Off and Running

In six years running around Eugene, I’ve slogged up hills, dodged bicycles, endured rain showers, and covered just about every trail inside city limits. I’ve been through my paces in this town, but today’s challenge is something new: I have 3.7 miles to convince Connor Byeman to become a Duck.

It’s 8:30 a.m. on a brisk September morning, and I’m about to join Connor and a small tour group on one of the UO’s bimonthly guided jogs around campus. The UO Ambassador Program created this first-of-its-kind college tour last fall, giving prospective students and their families a chance to experience Eugene’s celebrated running culture firsthand. Today, there are four of us, and after a quick history lesson from our guides Frank and Gustavo, we set out at a gentle clip, crossing Franklin Street and working our way toward Alton Baker Park. 

Officially, recruiting Connor to Eugene is nowhere in my job description (I’m just the writer tagging along), but I’m already liking this kid. A fellow East Coast transplant, Connor is a fleet-footed distance runner and an otherworldly student (he laments that he narrowly missed a perfect score on the ACT)—and yet he’s not the type who’s too cool to be impressed. When I tell him about UO track star Edward Cheserek running a 5,000-meter race in 13 minutes, 18 seconds, he lets his jaw drop. “That’s a faster pace than my best mile time!” he says. “I don’t want to even imagine how hard that is.”

As we loop around the North Bank Path, and then Pre’s Trail, I’m doing my darnedest to sell Connor on the UO. But perhaps the best sales pitch is coming from the Willamette River, rushing beside us, and the autumn breeze, swirling around us, and the wood-chip trail, stretching indefinitely out ahead of us, just as it will for students this fall, lending an escape from the buzz and bustle across the river.

Connor has yet to reach the tour’s main attraction—a victory lap around the Hayward Field track—but I sense he is already falling in love with this sanctuary. Shortly after the trail passes Autzen Stadium, he tips his hand. “I could definitely see myself coming here,” he says.

Mission accomplished, I think to myself. With a mile to spare.

—By Ben DeJarnette

Ben DeJarnette, BA ’13, MA ’15, is a regular contributor to OQ.

Coming back to Eugene for a visit? DeJarnette, a former distance runner for Oregon track and field, shares his favorite local running trails.

Pre’s Trail

There’s a reason why the UO student ambassadors chose Pre’s Trail for their running tour. Close to campus and as flat as you’ll find in Eugene, this four-mile network of wood-chip trails is the perfect place to remember—or misremember—just how fast you were as a fit-bodied freshman.   

Ridgeline Trail

Ridgeline is best known for its steep, rocky path to the top of Spencer Butte (elevation 2,062 feet), but while that route is best tackled as a hike, the other 10-plus miles of trail offer spectacular running terrain.

Hendricks Park

There are enough trails winding through this haven in the hills that you’d probably be wise to bring breadcrumbs. Then again, getting lost in a maze of towering old-growth fir trees isn’t all that bad.

Amazon Trail

The trail’s 1,000-meter loop and one-mile loop are popular workout spots for recreational runners and pros alike, so if a tall dude with Olympic rings tattooed on his back comes flying past you, it’s probably just Andrew
Wheating, BA ’10.

Skinner Butte

Yes, technically you could drive to the top, but what fun is that? The trail from Cheshire Avenue is about a mile long and gains more than 250 feet in elevation, so if you can run all the way up, you will have more than earned the breathtaking view (and the bowl of ice cream waiting at home).