The Oregon State Penitentiary Running Program and racing within the walls

Oregon_State_Penitentiary_gateOne of the more unique running programs in the state does not run the Pearl, take to the trails in Redmond, or meander up to Forest Park for a long run. In fact, many of the members of the program can’t actually go anywhere at all.

The Oregon State Penitentiary Running Program, formed in the 1970’s, currently has more than 270 registered runners within its walls. In 2013, they held a variety of running events, including the first ever High Wall Half Marathon in September.

There are 8 “races” that are being held in 2014, the first of which being held later this month:

  • 3/29/14
  • 4/26/14
  • 5/24/14
  • 6/14/14
  • 7/18/14
  • 8/15/14
  • 9/6/14
  • 9/12/14 = 2nd Annual High Wall Half Marathon
  • 10/3/14

The location of the races themselves are within the walls of the maximum security prison.  Each run will be on the quarter-mile oval track, which inmates themselves use exclusively every day for 90 minutes. Runners will “pass through the weightlifting area (the iron pile) and handball courts in the shadow of the 26-foot penitentiary wall”. Not exactly a race route you see every day.

But don’t think that you are out there on your own.  Groups have been running alongside inmates for years. The running program owes much of its initial momentum to the support of Steve Prefontaine, as his speeches resonated with many inmates and his encouragement to focus on training and racing instead of prison distractions still hits home today. Even more recently, U of O track coaches have spoken to inmates, given seminars on running, and even brought their college runners behind the walls to race.  Just like we utilize running as a way of keeping ourselves centered, keeping motivated on a goal, etc, this is a rehabilitative program that provides the same opportunities for those within the walls.

Some details:

  • All events are free of charge
  • Per the supervisor of the program, Ray Austin: The supervision level is direct and vigilant but accommodating.
  • Both males and females are able to attend, but must be over 18 years of age
  • No headphones or cell phones allowed
  • Men and women over 18 are welcome to attend
  • The program supervisor will be keeping split times and will send to us here at Run Oregon for those who want to know if they ran a little faster with the nervous energy they may feel.
  • You must send in your registration application 10 days prior to the race. Also, you can call the program supervisor at (503)-373-1834 or email:

The Oregon State Penitentiary Running Program (Salem)
When: 1115a on the above listed Friday and Saturdays
Where: Oregon State Penitentiary
Register: FREE; Participation is by application only. Fill out and mail it to:

Ray Austin, Athletic Club staff advisor
Oregon State-Penitentiary
2605 State Street
Salem, Oregon 97310
Attn: SKJI0k Race.

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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