Sometimes having a race near home is nice because you don’t have to get up as early, and the race starts before the nerves have time to set in. On the other hand, driving to small-town races through the scenic northwest countryside can also be pleasant and relaxing. On Saturday, June 6th, I hit the road on a bright sunny morning for the drive to Stayton for the 26th annual Santiam Memorial Hospital Fun Run.
Traffic was light on I-5 south, and the stretch from Salem to Stayton on Hwy. 22 really shows off the beauty of rural Oregon. I had run Stayton’s 4th of July race a couple of times, so I knew the general area, but this was my first time running the Hospital’s Fun Run. The hospital was easy to find, and parking was plentiful. I followed the “ant trail” of runners coming and going, and quickly located packet pickup and the start/finish area on the far side of the building.
Well-marked tents made picking up my number quick and efficient, and an announcer kept us informed of the start schedule. Course maps were available for each race (10k, 5k, and 3k), and I studied the 5k map and familiarized myself with the route, trying to anticipate where the hills would be.
I warmed up along the first out-and-back section of the course, and then ran up and over the big hill that followed. At the bottom of the hill the course map indicated a short “detour” loop along a neighborhood street, so I scouted that out too and made a mental note of where to turn, then headed back to the start.
Since the course was basically a big rectangle with a few add-ons here and there, I assumed the big hill near the start would be accompanied by a corresponding hill on the opposite side of the rectangle. After all, part of the course ran along a street called Fern Ridge Rd. So I mentally prepared myself for an as-yet-unseen climb in addition to the one I’d already warmed up on.
With 10 minutes ’til the start the announcer called us forward, and a bunch of speedy high schoolers lined up, comparing notes and asking each other which distance they were running. One girl traded spots on the “starting grid” with a couple of boys, moving to the far left, since she was running the 3k and would be turning left at the end of the parking lot, while the boys were running the 5k and would be going straight. That kind of foresight is impressive, and I’m sure she avoided some awkward dodging and potential skinned knees.
The horn sounded and we were off. Despite a slightly narrow start in the parking lot, everyone was careful not to trip up their neighbors, and soon we were running on the wider street. The first few blocks of the out-and-back section were slightly uphill, which I like, because a climb at the start keeps me from going out too fast and lets me settle into my pace.
At the crest of the hill a well-placed volunteer called for the 10k runners to turn right, while he sent the 5k runners straight for another half-block to our turn-around cone. The slight downhill on the way back was welcome, as I began to open up my stride a little. The crowd of oncoming runners and walkers filled the entire width of the street, but they were very good about seeing us coming and making room.
Back at the hospital, more volunteers sent us right, up and over the big hill. I heard someone right on my heels as I made the climb, crested the hill, and started the steep descent. I’m glad I had studied the course map, because the tight right turn into the neighborhood at the bottom of the hill was a little abrupt. Luckily, another volunteer was there to loudly and clearly guide us on our way. In fact, the volunteers all along the course were very vocal, direct, and specific about where to go, which is a huge help when you’re running on fumes and in oxygen debt!
The tour of the neighborhood was a nice distraction from the long straight sections of much of the rest of the course. After an interesting rolling and curving loop, we emerged onto Fern Ridge Rd., the long bottom part of the rectangle. I heard the other runner right behind me still, and I began to notice the long gradual uphill taking its toll on me. For a split second I thought about letting him pass me, telling him “Good job!”, and just cruising it on in. But then I thought “No! I’m still leading, and I don’t feel like giving up yet!” So I pushed on, and to my surprise I found myself pulling away instead of fading.
Up ahead I recognized the cemetery at the corner of the course that I had noticed on the map, and knew we were about to make a left turn onto the far side of the “rectangle”. Here I was anticipating a substantial uphill to match the one next to the hospital, so I braced myself for the climb. Imagine my surprise when I rounded the corner and was greeted with a nice gentle *downhill* instead! Either the gradual climb we had just made was bigger than I thought, or the whole course was designed by M.C. Escher and was a big optical illusion.
I was so relieved, I got a rare second wind and happily attacked the downhill and the subsequent flat section. It was another long straight stretch, but at least it wasn’t uphill! Up ahead I could see cones marking the turn, and soon I was at the “top” of the rectangle, within shouting distance of the finish.
A few more blocks through town, and then it was time to tackle the final climb back up to the hospital and the finish. The last hill was a steep one, and my legs felt like rubber, but a gentle ess curve made it tolerable, as did knowing the finish was just around the corner in the parking lot. I put on a final surge, crossed the line, took a bottle of water from a volunteer, and sat on the curb to catch my breath and cheer on other finishers.
After a brief rest I headed to the food tents for oranges, bananas, apples, muffins, and Jamba Juice. Sponsors were handing out freebies, and individual and overall results were available at the Eclectic Edge Racing van. Runners and walkers finished to the cheers of the crowd, music played, and overall and age group winners received Asics visors from Santiam Memorial Hospital.
The volunteers were terrific, the course was not as difficult as I had feared, and the drive from Portland to Stayton is always fun. The Santiam Memorial Hospital Fun Run was a great way to spend a sunny spring morning in Oregon.