The 2016 Three Capes Relay was run on Saturday, February 27 under patchwork skies. This race, benefiting the Tillamook High School track and XC programs, offers an option for a solo marathon, a two-person team or a five-person team. Before we get into the recap, the Run Oregon team would all like to thank and recognize the race organizers and volunteers AND the courteous drivers of Tillamook County. Never before have we noticed drivers on the open course so consistently giving runners a comfortably wide berth, smiles and waves.
NOTE: This is a looooooooong recap. So if you’re one of those TLDR* people … in summary: This relay is awesome and we highly recommend it. As a matter of fact, I have already been recruiting other teams to run it with me (because I’m hoping to partner up with Dudeman next year)!
The Run Oregon team was made up of the amazing Joe Dudman, the only one of us who’d run it before and also the only guy on our team; his friend Sarah, who hadn’t run this relay but has done a number of races and had this one on her “to-do” list; my good friend Tricia, who is a natural athlete but had never run a relay before; Run Oregon’s own Abby Meek, another relay virgin; and me, who has run at least five Hood to Coasts, three CLRs, the Epic Oregon Relay under that name and once as the Prelay, the Civil War Relay, the Twelve Bridges, and others I’m sure I’m forgetting. So it was a mixed team, for sure.
Adding to the mix was the fact that Sarah was added in the last week, when original team member Mark Wilkinson was unexpectedly called away to be with an ill family member. Even so, we were all very laid-back about the whole thing, only deciding the final leg assignments in the hour before the start time!
Due to recent rains, a road closure forced race organizers to change the course just days before the relay. The race sent out very clear emails explaining this last-minute change, and posted obvious links with detailed instructions and directions regarding the new routes for the first two runners. Previously, Legs 1 and 2 were similar in length; the change resulted in a 7-mile Leg 1 and just under 3 miles for Leg 2. Sarah, who enjoys early morning runs, took the lad-off position for our team, followed by Tricia on the short leg. Joe had the hardest segment with Leg 3, and Abby was lucky enough to get the all-downhill Leg 4. I wrapped things up with the 7-mile Leg 7. Below are our leg-by-leg recaps:
Sarah – Leg 1: Ah the sacrifices you make for the team. I found out I was doing the first leg only about an hour before the race. Only after that did I learn that the leg had changed and it was now 7 miles when the original leg was supposed to be 4.75 miles. Due to some unavoidable changes it grew to be a much longer, and what an obstacle course it would be. With my adrenaline running on high we started the race promptly at 9 am. It was all uphill for a mile and the potholes and uneven cracks in the road added to the difficulty. Runners around me were huffing and puffing hard as we leapfrogged each other and powered up the hill. Looking ahead around the bends in the road, each one had the illusion of giving me a reprieve of plateau, but that’s exactly what they were – “illusions or mirages” to go along with the “bumps” in the road. At least the road was closed to cars, and I realized why at one point when I came across part of the road which had fallen off the side of the hill. “Don’t go that way Sarah!” Finally cresting the hill around the 1-mile mark at the entrance to Cape Meares; it was downhill from there.
I thought the downhill would be easier, but my knees ached as I pounded down the hill catching glimpses of the coastline as I ran. All the while, I was following the 2 U.S. flag carriers with their flags nipping at their heels. At the bottom of the hill was a beautiful scene of the water. One of the flag carriers stopped to take pictures while the other had to make a different kind of stop. Here we go, up, up, up again. Another hill, UGH! At least this one wasn’t nearly as long. Down again and at the bottom we took a turn and were directed onto the beach.
As I made my way to the beach, I felt like Curious George who would have grabbed hold of branches overhead so as not to fall while flying down the steep, narrow, sandy but rocky path. Finally, out onto some flat soft surface, but not for long. As I look down the beach I see a long stretch of rocks we have to run through. Best keep my shoes on even though I love running barefoot on the sand. These weren’t small pebbles, they were the kind that if you make one wrong move you could twist your ankle. In the distance, as far as I can see, I’m hoping that’s the exchange point, but first there will be a few water crossings that were impossible to avoid getting my little piggies wet. After five or more miles the added weight and sloshing in my shoes really slowed me down, but I was determined not to let the team down.
As I was running my heart out I watched other racers heading toward the water. I realized they were taking their time and collecting sand dollars. Who has time for that when you are running a race? There’s no time to waste! Keep your mind on finishing this leg! Oh no, not another bed of rocks! Two more to be exact, and the last was an ankle breaker. What I thought was the exchange point was not to be. I turned the corner to see the end of the beach, but where was the exchange? As I neared the end of the beach I am directed off the sand and into a parking lot. Finally I can see all the people and what I’ve been looking for since I started more than an hour before – my finish line. Oh thank heaven, I’m finally done!
As we drove along the route and exchanged our runners, I realized everyone else ran exclusively on the road and all the while their legs may have had a lot of elevation and been deemed more difficult or extremely difficult, my leg had the most adventure. What a great experience!
Tricia – Leg 2: I lucked out and drew the long straw for the shortest leg, not a bad way to ease into my first relay experience. I also provided the relay vehicle, so I wasn’t sure what to expect – but was pleasantly surprised at how well organized and un-chaotic (if that’s a word) the exchanges were (especially considering that I just showed up with not really looking at the race map)!
Joe – Leg 3: Last year I ran the Three Capes Relay as part of a two-person team with fellow Run Oregon Blogger Matt Rasmussen, and somehow conned him into tackling the notorious Leg 3 up the flanks of Cape Lookout and continuing onto Leg 4, while I ran Legs 1,2, and 5. This year I was faced with a tradeoff: I was on a full five-person team, so I only had to run one leg, but that one leg was Leg 3!
Because of some last-minute adjustments due to construction, the exchange between Legs 2 and 3 was a couple miles further along than last year, so I was a little less intimidated now that my leg was shorter. Of course, the huge uphill climb was still included.
As I tried to stay warm in the damp air and waited for Tricia to arrive, I noticed another team looking my way and talking amongst themselves. “Uh oh,” I thought to myself, “they recognize me and expect me to be really racing this leg!” With the big hill and a fun team, I wasn’t planning on killing myself, although I was going to try to give it a good effort.
Soon we spotted Tricia cruising along and rapidly approaching the exchange, and it was my turn to hit the road. The conditions were pretty much ideal for running, cool with a light mist and only a slight wind. The leg lured me in with a deceptively long flat prelude, and I settled into a solid yet relaxed pace.
There was even a decent downhill section, and that was where the team drove alongside. Kelly matched my pace in the car and checked the speedometer to see how fast I was running. “10 miles per hour!” she said, and I jokingly sped up for a few strides. It was early enough in my run that I could still do rudimentary math, and I realized that translated to 6-minute pace. Not too bad at that point.
The flat continued just long enough for me to start wishing the hill would arrive, just so the dread and anticipation would end and I could start to work on getting the climb over with. The size of the Three Capes Relay is just right, and when the hill began I encountered just enough runners to distract me from the effort but not enough to crowd the course.
I exchanged encouragement with the other runners and we all got support from other teams’ passing vehicles. I changed gears and began the relentless climb, enjoying the setting and the views despite the hard work. I admit I took a few short power-walk breaks, as much to reboot myself mentally as physically, trying not to time them when there were too many witnesses around, and especially not when the race director was taking photos at the high viewpoint with the surf in the background 😉
Once I passed the viewpoint (a major landmark on this leg), the road got even steeper and more curvy, and I kept thinking “The exchange MUST be around the next corner!” At one point I heard a group cheering and was sure the sound was coming from the exchange up ahead. But I rounded the bend only to see more open road, and realized the cheering was coming from a parked van somewhere behind me. Dang it! 😉
As the hill continued I saw well-known Marathon Maniac Steve Walters up ahead, and the sight of a full marathoner chugging tenaciously up the hill made me feel a little sheepish about my effort. After all, in this relay we just run one leg; once I reached the exchange I would be done for the day, while Steve still had miles to go.
Finally I turned one last corner and saw some orange cones, a few parked cars, and a misty figure that I identified as Abby waiting to take the handoff. I tried to put on the illusion of a final kick, gave Abby a high five, and staggered to a stop, having run one of the most scenic and challenging relay legs around.
Abby – Leg 4: A few weeks back Kelly asked me if I would be interested in joining the team. I was a bit concerned that I would hold the group back, because A: I am still slower than I’d like to be and B: when you are part of a team you don’t want to let them down. However, Kelly assured me that everyone would be very casual about the race and that we would all just have a great time. She was right.
It turns out that my leg wasn’t the shortest after all, with the changes made to the first two legs the day before the race. It was easy, with a nice drop of about 600 ft, which caused me to go fast. So fast, that right before my GPS decided to die, it told me I was cruising along at a pace of 7:15! Oops! TOO fast for me. After about 2.5 miles or so when the course flattened out, I had to slow down. This proved a bit difficult since my body was not used to such a quick pace. Even though my GPS decided to quit and I was cruising, I finished with a decent time. Although we didn’t run through the dunes of Sand Lake as was described in the layout of the course, there were beautiful glimpses of the ocean before we made it to the Sand Lake store, where my team members were munching on donuts while they waited for me.
All in all, this was a great way to be introduced to relay running. We couldn’t have asked for a prettier or more temperate day, awesomely fast and supportive runners throughout the race and of course, the always majestic Pacific Ocean. I can’t wait to do it again next year.
Kelly – Leg 5: What a difference a website makes. Thanks to the Three Capes Relay, it was easy to review my leg’s elevation and get appropriately psyched up for two giant hill. All kidding aside, though, I loved how easy the race organizer made it to find the new information about exchanges because of the road closure.
The last leg starts with a long, straight, flat section. On this day, it was also into the wind. Before Mile 2, though, the course had turned and the wind was no longer a distraction. The first four and a half miles were quite pleasant. Some rolling hills, but my pace didn’t suffer aside from my own issue of going out too fast. Then there is the hill.
My mileage app announced Mile 5 at the start of this hill. I decided this was probably a hill that would be better as a “walking hill,” and it’s precisely at this point that you can look to your right for a clear view over ocean waves crashing into shore. It was amazing, energizing and calming at the same time, and I got a boost to pick it up again. At the top of the hill, the route takes you past a stop sign and then on a nice decline and flat.
I was expecting to see Tricia at Mile 6, which I thought was at the top of the next hill; but I saw her before that and was pleased to have company for the last bit of my leg. The hill in Mile 6 wasn’t nearly as hard as Mile 5, and when we crested the hill and Tricia pointed out the finish line I was shocked to see it so close to the summit. I almost wished I’d run harder up the last hill … next year.
After the relay was over, we collected our medals, had some amazing pizza at a place just down the road from the finish line with solo marathoner Jerry Mark of Beaverton, and basked in the fact we didn’t have to rush home. For some reason, we were just all about getting food and it was only after looking at the race pictures that I realized we completely forgot to go dip our toes in the ocean. They even had a great photo area where the race photographer was taking team pics.
Abby, Tricia and I stayed in Lincoln City for the night for an exciting girls’ weekend (yes, we went to bed before 8:30p … no kids around, and we are boring old ladies apparently). As a matter of fact, I think next year I’m going to try and recruit enough friends to field a few teams and run it as a two-person team. Then I can still get the laid-back relay experience and have friends to run with. I just need to see if Joe is willing to take Leg 3 again …
Keep an eye on the Run Oregon blog for announcements regarding the 2017 Three Capes Relay, or visit their website to sign up for the event’s newsletter (scroll to the very bottom) and get updates directly.
*TLDR = Too long, didn’t read.