This post was written by Jaynell McEntee, sister of Run Oregon blogger, Annette Vaughan. Feel free to Submit a Guest Post in the “Contact Us” tab if you are wanting to write a preview or recap your running experiences as well!
It’s been a long winter. I have to admit, I got a bit lazy, enjoying nice easy treadmill runs and yoga while avoiding the cold, the snow, the cold, the snow. . . So when my sister suggested The Owyhee Off-Road Challenge, I thought it might be just what I needed to kick-start my spring training. Never mind the race was only two weeks away, or that half of this off-road course is uphill. That’s what muscle memory is for, right?
The race begins and ends in downtown Adrian, population 177. (Adrian is a short 30 minute drive from Ontario, OR or about an hour from Boise, ID.) This quiet little Eastern Oregon town along the Snake River boasts, what I am told is, the best prime rib in the valley at the popular steakhouse, The Mirage. It is also home to the Adrian High School Antelopes. This run is for them. The Adrian High track team does not have a standard-shaped track. It is made of dirt and is not the standard distance. Training presents some pretty hefty challenges for this team of dedicated runners. Often the challenges are so difficult they have to travel to borrowed facilities after neighboring teams have finished for the day. This community puts on The Owyhee Off-Road Challenge to raise funds, not for a new track, but merely to provide their athletes with a rubberized straight-away where they can practice starts, hand-offs, and hurdles. They also hope for a long-jump/triple-jump run-way and pit.
Of the three distances: half-marathon, 10K and 5K, I opted for the 10K. A very well-organized packet pick-up was available in the community center prior to the race. In this quaint little building, smiling and friendly community volunteers handed out packets and timing chips; while others sliced up oranges and bananas for post-race snacks. They also made sure the real, flushing toilets were clean and stocked with toilet paper (port-a-potties were also available near the start line).
Packet in hand, I spotted a friend who was also running the 10K (her first) and we nervously watched the half-marathoners line up and take off. A half an hour later, it was our turn. We began with a straight and smooth route through downtown Adrian, then suddenly, our course veered onto a dirt road and we began to climb. I knew this was going to be rough when I saw the “Mile 1” sign and was already huffing and puffing. By the first water station, most runners in my pace group were trading off between running and speed-walking as we continued a long and steady climb.
“Mile 2” and the climb continued. My legs and my lungs were burning, but the view was spectacular. A brilliant blue sky strewn with downy-white clouds intensified the contrast of rugged green hills. A swollen blue river snaked through the valley dotted with idyllic little farms and houses. And our pretty little dirt route wound upward still. Around “Mile 3” we started to head back down. I picked up my pace a bit, relieved that the hardest part was over . . . so I thought. Rounding a bend, a massive hill stood in front of us and the nicely groomed dirt road turned to grizzly mud and sandy terrain with grooves and rocks to avoid. Once again, this hill reduced many of us to speed-walkers. But at the top, we were rewarded with “Mile 4” and a downward slope. There was one intense down-hill section, but a sign warned us of the steep decline, complete with a fallen and mangled stick-figure to drive the point home.
I was once more able to find my pace as we began to steadily wind our way back down. Even through a section of rolling, uneven mounds, no one was speed-walking any more. Although we still had to watch our footing, we could feel that the worst was behind us. At mile 5 the main road came back into view, and then it was there – asphalt, beautiful smooth and flat asphalt. Better yet, the finish line was in sight. The last stretch, though easy on the feet, felt achingly long. The finish banner inched closer and closer. Running hard now, my lungs and legs were again burning. But I couldn’t slow; I was almost there. Finally, I ran under that banner and heard my name announced. There was the smiling face of my friend waiting to congratulate me. It was lovely and painful and exhilarating, all at the same time.
Every runner has her own personal standard for judging a race. My wishes are pretty simple. I want clean restrooms or port-a-potties, friendly volunteers, a scenic route, and a cute race t-shirt that I can wear again. This race had all of that. I was impressed with how positive, helpful and friendly volunteers and even bystanders were. Though challenging, the route was stunning, and I love my race t-shirt. But what I loved most about this race was the cause – this beautiful little community pulling together to make things better for their hard-working student-athletes.