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Runners make climb for Special Olympics.

Byline: Tim Christie The Register-Guard

Jane Dods runs most every organized run and race that comes along in Eugene, and she usually wins her age division.

That's because at age 74, Dods often is the only person in her division. And that was the case Saturday, when Dods was the top finisher in her age group at the Steep Hill Chase, a quirky 5-kilometer race at Alton Baker Park that benefits Special Olympics.

"I wish I had competition," she said. "I've outlived them all."

As she spoke, Dods' legs and her blue Nikes were covered in mud. Many of her fellow competitors had mud smeared on their shirts and shorts, and most everyone had the stuff caked on their hands.

The Steep Hill Chase, now in it's 10th year in its current incarnation, is a different kind of race. While most local runs are held on streets and the paved paths along the Willamette River, the Steep Hill Chase is a trail race that features a little bit of everything, except for pavement. The course takes runners along the well-trod bark paths of Pre's Trail, over narrow single-track trails, through filbert groves, over hay bales, through mud and puddles, and of course, straight up the Steep Hill.

"The hill is crazy," said runner Jon Correll, 54. "It's a fun twist."

Located near the Autzen foot bridge, the hill is short, steep and slick. Runners stack up at the bottom, then try to scramble up to the top of a bluff, grabbing for elusive roots and knobs and trying to gain traction on the slick clay soil. Many runners get halfway up, only to slide back down, meeting people on the way up. It's not uncommon for one runner to give another a friendly shove on the backside to help them on their way.

"It looks like a wildebeest crossing when you get to it," Correll said. "People are all over each other."

This year, organizers added a new twist. At about the half-way point, on the east end of a pond, runners were given a choice of either continuing on the course, or wading across the canoe canal, shaving off a section of the course.

For the third year in a row, John Boosinger won the race, and he took the watery detour to lose Adam Booth, who finished second and took the dry route.

"I should have followed him through the water," Booth said. "If I do it again, I'm going through the water."

For the third year in a row, Natalie Provost was the top women's finisher.

"It's really a unique race," she said.

For the past 10 years, the race has been held at Alton Baker Park. But its roots go back to the 1990s and a group of runners called the Eugene Hash House Harriers, sometimes known as a drinking club with a running problem. Hashers, as they're sometimes known, organize crazy cross-country runs through streams, brambles and mud, with built-in breaks for beer.

Hashers organized the first Steep Hill Chase in 1994 on McBeth Road in south Eugene that followed an actual equestrian steeplechase course.

"That was an awesome run, and a phenomenally hard course," said Paul Scott, who helped organize it. "We broke a few ankles on that one."

The race was held at Mount Pisgah the next year, then went on hiatus until Todd Bosworth, an avid runner, hasher and financial consultant, resurrected it in 2001 at Alton Baker Park. Today most of the 20 or so volunteers who work the Steep Hill Chase are hashers.

Dods, who may be the oldest hasher in the city, didn't take up running until she was 42, and has no plans on slowing down any time soon.

"Running is wonderful exercise," she said. "It keeps me in good shape for all the other things I love to do."

Dods figures she's run in about five Steep Hill Chases. This year, the hill was as slick as she'd ever seen it.

"This year was the worst - almost impossible," she said.

But that's what makes the Steep Hill Chase so fun.

"I love it because it's such a challenge," she said. "And it's weird."
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Title Annotation:City/Region; The Steep Hill Chase, a quirky 5K race at Alton Baker Park, draws competitors who like a unique race
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 13, 2010
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