SEASIDE — The first runners made their way through the early morning mist across the finish line at the Seaside beachfront Saturday morning, arriving a little past 8. The team consisted of runners from Oregon Health & Science University — many premed students — led by team captain Beth Waites.
The runners were Portland-based, starting at 6 p.m. Friday in Portland, running through the night and crossing the next morning.
Waites said they appreciated the cool-down weather, in the high-50s Saturday morning. “It feels really good — especially because in Portland it was brutally hot.”
The run was “awesome,” she added, the rugged outdoor path illuminated by lanterns.
Celebrities on the 197-mile track to Seaside included comedian and actor Kevin Hart running on the Nike team and American decathlon gold medalist Ashton Eaton, his wife and Canadian Olympian Brianne Theisen-Eaton, Olympians Josh Cox and Lopez Lomong, all running for Team World Vision.
Along with the big names and superstar athletes, more than 17,000 participants on teams of up to 12 people landed in Seaside, running and walking. With most teams sending three volunteers, there were another 3,600 people working the event.
“It’s about showcasing 200 miles of Oregon, culminating here,” said Dan Floyd, chief operating officer for the Hood to Coast Race Series. He said there were people from 41 countries participating and from all 50 states. “For us to be part of that, we want to showcase the best of what Oregon has. For it to end here, and to have weather cooperating, is amazing.”
For the overall safety of all participants, organizers decided to make a small tweak to the race route, which is not uncommon, Floyd said.
The 2015 run came to a rocky conclusion —85-mph winds shut down the beer garden and vendors, and runners were diverted onto already busy streets. Merchants complained about the chaos and confusion.
Saturday was different. From the tents on the beach to the number of sponsors and spectators, every step showed a rebound for the event, which first came to Seaside in the 1980s.
“It’s 200 miles of improvements,” Floyd said. “It starts with our staff, our focus on customer service. That means neighbors, businesses and everybody else in the community. It’s about treating people well and being respectful of where we operate.”
“I’m just happy to be back on the beach,” Hood to Coast Chief Operating Officer Jude Hubber said Saturday morning. “Everyone just came together last year and talked about what we wanted to see in the future. How we wanted a partnership. Now it’s a partnership beyond all partnerships. It’s exciting.”
The difference this year, according to Floyd, came in communications. Seaside City Council hearings in October considered options including a change of date for the event or even a change of final destination.
Hood to Coast made it clear they could not accommodate a date change. Not wishing to see the event completely depart from Seaside, city councilors were unanimous in their support of the race for at least 2016 and 2017, with the provision of enhanced communication between race organizers, Seaside businesses and city officials.
Conversations were “absolutely” productive, Floyd said. “It really played out over the last 10 months, because they led to openness and discussions about what we need to do to make this a successful event not only for Hood to Coast participants, for the city, as well.”
“One of the reasons for the change is Brian Owen from the chamber and Jon Rahl of the (Seaside) Visitors Bureau, and the city in general,” Floyd said. “Our relationship’s been excellent.”
“So far everything I’ve seen looks great,” Rahl said Saturday afternoon. “It’s a little cooler than we expected, but typically the runners like this weather, running in the heat and finishing in the pool.
“I haven’t heard the complaints,” he added. “That doesn’t mean they’re not out there. But I’ve seen nothing but happy people so far.”