Running Through the Night from Mt Hood to the Pacific

Spokane Swifts Deliver

Unexplainable bonding happens when twelve people are squeezed into a van together to run as fast as they can for 200 miles (mostly in the dark), surviving on Power Bars and running gels and zero sleep. The Hood to Coast (HTC) relay is arguably the best-known overnight, long-distance relay race in America, and by strange coincidence, several of the fastest members of the Spokane Swifts running team participated on three of the most competitive teams ever assembled for HTC this year.

The magic behind the HTC rests in the racecourse. The 200-mile course consists of 12 runners racing 36 legs; each team member runs three in rotation. The course is primarily on paved roads and paved asphalt or concrete multi-use off-street paths, with small portions of the course on sidewalks and gravel roads. The legs vary in length from 3.4 miles to 7.8 miles. Some legs are virtually flat, and others descend or ascend steep hills. Consequently, a runner may total a half-marathon or exceed 20 miles. Teams in the full Hood to Coast relay must complete the course from Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood to Seaside, Oregon, within a 32-hour time limit.

All of the teams are expected to provide their own provisions, including food and water, and to ensure their own safety; there are no promised aid stations or police protection on the course. It’s also worth noting there is no prize money for the winners. However, local schools and churches along the route provide sleeping areas, food, and sometimes showers at nominal cost to participants as fundraisers.

Most of the HTC teams are fairly established, and many are rooted in the annual experience. Just like Bloomsday, it isn’t uncommon for runners to participate in the race for many decades. Due to the team number limits, it’s fairly difficult to create a new team, which actually testifies to the quality and the depth of the Spokane Swifts – seven members were invited to participate in three highly-competitive teams: Jodi Suter, Sarah Ranson, Rachel Jaten, Heather LeFriec, Ashley Bruck, Meaghan McCluskey and Mariah McConnaughey. Without a doubt, they all made dramatic contributions to their mixed gender teams.

“This was my first time doing HTC. I was fortunate to get on the same team as Sarah and Jodi. The team, Slug Hunters, has been together for several years,” says Rachel Jaten.

Don’t be fooled by the name Slug Hunters; their team is deceptively fast and always among the top finishers. This year they finished 6th overall out of 1,011 teams. More importantly, they finished 1st in the Mixed Masters category and crushed second place by nearly 50 minutes! In a nutshell, the Slug Hunters averaged a 6 minutes-per-mile pace for roughly 200 miles! Jaten isn’t a stranger to big races, but this one was extra special. “The best part about being a Slug Hunter was breaking 20 hours – something the team has been trying to accomplish and never done until this year. Brian, our final leg, got to bring it home, and it was his 20th year doing HTC.”

When Spokane Swift Meaghan McCluskey isn’t working at the Runners Soul, she is most likely running. At this year’s HTC relay, Meaghan ran with Heino’s Flyers. Their mixed team also kicked butt, and finished in the top twenty. “Tom Heinonen was the coach at University of Oregon for many years. He happened to be my mom’s coach when she first went to Oregon as a freshman in college. So that’s how I got to be a part of it. My best friend from college started it and asked me to join them,” says McCluskey.

Ashley Bruck insists she is not a night owl, yet she somehow excelled during the graveyard shift. “The toughest portion for me was my second leg which started at 2:30 am. I was running the section through the mist,” says Bruck. “At the exchange, I took off into the night on a 5-mile section that was basically solo. Yet, this was the best part for me. I was able to race these 5 miles faster than I ever have before, in the middle of the night, with no sleep, and no people around to chase. At the end, I just couldn’t believe I had done that. I would have never thought it was possible,” adds Bruck.

Bruck ran for team Willamette Dental. This mixed team is also a top contender year after year, and they finished 1st in the Mixed Open category. Truth be told, they finished 5th overall, and a mere 3 minutes ahead of the Slug Hunters.

“In the middle of it, you’re thinking ‘What the hell am I doing this for?’,” says Spokane Swifts member Heather LeFriec. Even though the Swifts didn’t entirely run together, they carpooled to the starting line and home from the finish line. Not unlike other close-knit teams, they train together, motivate one another, and cheer for each other at races. And they all hope to return next year.

“By the end of the weekend, all of the vans smell like wet socks. And then as soon as you’re finished, and sipping that first ice cold beer at the finish line with your teammates, you’re counting down the days until next year’s Hood to Coast,” adds Heather LeFriec.

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