Riding In Vans With Strangers

I don’t do team sports.

I mean, I did do team sports for years; I just don’t anymore. There was a season of volleyball and a season of basketball and so so so many years of softball. Jesus, all the softball. I should have quit while I was ahead with that sport – which means I should have quit the minute they took the tee away from me. When I tell people this, I think they think I’m kidding, or exaggerating, but I’m really not. My second to last year of softball, I went the entire season without a hit. THE ENTIRE SEASON. And this doesn’t mean I got out on several pop flies to the outfield. This means I did not make contact with the ball once during the entire season. Not once. The real takeaway here is that this happened during my second to least season of softball. Which means after the humiliation of receiving some made up award like, “Most Supportive Player” (since they sure as shit couldn’t even give me “Most Improved”), I went back for another round the next year.

But after that, I was done, and I never looked back. I love watching team sports and will happily attend friends’ soccer games to cheer them on, but I am solidly, squarely a solo athlete. Which is such a huge part of why I love running. I know that lots of people derive great satisfaction (and no small amount of actual improvement) from running with a group, but that’s just not me.

Except when it’s relay time. And then? Then I am the teamiest team player I can be for the 24-30ish hours it takes for 12 people to traverse a couple hundred miles.

All of this is to say that one month ago, for the 30+ hours (and a few more either side of that) that it took my Nuun Hood to Coast team to make the trek from Timberline to Seaside, I was a willing, happy, enthusiastic member of Team Wild Berry.

I’m not great at timely race recaps, which is why this is coming so late. But my laziness should not be mistaken for having had anything other than a fantastic Hood to Coast experience. Relays can be super overwhelming to know how to talk about. Especially when you run them with strangers. It’s like, “Hey, nice to meet you. Let’s hang out in a van for a bunch of hours together. Let’s get super comfortable talking about our bowel habits and we won’t sleep and we’ll eat weird things and we’ll be cranky at 3 a.m. and not take it personally and WHOA, it’s barely two days later and suddenly we’re family and now we have to say goodbye to each other and it’s so sad and oh my gosh, I LOVE YOU GUYS SO HARD, when can we do it all again?!”

No matter how many times I do it and how many times I try to write articulately about it after, it’s really difficult.

So maybe let’s bullet point this bitch and look at a few pictures and I’ll hope that somehow in there I can do the whole awesome experience justice.

  • The team met in Seattle (home to Nuun HQ) a couple of days before the race for some team bonding. Everyone else was there by Wednesday night at the latest, but I was the lone weirdo who didn’t show up until Thursday morning. I was pretty okay with one extra night of sleep in my own bed until I saw on Twitter, right before I fell asleep Wednesday night, that the rest of the team was doing Fireball shots together in the hotel bar. I knew right then that we were all going to get along just fine.
  • The 19 hours in Seattle were so much fun. Nuun (and especially the inimitable Megan Fay) made sure we were well taken care of in the pre-race carb department (liquid and otherwise) and even managed to wrangle us a tour of the brand new Brooks Running headquarters, which made us all feel super cool and fancy. We decorated our vans and talked about logistics and got to know each other and enjoyed our last few moments of being clean and well-rested.
The whole gang. Team Wild Berry and Team Lemon Lime.

The whole gang. Team Wild Berry and Team Lemon Lime.

  • My van had the earliest departure from Seattle at 4:30 a.m. on Friday. I felt very sad about that until we heard that the other three vans hit wretched traffic between Seattle and Portland, which made our easy glide down I-5 much nicer by comparison.
It's time to run down a mountain.

It’s time to run down a mountain.

  • 10569075_10152624028602270_5737199270777851536_nAs runner #2, I had a fairly steep (1,500 foot) descent down the base of Mt. Hood as my first leg. I was really nervous about it before running – scared both about what it would do to my legs and also about running on Highway 26. Turns out, it was so fun to fly down that mountain!

Photo credit: Melissa

  • When my van was done with our first set of legs and had a few hours to kill in Portland before we picked it back up from Van Deuce, I offered up my neighborhood/apartment as a spot to eat, rest and shower. I made six new best friends with that offer.
  • At a relay last November, I knew that I had crossed over into the part where my team had become more than semi-strangers in a van to me when I was talking to them (mildly hysterically) about Sarah McLachlan in the middle of an Applebee’s in Las Vegas. The HTC equivalent of that this year came during our van’s dinner stop at the Laurelwood in my neighborhood. By that point we were well on our way to being bonded for life, so I thought nothing of saying to them, “Guys, here’s the thing. I really can’t have any of you leave leftovers in my fridge tonight. Because if I come home on Sunday and I see them, I’ll think about you and miss you and get sad and then I’ll start crying and I just can’t have that. So please, DON’T LEAVE YOUR LEFTOVERS IN MY FRIDGE.”
  • I think they all found that admission of over-the-top sentimentality a lot weird and a little endearing.
  • Less endearing was a mere six or seven hours later, around midnight, when we were at an exchange point. The pounding downhill that first glorious leg was screaming through my quads and getting in and out of the van was proving more difficult by the second. I was trying to decide if backing out might be easier than climbing out normally and as a couple of my lovely teammates looked on in concern and one standing outside the van offered his hand in support, I screamed at all of them, “STOP LOOKING AT ME! DON’T LOOK AT ME. I SAID STOP LOOKING AT ME!”
  • I apologized a lot after that.
  • My van was full of awesome (forgiving) people.

Van Family

  • You’d think that the screaming at nice people was maybe the low point of the relay for me. You’d think that, but you’d be wrong. The lowest point was when, after being stuck in horrendous traffic (it took us something like 3 hours to go 30 miles), we had the briefest of windows in which to catch some sleep. Packed in a crowded van, with little room to stretch out and hips and legs so tight that I had no idea how I was going to run my last leg, I was desperate for something approximating normal sleep and a normal sleep position. Which is how I found myself at about 6 a.m., wedged down on the floor of the van, between the two back seats, using the interior of the wheel well as a pillow. It was awful.
  • When our vanmate (and all around kickass chick) who had the single hardest leg of the entire relay came running up the hill like a boss, you better believe we were there waiting for her with a makeshift toilet paper finish line.
Arielle, killing it. Photo credit: Eric

Arielle, killing it. Photo credit: Eric

  • There was more running and not any more sleeping and a fair amount of van snax eating. And it was all kind of a blur.
  • And then we were at the beach.
Photo credit: Eric

Photo credit: Eric

  • I can hear the collective jaw drop from everyone who knows me well as I share this next tidbit. Once we got to the beach, though there were several opportunities that evening to break away from the group for a bit to take a shower (an opportunity many people took advantage of), I did not. Between my love of bathing and the fact that I’d been with these yahoos nonstop for a couple of days, you’d think I would have welcomed some cleansing alone time. Turns out, I really really loved being around the yahoos and decided that a shower could wait. Because friends and because beer.
Photo credit: Eric

Photo credit: Eric

  • If – even after all these words – you still want to know more about the whole experience, you should definitely check out the video my teammate Eric made. It captures all the highlights, with none of the van stink, the sleeplessness or the screaming.
  • This is an imperfect recap of what was truly a perfect experience. I am so grateful to Nuun for the opportunity and to the entire team for the memories.
  • Relay runners are crazy, but they are my kind of crazy.
The End.

The End.


15 thoughts on “Riding In Vans With Strangers

    • Well, if anyone was going to capture it on video, I would want it to be you. 🙂

      I considered writing about how I shared the backseat with a loud New Yorker who I wasn’t quite sure about at first, but then he told me he spends his days running around NYC saving little animals and all was okay. I know, I know… I have wildly misrepresented what you do – but that’s how it is in my head!

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