The Hood to Coast Relay is difficult. A challenging test of strength and endurance, it's also a bonding experience for a team of 12 wedged into a couple vans for two days and roughly 200 miles of mountainous terrain.
The PDX to Coast High School Challenge — part of the larger Hood to Coast — is a 130-mille relay comprised of 24 legs over a nearly 24-hour period providing much of that same camaraderie for the eight to 12 competitors necessary to make up a team.
For seven years now, a team of Forest Grove girls has participated, and for six of those seven years the team, Beautiful Speed, has finished first in the Girls Open Division. But more than winning, this year's event — in addition to years past — offered an opportunity for the Forest Grove High School cross country team to spend some quality time talking, listening to music and running prior to the 2017 cross country season.
"We don't raise any money from this and don't really do it to raise funds for the team," said Forest Grove runner Ellie Khoury. "It's really just something that's fun and challenging that helps bond the girls team together."
Khoury, a junior at FGHS, has participated in the event in each of the last three years and was one of five runners from the Beautiful Speed team, sponsored by Henningsen Cold Storage, to have competed before that. All of the 12 have been or will be members of this season's cross country team, and Khoury believes the event plays a key role in preparing the team for the season.
"We're all stuck in a van for like 24 hours, and that bonds us," Khoury said. "It gets us closer and also helps us train prior to the year. Everyone is so supportive and cheering each other on, and it's pretty cool when we all complete it."
In all, 19 teams competed in this year's high school event, with the Olympia Slackers winning the Boys Open competition in a time of 14:13.58, while the Coastbusters won the co-ed Boys/Girls Open division in a time of 14:50.39. The Viking girls finished in 18:23.24, ahead of four of the co-ed teams and a highly respectable 21 minutes behind the last place boys team. But despite their success, it's more about what the experience can lead to that makes the PDX to Coast so valuable for the Vikings.
And the proof is in the pudding.
The Forest Grove girls have won three consecutive Greater Valley Conference district championships, and five in the last six seasons. This year's squad returns the top three runners from last year, including Khoury, fellow junior Hannah Aguirre and senior Hannah Berdahl. In addition, they'll have experience and success returning in the way of sophomore Joelle Thacker, who finished 19th, and junior Mila Lumae, who was 23rd in last year's district championships. Khoury said their goal is another conference title, and the dozen Beautiful Speed competitors can't help but feel last weekend's PDX to Coast relay will play a part in their fortunes this fall.
"We've had a very competitive girls team for a number of years now," said Khoury. "I'd like to think this relay is a factor in that."
The Forest Grove girls and boys cross country teams kick off their season in the Ultimook Race Nike Invitational at Hydrangea Ranch Saturday, Sept. 2, and open their conference season Wednesday, Sept. 13.