What a weekend.

The gents all came down Friday, except for Tyler who arrived at 2am (more on that later). Me, Christian and master Murph drove the course that Friday afternoon, which helped me feel confident about my driving/coaching duties for the following day. We laughed driving up what would be leg #3, realizing just how difficult the continuous uphill for Jackson would be. That laughter quickly turned into fear, as I realized just how steep leg #4 would be for Tyler. I asked the guys to remind me to remind Tyler to take it easy and float the downhill section. I secretly hoped that the race would be over by Tyler’s leg, so he wouldn’t get caught up in things, and blast.

The three of us went for a run on Pat’s property. Christian and Murph took off with a headlamp. I had no interest in running with them as I needed my old man warmup. I trusted my night vision to kick in. It mostly did, but I still came away bleeding from the run. Still not sure what it was, that I caught my shin on.

Shortly after, we met Jackson and Alan at Denny’s, because we all have enough Tillamook experience to know that the rest of the town is closed by this time of night. We had some laughs and caught up before talking about each members legs, and other logistics of the morning.

We felt pretty good about the lineup. Murphy was going to run the first leg, a 4.47 mile leg with some climbing. Alan would run 2nd, a 5.44 mile leg with less climbing than Murph’s. Leg #3 would be Jackson’s. It is just about 5 miles and climbs nearly 1,000ft. There are few people I have met who climb better than Jackson. Leg #4 is the longest, that would be for Tyler. The 6.8 mile leg is the one with the down sections that scared me. Christian, the lone half-miler on the Ultimook Track Club roster would run the last flat leg, allowing for him to use some of that turnover he possesses.

We all thanked Jackson and Alan for running with us. We have a couple of members who couldn’t get the time off from work, and were fortunate to have friends come run with us.

Christian, Murphy and I headed back to our hotel while Jackson and Alan went to the fight club style ultimook cabin, held at an undisclosed location in Tillamook.

Between the monsoon, sharing of beds, and every other nocturnal issues that comes with sleeping away from home, no one slept well. Then there was Tyler rolling in at 2am. Tyler had a family party to attend to, but made the five hour journey to Tillamook anyway. Tyler told me I looked skinny, I told him to chill the first few miles, then we slept.

The next morning, with the team moderately caffeinated, we headed out to the start. We dropped master Murph off and headed to exchange #1. It was a reunion of sorts. A reminded of just how small the world of running is. The first friendly face I saw belonged to Gerry Tinkle, coach of St. Helens high school. Soon, more familiar faces from Black Flag appeared. A “who’s who” of coaches in the Oregon community. Chris Johnson of Siuslaw, Thor of Wilson, Jacob Stout of Roosevelt and David Frank of Central Catholic…to name four of the five (apologies to the 5th guy!). As we waited for Murph to come down the hill to the first exchange, I pondered how many state titles that group had won…and also hoped that Thor wasn’t running the first leg too fast. In high school, one of my best friend’s ran for Wilson High School, back when Thor was an assistant. How cool was it that I had gone on multiple runs with my friend and Thor almost a decade ago, and now here he was, bringing that same high school to new levels, while throwing down with the best of them in leg #1.

Here they come. A guy with long hair that I thought looked like Asher a bit came flying in. He tagged a guy who started jogging. I mean jogging. Both us and Black Flag wondered whether this team was for real, or if they were a group that started earlier in the day. There was no consensus. Until Thor came in. Crap, where’s Murphy? Thor is solid, we talked last night how if Thor ran leg #1 again, that Murphy should consider letting him go if the pace didn’t feel right. Black Flag was as curious I was. Eventually, after Thor recovered, he told us that indeed there was a guy that had more or less dusted him, and everyone else in leg #1. Crap. Hopefully the other guy was still jogging. Dave Frank took off running, and about three steps in started saying, “ouch”.

There was Murphy, looking very tired. We wasted little time. Murphy touched Alan, who wasted little time taking off. Our adrenaline led us to grabbing Murphy and forcing him to an unsettling rush to the car. Murphy ran hard. Murphy always runs hard. He said he got to the top of the hill and started dry-heaving. We laughed as Murphy talked more about his leg. We took off quickly, in what was a pretty busy area to see what progress Alan was making. Murph is never afraid to test his limits. A relay leg, which was the only leg he actually didn’t seen during the previous days drive, created a nice little trap for him. It was the kind of course that baited a runner, and took advantage of the aggressive types. Murphy had done his team well, he had put them into a position to be close.

Alan was moving well. Really well. He had caught and past a couple of guys and it was clear that he was going to catch two that were in front. The question wasn’t would Alan give us the lead, it was now, by how much? Alan had told me before the relay that he was around 16:00 shape. Alan, if you are reading this, YOU’RE IN BETTER SHAPE THAN 16:00!

It was clear that the exchange #1 was the busiest traffic would get. I didn’t know this at the time, but the logistics of this race were EASY. There was no congestion. Seriously. Yes, there was a relay going on, and it helped that we were one of the teams out front, but driving and parking was so easy. For anyone that is afraid of the Hood to Coast madness (raises hand!) this is not that. This event is simply fun. Low stress. High on fun. We pulled in and anxiously awaited Alan to get there. Well, the rest of us did. I don’t know what Jackson was doing. All I know is that when Alan came into view, Jackson wasn’t around. We all started yelling Jackson’s name, with probably a few other choice words too (sorry). We kept calling for Jackson, but he just wasn’t around.Tyler asked me if he should switch legs. I said “no”, then said “maybe”.

Then Jackson comes sprinting in, from behind Alan might I tell you…they touch…and Jackson goes running off as we continue to yell him. Crisis adverted. We all start to laugh as we watch Jackson take off in a singlet, uphill, wearing pants….

I shake my head, wish Stout good luck, and we quickly hop in the car to take off after him, hoping to give him an opportunity to take his pants off. Talk about words I never thought I’d say.

I drive straight over them. Couldn’t have driven over them more directly. His pants were there in the middle of the road. I wondered how long it took him to get them off. Later we’d learn he came to a complete stop for about 20 seconds. We would also learn later that he thought he had heard people calling his name, but said “nah, it couldn’t be”. But then of course Jackson saw Alan running past him, looking at the exchange zone aimlessly.

I drove beside him as we made as many awful comments as possible. He gave us a thumbs up, or maybe it was something else, and we started the ascent up. No one felt bad for him when it started to hail. The running Gods were punishing him.

Jackson might have not been prepared for his leg, but he was prepared to run hard — finishing I saw him as tired as I had really ever seen him. We held off on the jokes, Jackson had ran hard for us, and we were appreciative. We didn’t know what our lead was, but it didn’t matter, Tyler needed to float the down hill section whether we were winning or losing. A guy who is chasing 2:19 in the marathon does not need to risk his season on a relay.

Driving past Tyler I forget how smooth he is. I feel this way every time Tyler races. He is doing what I asked him to do — he’s floating. Tyler would run the down hill sections a little under 5:00 pace, before hitting the flats and running just a tad slower, but surely with more effort. On the drive to the last exchange, we saw two teams that had started at 8am, an hour earlier than the most competitive groups. I wondered whether the guys would catch everyone (they didn’t).

Tyler came in smiling and giving a winning wave to a crowd that didn’t exist. An animated Christian and he full two-hand touched as Chris Johnson yelled something that would be the highlight of my weekend. I didn’t know that Dave Frank was called “Frankie” by his peers. I will leave it at that.

Christian brought in the W, and a new course record for Ultimook Track Club & friends, finishing in 2:27:54. We hung around for a little before going to Pelican Brewery and gorging ourselves with food. Jackson had calamari for the first time, and our waitress was far too kind to us, having to deal with the likes of everyone, or I guess mainly Jackson.

You had a mixed bag of people. You had runners. You had walkers. You have five person teams, duo’s and solo marathoners. You had competitive runners, beginners, former guys who could truly throw down back in the day. You had some of the best high school coaches in the state and probably the country in attendance — one of those being Pat, who did so much for us this past weekend, and always. Of course this relay was amazing. What does Pat do that isn’t?

It’s hard to put my finger on the best part of this relay. For us it was a complete bonding experience. Just to have the guys and to be out of town was fun. Also, competing as a team is something that so many runners miss — I think. I know as a coach, I miss cross country, that’s probably why club xc has become so competitive as of recent. There’s something about running for your dudes, or your gals, running for something more than yourself. No, this wasn’t the world champs. Our guys knew that. This was something that was going to be fun. They knew they’d probably win, but we had a healthy respect for the borderline masters dudes of Black Flag. At some point I think I had seen everyone of them run quick before. Winning wasn’t the point, I mean, we sure as heck wanted too, but we would be coming back to this relay whether Pat was organizing it or not because it’s the kind of event that makes us better.

The relay was a reminder that we’re a team. We aren’t just a group made up of individuals. It was a reminder that although you are certainly doing this for yourself, you are doing it for the guys that are out there, putting in the same kind of work as you day in day out. For a group of post-collegiates, this relay was the perfect early-season, low-key team building experience. I don’t know why every high school and running club in the state wouldn’t do this.

The guys walked away from this rejuvenated, excited for the track and competitive road running season. They were already talking about coming back next year, and how to make the race more competitive and asking, “how much faster can we go?”.

Huge shoutout to Alan, Jackson, and the Mount Tabor Track Club for helping us out this past weekend. It was appreciated. Thanks to Black Flag for the jokes, friendly faces, and for keeping things honest. And of course thanks to Pat and Monika for this relay, and all of the volunteers that made this event possible. See ya’ll next year.

 

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