This post covers legs 5-8 of the inaugural Oregon Gorgeous Coast Relay, run on Sunday, October 8 from Astoria to Cannon Beach. Run Oregon fielded an all-women’s team of four (you could run with up to 6 to a team), made up of Nikki Mueller (legs 1, 5, and 9), Allison Ziarnik (legs 2, 6, and 10), Kelly Barten (legs 3, 7, and 11), and Marya Van Metre (legs 4, 8, and 12). Read about our first set of legs in Part 1 of this recap.
Leg 5 – 4.65 miles – Fort Stevens State Park (Nikki):
I got to start Leg 5 from the top of the Jetty Observation Tower. We were told this relay would be more adventurous than previous Gorgeous Relays, and this proved to be true! The tower swayed a bit and we were greeted with magnificent choppy waves below us at the jetty. After I descended the stairs, I took off on what I felt to be a pretty flat route along the shoulder of the road. It was a bit warm on the blacktop without any shade, but if it hadn’t been such a nice day at the coast, it wouldn’t have been been an issue at all.
Eventually, the road turned onto a trail, and this was beautiful and green. Again, there were a couple of spots I could have turned wrong if not for my directions in hand, but overall it was not difficult to follow the route. I would call this leg a bit harder than Leg 1, but really only because it was longer (4.65 miles) and not completely downhill. It was still not a hard leg when you compare it to what the majority of Oregonians are used to running. I would suggest cool clothes if the weather is nice, though the shaded spots can get a bit breezy.
Note for those NOT running this leg: There are park bathrooms at many of the other turnouts in Ft. Stevens State Park. If you have the time, you may want to keep driving to Area D and check out the view (and potentially shorter bathroom lines) in future years. We did, and it was a great little side-trip while Nikki was running.
Leg 6 – 3.65 miles – Ft. Stevens to Hammond (Allison):
Leg 6 left from Ft. Stevens – a place that is near and dear to me as we spent many a summer camping there as kids. The first little section of this leg had us hauling up hill out of the park towards the main road. Not terribly hard, and that hill made the remaining flat sections seem that much easier. You do need to cross over the highway here, over to the left side – so do it with caution! We were the only pedestrians out there on the road that day, and I don’t know if people are in the habit of seeing or looking for runners. Eyes and ears peeled.
While the road had a nice, wide shoulder to run on, the next 3 miles of this leg were a little boring. I know not every part of this relay series can be absolutely riveting – so I will take it as part of the course, as my other two legs more than made up for it. It is a long stretch of highway with not much to look at besides some interesting road kill in various stages of decay. You do come across some baseball fields that had port-a-pottys if you needed them, as well as a quaint little cemetery that I respectfully turned my music off for as I passed.
Just about the time I started to wonder if this leg was going to get any more exciting, I rounded the bend to see the exchange at the high school and my teammates. Use caution again as you need to cross the road at some point here, and there is a tricky ‘Y’ in the road that you have to pay attention to. When considering what to wear during this leg, make it bright and light! You are rather exposed here, and on warmer days you may need a layer of sunblock and a hat. Also consider wearing your reflective vest just to make sure the cars are aware that you are there, along with the roadkill.
Leg 7 – 4.06 miles – Warrenton HS to Sunset Beach (Kelly):
Leg 7 is about four miles, half on paved road and half on trail. The two halves are so different that this leg was unlike any I’ve done in any race, relay or single-distance. Starting out from the high school, I had a pretty flat segment with just a minor incline that honestly I didn’t even notice. I ran a little over a mile on a low-traffic road, staying on the right side of the road so that my turn onto Highway 101 would be safer. The half-mile on Highway 101 was a bit of a stinker, because cars were zipping by and creating a lot of wind and road noise. I didn’t feel unsafe, though, as the shoulder was very wide and drivers seemed to be giving me a wide berth. I knew I didn’t have far to go on this stretch of road, and before long I saw a volunteer standing on the side of the road to point me onto the trail. (The volunteer was none other than race organizer Kerry Loehr.)
I was really glad he was there – not for the initial turn onto the trail, but the near 180-degree turn onto a short switchback just 20 meters from the trailhead. I may have missed that one had he not been there. The trail at the start of these last 2 miles was a wide singletrack rut, mainly of packed grass, that has clearly seen a lot of traffic although there was no one within my sight. This trail had a good number of 90-degree turns, but not once was I confused about where to go because the trail was so worn. This was my favorite section of the whole relay – you couldn’t see or hear the roads, there were no buildings in sight, and we couldn’t have had better weather. My only company for the first mile was a small group of cattle in a field to my left.
This portion of the trail runs through about four or five pairs of cattle gates. These are the kind of gates that are an S-shaped chute, some of which had an actual hinged spring gate I had to open. It definitely slowed my pace, but it was fun in the way little kids “explore” their backyards. The trail was still very obvious, and I was having a great time. I was watching ahead for what the race packet called “a cute little bridge,” and when I spotted it, I had to agree with the description. On the far side of the bridge, volunteer Donna Kalik was waiting to point me onto the trail after passing over a narrow paved lane, and once again the trail was unmistakable. Another 3/4 of a mile was all that was left, and here the trail turned to a mixture of sand and packed grass, so I knew we were closer to the ocean.
Another runner was catching up to me, and he let me know that the finish was just around the corner, and he wasn’t lying. One second we were running in a completely untouched natural setting and the next we were at the parking area and the exchange! I was glad I’d worn trail shoes, but they wouldn’t be required, unless it was a really wet year.
Leg 8 – 3.96 miles – Sunset Beach to Del Ray Beach (Marya):
Leg 8 was probably the most straightforward of all the routes. You start off in the Sunset Beach parking area. You then run out of the parking area and make a right toward the beach. When you hit the sand, you turn left and just run for the next 3.6 miles until you come to the first major turn-off/road, where you turn left off the beach and find the exchange waiting for you. This is the perfect leg for those on your team who may be “directionally challenged”; it would be nearly impossible to get lost!
The total mileage for this leg is 3.96 miles, so it is nearly all on sand, with a tiny bit of pavement on either side. Also, don’t be surprised to see cars driving along side you, as they are welcome on the course, as long as they have 4WD/AWD.
Now, I’ve done some beach running in the past, but I would say this year’s “beach leg” was on the more difficult side. The tide was rising, which caused me to drift toward the less-packed sand, giving me a bit of a challenge in the loose sand. I’m fairly certain I ran more than 3.6 miles due to dodging the waves, but that just gave me more time to take in the views, as it was a beautiful fall day at the coast. You even had a clear view of Tillamook Head, which Kelly would be tackling on Leg 11.
I wore my trail shoes for the sand, which I think helped me grip the sand a bit better while I was running, but this might come down to preference. Also the beach is, of course, very exposed, and what clothing you wear is most definitely weather dependent. We ran on a mostly-sunny, 50-ish degree day, so I felt pretty warm in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. On a more rainy and windy day, you would probably want a jacket and maybe some longer pants to avoid a chill.