After 3 decades, Hood to Coast still growing

More than 20,000 competitors take part this weekend

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter




Teams of 12 will leave Mount Hood in 15-minute intervals from 3:30 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. Friday. Portland to Coast walkers will leave Portland between 3 and 10:15 a.m. High school runners will leave Portland at 6 p.m. Teams will begin arriving in Seaside, Ore., at about 7 a.m. Saturday.

The Hood to Coast Relay hasn’t always been the “mother of all relays.”

It hasn’t always attracted thousands of runners from all 50 states and 35 countries.

And it hasn’t always been a 200-mile course from Mount Hood to Seaside.

The one thing Hood to Coast has always had is Bob Foote.

As an avid runner in his 30s, Foote had already run 35 marathons and broken into ultramarathons. He followed a high-mileage, high-intensity training program. And he was bored.

“I found, on a personal level, I needed some challenges in my running,” Foote, 64, said.

So he and four other runners headed down to Roseburg, Ore., to run in the Roseburg to Coos Bay Relay. Each runner sprinted through their two-mile legs, earning Foote’s team second place. The next year, in 1982, they won.

The win sent Foote’s mind racing with ideas, and later that year, he organized the first Hood to Coast Relay.

He formed a 10-man team and convinced 70 other people to run. He divided the course into precisely measured 5-mile legs. Members of the eight teams piled into passenger cars and followed their runners along scenic roads from Mount Hood to Pacific City. Once they arrived at the coast, they feasted on gourmet stuffed hotdogs and spaghetti and washed it all down with cold beer.

Foote instantly decided to bring the relay back the next year. His goal, what he thought would make the event a big success, was to build the relay up every year until he had 25 to 30 teams competing. The second year 64 teams registered.

The third year, Foote enlisted the help of others to form a race committee; 150 teams signed up for the event. The fourth year drew in 235 teams, making the event the largest relay race in the world.

The sixth year, Foote limited the race to 500 teams after 405 teams ran the year before. The following year, Foote moved the finish line to Seaside and removed the cap on registration.

“What started as a fun event for me got ripped away,” Foote said.

This year, for the first time in 15 years, the event’s capacity increased by 250 teams. Registration for the race closed the first day, with organizers accepting 1,250 teams and turning away another 1,500.

The 130-mile Portland to Coast Relay Walk filled up within a month, faster than ever. Registration for the Portland to Coast High School Challenge is at its max as well. The three events boast a combined attendance of more than 20,400 participants.

After running in a dozen Hood to Coast relays, Foote turned in his racing shoes — a decision that for many years left him depressed during Hood to Coast weekend.

“Now I really have a great time at race weekend,” he said. “I probably have as much fun as the runners.”

In recent years, Foote also has stepped down as race director and handed the reigns to his daughter, Felicia Hubber.

“She’s been around the event her whole life,” said Foote, adding that he hopes to see his daughter at the helm for another 30 years, at least.

Already Hubber and her husband, Jude, who works as the event’s director of marketing, have introduced new ideas. For example, this year, weather, traffic and race updates will be posted on the event’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.

“I like seeing Hood to Coast evolve into its new life,” Foote said. “They’re taking it into the next generation.”

But Foote plans to be at his daughter’s side as the race begins that new life.

“I can’t quite let go,” he said. “I don’t intend to ever retire.”

Because for Foote, the month of August brings an adrenaline rush unmatched throughout the year.

“Hood to Coast is on everyone’s lips,” he said. “That’s just like a runner’s high.”

Marissa Harshman:;;; 360-735-4546.