When the lovely team at Gorgeous Relays announced that they were running a new event this fall, we were pretty excited; when it was announced it would be the “Gorgeous Oregon Coast Relay,” we were ecstatic. This relay was run on a very small scale – invitations went out to captains of former Gorgeous Relay teams and those who had signed up for the Gorgeous Relay that had to be cancelled a few weeks ago due to the Eagle Creek fire. Participants had to memorize their routes and plan their bathroom breaks, as this relay had very few volunteers and none of the usual relay support (read: porta-potties) on course; but this was well communicated and perfectly fine because there was no charge to run this relay. In effect, those who were lucky enough to take part were the Guinea pigs for this course, and Kerry and Traci and Gorgeous Relays are using the feedback of participants to improve the course and relay for 2018.
The relay was set up as a one-day, 50-mile course with 12 legs. Most teams ran with 6 people, so each person ran twice. Run Oregon fielded a 4-woman team, because we wanted a little more mileage and did not want to have to rent a van for the day. Our first runner was blogger Nikki Mueller, followed by soon-to-be-blogger Allison Ziarnik, then me (Kelly Barten), with Run Oregon contributor Marya Van Metre anchoring for us. This post will recap legs 1 through 4, the next will cover legs 5-8, and the last will describe legs 9-12.
Leg 1: 4.0 miles – Astoria (Nikki)
If you are new to running relays, you can’t go wrong with a Gorgeous race. The race organizers are very friendly and helpful, and there’s a great sense of community among the runners due to the small size of the races. A race like the Gorgeous Coast Relay wouldn’t work as well if it were a huge event open to thousands of runners like some of the other relays.
The start of Leg 1, which is at the Astoria Column, could not have been a better place to kick off the Gorgeous Coast Relay. Located at the literal top of Astoria, the views are stunning. We were also blessed with sunshine and some fog that made the Oregon Coast look like something you’d see on a postcard. Not long after I took off down an easy trek through the picturesque town where “Goonies” was filmed, I saw some deer standing just a couple of feet away from me, grazing at the grass. The course was fast and easy, and though a few volunteers will be helpful next year at a few of the turns, it was very easy to navigate overall, especially if you had a “cheat sheet” (the printed directions from the website tucked away in a Ziploc bag) like I did. This year was a preview run, so we were warned beforehand that there were no volunteers. Thankfully there were some very big-hearted folks who gave up their day to help point the way at the more confusing areas of the relay for those of us who were a bit on the directionally challenged side.
After a short, brisk 4-mile tour of Astoria’s neighborhoods and a bridge, the exchange was there before I even had time to contemplate it. I had struggled with deciding how to dress for this relay and had settled on a tank top and long pants since I tend to get hot after I get moving. Though it was a bit chilly that morning, I felt I’d made the right choice. Some folks might want to wear more considering it was only 8a at the coast (in October), but that’s also personal preference and weather-dependent. We had very little wind and no rain. This leg was definitely my easiest leg of the day, and it was a great way to go into the race.
Leg 2: 3.93 miles – Astoria (Allison)
This was the ideal start for any relay. The sun was just coming up, the air was damp and crisp with fresh fall smells, and the road was clean from the overnight rain … and we were ready to go. A quick little jaunt over a two-lane bridge gave Leg 2 runners some great views of where the Lewis and Clark River meets the bay. This relay was already delivering on the promised gorgeous scenery! I was aware that at some point up ahead, I would need to look for a gravel parking area and a split in the fence as I neared the airport. Fortunately for me, three runners had already missed it and doubled back in search if the unmarked spot. Together we found it and passed through to the gravel path that lead us around the back side of the air strip. This was when it opened up to one of the most beautiful spots to run in Astoria. If I lived there, I would do it daily.
During the two miles I spent on the grass-covered path, I met many different creatures including slugs looking for breakfast, woolly bear caterpillars wishing I would pick them up, and so many friendly dogs with their owners who were out on a morning walk. The desire to stop and pet each pup was big, but I was supposed to be racing! The only thing that would have made this section of Leg 2 better was if an airplane had landed or taken off while we were running by. That is easy to coordinate, right? I headed out of that section and met up with Highway 101, which I followed for a quick stretch before crossing and heading down East Harbor Street. A few of us all stopped for the light and consulted the map as to which side of the road and direction to head in. A marking here of some sort will be great in future years, but we figured it out. There was a nice wide shoulder to run along, and for the most part flat and easy.
It wasn’t hard to spot the exchange as I neared the end, and that was the only narrow spot to navigate as I headed towards it. When thinking about what to wear during this leg, consider that by the end your shoes and socks will be soaked as the grass behind the airport did good work on them. Light layers that you can easily peel off would also be encouraged, as I imagine on some days the wind whips around through the bay and could be an issue. Same goes for later in the day, as you would be fully exposed in the sunshine. Be sure to take in all that this leg offers visually when running around the airport section. I even suggest stopping to snap a photo, as I did as I rounded the bend on the backside of the airport, because I could not believe how beautiful it was.
Leg 3: 3.8 miles – Warrenton (Kelly)
Before the start of my first leg, I saw runners wearing all varieties of layers and lengths from shorts to beanies, and settled on a long-sleeve top, long tights, and road shoes. This entire leg was on paved surfaces or hard-pack gravel, and the sun was out with no menacing clouds in the sky. If you run this one next year, keep in mind that even though the 3rd mile could meet some wind, much of the views are from a protected path.
Leg 3 was a pretty short, flat leg with very few inclines and lots of great scenery. The run started out just before crossing a short bridge over the Skipanon River, off the confluence of Youngs Bay and the Columbia River. From there, two turns separated by just a few blocks put me on the Warrenton Waterfront Trail. A course volunteer (thanks to Donna Kalik!) was at the start of the trail and gave me confidence in my memorization of the route. This trail is very much like Portland’s Springwater – wide and flat – but covered in a few spots with what my team decided must have been elk droppings. Nothing I couldn’t navigate, though, and I enjoyed the views as the Skipanon opened up into the Columbia. At mile 2, there was one very short segment on Highway 104 – less than a quarter mile – and then I went past a dog park (that was very busy) and back onto the trail.
At this point, I almost adopted a Boxer that was walking on the trail with his owner. I paused to let him sniff my hand and gave him a few pets, then he followed me for about 20 meters. Fortunately for everyone, he turned back and I continued on my merry way to the trail’s end to a turn, reaching mile 3. This drive onto which I turned was actually Enterprise St., but wasn’t marked as such until you got out to the highway, so I helped another runner confirm our next turn (onto the highway, which had a nice wide shoulder). This segment was about a half-mile, and then we were again turning right with the exchange visible up ahead. When I finished, I was disappointed to see that my strategy of “running easy” had failed completely, but impressed with how easy my pace had felt on this beautiful run.
Leg 4: 5.25 miles – Warrenton (Marya)
At 5.25 miles, Leg 4 was the second longest leg of the relay, but it didn’t seem too difficult as it was pretty darn flat. It starts by exiting the parking lot/exchange site, and turns immediately right onto the large right shoulder of Pacific Drive. Before too long, the course takes you left onto Lake Drive and continues on until the first major entrance to Fort Stevens State Park. Even though this first year there were “no course monitors,” there was a volunteer here to make sure runners turned at the right spot.
The rest of the route continues on the same road, meandering through the forested park for the remaining four miles of the leg. About three miles into the run, I started seeing runners from the next leg moving in the opposite direction (this is where we passed their turn off of the main road). I always enjoy seeing fellow racers on out-and-backs, giving them a smile, and a “good job” as they pass. There were a few sections where the trees cleared on the right side of the road, and you could see the Jetty Lagoon, which was very beautiful in the foggy morning light. About five miles into the run, I came to the Area C/South Jetty sign on my left, I entered the parking lot and made my way to the large platform overlooking the jetty. I ran up the stairs and high-fived Nikki, and Leg 4 was complete!