The Zena Road Runs, held every February in West Salem for the past 45 years, is just a fantastic race. I don’t end up running it every year, but each time I do (four times now) I am left feeling excited, accomplished, and tired – all mixed into one. After almost a half century, there have been a number of changes – mostly with the starting line location, but the 15k route remains constant and the ending feeling is always rewarding.
The 2022 version was about as Pacific Northwest of weather as you could get. Driving into the Eola–Amity Hills in West Salem, they day began with sunshine, then by rain, followed by teeth chattering and brisk temperatures, back to sunshine and warmth, and finally ending with some gusts of wind that had no business accompanying runners on a strenuous hill. Even with all of those things, the event was once again magical.
Again this year, the Zena Road Runs started and finished at Noble Mountain Tree Farm. This allowed runners a ton of room to get warmed up (and we needed it), as well as some indoor options pre-and post race. Once again, there were three distances – a 3 mile, 6 mile, and 15k The latter two were of the out and back variety, with the 6-miler completing two out-and-backs – one in each direction.
Running Past Wineries
The 15k is the crown jewel in my opinion, and features running past at least seven different wineries in one of the premier grape growing regions of Oregon. And where there are wineries, there are hills. I can never tell if the way the 15k set-up is perfect or a punch in the gut.
Essentially, the first 4 miles are a steady downhill that have most runners feeling fresh and speedy. I know my pace after the first three had me feeling pretty confident in myself. The middle 3 miles are a series of rolling hills that have some decent climbs, but also allow for some time to catch your breath and stretch out the legs on the down hills. The final 2+ miles or so is where things get interesting. I don’t know if that hill at mile seven is called “Hell Hill “, but it should be if it’s not.
What starts as a steep climb then leads to any elongated steady climb section that seems to be relatively never ending. Add in some gravel for the final mile and a half, as well as some crosswinds along the way, and you had yourself one heck of a finish.
After the event, the local wineries in the area provided sample pours of a handful of their wines, which looked even better in a custom race logo glass.
We know not everyone in Eugene and Portland come to the capital to run, but we highly recommend this race. Gallagher Fitness Resources and the Willamette Valley Roadrunners do an amazing job at keeping this Salem staple race operating at a successful level.