“Since 1969, this 15k Loop has defined the Zena Road Runs. Are you up for the challenge? This is the OLDEST race route in Oregon.”These were the lines on the Zena Road Runs website that had me so excited to signed up for the 15K event. The fact I had a late night event the night before, hadn’t run more than 6 miles in months, and was recovering from a leg injury… “OLDEST race route in Oregon.” And I am here post-finish line to say that it was worth all the miles and (almost) all the hills.
When I walked into packet pick-up before the race, it was clear that this was a community event. Everyone around me was visiting in groups and waving to unexpected friends (“I didn’t know you would be here!!!”). For about a minute, before my caffeine had kicked in, I thought I spotted raw potatoes on the snack table and questioned if I was learning some super-secret running insights. Turns out those “potatoes” were some of the most wonderful tasting rolls I’d ever had from Great Harvest Bread Company. But I wouldn’t learn all that for 9.3 miles.
There were about 225 participants broken up among the 15K, 6-mile, and 3-mile events. Everyone began at the same 10am start time, with the 3-mile participants headed one way while the 15K runners and 6-miler headed the other. When the 6-milers hit their turnaround point, the number of remaining runners dropped to less than 70 in my event with most of the pack beyond my sight.
Most of my race felt more like a run alongside country roads rather than a race event. I said hello to the cows, chickens, and horses that stared at this strange sweaty creature. Kind drivers provided lots of space on the side as I ran against traffic. With no sidewalks on the course, it was the kindness of these drivers that kept us all safe.
The course began on a downhill and was primarily up and down hills throughout the miles. Two aid stations provided water. With all those hills, and no snacks or Gatorade on the course, I hit a wall during some switchback uphill turns around mile 7. From that point on I was walking the uphills and walk-running the rest. Just had to finish within 2 hours per the time limit and I did just that (with a few minutes to spare).
The celebration after the finish line was another reminder that this was a community event more than a race. Award ribbons were given out to most participants due to age groups, and every finisher received a wine glass and free tasting of wine or sparkling cider. Friends cheered each other on and shared breakfast snacks together around picnic tables. Next time I will have to bring some friends along with me to squeeze every last drop from Zena Road Runs.