Eugene, Oregon. TrackTown, USA. Hayward Field. Steve Prefontaine. Bill Bowerman. So much running history in one college town, and I wanted to join in the fun. Not even less-than-stellar films on the subject — ahem, Jared Leto in Prefontaine — could deter me. I was going to run through the Emerald City and cross that finish line in the footsteps of legends on the Hayward Field track.

I was solo for this trip, but there was more than enough to keep me occupied. Both the 5k and half marathon were on my to-do list in addition to sightseeing, visiting breweries, and eating lots of food. So yes, all the usual stuff was in play.

My flight landed in Eugene late Friday night. Sleepily, I summoned a taxi to take me to my hotel. Uber and Lyft services aren’t available in this town, so I got me a yellow cab all retro-like. At the Campus Inn, the concierge couldn’t find my reservation in the system, and she quickly became flustered. She rapidly tapped the keyboard and wondered aloud how this was possible. I’m not too concerned, I think smartly to myself; just let me pull up the confirmation email on my phone and show you. Ah, here we go, here’s my reservation for a room at the… Downtown Inn. Dammit, my dumbass self went to the wrong hotel.

Silly me. That’s what I get for remembering just half of a hotel’s name. I grabbed another taxi and checked into the correct hotel so I could finally get some sleep.

TrackTown 5k

It was a chilly 40 degrees when I stepped outside, but it was a beautifully sunny morning. I did a light warmup trot to the 5k packet pickup outside Hayward Field. After acquiring my bib, I stepped through the iron gates into the historic track and field stadium. I took in the sights: the impressive grandstands, plush green grass, fiery reddish track, and the crisp white lane numbers. This was going to get even more exciting in approximately 3 miles when we’d run onto the track and cross the finish line.

I heard a loud metallic clank as I exited the stadium, and I turned to see a volunteer lock the gate behind me. Oopsie, I guess I wasn’t supposed to be there during finish line setup. At least I got a couple photos out of my unintentionally intrusive actions.

Hayward Field

I got into my corral on 15th Ave, and soon after, it was go time! We began heading east through campus and then turned near a charming little park and into a neighborhood. While there was an occasional spectator or two, for the most part it was a refreshingly quiet morning on the course.

I overheard someone grumble “I thought this was supposed to be fast and flat!” and they did have a point. My booty muscles noticed a few of those non-hills for sure. As I made my way up an incline around the 2-mile mark, a spectator called out my number and said “Fresh as a daisy! Fresh as a daisy!” I assumed that this was about my determined stride, because I was very much sweaty-and-not-so-fresh. Either way, thank you for your support, kind lady.

We returned to the heart of campus, past a library and other academic-looking buildings and then moved toward Hayward Field. This was our moment — we were racing on the historic track! Blink and it was over, for that final stretch lasted only about a tenth of a mile. But still, what a cool feeling to run where so many great athletes have run before!

The Krusteaz pancake mascots, Flap Jack and Flap Jill, were there to congratulate us, just as I assume the legendary Steve Prefontaine experienced in his day. These pancakes had their own role in the 5k festivities, because if you beat your gender’s mascot in the race, you’d score all-you-can-eat pancakes! Not to argue semantics here, but the rules didn’t specify that you had to outrun the pancakes, just beat them. But this is a family event, and my jet-lagged brain is just that warped. (Don’t worry, no pancakes were harmed in the course of this weekend.)

I knew I had no chance in hell of beating them, so instead, my objective was to get a photo with them. Unfortunately, race officials promptly corralled us out of the stadium as soon as we crossed the finish mat, so it looked like I wasn’t going to be able to stick around. I looked back longingly and tried to re-enter the finish area. An event official stopped me, and pitifully, I said, “But…but I want a picture with the pancakes.” After she looked me over and assessed me as a non-threatening being, she smiled broadly and said “just go.”

Mission Accomplished:

Flap Jack, Flap Jill, and me

Exploring Eugene

For another piece of local history, I journeyed to Pre’s Rock, a memorial to the famous runner with the epic mustache. I find myself a bit conflicted about memorials in general. The history aficionado in me sees great value in honoring and remembering individuals and events; and yet, it feels inappropriately touristy to visit the physical location where someone has died. Still, like many others, I felt drawn to the site for this larger-than-life runner whose life was cut short by a car crash more than 40 years ago.

Pre’s Rock itself lies within a residential neighborhood on a narrow, winding street. It’s an atypical place for a well-visited memorial, not to mention a dangerous one for pedestrians. With its blind curves, nonexistent sidewalk, and very narrow shoulder, this trek gave me some fierce anxiety. At least there was a pretty view of the Willamette River to take in while I avoided oncoming traffic.

There were a few other runners already at the memorial when I arrived. An assortment of mementos left by visitors surrounded the stone slab and commemorative plaque: racing bibs, track spikes, medals, jewelry, and flip flops(?!). I couldn’t help but feel nervous each time someone backed into the aforementioned dangerous street to capture the perfect photo. I spent a few quiet moments here and then made my way back down the hill.

Pre’s Rock

The remainder of the day involved exploring, eating, and drinking my way through the downtown. After a delicious brunch at a hippie cafe, and a refreshing shower and nap back at the hotel, I was back out the door. I found myself amidst the downtown Saturday Market, so I decided to peruse its farm fresh goods and crafts. Next, I enjoyed a sample flight at Falling Sky Brewing and relished in a pizza dinner nearby.

For an evening treat, I dropped by Voodoo Doughnut. A friend had told me about this place, and I was looking forward to sampling some of the wild flavors. Despite the wide variety of eclectic treats, there was only one vegan donut available. Dangit, my stupidly lethal dairy allergy spoils the fun again. It was a forgotten-looking cinnamon sugar donut, but I enjoyed every single bite as a sweet conclusion to the evening.

Confetti and high-fives

It was half marathon morning, and I was excited. I headed toward the shuttle stop, which was conveniently just down the street. After several of us runners waited quietly for 15 minutes with no signs of a bus, a proactive runner went inside the hotel to verify that we were in the right place. Of course we weren’t; we needed to be at the other side of the hotel. Sure enough, a shuttle awaited us there. I am doing all sorts of wrong this weekend with respect to hotel locations, it seems.

Once again, I found myself at a starting line near storied Hayward Field. And once again, we were blessed with sunny skies and cool temperatures — another great day for a run! The race started by easing into the neighborhoods south of the downtown and then toward Amazon Park. Greenery and blue skies a-plenty greeted us along this route, and that was a welcome distraction from my thoughts of “seriously, why haven’t my hands warmed up yet?!” Through the line of trees I could see runners heading in the opposite direction, so I eagerly awaited the turnaround. After a little hill around mile 4, we were wrapping around the park and headed north on the opposite side of Amazon Drive. Everything was Amazonian here…East Amazon Drive, West Amazon Drive, Amazon Trail, Amazon Creek, etc. — all that was missing was a Prime logo and cardboard box for my cats.

Springtime greenery along Amazon Drive

An enthusiastic man wielded a confetti cannon and showered passing runners with tiny, colorful squares of paper. I managed to get an action shot while reveling in the confetti like a game show winner:

Confetti cannon

Just before mile 8, we finally turned off the parkway. Here we hit another hill, the most noteworthy incline we’d encountered thus far on the scenic course. An arch of colorful star balloons adorned the crest of the hill, and a sign proclaimed this spot as “High Five Hill.” Naturally, I collected high-fives and well-wishes from as many volunteers that I could.

One of my favorite signs along the way:

Spectator sign: “Run like there’s a million corgis in front of you!"

The route moved us past Hayward Field (a tease since that’s the finish line) and farther up Agate St. After crossing the picturesque Willamette River around mile 10, we halfie runners split from the marathon crowd. We spent a couple miles cruising through another city park full of Springtime greenery.

Alton Baker City Park greenery

Back across the river via the Autzen Foot Bridge, and we were in the final stretch with just under a mile to go. We returned down the familiar path toward Hayward Field and then through the gates onto the historic track. I sped through the finish and collected my big, shiny finisher’s medal. Unfortunately, there were no pancake mascots to greet us at today’s finish, but I still beamed with joy.

I like these official photos from the weekend because they make me look slightly faster than a snail:

Finish line photos

I grabbed one of the nice pre-made snack bags and then hung out for a bit in the race afterglow. Another lineup of brunch, shower, and a nap refreshed me, and later that afternoon I was ready for celebratory food and drink. First up, I headed over to Elk Horn Brewery for a flight. I parked my butt on one of their comfy seats in front of a large TV, and as I sipped beer and devoured a soft pretzel as big as my face, I watched some NHL playoff action.

2017 Eugene Half Marathon medal

After the game, I indulged in obligatory post-race tacos at a nearby cantina. Since the weather was so lovely, I took a nice, long stroll over to Ninkasi Brewery. This brewery gets points for superb beer and extra points for having doggies on the premises, including a very good Great Dane boy. I chatted up a few fellow runners, and we shared stories about our personal triumphs of the day.

Though my name ain’t destined for the Hayward Field record books, it sure was fun stepping foot on hallowed ground for the weekend.

Oregonian observations:

  • Most startling: The Eugene Airport has the loudest damn carousel alarm for when bags arrive. Reactor core meltdown alarms can’t possibly be louder or angrier.
  • Most disappointing: Alas, there was a surprising lack of Pre-inspired ‘staches
  • Best sign: “Pain is just a French word for bread”
  • Best chant: The two lil kids chanting “You can do it! Yes you can!” over and over during the half marathon
  • Moment of envy: There was a trail running parallel to the route in the early miles of the half. It was just out of reasonable reach, so I looked longingly at that nice, cushy wood chip surface and apologized to my joints as they bounced on the concrete.
  • Most remarkable: In spite of those unwieldy pancake costumes, those mascots are faaaast. We’re talkin’ an 18-minute 5k for Jack and a 23 for Jill. Those pancakes don’t mess around.