The Hillbilly Half

I’m training for the Napa Marathon in March, and as such I have to do a lot of boring long runs on the weekends. Don’t get me wrong, I do love doing a 10-12 mile run with the girlfriends every weekend, but when you’re training for a marathon those runs tend to be more like 18- 20 miles long and it gets old. We usually run out of things to talk about by mile 16.

So I suggested we ditch the long run this past weekend and do a race instead. The only half marathon we could find in Oregon in January was the Cascade Half Marathon in Turner. Where’s Turner you say? It’s just South of Salem, four miles from Aumsville, which is now famous for having a tornado rip through town a few weeks back.


We all met in Wilsonville at 7am to carpool to Turner. There were five of us packed into the car, and all the way to Turner the conversation went something like this.

“This weather sucks.”

“This is really going to suck.”

“I think we should do the 10k instead of the half.”

“This really sucks.”

We arrive at Cascade Junior High School in Turner at 8:15am and it is still pouring down buckets. There is no real signage anywhere to indicate we have arrived at the right place, so we just follow the steady stream of cars around the corner until we see someone in a fluorescent orange vest directing traffic.

We park and reluctantly get out of the car to make our way to packet pickup. Once again, there are no signs as to where the packet pickup is or where the start line is, so we just follow the droves of people and hope they know where they’re going.

We finally find the gym and the 900 other soaking wet people who are also picking up race numbers and getting ready to get even more soaked. It is now about 8:50am and the race starts at 9am. At this point we realize that none of us has actually seen anything that resembles a starting line, and we have no idea where we’re supposed to be.

Then someone announces over the school P.A. system, “We’re going to have to kick y’all out now to get the race started. Just head to the front of the school.”

All 1000 of us, minus the elite runners who opted for the early start so they wouldn’t have to deal with this cattle call, file through the gym doors to the front of the school. Thank heavens it has stopped raining for five minutes. I look over at my friend Kelly and say, “I bet there’s just a guy up there with a Nascar flag, and he’ll just drop it and say ‘go.’ Or maybe they’ll fire a real gun with live ammunition.”

Two minutes later, the runners start moving forward. No bull horn. No starting pistol. I think I was probably right about the Nascar flag.

We get to enjoy about 30 seconds of rain-free running and then the heavens open up as if to say, let’s just see how you do with soaking wet shoes and a 30-mph wind in your face.

I had heard this would be a nice flat race on country roads and it is. I am running by cows, and chickens, and sheep, and getting into my groove until someone yells, “Car!” WTF? Car? It seems that the race course is not closed to traffic, so we are sharing this 2-lane country road with all kinds of motor vehicles, including the one that is nipping at my heels before I hit the 1-mile marker.

Now that I know we’re sharing the roads with motor vehicles I am no longer able to bliss out on the lovely array of farm animals and hillbilly road kill. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that. The entire race course was a Technicolor display of frogs, lizards, moles, and various other creatures who had picked the wrong time to try to cross the road. Who knew they had such vibrantly colored innards.

The halfway point of the race is a guy standing by an orange cone telling you to turn around. I have never been happier to see a turnaround in my life. I am soaked to the bone, and when I make the turn I am running directly into the wind. Oh goodie.

Remarkably it stops raining for 20 minutes, just in time for me to look up and see a pilot car coming down the road, followed by a double wide being pulled by a semi. I’m looking at how much space there will be between me and the multi-ton mobile home when it passes by, and quickly make the decision to get off the road all together, and run in the gravel until it passes. It turns out to be a smart decision when I see that one wall of the mobile home is just about directly lined up with the shoulder of the road when it passes by, and is probably going to take out a runner or two down the road if they’re not paying attention.


Four miles to go, and the rain starts again. Yeah, whatever, bring it on. I can’t get any more soaked than I already am.

Two miles to go. Nice headwind of about 30mph. So, yes the course is flat, and the scenery is lovely, but the weather sucks!

I finally see the high school up ahead, and there are no signs to indicate a finish line. I am dodging the cars of the 10k runners leaving the parking lot, as I try to make my way back to the front of the school. I started there, so I assume I finish there?

Ah yes, I see a row of plastic flags and a digital time display. There are no timing chips for this race, so there’s no such thing as an official time. If you cross the finish line first you get a prize. If you cross second, nobody knows or cares.

I sprint to the finish line, grateful to be done, grab my medal and head inside to find the rest of the gang.

We head to the cafeteria to get some post-race food, which turns out to be cafeteria chicken noodle soup and oatmeal cookies, which sounds just fine when you’re chilled to the bone.

We bitch some more about the weather, the cars, the wind, the roadkill and the mobile home. We change into dry clothes, jump into the car and head for home. And there’s one thing we all agree on, the Cascade Half in Turner will now be forever known to us as the Hillbilly Half.

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