Race Preview: 51st Annual Zena Road Runs (Salem)

The Zena Road Runs are almost as old as I am!

One of Oregon’s oldest and most beloved races returns to the pastoral hills northwest of Salem on Sunday, February 17th, 2019. The 51st Annual Zena Road Runs include 3-mile and 6-mile races, as well as the classic 15K loop that has winded generations of runners with its demanding hills while providing them with stunning views of farms and distant mountains.

The start and finish area has moved to the Noble Mountain Tree Farm from the traditional staging area at the Spring Valley Community Center. As the name implies, the new start will be near the highest point on the course, which is both good and bad: The steep downhill comes earlier, but the lung-busting climb will be waiting for you in the last couple miles. (I used to like the old course, because I can handle uphills better while I’m fresh, and starting up a hill keeps me from going out too fast.) But either way, the course is the same beautiful and interesting loop, and the net elevation gain/loss is still zero, since you end up where you started. (As of this writing, the 3-Mile and 6-Mile courses haven’t been announced, but I’m assuming they will be out-and-backs from the tree farm, similar to the old courses which were out-and-back from the Spring Valley Community Center.)

This big hill used to be at the start of the 15k. Now it’s the beginning of the end! (Willamette Valley Road Runners photo)

One big benefit of the move of the start/finish is the generous use of Noble Mountain Tree Farm’s roomy heated building for pre- and post-race activities. These activities will include drinking a free glass of local wine (or sparkling cider), eating vegan food, fresh fruit, and free snacks, potentially receiving age group awards (awarded for all three distances), and a chance to win a coffee can full of quarters (in honor of the original entry fee and registration method – bring a quarter to enter the raffle!)

Joe Dudman running the 6-Mile race, circa 1989. (Jack Dudman photo)

There is ample parking at the tree farm, but the event is limited to 350 entrants for all races. Each distance is $25 through January 18th, with a $5 discount for Willamette Valley Road Runners, Heart of the Valley Runners, and Team Gallagher Fitness Resources Training Plan members. In addition, runners 19 and under will get another $5 off. All registrants will receive a stemless wine glass with the race logo. A long-sleeved tech shirt will also be available for an additional $22.

All courses close at 12:00 noon (a minimum of 12:40 pace for the 15k.)

“In Memory of Chuck Bowles, Founder of Zena Road Runs
A Bit of History:

In 1969, a number of runners – mostly Willamette University Cross Country and Track runners – lined up for the first annual Zena Road Run at the corner of Zena Road and Spring Valley Road. Head Coach, Dr. Charles J. Bowles (Chuck), wanted to create an event that would test his student-athletes and provide a road race for the local running community.

There was a race fee – day of race registration only: Toss a quarter – yes, $0.25 – in a coffee can and line up. There was official timing: Coach Bowles hand-held analog stopwatch recorded every runner’s time. There were official results: Hand-written on a clipboard and typed up later at Willamette University. Results were mailed out to all finishers. First class postage was only $.06, so the race fee covered it easily.

A few things have changed in the last 51 years. Well . . . more than a few things. These hills were covered more in Christmas Tree farms back then. There were no vineyards. But this race and it’s 9-Mile+ loop have endured. It remains a challenge to any runners willing to give it their best effort.

Chuck lived in the area. Much of the current route was a common ‘Sunday morning training run’ during the off-season for his athletes. The training runs always finished with a big breakfast cooked up and served by Chuck and his wife, Barbara, at their home. Dr. Bowles ran this route himself for many years and loved this area. Dr. Charles Bowles passed away on December 30, 2005, but his name and memory will be forever connected to the Zena Road Runs.”

What: The 51st Annual Zena Road Runs

When: Sunday, February 17th, 2019

Where: Noble Mountain Tree Farm, 5115 Bethel Heights Rd NW, Salem, OR 97304

What time: 10:00a start for all three distances. Packet pickup begins at the tree farm at 8:30a and ends at 9:45a sharp, so be sure to allow plenty of time on race morning.

Registration: $25 for all distances through January 18th, with $5 discounts for local running club members and runners aged 19 and under. You can register online HERE. Day of race registration is not guaranteed, so register early!

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