A Run Oregon recap of the final “A Very Poplar Run” (10/22/16)

IMG_6835 Foot races can take you a lot of places. Through the heart of cities or up the sides of mountains. Whatever they lack in outward similarity, they always seem to help me appreciate what I find at the finish – skyscrapers, mind-reordering views, or what seems like an infinity of poplar trees. Signing up for the Very Poplar Run had been a bittersweet endeavor from the first idea of it. The truth is, I can’t remember a time the acres and acres of the Boardman Tree Farm haven’t been there. Along the desolate, uninterrupted flat of 84 East just under 200 miles outside Portland, they've been a landmark, a way point, a curiosity for countless travelers.  

So when I heard their days were numbered (soon to be replaced by a dairy farm), the obvious reaction was to finally sign up for the Poplar Run. And here on the other side of it, I’m remiss to realize it should never have taken the threat of losing them to motivate me.

Still, leading up to it, between stalking the forecast and anticipating the early Saturday morning shotgun road trip, I was hesitant. This could be miserable: mid-October in Oregon could mean any number of things, the most optimistic of which could be wet, cold, and windy.  

As if it knew though, even the weather must have felt it appropriate to cooperate for this race. Sunny and mostly clear made for easy driving, and before I knew it, there were signs clearly marking the way to the run. Family, stroller, and dog-friendly, first impressions confirmed this as a casual community race, with friendly, helpful race volunteers and good-spirited racers. A campfire welcomed participants to the farm and it was clear this was a lively, encouraging group, glad to be part of a pretty special event.

The course started off on an access road between a grove of trees and a recently cleared area, so the first half mile or so provided enough sun and moderate enough wind that I shed my first layer as we turned to head straight into the thick of things.  Winding deeper into the trees, temperatures dipped but the surreality of the surroundings tended to dwarf any discomfort.

It was easy to wish I’d signed up for more distance, as the miles passed alarmingly quickly. As it was, I found myself generally unconcerned with time, stopping often just to take everything in and offer an appropriate amount of appreciation.

For organisms that look so similar from a distance, it was humbling to understand just how different and precise each grove of trees is.  With each bend, the light inside them changes color, their shadows completely transforming the lay of the land.

Where they are old and tall and strong, the light is golden and deep with falling leaves. Their smaller siblings, spry in the breeze, are silver and filled with echoes. And from inside it can feel like their only commonality is extra-worldliness.

It was over too quickly, despite many attempts to make it last.

Racers were awarded a cross-section of Poplar stump with the race and year burnt into it – a more fitting medal I couldn’t imagine. Amid post race festivities that included refreshments, snacks, and hot dogs, it was hard to find anything wrong, except the same thought on everyone’s mind – that this was the last time they’d have the opportunity be here. That one day we’ll drive past this stretch of road to find it flat, except for the occasional cow.

Running can take us a lot of places. Sometimes it’s a just a finish line. Sometimes it’s a welcome mental refresh. And sometimes, maybe only those really lucky sometimes, it can take us to a different place in time, or stop it all together.

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