Fighting the ‘ravages of old age’ with Hood To Coast

For Steve Becker, the Hood To Coast Relay is a must-do for anyone with an able body and a passion for true Oregon experiences. The 31st annual event — a 199-mile running relay from Timberline Lodge on to Seaside — started Friday morning and finishes Saturday when teams arrive at the finish line and beachfront party.

Of the 1,050 teams on the roster this year, Becker and the Gorge Plodders are one of a few with runners from the Hood River area. Each team consists of 12 runners (eight minimum) and keeps a steady pace day and night to complete 36 legs, which are divided into distances between 3.8 and 8.09 miles long. Each runner is required to complete three legs, while the rest of the team follows along in support vehicles.

“You don’t get much sleep in between running,” said Becker, who is in the process of his 15th straight Hood To Coast. “It’s usually sometime around 2 a.m., when we’re only halfway through and crowded into a van trying not to complain, that I find myself thinking, ‘What the heck am I doing here?’ But when it’s all over I know I’ll keep coming back for more.”

The 60-year-old Hood River doctor says he’ll keep doing it as long as he’s physically able.

“It’s as much a social experience as it is an athletic event,” he said. “It’s sort of Woodstock meets Chariots of Fire. The organizational challenge is really something to see; there are more than a thousand teams, with 12 people and two vans per team, plus volunteers and support staff; it’s quite a spectacle.”

The first Hood To Coast was held in 1982 with eight teams. This year’s statistics include 12,600 runners and 3,600 volunteers, with another 400 teams of 12 participating in the 22nd Annual Portland To Coast Walk; also this weekend. In the last 14 years registration for the event has filled in the first day open.

“There’s a lottery in October, for the following year’s event,” Becker said. “There have been a couple years that we (Gorge Plodders) didn’t get in. To keep the streak running I joined another team for those years.”

Most teams are expected to complete the course in the 30-hour range, with some serious teams finishing in as little as 20 hours. The course heads west from Mount Hood through Sandy, through downtown Portland, Scappoose, St. Helens, Mist and Jewell before climbing and descending the coastal mountains en route to Seaside. For the Gorge Plodders, as with most teams, the term race isn’t part of the weekend’s vocabulary; as long as they reach the finish line, the time doesn’t much matter.

As far as training for the event, Becker said he makes an effort to keep in shape all year; which, no surprise, is getting harder and harder.

“A lot of people who were pretty good runners when they started doing this event seem to be slowing down with the ravages of old age,” he joked. “I’ve done all the legs of the course except for the first one, which is all downhill from Timberline to the highway. I’m saving that for my last race. But hopefully that won’t be for a while yet.”

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