This year seems to be the year of the bucket list races for me. I have been keen on the Dam Marathon (and half) for the past few years – amplified even more when I visited and ran in Oakridge for the first time in early 2017. I was just enamored with the hills, trails, and the tiny town that could be any outdoor adventure’s ideal location. I ended up running this on a relative whim (I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to attend until about a week prior), but am I ever glad I cleared my schedule.
The Dam Marathon starts in the main park in Oakridge – Green Waters Park – a fantastic place to park even if there wasn’t a race in town (there are a ton of short trails and access to longer trailheads accessible from here). With a nice 9am start for the half (8am for the full), I was able to wake up at relatively decent time and make it the ~2 hours in from Salem. Packet pick-up was simple and easy with the amphitheater providing tunes and shelter.
The marathoners were already out on the course, and as we started to toe the line we were met with a bit of rain. We received some last-minute instructions from the RD/drone operator and were quickly off and onto the trails. We ran very briefly on the grass in the park before crossing over the beautiful Salt Creek – one of the variety of waterways that combines in Oakridge and eventually becomes the Willamette River. I had run these trails before and it was as awesome as I remember it – I only wished this section was longer.
Out of the woods after about a mile, we then hit our first aid station and hit La Duke Road. I am pretty certain that, while this shows up on a map, it’s not actually vehicle accessible. It’s essentially a wide dirt and gravel road with a few remnants of asphalt from decades passed. I actually stopped and got some really cool shots of this section on the way back.
Following this stretch, we finally hit the main road (NF Road 21) which we would stay on for the most amount of time. From my previous long run here, I remember climbing up this road before peeling off and heading up to the Larison Rock via NF Road 2012, so luckily I was at least a little prepared for the relatively gentle, yet constant, uphill climb. I also (for once) glanced at the elevation chart and new to expect this theme through the first half of the out-and-back.
The views along this section were great. On the way out, the rain quickly let up, but the clouds remained a bit longer and offered some very pleasant and cool temperatures along the way. The road hugged the beautiful Hills Creek Lake, which had a surprising bright blue hue even with grey skies overhead. I was jealous that the full marathoners actually circumnavigated the whole lake, as it was so mesmerizing that I had to actually stop and take a few pictures.
At about mile 5, the lead of the half came barreling back towards us at a ridiculous speed. From what I gathered, Samuel Oghaki is from Kenya and is training and coaching in Eugene as he attempts to earn a spot on the US distance team in the next Olympics. His stride was incredible and I was amazing to watch someone up close run so fast with such ease. He ended up with a 1:15 finishing time.
As we hit the turnaround point, the clouds seemed to part more and blue skies greeted runners. It got a bit hotter, but nothing crazy and the shade from the hills and trees lining the street kept it very manageable. Even though I knew that the second half of the race was essentially all downhill, I remember being shocked by just how much we had climbed (~500 feet). Though on the way out, I knew we were going uphill, after a while it apparently didn’t feel so bad and I must have gotten used to it cause it didn’t feel like we deserved this much downhill to the finish. I ended up being able to put in some good splits on the way back and ended up with a 5th place finish.
After the race, there was plenty of awesomeness to partake in. The weather was absolutely perfect – probably low to mid 70’s with a breeze off the creek – and there was plenty of space to stretch out to in the park grass. Humm Kombucha was setting up and a local restaurant was getting ready to serve what looked like burritos. There was a table full of fruit, bread, bars, Gatorade, and water to rehydrate as well. A local band was blasting out Americana tunes while kids jumped on a bouncy house. It was just super cool. I opted to stop at the Brewers Union Local 180 in town before heading back on the road. I had such a great time.
My time was made better by just how professional and welcoming a “small” race could be. I was amazed by how great the aid stations and direction signs were. There were great aid stations, and essentially 1 at each of the first 3 miles. Though I lost total count, there was something like 7-8 total during the whole out-and-back, and each was plentifully stocked with all sorts of flavored Gatorade and Clif Bars (including pre-opened packs so that you could just grab 1 or 2 instead of needing a full one). I loved that the there were all sorts of color and logo options available for the shirts as well. From neon orange, to green, grey, navy and beyond – there was something for everyone.
Though a decent amount of people participated (67 in the half, 42 in the full, and 44 in the 10k & 5k combined, it’s still a less attended race by comparison (likely due to distance from major cities). This needs to change – RUN THIS NEXT YEAR!