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A Runner's Guide to Eugene

Published: July 24, 2021

 

If you’ve been hearing about TrackTown USA lately, it’s for good reason. Eugene has long been an international destination for runners and fans of the sport, but there's a new energy in the air that extends from the reimagined Hayward Field at the University of Oregon throughout Eugene and Springfield.

So what's all the buzz about? With the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 on the horizon and the reimagined Hayward Field at the University of Oregon hosting elite athletes this spring and summer, there's a lot to get to excited about. If you want to experience a piece of that magic for yourself, add this year's Prefontaine Classic to your plans: it's fast, it's fun and it's the perfect way for a first-timer to Eugene to get a taste of what makes the heart and home of track & field so special. (The fact that you'll get to see Olympians competing is a pretty big bonus, too.)

Eugene, Oregon, known as "TrackTown USA", is the frequent host to star-studded track events from… More Info

This year, the Prefontaine Classic occurs the same weekend as another Eugene tradition: the Aquafina OTC Butte to Butte, a fun road race between the city's two iconic buttes: Skinner and Spencer.

To celebrate two of our favorite Eugene events of the year happening in one weekend, we put together a runner's starter guide to Eugene and Springfield so you can make sure to make the most of your weekend in TrackTown USA. 

Experience the Magic of Hayward Field

The heart and home of track & field

The reimagined Hayward Field at the University of Oregon has transformed its historic location into a beacon of the future. Athletes who have competed at Hayward Field all describe a similar experience — feeling the energy of the cheering crowds, connecting to the spirit of champions that have won before, and being emotionally and spiritually awed to be here. A ticket to any meet held here — from the Prefontaine Classic to the Pac-12 Tournament and the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 — is sure to come with its share of unforgettable moments.

It’s All About the Shoes

The first Nike shoes were crafted in Eugene

The Nike shoe was invented when University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman was experimenting with lightweight soles made in his waffle iron. 

The Graduate Eugene Hotel has a large collection of Nike shoes on display in their grand lobby. Their 1972 Nike Moon Shoes are extra special: these are one of 12 prototype pairs made by Bill Bowerman himself and worn by athlete Dave Russell, who loved them. 

It's not just the first Nike running shoe that is celebrated here – the Museum of Natural and Cultural History displays ancient footwear unearthed by UO archaeologists during a 1930s dig in Oregon's high desert caves. The shoes, dubbed the "Great Basin Sandals", discovered in the Fort Rock Cave are made from sagebrush bark and are 10,000 years old (twice as old as the pyramids)!

Go For a Run

When in Eugene, do as Eugenians do

This is TrackTown USA after all — with miles of running trails, a temperate climate and a town that loves to run year-round. So lace up your shoes and enjoy a run. Here are the top trails to check out.

Any runner visiting Eugene should plan at least one easy run on Pre's Trail. Dedicated to the legendary runner shortly after his death, this four-mile bark chip trail winds along the river, through the forest and over meadows in the heart of the city. Start at the trailhead at Alton Baker Park and catch a glimpse of the University of Oregon “O” on Autzen Stadium.

Running trails are woven throughout the community and the bark chip Amazon Trail of Southeast Eugene is the perfect example. Join the local elites, high school teams and residents along this flat, easy path encircling an urban green belt. The path is a popular training spot thanks to its multiple loop options. For a longer run, the trail connects to the nearby Rexius Trail for a total of 5.5 miles through the wildlife corridor of Amazon Creek.  

A trail-runners’ delight, the Ridgeline Trail is twelve miles of switchbacks and leafy paths through Douglas fir forest and Oregon white oak savannas. It crests at Mount Baldy and Blanton Ridge but culminates atop Spencer Butte, the city’s highest point at 2,058 feet. Multiple parklands are connected through this trail system and are easy to access through seven trailheads.

If you’re looking for a quintessential Oregon trail running experience, this 26-mile trail is just a short one-hour trek from Eugene - Springfield and worth the trip. You’ll wind along a wild river and through old-growth forest, waterfalls and hot springs. McKenzie River Trail is a destination for mountain bikers, too, so make sure you’re prepared to keep your head up and share the trail. 

Check Out Classic Eugene

This is a community of character(s)

Without a doubt, track and field are at the heart of Eugene’s unique culture, but there are many beats that make this community tick. Along with track, crowds roar for the Oregon Ducks from football to basketball. Green and yellow are predominant color choices — but you can also blend in with a rainbow tie-dye shirt from the Saturday Market. Browsing this counter-cultural artisan market, you’ll discover why Eugene is home to such passion, innovation and craftsmanship. The people here are comfortable exploring new ideas, expressing themselves creatively and being utterly different.

The tech community also thrives here and has made some pretty big splashes from electric cars to digital identification. Co-working spaces and innovative start-ups are all over town. Join free-thinkers at local craft breweries and amazing farm-to-table restaurants in the eclectic Whiteaker neighborhood or at one of the cafes on Main Street in downtown Springfield. And while you are in Springfield (Eugene’s sister city), note the murals — one of author and former Springfield resident Ken Kesey and one of "The Simpsons" television show, since, yes, this is the real Springfield.

And speaking of murals: the City of Eugene, in honor of all our international guests coming for the World Athletics Championships in 2022, commissioned street artists from around the world to create masterful murals known as the 20X21EUG mural project. Take a tour of the murals alongside the community’s public art scene. And just like the paintings popping up all over town, we’ve had thousands of sequoias trees planted too — as a carbon offset for this event, because Eugene is also fiercely committed to sustainability.

So, track fans, as you explore the "Running Capital of the USA", make sure to keep it green, keep it clean and be safe. And as most locals have done at one time or another, end the evening or the week with a big slice of pizza from TrackTown Pizza — after all, you are in TrackTown USA.

Get In With the Running Crowd

Link up with experts at local running stores

For the latest news on treads to training, drop by a local running store. For runners, this is the equivalent to pulling up a seat at the local pub (and in fact, some running groups meet at stores and end at pubs). Named one of the “Top Running Stores in America” in 2019, Run Hub Northwest has gained big fans locally with its commitment to community. Weekly easy group runs, a monthly destination trail run and other fun events get runners of all levels together enjoying the sport (some programs may be paused during the pandemic). Both Run Hub and Eugene Running Company are popular with the local running community and have knowledgeable staff that will fit you with the proper shoes, tell you about the latest technology, advise you on common running ailments or just share their favorite places to run. What better way to make new friends than sharing strides and stories?

Pay Tribute at Pre's Rock

A simple memorial to Prefontaine draws the faithful

Track fans come from all over to remember Steve Prefontaine as well as to feel a sense of community with others who were touched by his story. Prefontaine (known as “Pre”) won seven NCAA titles for the University of Oregon in the 1970s, breaking multiple records and fueling the rise in popularity of track and field. The Coos Bay native and Eugene resident held every American record from the two-mile to the 10,000 meters when he died tragically at the age of 24. The memorial rock placed at the spot where his car crashed is often covered with shoes, bib numbers and notes left by fans. The rock is located on a curve on a narrow street without parking. If you are compelled to visit, please use caution and do not block the roadway.

Spencer Butte View by Brandon Fralic
Find Eugene's best restaurants, bars, shopping and events… More Info
Author: Melanie Ryan Griffin

Melanie is a University of Oregon graduate who studied Cultural Anthropology and Cinema. After finishing school, she worked as a touring concert photographer for many years before expanding into writing concert and album reviews for online publications. Melanie is now the Art Director for Travel Lane County. She has lived in Eugene for more than a decade and spends nearly every weekend searching for new favorite places in the county. She has also lived in California, New Mexico, Florida, Spain and Slovakia but loves Oregon the most.

Melanie enjoys exploring the vibrant arts and culture scene in Eugene.  She also loves painting, cooking for friends, dancing, hiking and learning new things.