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Amelia Nielson-Stowell: Reasons to Run: Documentary captures essence of Oregon relay

Published: Friday, March 4 2011 9:00 a.m. MST

Last week, I finally had the chance to see the new "Hood to Coast" movie, which is a documentary about four 12-man teams running the 197-mile relay from Mt. Hood to Seaside, Ore.

The tagline: "Everyday people on an extraordinary journey."

Hood to Coast was the first long-distance, overnight running relay of its kind. Utah-based Ragnar Relay Series used the Hood to Coast model for Wasatch Back, and there are now 14 other relays across the nation.

"The downtown 5K, 10K, marathons – they were becoming a blur,” Hood to Coast race director Bob Foote said on the founding on the relay. “We were bored running these fast, flat 10Ks and we were looking for an adventure."

And Hood to Coast is an adventure.

Twelve runners in two vans leapfrog through an epic course that traverses roller-coaster mountains, crowded city streets and an unforgiving coastline. Runners take turns running three legs of 3.5-8 miles. Sleep, showers and unblistered feet are a luxury.

The documentary, which had a filming crew of 110, is well made.

Viewers learn that Hood to Coast began with humble beginnings in 1982 with eight teams and now caps out at 1,200. It is so popular that it's now picked on a lottery basis.

The panoramic helicopter shots of the tree-lined mountain trails are beautiful. The start line and exchange footage is exciting. The close-ups of super athletes "road killing" their competition are incredible. Even the close-ups of the runners struggling, like Oregon State Senate President Peter Courtney, who had Hood to Coast declared a state treasure, are uplifting.

Non-runners would find the film entertaining, but as a runner and a Hood to Coast alum (I ran the race in 2005), I found it inspiring. I recognized areas of the course I ran and could relate to the line from a team Dead Jocks member, "Nobody can run the last leg with their body. It has to be with their mind because the body doesn't work anymore."

The teams are an eclectic mix; their stories had me laughing and even crying. The featured teams include:

Dead Jocks in a Box: The self-described "Over the hill" men's team of veteran Hood to Coast runners, including one man who has run the relay race since the beginning. These 30- to 60-year-olds act like rowdy fraternity brothers, tipping port-a-potties, logging a "Fashion Report" and shooting squirt guns. But they're serious about running. They aim to run the race in sub seven-minute miles so they can earn a coveted Top 6 place in their age group to guarantee their team a spot in next year's Hood to Coast.

Heart 'N' Sole: This team is made up of women older than 50, and the clips of team Heart 'N' Sole focus on Kathy Ryan, a teammate who died and was brought back to life during the 2007 Hood to Coast.

Ryan had a heart attack running leg 25, and later underwent a triple bypass. Her doctor counsels, "If I could forbid you to run it, I would," but 2008 is Ryan's comeback race, and as a true survivor, she will not give up. She runs her legs with a heart monitor (she can't push past 120 beats a minute) and a chaperone reminding her to slow down when the monitor beeps in the "danger" zone.

— Thunder and Laikaning: This team is a group of coworkers from a Portland animating company LAIKA, and it boasts that its goal is to drink more beers than miles ran. Although most of them haven't run since grade school, these rookies want to run Hood to Coast for the experience. While Thunder and Laikaning focuses more on its costumes than on training, its race experience is ultimately rewarding and surprising. (I expected at least one of them to end the race in an ambulance – no medical attention was needed.)

— R. Bowe: Family and friends of Ryan Bowe ran the Hood to Coast to honor the husband, brother, son and friend who died weeks before the 2007 Hood to Coast. Ryan Bowe, who raced competitively in college, ran every Hood to Coast since he was 12. At 30, a rare heart disease killed him months before his son was born. The race is a bittersweet experience for the team of people who were closest to Ryan.

"You kind of just live to hear more things (about him), anything,” his mother said.

I’m excited to show the documentary to the newbies on my Wasatch Back team because it answers the question, “Why do you love overnight relays so much?”

The documentary, and the race, is not about elite runners. It’s not even about people who love running. But it captures the spirit and intensity of an Oregon racing tradition that’s become a national favorite for runners nationwide, especially here in Utah.

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