In Tracktown USA, the race is just the icing on the cake
University of Oregon sports business instructor Josh Gordon hasn’t missed a single day of running in six years. That’s 2,216 consecutive days. Rain, shine, sleet or snow — Gordon averages 11.1 miles per day, and doesn’t let up.
“I don’t even know how to drive around Eugene half the time, but I can get anywhere by running,” said Gordon.
Over the weekend, 2,480 athletes competed in the Eugene Marathon races. Gordon, 43, ran the half marathon (13.1 miles), and finished toward the front of the pack with a time of 1:15:15. He was 18th overall, and 1st among the Masters runners, an age group for athletes over 40.
Gordon first started running marathons during his 15 years in Boston, after he graduated from the University of Massachusetts. While a part of the strong post-collegiate running community, he worked for John Hancock, a title sponsor for the Boston Marathon, which he ran 10 times. He also started competing with the Boston Athletic Association, which is where he met his wife, Renee Gordon.
When he moved to Eugene in 2010, Gordon missed the running community that Boston had offered. Tracktown USA is famous for supporting olympians and the UO track team, yet it is lacking a platform for older runners to train hard and experience the thrill of racing in a high-intensity environment, according to Gordon.
“Eugene does some things really well. They encourage people to just get out and jog,” he said. “The gap that they have is around post-collegiate competitors.”
Because of the lack of organization for runners in the city, Gordon created a group on Facebook where people of all ages can coordinate times to workout together. He is known as a connector, someone committed to bringing people together around a common love for the sport.
UO Running Club coach Tom Heinonen tries to do his part to foster the running community as well. He knows each active UO Running Club member by name, and addresses them by such every day he sees them.
“We try to be a lot of things to a lot of people,” said Heinonen. “But most importantly: a place to come where you’re welcome, and there’s always going to be runners to spend time with.”
Gordon almost never runs alone. With a wife and 5-month-old daughter, finding social time is tough; it isn’t often his schedule has room for beer with the guys. Instead, they join him for a run.
According to Gordon, that is where his friendships are maintained.
“You see an entire life cycle of someone,” said Gordon. “You get to experience it through these incremental conversations that are running.”
Some of his closest friends come from the Bowerman Track Club. He races with the group to stay serious and competitive in the post-collegiate runners’ world. There are seven men that make up the core group of the club’s Masters team.
With some of these members, Gordon said he’s logged 10,000 miles. And with each step, the men talk, joke and encourage each other. “It’s not easy as you get older to find that depth of relationships,” said Gordon.
“That’s the whole reason I really run,” said Bowerman Masters runner Matt Farley. “I do love to compete and do all of that, but what carries you — keeps you going in the long run — is these people and the relationships.”
Before he started running on the Bowerman Masters team, Orin Schumacher only knew Gordon as the guy who always beat him. He refers to the group as “old guys”’ and says running is their mental therapy.
“It’s the last bit of glory we’ve got I guess,” said Schumacher.
Every year, over the course of a three-day-weekend, Farley hosts a running camp for Masters runners. The usual attendees include the Bowerman crew, as well as some runners from Portland’s Red Lizard Running Club. After long, spartan-style runs on the Pacific Crest Trail, the men hunker down in a cabin near Mt. Rainier to battle it out in a series of competitions — spear throwing, beer chugging, poker playing and bow and arrow aiming. After all the events, they crown a Man of the Mountain.
Gordon often loses — he thinks it’s rigged.
The Bowerman group is split between Eugene and Portland. Despite the distance, they usually meet all together on Sunday mornings for a long run, and try to make room for the occasional Tuesday night group workout. According to Farley, there is absolute commitment among every team member — year-round at a high-intensity level.
Gordon says the Bowerman runners are a unique group because other teams show up to races with different athletes every year, yet he and his crew have been the same runners showing up season after season.
They have won three U.S. Cross Country National Championships in the last five years. In 2017 they placed third — they’re training now to regain the title.
“The funny thing is, if you look at our top five runners, we all train very differently. But we all end up almost around the exact same place,” said Gordon.
Schumacher said the difference between Eugene and other running communities is twofold: Eugene people know running, and runners are everywhere.
“In Eugene it’s an expectation to see people on the street running,” he said. “I love that about this community. Everyone expects to see runners. They know you as a runner — it’s part of your identity.”
Gordon and his wife Renee spend time training with the UO Running Club, where they try to mentor and encourage students to keep running after college. Club member Ryan Jones said he researched Eugene’s running community before moving here.
“If I was that old, I would want to be where Josh is. That would be a cool place to be,” he said.
Aside from his ability to bring people together, Gordon is regarded as ruthlessly competitive. Farley said he’s only beaten him a couple times, “But it’s taken every ounce of my soul to do that, and it’s been rare,” he said. “[Gordon] won’t give you even a centimeter of leeway.”
Gordon ran the Eugene half-marathon in 2010, 2011 and 2012 with times of 1:12:27, 1:13:48 and 1:16:19. His fastest mile is 4:16 and he’s even gotten close to running a sub-15-minute 5k. He is competitive, but he said he enjoys the whole process it takes to win a race — training included.
“To me, the training is the cake, and the race is the icing,” Gordon said.
Gordon’s friends are clear about his exceptional sportsmanship. “He does want to fight you and fiercely battle you. But in talking to you before and after the race, he is nothing but encouraging,” said Farley.
Former Bowerman runner Everett Whiteside agreed. “He is one of those guys that is instantly likeable,” he said. “And for all of his accomplishments, and for the status of who he is in his life — he is the most down-to-earth, approachable guy there is.”
Gordon continually chooses to run — he said the habits and principles are cooked into his life.
While he was still living in Massachusetts, Gordon said one time he took his lunch break and ran along the Charles River, through a blizzard. His face was swollen with welts from the ice hitting him, and he had to lean over or hold onto his hat just so he could survive. Still, he’d rather run in those conditions than not run at all — he craves adventure.
“For me, my value system in life; it’s not about things, or status — it’s about experience, and being really alive,” said Gordon.
Running binds Gordon and his friends together. Some of the guys he runs with don’t even care for the sport anymore. In fact, Gordon said he is sure one of his friends hates it. But, if they don’t run, they don’t get to spend as much time with each other. So, they keep running.
The running community in Eugene is a small world, according to Renee Gordon. Competitors see the same faces at races every season.
“That’s the great thing about running — we compete against each other, but we’re happy when the other person wins,” said Schumacher. “Well, ten minutes later we are.”
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