Whirlwind doesn’t begin to describe the past 48 hours. It’s only now, seated in a comfy booth in my favorite coffee hang-out, that I’m breathing easily. Scratch that, the deep breaths in truth began a little past 8 a.m. this morning as I took my first strides into the woods and sweated through four miles of hilly trail running. Wow, did that ever feel good — I was the only one on the trails, with the exception of a friendly sandy-colored dog that appeared to have gone ahead of its owner to say hi to me, and I welcomed the peacefulness of green leaves, wood-planked bridges covering narrow bubbling streams and slivers of sunlight streaming through the tall, swaying trees. No music, just me and my shoes pounding dirt.

You should know that I say whirlwind in the most positive, exhilarating of ways. As I’ve mentioned numerous times here, this past Sunday was my first half marathon outside Michigan. A few months back I had the itch to find a race somewhere else, preferably far-flung and to a spot I’d yet to see. I asked around and thanks to my friend Laura, learned of the inaugural Eugene Women’s Half. Far flung it was: on the west coast, in a city known for its running roots. Track Town, U.S.A., they call it. I immediately decided to sign on. (Those details like travel cost, childcare and who would come with me? I’d figure it out, I told myself.)

I convinced Juliette to sign on, too, and thankfully she didn’t balk at my crazy plan to fly thousands of miles to run 13.1 miles on a Sunday morning of the final weekend of summer. You’ve got to love that about friend and running partner.

We arrived in Eugene this past Friday, giving us time to acquaint ourselves with the college town that not only was welcoming runners for this race but also loads of University of Oregon Ducks fans for the first football game of the season. Saturday was race packet pick-up day, and I loved that it was an all-day affair and included tasty Luna Bar samples, complimentary tastings of a locally-made vodka and a book signing/greeting by Sarah Bowen Shea, one of the authors of Run Like a Mother. Very fun part: I was able to finally meet Laura in the flesh since she was manning the table with Sarah.

We spent much of the day walking around Eugene, discovering some really great second-hand boutiques (found a Nike running top I ended up wearing race day) and delicious restaurants (our fave: The Lucky Noodle). As we were told prior to heading out west, Eugene is a pretty interesting city, home to some really cool, eclectic people. We soaked it up, perusing the Saturday Market, a most impressive farmers’/artists’ market that takes place weekly and is the oldest of its kind in the nation, and exploring both off-the-beaten-path shops and the flower-filled Fifth Street Public Market that features more than a dozen mostly women-owned stores.

Let’s get to the race, which I’ve decided is among my most favorite to date. Not because I PR’d (I didn’t) and not because it was a girls’ weekend getaway (though that part rocked)… but because it just was a great race. And the more I think about it, what more could we runners really want but to say that we felt good and strong and happy (and, yes, sore, but the good kind) after a race? This half marathon was awesome for these reasons:

  • It was an experience. Runners who run races as a way to see different parts of the country – the  world – are on to something. I am hooked.
  • The weather couldn’t have been better. As I’ve shared here before, I am not so good with running in hot weather. Which is why I was on cloud nine when the forecast called for partly sunny skies and 50-something degree weather. Sure, it was chilly waiting for the race to start, but not terribly so. And with the music pumping and sea of strong women (and a few supportive men) at the start, you couldn’t help forgetting about being a bit cold. Once we got going, running a steady 9-minute mile pace, it all just felt…so right. And it did warm up, though not too much. Runners cheered one another on, and the throng of participants – somewhere between 1,500 – 2,000 – was never too thick that you couldn’t maneuver the path the way you saw fit. I told myself I’d take a Hammer Gel at mile 9, to help me with the final miles. I am glad I did, but I also kept thinking that the cool weather and (mostly) shaded paths really powered me through. A stretch of blinding, hot sun between miles 9 and 10 thankfully didn’t last long.
  • Talk about an incredibly scenic course. From downtown, we headed west for the first two miles, where we reached the banks of Willamette River. We then crossed on the Owosso foot bridge, cruised through a park and continued east along the river into another park, where a live band belted out tunes. I loved that much of the course was on a running/walking/biking path and not simply closed-off roads. My favorite spot: Just before the 11-mile mark when we crossed the river again on the Knickerbocker foot bridge.  Absolutely beautiful. The final two miles took us along a boulevard, through a few side streets and along another path. The finish – where chocolate, champagne and massages awaited – was at the Fifth Street Public Market. Finish time: 2:04. We didn’t have a definite time goal in mind, this being Juliette’s first half marathon and because we just wanted to feel good and finish strong. But we both were smiling at our time — and the fact that we had timed it perfectly so we could make our scheduled 15-minute post-race leg massages. Sweet. How cool, too, that Juliette was interviewed by a local TV station–check it out here. We were, after all, the only two Michiganders participating, to my knowledge.

    Post-race cruise up the Oregon Coast. Thank you, Tim, for the amazing pictures!
  • We had the day to recover — and take in the sights. While we both initially wanted to catch a flight later on race day so we could make it back home to spend Labor Day with our families, the cross-country travel distance didn’t allow for it. Unless we wanted to take the red eye, which we decided against. And we’re so glad we stayed until the next morning. We made a number of great friends while there (this is what happens when you travel with the wonderfully charismatic Juliette) and it was with the help of one of these friends that we made it to the Oregon coast Sunday afternoon. Tim Giraudier, an accomplished and talented photographer who was at the Saturday Market, was our local tour guide for the day and showed us some amazing beaches, a sea lion cave, a lighthouse high atop the cliffs, even how one can get a bucket full of mussels, all along Highway 101.

The whirlwind began not during our time in Eugene, which truly was relaxing, but bright and early Monday when we arrived at a super packed airport at 4:45 a.m. to head back home. A full day of travel, through Denver and Chicago and finally to Traverse City, ensued for me. Juliette, meanwhile, was on another flight that took her to Seattle, Minneapolis and back home. I couldn’t wait to see my family, and also to take part in the “night before the first day back to school” preparation — though, yeah, I was whipped. Which is why after a somewhat restless night of sleeping — my mind couldn’t stop processing the race, the people we’d met, everything — I got the kids off and knew a run, as always, would help me get back on track.

Of course I’m already thinking about my next far-flung race, though admittedly it’ll be some time from now. Hmmm, the possibilities. Anyone have a great spot to recommend? I’d also love to hear your cool race story, whether it’s somewhere out of state or right here in Michigan…as much as I did love going away, and I hope to one day return to Oregon, it’s good to be back here. There is no place like home.

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