The mid-day start allowed plenty of travel time from Portland, the course was mostly flat with one gentle curve (plus the turnaround), the route was lined with enthusiastic crowds there for the parade, and the festival itself boasted “The World’s Largest Strawberry Shortcake”, which arrived in town on a flatbed truck and was distributed to the public at the park after the parade. What was not to love about this race?
I started running the race around 2001, just when I was hitting my stride after getting back into racing seriously in 1995. For some reason I always really geared up for this race, and pushed myself to the point of collapse. Of the handful of times I dipped under 16 minutes for a 5k, a couple of them were at this race.
Highlights of my Lebanon Strawberry Run career included being named in the headline of the race preview in the local paper and getting to ride in a special “Race Champion” car in the parade one year (the only time I’ve ever practiced my “parade wave”).
But my favorite memory of all was the year I was beaten. For a couple years one of the runners hot on my heels was a local high school runner named Michael. I would be running my heart out down main street, desperate to hold onto the lead, not sure if I would survive another step, the crowd a blur on each side of the road. I heard the cheers, and a few “Go Joe!”s, but just behind me I could hear footsteps and many more people yelling “Go Michael!”
After crossing the finish line each year I would collapse on the curb for a few minutes to catch my breath and let my heart stop pounding. Then Michael and I would congratulate each other, and I would offer him encouragement and tell him he was quickly closing the gap every year.
In 2006, Michael finished 4th. In 2007, he edged ahead of me within the final few blocks and pulled away, winning the race and trimming a large amount from his previous year’s time. He had just graduated from high school and was off to college. It was fun to have seen a small part of his evolution as a runner.
This year’s Lebanon Strawberry Festival Run is scheduled for Saturday, June 6th. Click HERE for more information or to sign up!