Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Hood to Coast 2013

Move over, Steve Kroft.  For the first time, Not Before my Tea is featuring a local celeb.  This may not be 60 Minutes, but being unqualified hasn't stopped me yet.

Somewhere in between working full time, training for her next marathon, leading Chicago Area Runners Association (CARA) group runs, throwing the best parties in town, and generally kicking butt, local running guru Kylen Cieslak squeezed in some time tell me about her recent experience at the Hood to Coast Relay in Portland, Oregon.

I met Kylen through the Universal Sole running group, the fastest burger eating beer drinkers in Chicago.  For the first few weeks, she was just “that fast girl who runs with the guys,” whom I could only recognize by the back of her Nike tank-tops.  But I quickly developed a one-sided, runner’s crush on her after learning that she ran on the NCAA Division II National Champion Grand Valley State cross country team, the New England Patriots to the peewee leaguers at Florida Tech (my Alma mater).

Kylen, #99, races in the snow without sleeves, the obvious mark of a hardcore runner.  This clearly isn't her first rodeo.
After finally working up the courage to run with her, I learned that she is as awesome at life as she is at running.  After spending a 10-miler talking with her, the only way you’d know that the laid-back, down-to-Earth twenty-something is actually a running rockstar is by the agonizing pain in your legs from keeping up with her “easy” sub-7:15 min/mile pace.

Kylen recently competed in one of the largest and longest relay races in the world, the overnight, nearly 200 mile long running spectacle known as the Hood to Coast Relay (maybe you saw the movie?).  About 1,050 teams of 8-12 dedicated runners started at the top of Mt. Hood (approx. 90 miles Southeast of Portland, Oregon) on Friday, August 22, and raced, relay-leg by relay-leg, through the night to the coast.  On her team, the 12 Monkeys, Kylen was Monkey Numero Uno, responsible for navigating the toughest legs.

A few weeks before the race, Kylen invited me to join the team to fill an unexpected vacancy.  Although the race sounded nuts (in the absolute best sense of the word), it wasn't exactly in my penny pinched budget, especially at such late notice.

But luckily for me, Kylen was kind of enough to tell me about the race so that I could live the magic without sleeping in a van.  I told you she was awesome, didn't I?

So here is Part 1 of a 2 part post recapping the race through the eyes of a local running celebrity.

Tell us a little about you and your background in running.

Running has always been a part of my life. I ran cross country and track in middle school, high school, Northwood University and Grand Valley State University.

I moved from Michigan to Chicago in July 2011 for a Marketing job at a medical equipment auction house. I was injured with a hip stress fracture at the time but when I was fully healed in December I began running for Universal Sole and still run for them today. I also train with CARA.

How did you get involved with the 12 Monkeys and Hood to Coast?

The 12 Monkeys raced in 2012 and placed high enough to be guaranteed an entry for 2013. A few of the members were not able to do the race again this year so they were looking for people to fill their spots. Almost all of the people on the team also run for Universal Sole and knew about my running capabilities

A little bit of team spirit on their van window to intimidate competition.
I was approached back in March to be on their team. I had already watched the movie that was made about Hood To Coast and was aware of what the race entailed. I was deciding whether I should do it for a few days, mostly for training and financial reasons but then thought to myself “when will I have another opportunity to do this again?”

I then committed to the team and I am so glad I did.

How did you prepare for the race?

A picture of Mt. Hood taken by one of Kylen's teammates
I have been training for the Grand Rapids Marathon since June and knew that Hood to Coast would fall in the middle of my training because the marathon is on October 20th. I also raced a few 5Ks and half marathons to get used to racing again, since Boston took such a toll on me.

(Note: Kylen competed in her second marathon, the Boston Marathon, last April after months of intense training.  She was on pace for a sub-2:52 time when she passed out from dehydration at mile 25 and was carted to the medical tent.)

In the beginning of August we had a meeting to discuss what “leg” of the race we were going to run. Hood to Coast emails our team captain without projected pace times based on the times we submitted when we registered. Since I had the fastest projected pace they assigned me the hardest leg, LEG 5.

My runs were: 6.08 miles on rolling hills, 7.68 miles on flat terrain and then 6.11 miles up a small mountain and back down.

Hood to Coast 2013 Race Legs
Tell us about your team.

We were competing in the open male and female division so the 12 Monkeys were made up of six males and six females in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Most of us are or were at one point from Chicago. There was an ex Chicagoan who came all the way from Germany and another that came from Florida. Our final girl that joined the team was from Portland Oregon.

Some racers enjoying the post-race party.
It turned out to be a great mix of people. Everyone got along great and had the same goals for the trip and race. I joined the team only being acquaintances with two or three of the team members and when I got back from the race three days later I would say that I have eleven new friends.

I think that that is enough words for one post.  I don’t want to overwhelm you all with too much secondhand excitement at once.  And plus, anticipation makes everything better (you can’t tell me that the toaster your aunt gave you for Christmas last year wasn’t just a teeny bit more exciting before you ripped off the wrapping paper).

But don't worry, next week I'll post about what Kylen expected to see and what she actually saw amid the thousands of like-minded nutjobs we call runners.

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