The group of Sandy runners tackles this years Hood-to-Coast Relay

by: SANDY POST: DAVID BALL - Members of Team Hooters gather outside the Mt. Hood Athletic Club, which is sponsoring this years relay team. The Hood-to-Coast Relay gets underway this weekend with the first wave of racers leaving Timberline about the time most people will be drinking their first cup of coffee Monday morning. But for Sandy’s Loni Jones and Alesia Soll, perhaps the race’s biggest challenge came last winter when they recruited members for the team. Tackling what amounts to three 10Ks squeezed into a 24-hour period is a challenge for even the most avid runners.

“That first leg is exhilarating. You are fresh and excited about the race,” Jones said. “The second leg is tougher and by the third leg your body is just drained — you’re just trying to finish the race.”

“We went out and asked people who weren’t a part of a running clique. We had to do a little bit of arm twisting,” Soll laughed.

In the end, the duo was able to find enough runners to embrace the challenge, enticed at least in part by a two-night stay in a beach house to celebrate the accomplishment, and Team Hooters was formed. The group of 10 women and two guys is sponsored by the Mt. Hood Athletic Club.

Jones ran the finishing leg when she completed the Hood-to-Coast in 2010, and this year she will be first member of the team to hit the pavement.

“I’m getting a chance to see both ends of the race,” Jones said. “You don’t sleep or eat properly during those two days and it’s draining. There’s a physical challenge to it, but it’s also a fun team experience — working together to achieve a goal.”

Soll captains the second van, which is made up entirely of Hood-to-Coast rookies. She started running about four years ago and saw this as the next step to from the weekend circuit of 5K and 10Ks.

“This seemed like the next natural step to being a runner, plus it’s something I can check off my bucket list,” Soll said.

Her biggest challenge comes in the middle of the course when she starts up the coastal mountain range. Her second leg covers almost six miles and climbs more than 1,000 feet in elevation. To make it even more challenging, she will be running the segment in the dark around 3 a.m.

“That is the scariest part for me,” Soll said. “Trying to maintain my pace while running up this monster hill.”

Teammate Greg Kulla faced his biggest fear several years ago when he was diagnosed with stage 4 Melanoma, leaving him less than a 10 percent survival rate. The 48-year-old has been cancer free for the past three years and is eager to take on this relay challenge. He had a spot lined up on a team last year only to suffer an injury late in training that relegated him to driving duties instead.

“People don’t realize how much of a luxury it is to have good health,” Kulla said. “No day is guaranteed. I want to go out and find these special experiences. I’m running because I can.”

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