- Pam LeBlanc American-Statesman Staff
If you prefer watching movies or flopping under a beach umbrella with a book to, say, running up mountains when you’ve got a few days off, you probably haven’t thought much about taking a “runcation.”
Honestly, my feet started aching a tiny bit at the mere suggestion of spending five consecutive days logging runs with people who probably looked like fleet-footed cheetahs when they hit the trails.
It’s my Year of Adventure, though, and I’m taking on challenges of all sorts and sizes. And this time, the challenge was to find out what would happen when a less-than-hardcore runner signed up for a trip to Oregon with Austin-based running vacation company Rogue Expeditions.
First, some background. Yes, I’m fit and active. I swim and bicycle regularly. And I used to run, before plantar fasciitis knocked me out of the game a year and a half ago. It’s also true that I can’t sit still on my days off. Whether it’s hiking, backpacking or scuba diving, I’m happiest when I’m outdoors and doing something that involves muscle power.
But a runcation? Um, maybe not.
Austin runners Gabe Steger and his fiancee, Allison Macsas, (a veteran of two Olympic marathon trials and winner of the 2017 Austin Marathon) created Rogue Expeditions in 2012 and organized their first group running trip to Morocco in 2013. That first trip included one runner who covered a marathon distance every day and another who power-walked 3 miles. Now they organize 15 trips a year to places as far away as Kenya, Patagonia and Slovenia, and as close as the cool and shady mountains of Tahoe, Calif., and Bend, Ore.
Steger assured me that I didn’t have to run far or fast, although I certainly could if I wanted to. He promised that runs are set up to accommodate participants of all skill levels, even those who mix in a healthy dose of walking. And he reminded me that brewery visits, a river float and plenty of nonrunning activities were big components of the upcoming trip I was considering.
“Cycling trips have been around Europe for decades, and no one’s ever done a running versions of that,” Steger says. “Five years ago, ‘runcation’ wasn’t even a Google search option. Now it’s becoming a thing.”
In the end, I shoved my running shoes and sports bras into a travel bag and aimed for Oregon. Steger met me at the airport in Bend and delivered me to a bed and breakfast. Over lunch, I met the seven other participants, runners of various seriousness from Austin, Chicago, New York and Atlanta. Within a few hours, we were loaded into a van, sprinting for the first trailhead.
I’d like to report that I hopped off at the first stop and streaked down the road, logging a quick and cruisy 8 miles to shake things out after the long travel day. That didn’t happen. I let the others take the early stops and opted instead for a truncated 4.5-mile jaunt.
Still, the ribbon of pine-needle-strewn trail beckoned. I trotted along at my own pace and suddenly found myself rolling through the woods, listening to the tumbling rapids of the Deschutes River and not really caring about pace.
I wasn’t the only turtle in a herd of hares. These were people like me, some of them faster and some of them slower, who liked the idea of a relaxed run to balance out the beer and desserts they’d be consuming later.
Not that I didn’t question my sanity. Day two delivered me to the base of Tumalo Falls, where after a quick detour to check out the view from behind the curtain of chilly, spraying water, the trail led up. We all hiked instead of ran part of the way. I stumbled more than once, mainly due to the distraction of all the waterfalls, chipmunks, wildflowers and patches of unmelted snow, but made the entire 7 miles.
We headed to the McKenzie River Trail on day three for our longest run, an advertised 10.5 miles. I opted for 8.5, trimming off the first few miles of the route and starting at gorgeous Clear Lake, with water like gin and a forest of preserved logs chilling at the bottom.
That’s where I fell in love with the Zen of trail running. I lost myself in thought as I scampered over rolling terrain, alongside rivers and past moss-covered boulders. (I also rolled an ankle, which woke me up in a hurry.) Our crew regrouped periodically. We stopped to play on a log-turned-teeter-totter. We scampered down a steep cliff and plunged, ever-so-briefly, into Tamolitch Lake for a dip in water that hovers around 37 degrees year-round and feels like the inside of an iced-down Yeti cooler.
Our last full day took us in an entirely different direction, to Smith Rock State Park for a recovery run/hike up and over a ridge of harsh rock and along a river in a much more barren — and stunningly beautiful — landscape, followed by a two-hour float down the Deschutes River at the Bend Whitewater Park, with its manufactured tube chute.
Toss in a few brewery tours, hot-tub soaking, festive group meals (all healthy) and a 6-mile run along the Deschutes River before high-tailing it to the airport that last morning, and the runcation was a wrap.
My verdict? You don’t have to be a hardcore runner to enjoy a runcation.
“I thought I would be left behind, that I wouldn’t be as well trained as everybody else,” says Becky McGillick, 50, a microbiologist at St. David’s Medical Center. “I just realized it didn’t matter, that I was perfectly fine. My running ability was not an issue.”
Sureka Kasinath agreed. She’d trained for a race a few years ago, but once she earned her race medal, she quit. She was looking for an active vacation but couldn’t convince any of her friends to join her. She searched the internet, found the Bend trip, signed up — and then started running again.
“I knew it was not about speed, it was more about fun for me,” she says.
The way Steger sees it, the trips offer an alternative for people looking for an active vacation but who may be tired of traveling to another city for a marathon or half-marathon. If you’re fit or can comfortably run 5 miles, you’ll be fine.
“Sometimes when you go to a race you don’t get to see what that city is about,” Steger says. “The point of our trips is to understand the culture, and meet and hang out with local people. There’s a big element of sustainable tourism, too, trying to hire local.”
The trip boosted my confidence. It revived my love of exploring trails. And it did something I didn’t think could be accomplished: It turned me into a runner again.