Race preview: 2nd Annual Oregon Trail Game 5K

My unofficial vote for best debut running event of 2015 went to the Oregon Trail Game 5K in Oregon City, and I can't wait for the 2nd installment on Sunday, August 7th! This totally unique race combines a conventional 5k with elements of the classic 1980s computer game of the same name. Participants are randomly assigned a vocation before the start (last year it was Bankers, Farmers, or Carpenters) each with a different set of skills, assets, and wealth. They also choose how many resources to take on the "journey" and how quickly to "travel". Along the race course, runners encounter several checkpoints where they must decide between two options, like "floating" or "fording" a "river", or "stopping to hunt" or continuing on with the "supplies" they have. These game choices are only figurative, and consist of grabbing a card with your choice printed on it as you run by. Prominent signs set up ahead of the checkpoints alert you to your options and the cards are placed on each side of the course, making them easy to grab. You can check out my recap of last year's race, as well as Matt's for all the details.

Once you finish the race and hand in your cards, that information is combined with your vocation and your pre-race choices, stirred up in an antique butter churn (not really!), and a magic algorithm spits out your game results, which could be anything from dying of dysentery, to starving or drowning, to safely arriving in the Willamette Valley. Last year, the race organizers also threw in some humorous modern twists like “Lost cell phone signal, died of anxiety” and “You crashed and died texting while steering your oxen”.

The game would make for a fun run in and of itself, but miraculously the race directors have managed to smoothly blend the gameplay with a true 5k road race without significantly slowing things down. You can run pretty close to your normal race pace and still play the game, grabbing your game cards on the fly.

But that doesn’t mean you should expect a PR, because the course itself is almost as daunting as the old Barlow Trail. It’s hilly! After a couple flat blocks through downtown Oregon City, the course hits a pretty steep set of 223 stairs leading runners up to the bluff, where the uphill continues along a path overlooking the river and Willamette Falls. More rolling hills through parks and historic neighborhoods follow, before the final third of the course mercifully heads back downhill toward the finish.

The course is stroller-friendly, and runners with strollers will take the iconic Municipal Elevator instead of the stairs. (Note: The actual Oregon Trail was NOT stroller friendly, and there were no elevators greeting the pioneers when they reached the Rockies and the Cascades, so you’ll have to suspend your disbelief a little).

The 2016 T-shirt design. (Little-known historical trivia: The original Oregon Trail finisher’s shirt said “I traveled 2000 miles by wagon and all I got was this shirt – and dysentery!”)

A 5k race on a challenging, scenic, and rarely-used course, combined with a fun game makes the Oregon Trail Game 5K one of the most creative and enjoyable events around. The running results are available soon after the finish, but waiting to see if you and your oxen survived the trek from the midwest is half the fun!

What: The 2nd Annual Oregon Trail Game 5K

When: Sunday, August 7th

Where: Downtown Oregon City (Main St., between 8th and 9th)

What time: 9:00a

Registration: $35 through July 31st, $40 from August 1st to race day. ($15/$20 for children 4 through 12). Register online HERE.

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