Lions and Tigers and a 5k – Oh My!

I haven’t gone to the Oregon Zoo as often as I used to, but I love visiting it. It’s always seemed to me to be an example of how to do a great presentation of highlighting a smaller number of animal species, rather than a mediocre job of showing more species. The Elephant Lands is a good example: yes, the makeover required transferring wolves and moose to other menageries, but the elephant exhibit looks fantastic. And it makes a wonderful starting point for the ORRC Summer Solstice 5k at the Zoo!

Prior to 2017, the ORRC Summer Solstice was held at Clackamas Community College, but it was the first time that the event was held at the zoo; previous events had been staged at the Clackamas Community College. The race was moved to the zoo for a combination of reasons. First, Clackamas Community College had been getting busier, with more car traffic even in the evenings, making it a suboptimal race location. Second, the Oregon Zoo reached out to ORRC (based in part on the pre-existing relationship with the annual Turkey Trot at the Zoo) to create a solstice event. And, after a mult-year COVID delay – here we are again.

Despite it now being a relatively well-known race, this year was my first time attending the event. I showed up a little after 530 pm on June 22, about 90 minutes before race time. There was plenty of parking, no doubt because the zoo closed at 6 for regular visitors. I paid for parking and went to packet pick-up, which was located just outside the gift shop and the mountain goat exhibit.

Early Pacific Northwest summer evenings are generally to die for, but the 2022 summer has been a little slow on getting going. However, aside from a relatively strong, but short, period of rain, the weather was perfect for running.

At 7pm, the event kicked off with the 5k and a Tot Trot just a minute later. The ORRC folks gave us the basic instructions:

  • this was a fun run, with a running clock (but no chip timing) – though official timing is coming in 2023;
  • part of the course would go behind the scenes, so there was no stopping to take pictures;
  • this was a fun run, so anyone who had enough before the full four laps could stop.

Here’s what the .75K loop was like: we started near the Africa Cafe and followed the arc of the path toward the back of Elephant Lands toward the Predators of the Serengeti exhibit, except instead of going into to see the lions, we crossed through a gate and turned into a normally employees-only area.* This initial stretch was mostly downhill. After looping around the Serengeti area, we rejoined the main zoo path and headed on those short climbs near the bat area (so yes, the detour through the back way had us avoid the giraffe area).

*I love getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse of tourist attractions. One time I was in line for the previously-named Tower of Terror ride at Disney California Adventure when my middle child (little at the time) decided that this ride was too scary. After some negotiation that went nowhere, I informed a cast member (that’s what Disney calls its employees) that we needed to get out of line. They led us through secret back ways built into the ride infrastructure. That was the highlight of that particular trip for me!

We followed the hill up towards the Discovery Zone and the back down to Pacific Shores and past the very curious and confused seals before entering the otter tunnel. Heading down in this area was really unique and fun. The last stretch of each loop went along the north meadow and then took us back to Elephant Lands where we followed the path to the starting line, where all we head to do was run the loop three more times.

I ran with my pre-teen girls and told them to try to think about each loop as being like a single lap in a 7-8 minute run. With animals and exhibits to be preoccupied with along the way, they felt that the time flew. There was also an aid station at the start/finish area, so we could use the provided refillable cups to hydrate with water or Gatorade before beginning the next lap.

One highlight was during our final lap on the stretch by the elephants – where one pachyderm was seemingly waving it’s trunk excitedly to us runners as if it were cheering us on. The few dozen runners in our area were all mesmerized and thought it was amazing!

After the event, we grabbed some food. I had been expecting just a veggie hot dog, but to my surprise (and delight), the voucher included a drink, chips, and an elephant ear. The post-race goody bags were also filled with an abundance of snacks. My kids were thrilled.

But wait, there’s more!

Overall: This was an event that lived up to being a “fun run.” It’s a unique location for a race with ample room for non-racing friends and family to relax while cheering runners on, and for everyone to relax afterward. The food and drink value of the vouchers was pretty nice, too – over $20 worth for the adults. As far as the running went, the course was clearly marked, with plenty of volunteers on the course to direct runners.

As I knew I would, I had a great time. My kids loved it and it was fantastic to be able to explore the zoo beforehand with essentially no crowds. I’m looking forward to seeing how the 2023 event will look with timing on the horizon!

About Author

Matt Rasmussen lives in Keizer, Ore. with his wife and three daughters. He enjoys watching hockey, going to as many breweries (618) and wineries (152) as he can, and all things Canada (he was born there). Matt was raised as a baseball player and officially transitioned over to running in 2010.

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