Racing is back!
I probably don’t need to keep mentioning this with each race I participate in, but its just so exciting to do partake in racing nowadays. The most recent race I completed was just this past weekend at Breakaway Promotions‘ Willamette Valley Marathon & Half (and 10k) in Salem, the first live long-distance race in the area in quite some time. Being a Salem-ite, it’s great to have a local race, and this one was made even more special with all the pomp and circumstance that real live racing brings! (It’s also nice to be able to sleep in and only have to ~10 minute drive to the starting line).
Though the race course went through a variety of changes in the months and weeks (and actually even days due to a family of eager beavers making for some flooded areas) leading up to race day, the end result was pretty incredible. In normal times, I ranportions of the course on a near weekly basis, if not more. However, with 2020 & 2021 being what they were/are, I actually haven’t ran in Minto-Brown Park in 15 months. This made my experience a fun and energizing return to the paved and dirt trails that I love.
The event started in Riverfront Park, a great spot that allows for plenty of space to stretch out and stay distanced as necessary. There was not a staggered start within the race distances (although all three distances began an hour apart), so the feeling of a “normal” race day was heightened. Though there were masks and a long chute allowing for distancing to occur, it was as real as one could imagine. After some introductions and a reminder to be kind to each other (always appreciated), we headed out over the Peter Courtney Pedestrian Bridge (locally, affectionately called the “taco bridge”) and into Minto-Brown Park, a great spot for running and an area that is actually larger than Central Park.
The first 2+ miles were on the variety of paved trails within the park. At mile X, the course briefly shifted to some dirt trails for a few miles to enter Eola County Park, a spot just west of Minto-Brown, and a spot that I didn’t realize was it’s own park until literally this week. This change was probably not loved by some due to its dirt trails, loose rocks, and single track (not exactly speed material), others like myself must have loved it. This area is actually one of my favorite spots to run in the entirety of the park system as it provides some less-technical trail running that seems super isolated, yet really isn’t at all.
At mile 6, we hit some rural country roads before meeting back up with the paved trails and heading back to the finish. The short, yet not unnoticed, hill around mile 7 was really a lung and quad burner that I am sure many of us could have done without. But that’s racing for you!
Following a short “u-loop” on these roads, we re-entered Minto-Brown Park for mostly paved paths to the finish. There was a short trail stretch near mile 9.5, but I can attest that was absolutely necessary as the paved trail in that area of the park (near the lake on that part of the Willamette Slough) is ALWAYS flooded. Give me any kind of trail to navigate rather than slogging through the final 3 miles of a race with soggy socks and shoes.
The final stretch to the finish line rivals any finish in the PNW. The final mile shows a steady view of downtown Salem, complete with the bridge, Giant Globe, and the newly completed amphitheater. After crossing over the bridge, we looped around the globe and had enough of a stretch within the park for family, friends, and strangers to encourage runners to the finish.
Upon the finish, runners were ushered into an amazingly spaced area to grab a pre-boxed post-race spread, as well as do wine tasting (or a full glass of wine or beer) and cheer other runners on as well.
I want to give a special shoutout to the volunteers on the course – primarily manned by the North Salem High wrestling team. At the surprisingly bountiful and ample aid stations, they were both safe, encouraging, and energetic. They did truly a superb job.
Ultimately, we once again had a wonderful time at a Breakaway Promotions event and this one will likely forever hold a special place in my heart considering the circumstances that the past year has brought about. It has been a while since Breakaway has put on a race and the Willamette Valley Marathon & Half was truly great. It really is a standout event in the Mid-Valley that everyone should get on their calendars for 2022 now.
Breakaway Promotions upcoming races: