I don't like to run.
Even growing up in Lane County, in the shadow of Track Town USA, I've never understood the appeal of running as a recreational sport. I've heard people talk about the solitude that running affords, or how it releives stress, or how you can challenge yourself, or what a runner's high feels like. Instead, I usually only think about one thing when I run: Man, this sucks.
So I have no idea why I found myself Friday morning at the starting line of the Butte to Butte on Friday ready to embark on the longest run I'd been on since high school.
That moment was filled with a slight bit of dread. I knew I'd finish the race--I'm stubborn enough to do that. I knew I wouldn't finish last--I saw enough people with strollers and small kids to ensure that. But I was seriously going to run a 10K? I expected my legs to be Jello by mile four, to limp along the rest of the course, and to spend the rest of the weekend in pain and regretting the foolish decision to run the stupid race.
Instead, I was rewarded with one of the most memorable sporting experiences I'd ever had.
For those of you unfamiliar, the Butte to Butte is a 4th of July tradition going back 41 years. The race starts at Spencer Butte Middle School, with the first mile a brutal, arduous trek up Donald Hill, the next mile downhill down Fox Hollow, then four miles of relatively flat terrain down Amazon Parkway and High Street to Skinner Butte Park. And the rumors are true: that first mile, especially the last block up the hill, are absolutely brutal. But there is so much going on you forget about that pretty quickly.
The first thing you notice about the Butte to Butte is that it's big--nearly 2,200 people finished the 10K alone, nevermind the 5K and 4.5 m walk. The next thing you notice is that the course is absolutely lined with people. You'd think you were running the Boston Marathon with the crowds that turn up to watch the race. And, sure, they cheer a fantastic performance such as former Duck Alexi Pappas, who smashed the course record by 50 seconds. But they stay, and they're loud. When I finally ran by on my 10:55 mile pace? They were still there, and they hadn't quieted down a bit.
It wasn't just that thousands turned out to watch a community 10K that made this route special, though. Nor the fact that they were simply loud. I had my first realization of just what a fun event this was about half a mile up the hill, when there was a sign advertising free donuts ahead for the runners. Free donuts? During a 10K? And sure enough, there was a table in front of a house with free donuts for runners. I wasn't going to eat a donut while running, but was thoroughly entertained nonetheless. I would find more of the same through the rest of the course. Had I wanted to, cookies and Gatorade were available in plentiful numbers from spectators who had set up tables along the course.
Then there were the bands. A tuba ensemble. Big brass. Whatever you liked, someone along the course was providing it. The course itself was like following a treasure map, not knowing which trinket you were going to find next.
Most of us know Track Town USA from the big events showcased at Hayward Field, or from the legends of Prefontaine. Those are Track Town showing off. The Butte to Butte? That's Track Town's soul. The evidence that running is so ingrained in Eugene's cultural heritage that people will turn out not just for an Olympic Trials, but to watch regular people for whom simply to finish the course is a challenge in and of itself. That people are high fiving random stragers as they approach the finish line, well after the leaders have finished their run.
Running isn't going to become a new passion for me. I haven't run since Friday, and don't plan on doing so in the next few days.
But I'll be back next July 4. I've felt Track Town's soul, and it's ten kilometers of absolute fun.