My life in race shirts: The Great Columbia Crossing

Joe Dudman started running road races as a sophomore in high school, circa 1980. Since that time he has accumulated over 600 race T-shirts (Yes, he finally got around to counting them!) Some of them evoke special memories and (hopefully) interesting stories. In this recurring series, he recounts some of them for Run Oregon readers.

The Great Columbia Crossing is a spectacular and unique 10k that spans the Megler Astoria Bridge at the mouth of the Columbia River (hence the name) 😉 I have run it six times. Held every October, the race can present runners with some challenging conditions! Thick fog can cut visibility, cold winds can keep you shivering at the start, and high surf can lap at the roadway along the bridge, giving runners a salty shower.

Buses shuttled us to the start on the Washington side of the river, where we huddled against the elements in a roadside park, and waited to line up and listen for the horn. The first mile of the course was along the highway, before we took a left turn onto the bridge, which was closed to traffic for the only time all year. The 4.5 miles across the bridge is what makes this race unique, as you run and run … and run … along the flat part of the span, with the massive rise of the ship channel section looming ahead and seemingly not getting any nearer.

Weather permitting, this is your chance to look around and soak in the amazing views: The wide Columbia and surrounding countryside to the east, the ocean views to the west, and the hilly town of Astoria straight ahead. Weather not permitting, you can simply get soaked: Enjoy the cold rain, thick mist, howling wind, and raging surf, while thinking warm thoughts and trying not to get blown over the railing.

Having conquered the ship channel hill in a typical damp mist, runners enjoy the final descent into Astoria and the finish.

After what seems like hours trapped in an old Tom & Jerry cartoon chase with the repeating background (it IS the longest continuous truss bridge in North America after all!), you finally realize you really are getting closer to the ship channel hill. As I approached the climb, I would be simultaneously intimidated and relieved: Intimidated by the impending long, steep climb, and relieved that the long, unvarying flat was behind me.

Digging in, I would power my way up the hill as best I could, then catch my breath and enjoy the views at the top while trying to maintain some momentum. Finally, it was time to enjoy the sweeping downhill curve off the bridge and into Astoria for the final stretch to the finish. The race is also a great one for spectators, with the magnificent bridge dominating the skyline and an ant trail of tiny runners barely visible making their way across it.

A strange and unique combination of monotony and thrills, The Great Columbia Crossing is a race that everyone should experience at least once (heck, make that six times).

This year’s Great Columbia Crossing is on October 11th. For more information and to sign up click HERE.

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