The day started a little less than extraordinary. The day before, after hopping a couple of flights from Fargo to Portland, Ore., I felt the effects of an early start and found myself sleeping most of the afternoon.
Fast forward several hours, and I found myself wide awake at 1:30 a.m. On the day I planned to drive to Eugene and run the trails in Track Town USA. If there’s one thing running has taught me about myself, it’s not to procrastinate. So by 3 a.m., I had my bag packed and found myself on the elevator down to the parking garage, ready to make the 200+ mile round trip.
A light rain greeted me as I pulled out of the parking garage, but it wasn’t enough to deter the best of plans. Today I would be visiting the hallowed grounds of some of America’s best runners.
By 6 a.m., after a few stops, a missed turn and some scouting, I parked the car a few blocks from Hayward Field, the University of Oregon track complex and home to the U.S. Olympic Trials. The rain had just stopped as I pulled into Eugene.
Carrying my phone and a hydration belt, I made my way to the track, ran inside the outer gate (it was open) and stopped for some photos. It would have been cool to run on the track, but since the gate was closed, I thought better of it.
Soon I was running down the street, making my way to Pre’s Trail, the one path that I was determined to run. Then I saw a sign for Steve Prefontaine’s memorial, the site where he died in a car crash. My plan had called for finding the memorial after my run, but since I was close, plans changed and I ran up the hill on a mission to find it.
The climb was tough, but worth it: A large granite monument stands as a tribute to one of the greatest American runners, an Olympian whose words have inspired thousands of people, even after nearly four decades following his death.
After some more pictures, I headed back down the hill, trying to prevent wiping out on the slick blacktop. Soon I wound my way across the river and into a park where Pre’s Trail beckons runners of all calibers. The soft timber lined path led me through a prairie-like setting, to a pond, and then followed a creek, home to geese and ducks.
My senses, overloaded by the serenity of the setting, tried to soak it in. Running in the footsteps of legends, I discovered why college and everyday athletes come here: The peaceful, pristine path serves as a reminder of all that’s good about running. It felt as though I was smiling from ear to ear, for no other reason than the joy of running.
At one point, I saw the “official” entrance to the park, which showed a map of the trails. Nearby, the creek flowed by, and a dog park offered a retreat for canines to run off leash. I imagined bringing Riley to this spot, and how much fun he’d have here, and then took off running again. The path led me in loops, along the creek and beneath the trees, as I embraced the opportunity to experience running in Eugene.
After logging several miles on Pre’s Trail, I left the park the same way I entered it, off to find Hendricks Park. It would be another tough climb, especially since I found myself tiring a bit. This day wouldn’t bring my the miles I had hoped, but it offered something much better: inspiration and the chance to feel the pure fun our sport brings.