“The Gorgeous Relay was at the top of my list of events for 2014 and the experience was one I am still reflecting on. Blair and Kerry did an outstanding job improving a few of the later legs from last year, and keeping this event unintimidating with 87 teams. The volunteers were awesome and greatly appreciated. Gorgeous Relay is on my 2015 race calendar!” My teammate, Angie Gerber, who loves this event as much as I do.
Most runners have been frustrated at one point or another with some of the crowded and crazy popular runs, but Kerry Loehr and Blair Hook took that frustration and turned it into one of my new favorite traditions: The Gorgeous Relay. While this was ‘technically’ the inaugural year, it was the second annual for some of us. I didn’t think there was a lot to improve from last year, but improve they did. This year there were port-a-potties, better marked exchanged points and a more runner-friendly course.
I tried to keep my disappointment to myself when I heard they were changing the course and cutting almost 10 miles out from last year. However, after running the new course, I think it’s pretty much perfect for a one-day relay. One day- so you only need one vehicle and a handful of runners, no sleeping bags, last minute substitutes or hotel rooms at the finish line.
Vans of 2-6 runners start out in the Gorge and make their way to Portland, via the Historic Columbia River Highway. Last year there were storm warnings, but this year we got lucky, although a few people might argue it was a tad TOO warm. The legs on this relay live up to the name; they are absolutely gorgeous. With the clouds and rain last year, I didn’t get to see many of the views, which is another reason I loved the clear skies and sunshine this year.
You have to experience this relay just once to see what I’m talking about; the rock formations, waterfalls, rivers flowing as well as vegetation and wildlife you only experience off the beaten path. While my relay buddy felt a little like a mountain goat along Leg 4, it was pretty enough she had to stop and take a picture, or make sure everyone knew this stretch was a beast, or a combination of both. My leg 5 came with a bear warning. A hiker ahead of us saw a small black bear, which you would think would make me run faster, but no such luck.
The 12 legs are a blur for me. I was busy changing for my next leg, making sure our runner had water or helping navigate to the next exchange point, but I do remember the highlights. Leg 1 was one of those highlights. Last year we started in the dark, so I didn’t get to see the rocks and Columbia River peeking through the trees, absolutely beautiful. The waterfalls make this relay memorable as well, whether you’re running by them or simply driving through to get the next exchange point, you’re reminded of the natural beauty found in our state.
Getting to the top of Vista Crown is another highlight for me, even if I didn’t get to see the bear along that stretch. While the exchange point at the top is super crowded with tourists, it’s a perfect pick. Teammates have an amazing view that stretches forever as they wait for their runner and that view is well earned for anyone running Leg 5.
I loved hitting the ‘Welcome to Troutdale’ sign, crossing the quaint bridge and running the downtown strip in Troutdale. I love small towns, plus I knew we were that much closer to Portland AND that we were doing it all on foot. By the time we made it to the Springwater Corridor Trail, you can almost smell the pub grub. The excitement builds knowing you are closing in. Like mile 20 in a marathon, you are close, but still have a lot of miles to cover and this year we had the heat as a challenge, though I’m not complaining.
Surprisingly, my favorite memory this year isn’t the finish line, but the exchange point just before. My teammate fought to finish that hot stretch along the black asphalt on Springwater Corridor and the hug when she finished her last leg is my favorite memory from this year, even though I still had one last 5ish mile stretch to go. At this point, my Garmin and ipod had died, a sign it had been a long day. Iphone in one hand and a water bottle in the other, I took off for Base Camp Brewery.
Seeing the exercise enthusiasts along this stretch of the Springwater Corridor made me want a sandwich board with some sort of warning. They were cycling and running by, looking all fresh and excited to be outside enjoying the weather. I’m sure my shuffle looked like I needed to try a new hobby. I had been too excited to sleep the night before, so I’m sure I looked more like the shuffling dead, but it didn’t matter. I tried to shake it off as I was passed more times than I want to remember. I clearly remember a guy with a squirrel tail and BACON knee highs as well as a gentleman at least 25 years older than me passing me with ease. It didn’t matter, I just kept telling myself one more mile.
One more mile…. All the way to Base Camp Brewery, where the FINSIH line sparkled with glitter and we were handed the most amazing, one of a kind medals. Race Director, Blair Hook, started making the medals back in April and personally crafted every one- kind of makes the running part seem easy in comparison. His daughter made the finish line sparkle with glitter and I couldn’t help but giggle when she told me she had been waiting a long time for us to finish. It was a long day, but so worth it, plus I got to sleep in my own bed that night. This relay has all the fun of overnight, weekend relays without the hassle. The fun is just condensed into one day.
I’ve been excited for Gorgeous Relay since we crossed the finish line last year and it didn’t disappoint. It met my expectations and some. More volunteers this year, more port-a-potties and more teams, 2014 was a pretty much perfect experience for our team. I loved the new start, loved the new course and can’t think of a better spot to finish than Base Camp Brewery. Now that the soreness has worn off, I’m super excited for 2015.