Never let it be said that Clifton residents are physical slouches. A group of them recently participated in the grueling, 197-mile, Hood to Coast relay race near Portland, Ore.
Involving 1,000 teams of 12 members each, it's the largest relay race in the world and goes from the top of Mount Hood to the northwest Oregon coast. The local group began Aug. 27 at 3:30 p.m., finishing nearly 28 hours later, Aug. 28 at 7:27 p.m.
Eight Virginia residents — Clifton's Peter Noonan (Centreville High principal), Bill Hummel, Dan Kelliher, Julie Guy (Hayden Village), and Laura Harrington (formerly of Clifton), plus Springfield's Tracy and Mike Betts and Fairfax's Laleh Fazli, joined four Oregon residents to form a team.
"The best part was the spirit of the race," said Guy, the team captain. "We put together a great group of people and friends whose running levels were different, so we knew we wouldn't finish first. But we all just went out there wanting to have fun together."
It's an annual event, but it was the first time this group had entered. "I'd read about it in a magazine and, knowing that Tracy and Mike are from Oregon, I mentioned it to them, and they said they'd love to do it," said Guy.
Applications were due last October. The race receives thousands of entries from throughout the U.S., but only accepts 1,000 teams to participate — and they're chosen by lottery. The locals applied and, in December, they learned they'd made it. It cost them $960 to enter — and that didn't include their plane fare to fly to Oregon. But that was OK because they were jazzed about it.
Guy, 41, got Kelliher involved, and Hummel asked Noonan. And the women could hardly wait. "Tracy, Laura and I do adventure races together," said Guy. "Our team is the Chickiegirlscout Club, named after Tracy's daughter Taylor's own club. We do multi-sport, off-road races with trail-running, mountain biking, kayaking or canoeing, orienteering and rappelling."
"And we have more fun than anybody," said Tracy Betts, 32. "Members of opposing teams actually help each other out," added Guy. So the women didn't have the train specifically for the Hood to Coast relay because they're training consistently. Said Guy: "We have a five-to-six day regimen of mountain biking, road biking, running and swimming, throughout the year."
However, said Noonan, "Those of us who don't train like that had to start running four or five times a week, 25-30 minutes each time, and work up to 35-40 minutes. Plus, we did a long run on the weekend — 75-80 minutes — and I tried to work out on hills because I know the terrain would be hilly."
Kelliher, 46, said they also met as a team at the GMU track for a weekday run and interval workouts. "We'd also run on a Saturday or Sunday," he said. "And I tried to run every day, and I also do karate."
Harrington, now of Springfield, did track workouts and ran three to five miles, every other day. "I sometimes did the runs twice a day to get my body used to waiting between runs, like in the relay," she explained. And like Noonan, she ran up hills. "George Mason has some great hills," she said.
For Hummel, 42, it was the first time he'd done anything like this. To prepare, he did lots of running at Burke Lake and participated with the others at the GMU workouts.
"I wanted to do something difficult that would get me motivated to work out — and also to work out with a group," he said. "I know Dan and Laura from the [Clifton Caboose Twilight] 5K, and I coaxed Peter into it. Now, Peter and I plan to do a 15K race in Annapolis in December."
It rained in Oregon, the two days before the relay, but the sun came out for the Aug. 27 start. "And then, it was perfect weather," said Noonan. Mount Hood is more than 11,350 feet, and the relay went from its top to Seaside Beach, 197 miles away.
Team members each ran in three shifts of four to eight miles each — more than 14 miles per person, over the two-day span. And they lived in two vans while awaiting their turn to run. "One van with six runners runs its first six legs of the race," said Noonan. "Then the six runners in the other van do the same. This is done three times total by each van."
Teams started at various intervals, and judges timed them. The Clifton group began in the middle of the pack. "About 24 people take off at a time, and only one person per team runs each time," said Noonan. "That's why it takes so long."
He said the toughest part was the sleep deprivation because "it was really hard to sleep in sleeping bags in the middle of a field. We ended up being awake for 36 hours and, during that time, we had to run our three legs."
And the prize at the end? "Just the ability to say you finished first — and for the fun of it," said Guy. "It's difficult traveling with 12 sweaty people and not sleeping," said Betts. But, added Noonan, "It was fun — it was amazing."
And it's a true relay. "Each person hands off a wrist band to the next person," explained Guy. "The team in van one took about four hours to do its first six legs. Then the team in van two took over."
Hummel said the relay was "a little scarier" than he'd anticipated. "I thought I'd see all kinds of runners, but my first run was at 1 a.m. on a pitch-dark bike path," he said. "I only saw about three runners and, because of fog, I could only see four or five feet ahead of me, at some points."
Still, he said, "I liked the relay concept and running in the mountains. The hills were fun — it was a blast. I'm glad I did it; I saw a lot of people who'd quit, especially in the last leg." Said Noonan: "There was a certain element of pride, the next day, walking around with my Hood to Coast T-shirt on."
He especially enjoyed meeting new people and the team camaraderie. "I played sports in high school, and so it was nice to get back onto a team," he said. Betts was happy she could accompany one of their Oregon team members, the last leg, and help her finish the race.
Kelliher said the hardest thing was staying keyed up for so long and "not getting sore when you're not running. But you really develop nice friendships when you go through something like that, and it was a group of adults getting together for some good, clean fun." Harrington, too, loved being with such a "super group of people," plus encouraging the beginners to push their limits.
Hummel said the best part was the sense of accomplishment: "Coming into Seaside Beach and crossing the finish line as a team — and hearing our team name from Clifton announced — with the Pacific [Ocean] right there, at sunset, was incredible." Besides that, added Noonan, "Everybody on the team agreed that Bill looked really good running."