It’s a track built and graced by legends. Oregon’s Hayward Field has hosted more famous races than I could count. Every four years, our Team USA track and field team earns its way to the Olympics through Eugene, Ore.
A week ago today, I got a taste of Hayward. It was incredible.
In typical Oregon fashion, the weather was foggy and dense, and thick and chilled air contributed to the ambiance. I half expected to see past running greats walk out of the haze and start pounding interval repeats — the running equivalent of seeing historic baseball players stepping out of a cornfield in Iowa.
I had already visited Pre’s rock, the site of Steve Prefontaine’s tragic car crash in 1975, where I left my Portland Marathon poster as tribute. Now I was getting to see where he ran some of his best races. Simply looking at the outside of Hayward Field would have been worth the trip, but I tested my luck and pulled on the fieldhouse door. It was open.
Still, I felt like I was trespassing. Until a lady, I assume a janitor or building manager based on the cleaning cart she was pushing, assured me that I was welcome to peek around and tour the track, as long as I stayed out of the way when the womens track team came in for practice 15 minutes later.
I know I looked like a complete tourist, but I didn’t care at all. I was at Hayward Field, and I couldn’t stop smiling.
The whole field, with grandstands on each straightaway, smacks of speed. I had run the Portland Marathon the previous morning, and I was wearing jeans and throwback Brooks, but I couldn’t resist a few laps.
I took off far faster than I should have. A lap at 10-minute mile pace would have been prudent. Instead, I did an 800 at seven-minute pace. Again, I couldn’t stop smiling.
I took a ton of pictures, I walked around for almost half an hour, and I soaked in the running atmosphere.
As I walked out on the track, I almost expected ghosts of past elite runners to bring me some magical motivation. I did feel inspired, but not in the way I expected. I saw the Oregon womens team preparing for practice. One runner was doing strides through the grass. Others sat in a circle stretching and putting their spikes on. I was impacted by a sense that, no matter the runner and no matter the goal, it takes hard work.
There is no running magic. Simply stay consistent and put in the work, and you will improve.
I didn’t interact with Pre’s ghost for some pep talk that will help me break through my current running slump. Legendary Oregon coach Bill Bowerman didn’t preach to me from the heavens, and that historic track didn’t make my legs feel brand new.
But I did feel at peace in my running journey. I’m not where I want to be right now, for sure, but I know which mountains I need to climb.
Hayward Field is a special place, and it is a must see for anyone who loves running. Make sure you go on a foggy morning, and try to get in a few laps on the track. And remember: running isn’t magic. You have to do the work.
Now it’s time for me to buckle down and live what I just typed.