
freezing refreshingly cold sea and a hot shower!
After spending at least 24 hours in a van with a random group of relative strangers – social media interactions aside – it only confirmed my suspicion that runners are a breed of super-tolerant humans. And to survive the HTC you need to be tolerant of not only running over challenging terrain but also: small spaces, stinky socks, ‘Honey Buckets’, the line for a Honey Bucket, a lack of sleep, and just basically randomness. Yoga helps. So does Nuun. And I’d do it all again.
A big thank you goes out to Nuun for organising an awesome HTC weekend and giving us a chance to see, run through and experience the Pacific North West from a unique perspective. And a special thanks goes to all the Nuun Ambassador Relay-ers on teams Lemon + Lime and Wild Berry for making it an unforgettable time.
ps. If you’re wondering, ‘What on earth is a Honey Bucket?’ – read more via Runners World: “Runners Sleep in Portable Toilets.”