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Monday, September 3, 2012

Hood to Coast with Nuun

It's been a full week since I returned home from living a DREAM in the Pacific Northwest.  I'm not totally sure why I haven't sat down to write about my adventures running the Hood to Coast Relay with Nuun - it is nearly all I have been able to think about between diaper changes and trips to the playground, back to school open houses and neighborhood bike rides.  From a logistical standpoint, finding the time - the solitude - I would need to sit down quietly with my thoughts and reflections has been a huge challenge this week.  But more than that, I have been emotionally flabbergasted all week and it's been hard to get myself feeling grounded and focused enough to write about something that was just so incredibly magical.

How am I going to do it justice? How do I tell this story?  How do I take all that is in my heart and put it into words?  Words which often feel so in adequate and puny compared to what I am trying to describe.  How in the world am I going capture the gigantic, ridiculous happiness and gratitude that is in my heart and overwhelms me each and every time I think about the people (oh, especially the PEOPLE!), the places and the moments that touched me - and quite honestly changed me - over the course of a few short days on the other side of the country?

Well, I've decided enough is enough and I have to accept the fact that the best I can do is the best I can do.  Just like with running and with so many other things in life, I can't worry about whether or not it's good enough.  My best is MY best, so really how can that be a disappointment?  And I will write about it from the heart, telling my story and doing my best to convey here how truly THANKFUL I am for one of the most INCREDIBLE experiences of my life.  It was profound for me in every respect.

And I mean that (and everything I say here) from the very bottom of my heart.

When I got off the plane last week in Seattle, I felt like I was stepping into a dream world.  Some alternate universe I never knew existed.  I was nervous, yet totally at peace.  I was excited, yet completely calm and comfortable.  I was grateful and aware in each and every moment of how blessed and lucky I was to be there.  And it just kept getting better.  More amazing all the time.

The first two days in Seattle were way beyond what I could have ever expected (the whole thing was, really).  We were all treated with such incredible love, kindness and support from the second we were chosen for this epic team.  The people at Nuun are AMAZING.  I don't know how many times I said phrases like "Oh my gosh, is this really happening?" or "I'm so excited!" or "This is so much fun!" - I wanted to savor every moment and bottle it up - and I felt that way well before we even left Seattle to go to the race!  In Seattle we went for an 8 mile run along the waterfront, went to a Mariners baseball game, visited the Oiselle headquarters (this will deserve its own post FOR SURE) and ran around the beautiful Green Lake, had a totally adventurous and hilarious scavenger hunt (#nuunhunt) across the city of Seattle, ate delicious food and drank awesome local beers, decorated our vans and just had the most FUN together you could imagine.  And this was all with people who I had never actually met before.  People who I bonded with instantly.  People who impacted me in so many ways in such a short period of time.  People who I will be forever grateful to know.

the "fab five" - taking seattle by storm in the #nuunhunt
in my element ... markers and a big white van!
By the time we were packing our bags to hop in our vans for the actual race, I just didn't want the journey to end.  If our time in Seattle was so beyond my dreams, how was I going to handle the amazingness of my first ever Hood to Coast Relay with these wonderful people?!?  I just couldn't fathom it.  And here I was living it.

~ Team Noon for Nuun - Van 2!! ~
We drove to Oregon on Friday and got to the first major exchange some time in the late afternoon.  I was Runner #11 in Van 2, which meant that my first leg wouldn't be until close to midnight that night.  All day long I was in my running clothes, anxious and excited for the race to start.  We had so much fun driving to Oregon and hanging out in the Safeway parking lot while we waited for our last runner in Van 1 to come through.  We made the most of this time by tattooing ourselves and others and just generally spreading the Nuun love!  I can't even tell you how excited I was.  Just thinking about it now makes me smile.  None of it was lost on me, not a second of it - it was just so much fun!

Inked in Nuun.  I was sad when this started to fade...
watching the runners come into the first major exchange

Kim and T ... SO MUCH LOVE for these ladies!!!
Tiffany, me, Harmony, Elizabeth & Katie all in our awesome Maui Jim shades!
Finally, not long before the sun set, runner #6 from our Van 1 - the completely beautiful and wonderful in every way Molly - came through at a blazing speed and handed off to T who would begin the first leg for our van!
the first major hand off
And then things just really got REAL.

I had never run a relay before, much less THIS relay - the "Mother of ALL Relays."  I had never even been to the state of Oregon.  I had been hoping and wishing and dreaming for this opportunity for so long and here I was actually DOING it.  When it was time for our van to get going I just was so all of a sudden overcome - the excitement that this was really happening and the breathtaking beauty of the Pacific Northwest just completely won me over and my heart was so FULL.  Even as I write this my eyes fill with tears because that feeling of just being so completely happy, so blissfully aware and so truly grateful for this gift of life and of running and of feeling passionate about something and sharing it with others who totally one hundred percent felt it all too and wanted the best for you and for one another -- it was just so amazing to me.  I was a part of something so much bigger than myself, sharing this adventure with some of the most wonderful people, and it was just the most incredible feeling I have ever had as a runner.

The first two legs for our van were run at about sunset.  The beauty was everywhere - gorgeous fields with old barns and wildflowers, crisp cool air, warm sunshine, blue skies, lush green trees and rolling hills and pastures.  Everything looked like it came out of a painting.  Everything.

As Tonia ran the first leg I watched her approach us - so strong and beautiful and free and happy.  We cheered our hearts our for her, supported her and believed in her.  She was rocking it and my eyes filled with tears of the most joyful kind as I watched her run.  I was just so proud of my friend.  So proud of my team.
 
Tonia -- Inspirational. Beautiful. Strong.
We all had agreed before the running started, that we were going to commit to a few things:  We were going to give it our very best (whatever that may be!), we were going to have a ton of fun, and we were going to be there for one another no matter what.  I knew I was with the right group when we had that conversation.  Because the relay is not about just one person - it is about a TEAM.  Not one of us was going to be able to do this on our own - 200+ miles from Mt. Hood to the coast of Oregon in close to 30 hours is not a one woman job.  We were in it together and we needed to take care of one another and never lose sight of the big picture.

When it was my turn to run the first of my three runs, it was getting close to midnight.  It was darker than dark and the portion I was running was 4.85 miles on a paved trail just outside the city of Portland.  There would be no van support for my run.  I would be on my own.  In the black of night.  I was nervous, but so excited to take it on.  I put on my headlamp and my reflective vest and T walked me to the exchange point with our other van mates close behind.  We expected to have a few minutes but Zoe was killing her run and she came through much faster than we expected so before I knew it, it was my turn and I just WENT.

ready as I'll ever be
I took off and it was a minute or two before I realized I never put my race bib on and I hadn't turned on my flashing red tail light on the back of my vest - which could actually lead to us being disqualified from the race!  That would be bad.  It was really tricky for me to reach behind myself to turn it on while running, but I pressed the button and as I passed a man running I asked him if I was blinking because there was no way for me to really tell whether or not I had been successful in turning it on otherwise.  He replied "yes" and then said "You are also sparkling!  And running really fast!" at which point a huge smile spread across my face and I felt my legs move even faster.  It was the first time I chicked someone in my yellow sparkly skirt (made by the one and only Team Sparkle) and I have to tell you - it was an AWESOME feeling.  I quickly passed one other man and that was it for other runners on the trail for quite a few miles.

The trail was spooky at this point.  I saw shady characters out there - people dressed in all black, walking.  Who does that!?  Someone coming out from the side on a bike with no lights.  Creepy.  I was alone in the dark and I was running as fast as I could, but I had no idea how fast that actually was because the only light I brought for myself was my headlamp.  And it just wasn't very bright.  I started to have scary thoughts out on that trail and was operating on fear mode and I didn't like it.  I had no race number on.  I had no phone with me.  What was I thinking!?  There were sketchy people out there and I didn't see a single safety patrol biker for the first few miles.  I had to stop at two street crossings and wait.  I was scared.  And then a bike patrol guy came up close to me and told me he was going to bike with me as I ran for a while.  I was SO grateful.  No need to be scared for my safety anymore.  He tried to leave me with about a half mile to go but I wouldn't let him.  I told him I wanted him to stay with me if that was okay.  He was a total gentleman and said that was what he was here for.  I saw some flashing red lights up ahead (other runners) with about a half mile to go and I asked my biker guy if he thought I could get them.  He laughed and said he wasn't sure - there wasn't much further to go, but he said I was running "at a pretty good clip" so he thought there was a chance.  I picked up my pace and I caught them! - and then I ran as fast as I could to the finish.  I was so exhilarated!  So happy to be done with my first Hood to Coast run!!  But when I came into the exchange my team wasn't there yet - I had apparently run faster than my predicted time.  It wasn't long though before Lindsay came running up and took the slap bracelet from me and then the rest of my team arrived.  I saw Kim first and completely fell into her arms and started crying.  Kim works for Nuun and is just one of the most beautiful and strong woman I have ever ever EVER met.  I can't tell you how happy I was to see her and the rest of my team when my first run was over!  In that moment - being in Kim's arms after running such an incredible run, being so scared and so excited all at the same time - I just knew what this relay was all about.  It was about so much MORE than I ever could have imagined.  It was about the people and the power of a team.  It was about being your very best and overcoming your fears and your worries and trusting in something so much bigger than myself.

Somehow I made it to Hood to Coast to run on this amazing team sponsored by this amazing company - and I was not alone.  Our passions and our dreams and our courage is what brought each every one of us here to this moment.  And we were doing it together.  And it was just AMAZING.  I know I am capable of so much more than I ever could have imagined when I believe in my purpose being BEYOND just ME.  This was one of the most profound lessons of the relay for me.  The big picture is a truly incredible thing to be aware of.

I ran my first leg of the race, 4.85 miles, at an average speed of 6:32.  My first mile was a 6:11.  I have never run so fast for so long in all of my life.  Some people might think I ran that fast because I was scared out of my mind for much of it (which is true).  Some might say it was because that portion of the trail was basically flat with a slight downhill (also true).  But I believe that I ran that fast because of the magic and the power of my TEAM.  Because when you are running for something bigger than yourself, you are capable of incredible things.  Things you may never have even dared to dream.

When Lindsay came through at the finish of her first run we were all so grateful - she had taken a wrong turn along the way and we were very concerned - but she was just fine thank goodness!  She passed the bracelet off to the first runner in our Van 1 (Kelly!) and then we drove ahead to the next major exchange so we could rest for a few hours.  Along the way I realized that my stomach was in bad shape.  I had been eating bananas and KIND bars all afternoon/evening because they were all my stomach seemed to approve of.  But now, after a tough run and in the middle of the night, it was starting to protest.  I said a little prayer and curled up in a seat of the van, hoping to sleep it off.  But when I woke at 4am it was even worse.  The folks at Nuun know how to prepare for a relay though and I was in good hands.  Kim passed me the bottle of Pepto and told me to take a swig.  I was nervous but desperate, so I listened to and trusted her and hoped for the best.  Two more swigs and a couple of hours later and I was in good shape again, THANK GOODNESS.

T got started for us again just before 5am.  A sunrise run for her and for Kim!  They were tough runs - very hilly and long.  But those girls completely rocked it and we were all so proud.  Then it was time for Tiffany to do her second run.  Tiffany's run would be hilly and dusty and she would actually have to wear a bandana around her nose and mouth to keep herself protected from all the dust!  She was one tough and totally chill chick and I loved being on her team.
me & Tiffany in the early morn, before her dirty run!
When it was time for my second run, my stomach was much calmer but I was feeling nervous about it.  Running in the morning at home I always have to bring toilet paper with me for emergencies, and I almost always use it.  I felt prepared but really just did not want to have to deal with it.  As I stood there waiting for the beautiful Zoe to come in with the slap bracelet I looked up and saw a man wearing the number 44 on his bib.  This number has a lot of significance and meaning to me in my life.  I looked at T and I told her - I knew it was going to be a good run - because I saw 44.  It is hard for me to explain and is a story for another day (this post is long enough!) but that number gives me so much comfort in my life.  Zoe handed me the bracelet and I was off.  SO excited to be running in the daylight this time!  So excited to get to do this AGAIN!

and I'm off ...
The morning was breathtaking.  There were hills - and the views were spectacular.  I soaked it all in and just smiled the whole way I am pretty sure.  I was wearing my watch, but never looked at it once.  I actually debated even taking it off and running without it.  Because it wasn't about that - it was 4.2 miles of BEAUTY.  I ran as fast as I could and poured all of myself into that moment.  And had so much fun, even when I was going UP.

finishing my second run!
I could see the exchange ahead of me - my team was waiting for me!  I wanted to come in as strong as I could and pass the bracelet off to Lindsay and hug my team mates.  It was exhilarating.  I ran my second run, 4.2 miles of gorgeous rolling hills, in an average pace of 6:45.  I loved every second of it.

THIS is AMAZING!
That was one of my favorite runs I have ever experienced.  I felt so alive and so aware of how blessed I was.  I was giving it my all but had no care for how fast or how slow that actually was.  I was just being ME and being in the moment and savoring it as best I could.  It really was magical.

After Lindsay finished up we got another long break and drove up ahead to the next big exchange.  My stomach got angry again and I tried to eat something other than granola bars and bananas.  I got a plain veggie burger with no bun and gave that a shot and hoped for the best.  It was a risk I was willing to take though, because I just felt like I needed more food.  Thank goodness it didn't cause any major problems for me.  When it was time for T to start on her last run I felt such a strange mix of emotions.  I was happy and excited beyond belief because we were that much closer to accomplishing this amazing race and getting to the finish line on the beach in Seaside.  But I was also SAD - sad because I knew that would mean it was almost over.  And I did not want it to be over.

My final run was my hardest one - over 7 miles of hills and mostly on a lonely gravel road.  I thought I was going to have some van support but I was mistaken - no van access for my entire leg.  I was wearing my Kinvara 3 shoes (which I love and wore for all three of my runs) but I found myself wishing I had trail shoes on.  I could feel every single rock as I ran.  I remember thinking about this run - hearing that it was brutal and that I would hate it.  I could see why it had this reputation - the terrain was TOUGH and the hills were BIG, especially in the first couple of miles.  But the scenery was really cool and I knew that once I passed the bracelet off to Lindsay my first ever Hood to Coast runs would be over.  As I came closer to the end of my run I started to get really emotional and tears filled my eyes and a lump settled into my throat.  I thought about how amazing this journey had been, how much dreaming went in to getting me - and all of the women running Hood to Coast for Nuun - to this very moment.  How we had all gone out on a limb in one way or another - making movies, pouring our hearts out, taking chances ... and here we were.  HERE.  In Oregon.  Together.  Running this epic relay as a TEAM.  The awesomeness just completely overwhelmed me and I ran with all of my heart.
sparkling my way to the finish of my final run
I loved coming into that final stretch to see my team there, cheering for me and supporting me and believing in me.  It was just an incredible feeling.  A feeling I will never forget.  I passed the bracelet to Lindsay and told her I would see her at the beach!  She was going to run the final leg for our team and bring us into the finish.  HOW COOL IS THAT!?!?  It was cooler than cool.

We all hopped in the van and drove to Seaside so we could meet Lindsay there.  When we arrived we were united with our Van 1 and with the Van 1s from the other two Nuun teams.  The party was about to begin!  I can't even put into words how incredibly exciting this was.  Lindsay came through and we cheered our hearts out for her and then all of us got to cross the finish line together!

Lindsay bringing us in!
It was one of the coolest moments of my life, crossing the finish line with my team.  I will never forget it!!

The party got going from there and we had a blast eating good food, drinking delicious beer and laughing about our adventures.  And just when I didn't think it could get ANY more amazing, the fireworks started!  I seriously could not believe that they topped this epic event off with FIREWORKS!  But of course they did.  How else are you going to end something like this!?  It was so exciting and I was more than grateful to experience that part of it, too.

Coming home to my family - my husband who has been so supportive, my children who love me so unconditionally - was very emotional for me.  In the first few days after being home I felt SAD, depressed.  I didn't want the journey to end.  But as my dear friend Molly told me ... the adventure is only beginning.  And I believe her.


Hood to Coast with Nuun taught me so much about myself and about the power and beauty of the human spirit.  It taught me to dream bigger and to never give up on hope.  It taught me to trust in my heart and to let myself soar.

I am forever grateful to Nuun for this life changing experience.  I will never forget all that I witnessed and experienced both within myself and all around me in my teammates.  The kindness, beauty, courage, faith, love, support, strength and grace was just more than I ever could have expected or dreamed.

17 comments:

Really, really beautiful, Jess :) It is such a special experience...I am SO glad yours was super amazing! I loved seeing you so often at the hand-offs...your smile, joy, and enthusiasm were positively infectious! Here's to many more upliftingly mind-blowing experiences :)

Ah Jess I love this post. You are such a beautiful person. Really. I wish I had more time to be around you. Maybe next year if we are lucky?...I am sorry you felt so scared on your first leg. I GET it. I had a bad experience on my nightime leg and I got pretty scared also. I have not been writting about this one just yet but it is next...I felt the same way as you during HTC...so lucky and blessed and GRATEFUL to everyone who made this possible for me...NUUN and also My husband.

Wow, just wow. I am in awe. You did an amazing thing beautiful girl!!! You looked so strong, the strongest part of this relay? Doing that night run.. it sounds terrifying and yet you completed it in a super impressive time, what's more impressive is you overcoming your fear... not an easy task in the pitch black. I love Nuun, but love them even more for participating in this event every year, so inspiring! BTW- 44 has significance for me too. I am 44 and my birthday is 4/4 :) Congratulations! I hope we run this together next year!

This was so wonderful, beautiful, and inspiring. I can not thank you enough for bringing me into the event because I really felt like I was there with you. I'm not a runner but now I really want to continue with my 10K training so perhaps one day I might get to experience something so great. Minus the night run in a strange town (thank goodness for the sweet bike patroller!).

I love all the energy you brought to the relay!! You can even tell in this post how much fun you TRULY had. Loved being on your team!!!

WOW! Beautifully written post. I had goose bumps the whole time I was reading. The smile on your face in all the pics shows that this experience was definitely life changing. Makes me want to do a relay even more now!Would love to HTC one day!

Great post Jen! I can hear your voice as I was reading this. You were such a huge part of this experience for all of us. Your energy, your positivity..you were and are amazing.

I love the recap and I look forward to staying connected to you!

loved reading this. i had no idea you felt that way on leg 1. :( I am so incredibly thankful to have been put on the fab 5 with you-you are one of the most kind, genuine people i have ever met and reading your post I can “hear” you saying all of these things. just happy and infectious! so glad I was able to experience this with you and look forward to the future!!

I'm so glad you finally decided to sit down and put this in words-- you definitely captured the power of this trip for you, even if you couldn't find all the words you wanted. What an incredible experience, and way to rock those legs!! Hope you're feeling better now that you've been home for awhile, I know that let down after a big event or a race. But yes, always more to come! :)

Jessica this is hands down the best HTC recap that I have ever read. You said everything perfectly. As I was reading this I felt like I was there running with you. I am sorry that your first leg was so scary, but I am thankful that you had a nice guy who was willing to bike with you. My best friend's husband is a bike cop in that area I almost wonder if it was him or one of his co workers that stayed with you. I know that you were scared (I don't blame you), but I still think that you would have ran that pace regardless. You are in fantastic shape and you are very talented runner. I agree with your friend Molly- your adventure IS just beginning!

Jess - I love love love this post so much and I'm so very happy that you had this experience. Seriously, tears are welling up in my eyes after reading this. It sounded (and looked) unbelievable. From all the pictures I saw on Instagram, your smile was infectious. I'm not sure how I would have handled the night run but you rocked. So incredible. I would love to run HTC one day.

What an amazing and inspiring experience! Makes me want to do it next year!

Oh wow, I really felt like I was there on your journey. You write so well. What an emotional journey. I'm a new runner and it is so neat to read about a race like this. Obviously it took a ton of time, effort, and motivation to prepare for, but it paid off! So cool! :)

Oh Jess. My sweet friend. (I am so lucky to be able to call you that!) I smiled at every line of this post. I just imagined you saying every word, with all of the sincerity and passion that I know you wrote it with. You are an absolutely amazing person and I am so thankful that I had the chance to spend so much time with you while we went on this journey. You inspire me and make me want to be a better, kinder person. I absolutely understand (and share) every emotion that you had for this relay and agree that the journey is only beginning. I am positive that our paths will continue to cross in the future. I look forward to the next time we get to share miles and memories together.

Jess - your passion and enthusiasm is so contagious. Both in person AND through your writing! You are one of the most positive people I have ever met and am so thankful to have been able to experience (some of) HTC with you. I only wish it had been more!!

Congratulations on your incredibly speedy and strong legs. I'm sorry your first one was so nerve-wracking, but glad you ended up having some company for the last part of it. I do feel like HTC needs to have more volunteers out at night in some of these areas.

Anyway, I know I don't know you super well but from the perspective of an outside observer, it is incredible to see just how far you've come in the past year! You have grown into a super speedy and STRONG runner. I'm so excited to see how you do during MCM. There is no doubt in my mind that you are going to absolutely destroy that marathon!

I'm runner #11 for Nuun's Team Watermelon this year. I'm both so excited and a little freaked out after reading your recap. :) What a great job of overcoming your fear and being able to see the awesomeness going on around you! Thanks for putting in all the detail, I may be tweeting you with questions as we get closer.
Lindsay


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