Before I ran this race someone had told me, “Hills don’t care about your feelings”. This mantra kept me going throughout this entire race. I knew there were hills (see elevation chart below) – and there usually are on a good trail race – but the hills on these were no joke. But with that mantra in mind, a sunny, crisp late winter day, it felt like a great day for the Oregon Trail Runs Spring Fling.
I chose to run the half marathon distance, but the race also offered a 5K and a 10K option. The race start began at 10 AM (merciful on a Saturday!) but they did have a 9:30 AM early start for any half marathoners that needed a little more time. I love that they offered that, as it automatically makes you feel like they care and want everyone to have the race that they want to have.
I’ll admit I was nervous for this race because it was in an area of the state I’m not super familiar with and they mentioned that you lose cell service. However, you have cell service until just as you enter the park and it’s only one road (Glenbrook Road) all the way so even those of us who excel at getting lost could not fail at this one. A mile or so after you make the turn into the park on the relatively narrow and windy roads (be sure to take your time and have your headlights on) – you start to see signs about a “running event ahead”. This race was SO good about signage, but I do wish they had one right at that Glenbrook turn off. You do at one point come to a “T” in the road where there is an event sign, and this is where you will make your turn to go up towards the race start. There are flaggers and you’ll start to hear the music bumping so the turn is obvious. But in future years if for some reason it’s not – it is the turn with the “Falls Recreation Area Sign”.
This is my first big note to anyone interested in this race. Note that parking is on the road. The road is steep in parts, gravel, and relatively narrow so having a vehicle with good traction or 4WD and a good turning radius is recommended. You will be flipping a U on that narrow road to park close to the edge of the road which has a steep drop off so just be careful and be ready for it. With the amount of people and cars all trying to do this, everyone was super respectful and patient and it was not an issue – even for me! Some people had also clearly gotten there either the night before or earlier and camped there and were rocking with their firepits and camper vans. So cool. You can also park on Glenbrook before you turn in to the race area if you like and don’t want to mess with that road.
Packet pickup was on site and very well organized. The limit of 250 runners was a nice change of pace for me. There was not much of a wait, and everyone just seemed SO excited to be there! It was also the first date of the lifted mask mandate, so I think everyone was just happy to see everyone else smile. 😊 Every runner gets a packet with a Hammer Gel that tasted like Nutella (Nocciola flavored), some various other treats inside, and a reusable running cup which I LOVED to see. Someday I will write a whole blog post about the paper cups at races, but I will hold off today. Additionally, everyone got to choose between a pair of socks or a buff. This was my first race that used a Velcro timing chip as opposed to one on the bibs. I really like that! I was nervous to put it around my ankle in case it fell off, so I chose to put it on my wrist.
Okay, on to the race itself! The 10 AM start time, peaceful sounds of the falls, and sunny weather created the perfect vibes for this race. Participants had three distance options (5K, 10K, or half marathon) with the half marathon starting first, followed by the 10K and then the 5K. We were lucky in March with a few dry days in advance of this race, so our trails were soft but not muddy and everything was so lush. These are the trails you dream of when you decide to become a trail runner.
The caveat here is that I am not really a trail runner. I much prefer road running, but I enjoy a good forest jaunt every once in a while. You climb some elevation from the get-go, but it’s not terrible and you’re just kind of hanging with a pack of people at your pace. There is the usual people-passing awkwardness of a trail race for the first few miles until everyone sort of settles in. This was not a big race (with that 250 person limit) and it was nice so as to alleviate any real bottlenecks. At around mile 2, you hit a giant downhill and it is FUN! It’s steep and long and you can just absolute rip down it. After that, things flatten out for a while before you find your first aid station (with an excellent snack selection.) Then you cross the creek a few times, encounter a lovely bridge, and the forest itself changes from denser evergreens to marsh and back.
This race has AMAZING signage. Like truly, so well marked. Better than many road races and definitely better than any trail race I’ve seen. For the most part it is clear where you have to go but I really appreciated the signage at road crossings and through certain parts of the park. They also noted where areas might be slippery, have some sort of rough terrain, or if there is a road crossing with the danger signs. The first one caught me off guard but then they started to make me laugh. My HOKA Speedgoats were made for that!
You then hit a big hill. It was steeper than I expected and even power hiking it I was TIRED. Just be prepared for it, mentally check in, and keep going. The switchbacks are honestly tricky to run because of how steep they are but you eventually come out onto a gravel road which you can run up. And then .. Things that go up, must come down and you float back down to Aid Station #2. You’re back on the flatter land for a while, and then .. You remember that big hill you loved bombing down early on? Oh yeah, you gotta go back up it.
Once you’re up the hill, you’re back on those soft trails that meander back down to the finish line. I will admit I had a lot of mixed emotions on this run. I wanted to see the falls – which you never see. My GPS struggled mightily for a while and when I thought I was at mile 6 I was at mile 4. Although oddly, my GPS ended up correct at the end, so somehow that worked out. The mental game on this run can be tough because you are wooded in for most of the run and you lose your bearings a bit, but it’s one that truly allows you to pull away from the day to day and go on an adventure with some friends.
I made it back just in time for the rain to start and to see the winners for the 10-year age groups receive their pint glasses. AND I made it back just in time to grab slices of pizza! At the finish, the music is bumping, the beer is flowing, and there are monster sized cookies, pop, and other non-alcoholic drinks. Even though it had started raining, people were sticking around and having a really good time. It felt like our own little party in the woods.
Here’s my TLDR of the whole race:
- Great signage to find the race and then even better signage during the race.
- Be prepared to park on the steep, narrow road and have a vehicle that is nimble and has good traction.
- Embrace the hills – they’re a great opportunity for really slowing down and (as it says on the Oregon Trail Runs website,) “unplug”
- The race set up (start line, packet pick up, and after party) was GREAT. Especially for a smaller race. They had everything you could need, and I actually wanted to hang around for a bit (which I don’t typically.)
- The two aid stations – which on the half marathon you pass twice (so 4 aid stations really) – had ALL the snacks.
- Pro tip – ALWAYS bring a Ziploc bag for snacks on the go. The enthusiastic aid station volunteers loaded me up with Oreo’s and M&M’s.
- Be prepared with solid trail shoes with traction. We got lucky with dry weather, but in future years I would bet those trails are mud pits if it has rained recently.
- People brought their families and dogs, so it really felt like an event that welcomes all.
You can check out the results here and race photos here! Oregon Trail Runs is also hosting Mary’s Peak in May 2022, the Alsea Falls Relay in October, and registration for Spring Fling 2023 opens in September!