Editor’s Note: Eugene ’08 (also known as the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track & Field) took place from June 27-July 6 at Eugene’s own Hayward Field near the University of Oregon. Josh Shalek is a blogger and cartoonist living in Portland, and also works for Ater Wynne law firm. He recently attended Eugene ’08 and ran in the local Butte to Butte Race- check out his story below!

My friend Jody promised me perfect weather in Eugene for July 4th, and to her credit she delivered. We were about to run the Butte to Butte, Eugene’s annual 10K road race. This year was special, because the Olympic Track & Field team trials were being held in Eugene. We’d be running in the same town where world records were being broken.

Roughly six months previously, Jody had asked if I was running in the Butte to Butte. I responded with a question.

“What to what?”

Having never been in Eugene, I needed a little explanation. Jody, a native of Eugene and a big fan of the race, patiently explained (with hand gestures and drawings as visual aids) first the layout of the town and then the route of the race. It all made sense after that. All that was required of me was to find the website and register.

As we drove down I-5 to Eugene on July 3rd, one thing was on our minds: pasta. Jody’s parents had cooked up a carbo-feast which would carry us through the race the next morning. As any amateur runner knows, it is imperative to eat a lot of carbs the night before the race. Carbs enable the mechanisms in your legs and feet to work properly the next day, thus ensuring you win your division. I’m no doctor, but I know this is true.

The morning of the 4th I woke up to a quiet Eugene. The air was still, yet I could feel the excitement of thousands of runners as they, too, prepared for the race. We took the shuttle from the 5th Street Market to the starting line. Runners piled into the bus; the atmosphere was one of camaraderie. Strangers compared shoes, diet, injuries. Jody pointed out the sights of Eugene as we rode past them. Her middle school, her high school, and Skinner Butte, where the race finished.

The Butte to Butte course runs straight through Eugene. It was a good way to meet a town. You begin by running up a huge hill by Spencer’s Butte (the first butte of the race). At the foot of the hill, a team of evildoers set up a table of donuts to tempt us from our run. I didn’t see any takers, but the pull of the sweet, doughy morsels was almost overwhelming.

After that first hill, it was either downhill or level for the rest of the course. Almost the entire second mile was downhill, in fact. Just as my shins were about to explode, the course leveled off and, almost simultaneously, the sun came out. The streets were lined with people cheering us on. Some shouted out names of friends and family members in the race. There were at least six different bands propelling us with their tunes.

About halfway through, Jody and I saw our first Olympian of the day. He was not part of the race, alas, but he was doing his morning warm-up on a trail that followed part of the course. Seeing that titan of the running world made me feel proud to be a part of it all. It also made me feel very slow and very weak.

We both finished with times we can be proud of. Our names appeared in the Eugene Register-Guard the next day – closer to the front of the list than the back. I finished 764th (out of a total 3090 runners). According to my stopwatch, my time was 47:52. Not my best time, but I don’t blame Eugene for that at all.

After the race, we took in the sights of Eugene. We ate at the Glenwood, a breakfast institution located near the University of Oregon. That is where we saw our second Olympian of the day. I didn’t notice what she ordered, but I bet it had lots of carbs.

The University of Oregon, specifically Hayward Field, is where the Track & Field team trials took place. Hayward Field has some amazing running history. Bill Bowerman, who coached 33 Olympians in his time as the track coach, went on to co-found Nike with a former UO runner named Phil Knight. Among the stellar athletes who ran on Hayward Field was an Oregonian named Steve Prefontaine. He ran in the 1972 Munich Olympics, set numerous American and world records, and had a seriously awesome moustache.

Eugene has earned its nickname as Track Town. Good weather, lots of trails, its history…all these things make Eugene unique to the state of Oregon and to the rest of the country. We came up with many more nicknames for Eugene in my brief stay, including Trackville, Trackberg, Tracktopolis, and Niketown. And let me say this before you naysayers start up your naysaying: Nike has done a lot of good for Eugene. Besides renovating Hayward Field, they have had a hand in almost every athletic venue the city has to offer. They certainly had a lot to do with the Olympic trials taking place; they had the biggest tent in the tent city set up outside Hayward Field. If Bowerman hadn’t ruined his wife’s waffle iron to create a rubber sole, we might all be running on our blisters instead of our feet.

To coincide with the events of the week, The Museum of Natural and Cultural History (conveniently located on the UO campus) had an exhibit on Fancy Footwear. We saw the shoes of famous Oregonians and shoes of Oregonians from long ago. They had a pair of shoes worn 10,000 years ago. It did not have the Swoosh on its side.

After all that shoe history, we ate at Prince Puckler’s, known by all to have the best ice cream in town. Jody got “Obama’s Favorite” flavor: mint chocolate chip. Apparently Barack Obama had made a stop into Puckler’s. (And with good reason: they made delicious ice cream.) I got Espresso Cinnamon (Oregonians also love their coffee).

As I drove back home to Portland, I was a little sad to be leaving Eugene. I was leaving it all behind: the hills, the river, the Olympians, the nice Eugenians. But Eugene is not far, and I can safely say I’ll be going back soon. Anyone care to join me for a run?

For more information on sporting events taking place in Oregon, please visit our Upcoming Events section.

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