Ever since Chehalem Ridge Nature Park opened last October, I have been itching to make the drive from Salem. I often find myself in wine country land, but just had not made my way from exploring Pinot Noir to exploring trails in this area. NW Dirt Churners provided me with that trail running opportunity at the inaugural Wine Country Trail Runs on July 30th, 2022.
You never really know what you are going to get, weather-wise, on an Oregon summer morning. This late July day provided runners with an extremely warm experience – even up in the hills. But no amount of heat could melt away how great this race was.
First things first, you should definitely make your way to Chehalem Ridge regardless of if you are racing or not. The parking and picnic area is complete with shaded areas, bathrooms, and a nice open grass space as well. This was the location for the pre-and post race festivities, and it did not disappoint.
The trails also did not disappoint. There were a few shorter distances (5k and 10k), but I appreciated that the half marathon ran on literally every trail in the entire park. Sp cpp;/ There was a combination of wide packed trails, some gravel spots (though not many), and a nice array of flat and hill sections.
Right off the bat, there was a gentle decline into the main part of the park and onto the Castor Trail. This was followed up by some relatively flat and gentle rolling hills through the trees. In fact, the first 5 miles or so it was all really flat and straightforward – as much as can be in a trail race at least. There are also some amazing views accompanying the trails as well. The Chehalem Ridge Trail was a favorite – and only half marathon runners got to experience it.
Just before mile 5, we started at a relatively steep dissent on the Madrona Trail – the most western trail in the park. I probably hadn’t familiarized myself with the course enough (and I’m not sure I needed to give and how great the navigational signs were) but had I done a better job I would have understood what laid in store for the second half of the race. About halfway down that dissent, I was greeted by the race leaders on my way up. It was right right then and there that I knew the second half was going to be a struggle.
To be fair, the struggle was worth it. I had been out of training for the previous two weeks, so my energy and comfort level was not really at optimal capacity – which didn’t help matters. Following the dissent, there was a much-needed aid station with water and Gnarly nutrition, followed by a mile+ lollipop loop back to the eighth station before hitting the climb.
The ascent was honestly not super long, nor was it ridiculously steep, but did provide a really good challenge, probably even for those who were in better shape than I. After we reached the top, we continued back along the Chehalem Ridge Trail and ended up summoning Iowa Hill via the Zorzal and Mampat Trails, which provided some impressive views of the hills. The final stretch far a lot of alternating jog/walk for me, and crossing the finish line provided me not only with a sense of relief, but also accomplishment.
After the race, ETA Catering provided a ridiculously delicious meal. I can’t even express how much I loved the food. Participants also received a stemless logo wine glass, which I just kept filling with water.
Even despite the sweat drenching temperatures, and the challenging course, I could not speak higher of the race and its organization.