Guest recap: Inaugural Elkhorn Relay in Northeast Oregon

This recap was submitted by Run Oregon reader Gail Kimberling. Feel free to Submit a Guest Post in the “Contact Us” tab if you are wanting to write a preview or recap your running experiences as well!

“Inspiring scenery, wildlife, epic climbs and descents, a ceaseless straightaway, mountainous roads …”

The inaugural Elkhorn Relay in Northeast Oregon advertised all of the above, and the event didn’t disappoint. From registration to finish, Doomsday Racing ensured every detail was covered.

According to their website, “We are a group of runners that love everything from 5Ks to Ultra Marathon, especially if they’re in the great outdoors! We realize Eastern Oregon has some of the most breathtaking places to explore and we want to offer that opportunity to other runners.”

The Elkhorn Relay was indeed breathtaking – but not due to the frenetic pace and crush of people in larger, well-known relays; instead, there were lung-sucking high altitude runs and take-your-breath-away vistas.

Gail running

The 200-mile, 36-leg relay started at Hilgard State Park on old Highway 244 along the Grande Ronde River outside of La Grande, climbed over the Elkhorn Mountains and passed Anthony Lakes, reaching an altitude of 7,100 feet. Then the course dropped into Baker Valley and continued to Medical Springs and Union before circumnavigating the expansive Grande Ronde Valley and finishing at River Side Park in La Grande. Twelve running teams and one walking team competed in the inaugural event, held Aug. 7-8.

Due to injuries and conflicts, our family team, “Carrion-On,” was unable to field the entire complement of 12 runners. The Doomsday Race officials were completely understanding and flexible enough to allow our all-female, 6-person team to start halfway through the event, at Leg 19. This presented two interesting scenarios: We started Friday at midnight so we would finish “in the pack.” And we still ran three legs each, but had no long rest between legs. Talk about sleep deprivation! We were welcomed with open arms by race organizers and volunteers.

Race officials kept close track of all teams and their progress, and even though we were warned that most exchanges would not have water or food, many volunteers took it upon themselves to supply much-appreciated beverages and refreshments. It was literally a rolling party, as race officials and volunteers moved from exchange to exchange ahead of the teams. This gave the event a nice, personalized touch as we got to know the folks on the course and they got to know the teams. At one exchange, my daughter/teammate met her insurance man in person for the first time; before the relay, they had only done business by phone! Questions or suggestions were immediately handled with a quick phone call up or down the chain of command; it was just another example of the support we enjoyed throughout the race.

The runs themselves were scenic … and, yes, completely epic. Daunting ascents. Pine forests and winding rivers. Acres of green corn, fragrant mint, and golden wheat stubble. Deer by the dozens. Errant cows. Coyotes and raptors in the dark. Gravel, dust, and moisture-sucking heat. Traffic in this part of the state is, thankfully, minimal. Except for one or two local yahoos, we were given a polite wide berth by cars, trucks and farm equipment on the course. The finish featured music, food and awards for the first place team and several side competitions: “King of the Hill” for the steepest section, “The Straightaway of Death” for the longest, flattest, straightest section, and the best race photo. Keepsake “medals” made of antlers added to the rustic and rugged race. It would have been nice to have additional team awards (men, women, ultra, etc.); hopefully these can be added in the future. Doomsday Racing had a few obstacles to overcome for their inaugural relay; not the least of which were the bad vibes left over from another relay held in NE Oregon in 2012, when a professional race company stiffed local vendors and volunteers, as well as many participants. The week prior to the Elkhorn Relay a fast-moving wildfire threatened the northern section of the course, and another wildfire to the south completely closed Interstate 84, the only major highway in and out of La Grande. Emily's hillPerhaps the name “Doomsday Racing” itself precipitated difficulties; fortunately race officials lived up to their claims of perseverance.

Congratulations to Doomsday Racing, and all the teams who conquered the course! This is definitely an event to add to any runner’s bucket list. Hopefully, the Elkhorn Relay will grow and thrive, but never lose its community spirit.

2015 Elkhorn Relay Results

1.      Ridge To Rivers 28:31:16
2.      Hillacious 30:14:27
3.      Strength & Honor 30:29:18
4.      OTEC 31:21:24
5.      GRCC 31:30:38
6.      Ash Kickers 32:21:36
7.      Rocket Cheetah 32:28:05
8.      Pick Up The Pace 36:12:40
9.      We Run on Jet Fuel 36:59:56
10.     Sweeter Than Ever 37:28:36
11.     Carrion On 16:12:14 *18 Legs
12.     Speedy Turtles 36:20:01 *Ultra Runners
13.     Turtles With Nos 29:45:17 *Walking Team

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