How a mountain town became a running destination
By Olivia Dwyer | Photographs by Dave Cox
Hipster facial hair is trending with endurance athletes, but any talk of running and mustaches should rightfully start with Steve Prefontaine, the Oregon phenom who stormed to American records at every distance from 2,000 to 10,000 meters in the early ’70s. Prefontaine’s success kick-started the running boom in Oregon—where his college coach went on to help start a shoe company called Nike and establish a pipeline for America’s best distance runners.
Meanwhile, on the eastern flank of the Cascades, runners left asphalt to explore logging roads. And then Bend’s trail running community got an assist from mountain bikers. Since the ’80s, cyclists have built hundreds of miles of trails here. That same network now attracts runners. “If you do a training run every day, exploring trails means you don’t get bored,” says resident Jeff Browning, a Patagonia-sponsored ultrarunner. “There are so many options here it’s stupid to run on the road.”
Locals regard June’s Dirty Half as Bend’s signature running event, but dozens more dot the May to December race calendar. The USA Mountain Running Championships come to Bend this July, followed by the February 2016 USA Cross Country Championships. In Bend, you can pretty much find a group run every day of the week. And there’s even a free performance training group coached by Salomon mountain runner (and 2016 Olympic marathon hopeful) Max King, who, it’s worth noting, does not have a handlebar mustache.
Town to Trail: Visit FootZone (footzonebend.com), Bend’s venerable running store, for a quick overiew of the 51 miles of trails within city limits, then join the Wednesday lunch run for a social tour of the Deschutes River Trail from downtown. Footbridges mark 3- and 5-mile jaunts; the 7-mile loop includes a riverbank climb that sparks friendly competition. Bring $5, and FootZone staffers order burritos from locals’ favorite Taco Stand while you run. Going solo? A predawn climb up 490-foot Pilot Butte gains a view of snow-capped volcanoes awash in morning light.
Mountain Running: Build mountain-worthy leg strength year-round at Smith Rock State Park, a climbing hotspot 27 miles northeast of Bend where trails log 700 to 1,000 vertical feet per mile. When the snow melts, look west to high altitude trails in the Cascades. Start from Skyliner Road on Tumalo Creek Trail for rolling singletrack carpeted in needles from old-growth Ponderosa pines. Gape at waterfalls along North Fork, navigate a rocky descent with wildflowers and mountain views on Farewell, and loop back on Tumalo Creek (15 miles; 1,644 vertical feet). Come midsummer, explore subalpine meadows and high country lakes on the Green Lakes-Soda Creek circuit (13 miles; 2,000 vertical feet) in the Three Sisters Wilderness.
Light Alpinism: Our versatile Light Alpinism shoes function from trailhead to summit in terrain too steep for runners, but ideal for anaerobic scrambles. For a weekday quad-buster, return to Smith Rock State Park, where the Misery Ridge Trail wends between volcanic rock and basalt cliffs to gain 840 feet in three-quarters of a mile. From the apex, look out across farmland dotted with volcanoes—both smaller cinder cones and the peaks that top 10,000 feet. Ready to navigate the snowy slopes and crumbly summits of Oregon’s Cascades? Call Timberline Mountain Guides (timberlinemtguides.com), an AMGA-certified crew that’s operated out of Bend for more than 30 years.