Image: Mike Novak

Readers, I’m not at the races, those spring and summer staples we runners set our Garmins by: the Shamrock Run’s mass of heaving, green-clad bodies, the zigzag over the river for Bridge to Brews, the famously forgiving Sauvie Island Flat, and the unmissable (except, you know, this year) end-of-summer extravaganza that is Hood to Coast. (Shout-out to my Van 1 people here—I miss your smelly armpits!)

One very 2020 solution: sweat it out on a virtual run, where IRL you’re on the same old neighborhood loop as usual, but you count the miles on a map as if you were somewhere—anywhere—else.

There are organized ways to do this. The Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee has its own website, T-shirts, and cause—where participants run a preordained 1,000 kilometers over four months to raise money for the nonprofit network Feeding America. You can also run across New York, Texas, Ohio, and other states. Oregon’s got contenders: The Oregon Run offers three different routes across the state. But with time and technology on our hands, you can also, in true Portland style, make your own.

So in the interest of keeping up some physical form and, mostly, mental health, I plotted my own virtual run across Oregon with, opting for walking paths and avoiding all highways. And I laced up. (Confession: I cheated a little, adding some of the miles I had already logged before I began this story—but after the lockdown—because c’mon people, Oregon is a wiiiide state and if you start running across it too late in the season, you’ll be stuck in the Cascades when the whistle blows.)

Allowing for that backtrack, some 13 weeks ago at time of printing I virtually laced up in Ontario, on the Idaho border, with 524 miles to go. Since then, I’ve skirted the Snake River south, pounded around the northern tip of Malheur Lake, climbed the Cascades, and tripped through the Deschutes National Forest along the edge of Odell Lake. I’m currently on my way toward Eugene, then heading for the Siuslaw National Forest before snaking up to the sweet coastal refuge of Yachats. 

It’s not the same. Not just because there’s no medal and free T-shirt, no relay partner or smattering of supporters applauding my red-faced efforts, no scenic views beyond the same houses I see daily. It’s that I miss running in a big crowd of people pushing themselves to the max toward a shared goal. I miss, well, strangers. But each step toward something—toward the Oregon coast, toward the last mile, even toward my front door—is maybe just that. A step toward something, a small joy, building toward a big win. Who couldn’t use that this summer?

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