Portland to Coast High School Challenge

Hood to Coast is a well known relay race that starts at Mt Hood and ends in Seaside each August. Since moving to Portland in 2016 I’ve heard about it from lots of folks who have participated in this massive event over the years. As a cross country coach, I received an email back in June from the OSAA that reminded coaches that high school teams were welcome to participate on a shorter version.

Dubbed the “Portland to Coast High School Challenge”, teams of 8-12 runners aged 14-18 would start at 5PM on Friday afternoon from the Hawthorne Bridge and run along the main race route, 130 miles, ending at Seaside.

I was immediately excited and had many questions. Could our small team possibly field the required number of athletes? Would there be enough interest? Is this too close to the start of school? How would we get our volunteers needed? Who would drive the vans?

The questions and confusion continued up until the last minute and then some. While traveling in Thailand for work, I realized we had missed some key dates in which to get our team all registered and our volunteers trained online. Could we still participate? If so, how would we arrange our vans so that our runners could do the legs they agreed to (2 or 3 legs of about 4-8 miles each depending on experience and desire) and get into the right vans that were allowed on the course?

That’s where Jeannie Chinn stepped up and offered to help organize. A detail person with seemingly endless energy and vision, she pulled all the details together at the last second helping find the runners and volunteers we needed as well as create some very complicated spreadsheets to keep us all on track and arranged in the right vans throughout the 19 hour race.

Our 2019 racing crew was comprised of team captain of the following: Gabe Cowley (17, team captain, running 3 legs), Dominic Padula (16, running 3 legs), Luke Frechette (16, running 3 legs), Luke Mesquite (16, running 3 legs), Donovan McAfee (16, running 2 legs), Jonathan Terpening (16, running 2 legs), Jack Lutz (16, running 2 legs), Ruth Chinn (17, running 2 legs), Nico Di Piazza (14, running 2 legs) and Joseph Padula (14, running 2 legs).

Team captain Gabe tried carefully to choose the best legs for each runner based on their experience and state of fitness. More experienced runners were given harder legs to run. I tried my best to estimate the times each leg would take. The PTC website filled in the gaps with information about the course (terrain expected, distance, and difficulty level).

  • Gabe, leg 13, easy—basically flat terrain along the Willamette River and Portland water front on paved city streets, 4.19 miles (est. 5-5:30PM) lights/reflective vest not needed

  • Dominic, leg 14, moderate—basically flat terrain along Front Ave / St. Helen Rd / HWY 30 on paved shoulder and sideruns, 6.04 miles (est 5:30-6:30PM) begin using reflection/lights

  • Luke F, leg 15, hard—gently rolling terrain on paved shoulder along HWY 30, 7.25 miles (est 6:30-8PM)

  • Luke M, leg 16, easy—gently rolling terrain on paved shoulder along HWY 30, 3.92 miles (est 8-8:30PM).

  • Donovan, leg 17, moderate—basically flat terrain on paved shoulder along HWY 30, 7.83 miles (est 8:30-9:30PM). Last fuel before coast.

  • Jonathan, leg 18, hard—flat and gradual uphill terrain on HWY 30 and paved backcountry roads, 5.23 miles (9:30-10:15PM)

  • Jack, leg 19, very hard—long leg over challenging up and down hills on paved backcountry roads, 5.89 miles (10:15-11:15PM)

  • Ruth, leg 20, very hard—very challenging up and downhills on partially paved and gravel backcountry roads, 5.75 miles (11:15-1AM)

  • Nico, leg 21, moderate—flat, slightly downhill terrain near a creek on gravel backcountry roads, 5.06 miles (1-1:45AM)

  • Joseph, leg 22, hard—gradual up and downhills on paved but narrow backcountry roads, 6.70 miles (1:45-3AM)

  • Gabe, leg 23, easy—basically flat terrain on narrow country roads with minimal shoulder, 4.23 miles (3-3:30AM)

  • Dominic, leg 24, easy—flat terrain along Nehalem River and through pastoral setting on HWY 47 and HWY 202, 4.87 miles (3:30-4:15AM)

  • Luke F, leg 25, easy—gently rolling terrain (last 2 miles) on paved country roads, 3.80 miles (4:15-4:45AM)

  • Luke M, leg 26, hard—beginning with gently rolling hills, long uphill toward the end, finishing downhill for half mile on paved roads, 5.65 miles (4:45-5:45AM).

  • Donovan, leg 27 (final leg), moderate—rolling hills on paved rural country road, 6.36 miles (5:45-6:45AM)

  • Jonathan, leg 28 (final leg), easy—gradual uphill on paved road with narrow HWY with limited shoulder, 3.83 miles (6:45-7:15AM)

  • Jack, leg 29 (final leg), very hard—very challenging up and downhills through winding wooded section of HWY 202, 5.97 miles (7:15-8:15AM), reflection/lights no longer needed after 7AM

  • Ruth, leg 30 (final leg), moderate—gradual uphill and steep downhill on winding narrow back road with minimal shoulder, 5.32 miles (8:15-9AM)

  • Only Van 2 with a COLORED "race vehicle" sign in window will be allowed to proceed on the course between Exch 31 and seaside

  • Nico, leg 31 (final leg), moderate, 3.96 miles (9-9:45AM)

  • Joseph, leg 32 (final leg), moderate, 4.20 miles (9:45-10:15AM). Cell phone coverage unreliable until after Leg 32.

  • Gabe, leg 33 (third leg), hard—rolling hills on narrow country roads, 7.72 miles (10:15-11:30AM)

  • Dominic, leg 34 (third leg), easy—very short leg in length with gently rolling hills along paved country roads, 4.12 miles (11:30-12:15PM)

  • Luke F, leg 35 (third leg), hard—gently rolling terrain along a combination of paved and gravel roads, 7.07 miles (12:15-1:30PM)

  • Luke M, leg 36 (third leg), moderate—challenging up and steep downhills on winding paved roads to finish on sand near Broadway turnaround, 5.19 miles (1:30-2:30PM). Luke will wear shiny silver timing chip bib to record race finish time.

Our spreadsheet that Jeannie worked up was referred to constantly throughout the race. We kept track of each runner’s finishing time to know how much ahead, or behind, we were to our estimation.

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We planned to meet up at a nearby Burgerville to decorate our vans and arrange our riders and supplies. From there we headed to the starting line where we parked near OMSI and headed for check-in. About 23 or so other high school teams were present and 1 runner from each team left at the same time. Our van left immediately, but was unable to escape Portland traffic before our first runner was at the exchange point waiting for the handoff. (Lesson learned: drop off runner with van 2 teammates there to cheer him or her on, while van 1 heads immediately to exchange point). Our first runner was held up for 10 minutes by a train, then 10 minutes waiting for us to show up for our second runner to begin.

An excited, fresh team at the start line on the east side of Hawthorne Bridge in downtown Portland. First picture from L to R (back row): Joseph, Nico, Dominic, Luke, Ben, Luke, Jeannie (front) Jack, Ruth, Jonathan, Gabe, Donovan

Pics above: initial exchange points at Front Ave-Georgia Pacific, Marina Way/HWY 30, Rocky Point Weigh Station, Scappoose High School

Once the light was gone things got more interesting. As the driver of van 1, we waited at St Helens High School for our final runner Donovan, then headed to exchange 18 at Columbia County Fairgrounds where we could sleep until about 1:30 I estimated. I chose to take my sleeping pad and bag to the designated area and try mostly in vain to catch some shuteye under the stars while the rest of the crew stayed in the van. After our rest we headed for exchange point 23, Natal Grange.

Both vans had a few missteps at the exchange points. While allowing for sleep was a priority for our runners, we had to ensure we didn’t take too long before we got to the exchanges. On a few occasions the van and (semi)fresh runner showed up 10 minutes after the runner had arrived. My original estimations for timing consistently showed we were running an hour to an hour and a half early. Several of our runners were unknowns to me in terms of speed. But we kept doing our best to adjust as well as possible. We also made a mistake of not having both reflective vests with us for a few hours meaning our handoffs were complicated by having to take off the vest and pass that to the next runner along with the slap-on baton.

After the Columbia County Fairgrounds up until Seaside, cellphone coverage was unreliable meaning we couldn’t give status updates or see where each other was at. At one point my van arrived earlier than expected, so I had to find the sleeping “VanRed” members and rouse them from slumber so the handoff could take place at the right time.

Once in Seaside, we found VanRed parked in the middle school lot. We joined them and headed out to the finish line near the promenade where our team would line up in a chute when called so that the entire team could cross the finish line together. Luke M had just crossed the finish line by the time we all arrived, so all we had to do was wait until our team number was called, cross the finish line, then check out the beach for a while before heading to Camp 18 for a well-deserved lunch.

Kudos to everyone on the team for a job well done! The official results, “Boys Open” division, showed us at a time of 16:58:48 running at an average pace of 7:51 per mile. We were 6th in our division with a team place of 11th overall for the Portland to Coast High School Challenge.