Scappoose, St. Helens high schools, county fairgrounds are relay exchange points

by: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - Senior James Cutrona trains during a Scappoose cross country team practice on Wednesday morning. Cutrona will be participating in this weekend's Portland to Coast High School Challenge.The yearly pilgrimage from Timberline Lodge to Seaside is on once again, and like every year, select areas of Columbia County will be turned on their head for the next two days until the race finishes on Saturday evening.

The event is the largest relay in the world, stretching 198 miles and dropping 6,000 feet from the towering heights surrounding Oregon’s largest mountain to the sands of the Pacific ocean. Over the years, the race has begun to draw runners from all over the world, and as it gained popularity within the running community, the appeal to younger athletes grew.

David Harley, head cross country coach at Scappoose High School, said some of his runners came to him the year the Portland to Coast high school challenge was formed as an offshoot of the larger Hood to Coast relay. They wanted a way to kick off their season with a splash, and the long distance relay was a perfect fit.

“I think there were 14 high school teams that did it, and we were dead last,” said Harley with a laugh. “We got to the beach and it was some ridiculous time of the day, and I thought ‘oh, I never want to do this again.’ It’s perpetuated now, and it’s something they like to do.”

Harley said these days it’s the athletes, not himself, that do the organizing and preparation for the race. He helps out with the paperwork and pays the entry fee, but the rest of it is on the runners themselves.

“I’ve pretty much just given it to them and let it be their thing,” said Harley. “Most of it is on them. I’ve just made it an athlete-parent thing.”

For many of the runners, the race is something very different from anything else they do during their high school career. The team splits up the 132 mile stretch into legs, and alternate in order to rest between legs. Difficulty varies widely between the different legs, as do elevation and length. Because the race begins on Friday evening and finishes Saturday afternoon, many of the legs are run in the cover of darkness, especially through the Columbia County area.

by: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - Sophomore Macy Gray sits and listens during a team discussion on Wednesday morning. Gray will participate in the Portland to Coast challenge for the first time on Friday.“I like running in the dark,” said Sophomore Macy Gray, who will be participating in the race for the first time. She and teammate James Cutrona agreed. Both runners enjoyed the lack of distractions, allowing them to focus only on their race.

Cutrona, who is a senior on the Scappoose cross country team, has participated in the past, and said taking part in the event was important for the team because of the bonding it allowed them to do.

“The best part is being in the van with the guys and having those memories and experiences,” said Cutrona. “It builds a base. It really helps to get to know each other, if you don’t already.”

Part of what makes Portland to Coast such a valuable team building experience is the fact that it challenges each runner individually, and the team as a whole.

“They’re doing a lot more running. Obviously they’re running in the middle of the night,” said Harley. “You’re cooped up in a vehicle with five or six other people. You’re driving or running the whole time. You’re not sleeping much. You’re not eating regularly, and it’s a real commodore type thing because they get to spend a lot of time together just talking.”

As part of the process, the team met on Thursday to choose which runner takes each leg of the race. Friday evening, sometime between 5-5:45 p.m., they’ll begin their journey into the darkness.

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