Course Preview: The Hills & Thrills of the Three Capes Marathon Relay

There are two types of runners in the world: Those who prefer boring but flat routes, and those that would rather tackle hills if they have pretty stuff to look at. If you are in the latter category, you should really consider doing the Three Capes Marathon Relay on February 25th.

I ran the Three Capes Relay a few years back and it was one of my very favorite races. The Oregon Coast is my favorite place to run, and the views of the Three Capes Scenic Loop, (Cape Meares, Cape Lookout, and Cape Kiwanda) are some of the most beautiful ones I’ve had the pleasure of seeing.

Since the Three Capes Marathon Relay is the distance of a marathon (hence the name,) you can choose to run the whole thing solo, trade off on a 2 person team, or you can split up the 5 legs into a 5 person team. If you still aren’t sure how to pick your poison, let me give you a breakdown of each of the 5 legs and then you can decide what you are up for. There’s something for everyone here!!

Leg 1, 4.47 miles, rated very difficultThe starting line for the Three Capes Relay is next to Cape Meares Lake, at the intersection of Bavocean Rd NW and Bayshore Drive. If you enjoy hills, this would be a good leg for you, as it’s famous for the initial climb that begins immediately from the start line. This is a category 3 climb and rises close to 600 feet with a 6% grade, which is why it’s rated “very difficult.” After the climb at the beginning, you’ll get some relief, but there will be a few more hills before you get back to sea level. Your reward for the ache in your quads is a view of Cape Meares Wildlife Refuge and also Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge. You’ll pass Cape Meares Lighthouse State Park and finish in Oceanside.

Leg 2, 5.44 miles, rated difficultAfter the exchange at the corner of Netarts Hwy and Cape Meares Loop Road, leg 2 will begin an adventure that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. The climb is not too severe, but this leg is rated “difficult” because there are 2 category 5 climbs. There are rolling hills for the first 2/3 of this leg, which offers views of Oceanside and Happy Camp, not to mention Netarts Bay. This leg finishes just past the Whiskey Creek Fish Hatchery.

Leg 3, 5.02 miles, rated extremely difficultWelcome to the hardest leg of the relay! You’ll begin this leg along Netarts Bay and you’ll enjoy about 2.5 miles of pretty flat terrain before you get to the point of the route where you will understand where the “extremely difficult” rating came from. The second half of this leg will climb over 800 feet with a 6.5% grade, which is a category 2 climb. This leg has some very scenic views of Netarts Bay, so enjoy it and try to forget about how much it hurts getting to the summit of Cape Lookout State Park, where the 4th leg begins.

Leg 4, 6.82 miles, rated moderate: It’s smooth sailing from this point on in the relay! The leg is rated “moderate” due to the fact that it’s the longest leg of the race, but you’ll have a nice downhill coming off leg 3 at the Cape Lookout State Park parking lot. There is a negative drop of over 600 feet and the course will take you through the dunes of Sand Lake to a finish at Whalen Island Country Park.

Leg 5, 4.39 miles, rated easyCongratulations, you’re almost at the end of your epic journey! This is the easiest leg of the relay, as it’s relatively flat and also the shortest leg of the course. You’ll start 167 feet of climbing at Whalen Island County Park and finish on Hungry Harbor Road. The beach of Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City will be there to greet you. Join your team and grab a beer at Pelican Brewery.. you’ve earned it!!

Race Details:

  • What: Three Capes Marathon Relay
  • Where: Intersection of Bayocean Rd NW and Bayshore Drive. Park at Tillamook High School and take shuttle to the start line.
  • Registration Cost: 5 person team is $249, 2 person team is $129, Solo Marathon is $99. Race profits shared with Tillamook High School Track.
About Author

Matt Rasmussen lives in Keizer, Ore. with his wife and three daughters. He enjoys watching hockey, going to as many breweries (618) and wineries (152) as he can, and all things Canada (he was born there). Matt was raised as a baseball player and officially transitioned over to running in 2010.

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