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Fifth Annual A Very Poplar Run

Wed, 10/28/2015

Runnin’ with the Poplars

October 27, 2015: Hermiston, OR (Hermiston Herald)

There is a joke amongst runners about the holy trinity. Not the Holy Trinity of Catholicism that attempts to explain the great mystery of the faith.

No, this is about running conditions.

“It’s like you’re tracking new ground,” Layne Papenfuss said from the 5th Annual A Very Poplar Run at the Boardman Tree Farm. “In the fresh snow, nobody’s been there ­— at least it feels like that — or fresh leaves even if there has. It’s just the natural environment.”

Papenfuss, from the Tri-Cities, had seen the tree farm on various occasions when passing through, and his wife found the race online recently and decided to go.

“We don’t have a lot of forest around (the Tri-Cities),” he said. “So this was our opportunity to get out and experience the tree farm.”

He and about 600 others got one of those conditions: leaves. A Very Poplar Run weaves through the numerous poplar trees harvested by GreenWood Resources. Now a month into autumn, the poplar trees have ceased photosynthesis and released their leaves, creating an ideal autumn scene.

That scene has attracted folks from all over the region. Jenny Van Cott, the girls cross country coach at Shadle Park High School in Spokane, makes the drive along Interstate 84 to know about the tree farm and had always wanted to run amongst the trees. Recently, she heard about A Very Poplar Run and had to come down. She was at a friend’s house in Seattle recently, then spent a couple days in Benton City before coming to Boardman Saturday.

“Oh my gosh, it was gorgeous,” she said. “There were some sections of the course that were really sandy, so it was … you were picking up your knees. It was beautiful. I will come out and do it.”

Some runners came for more than the race. Brady Dickhaus and his family came to camp along the Umatilla River in addition to running. This is the third year the Dickhaus’s have come to Boardman and they’ve camped all three years.

“It’s a tradition with several families,” Brady said. “We come down and do the run. As the boys get older, they go up in mileage. What originally brought us down was it was a fun run and it’s a weekend where there aren’t really any other runs going on.

“We live in the Tri-Cities, but we find it’s better to camp on the river, spend the weekend and hang out with family and friends.”

A Very Poplar Run is a fun run, at least it’s supposed to be, and Pendleton resident Jim Youngman took that to heart. This was his first Poplar Run, he said, but he wanted to have some fun with it. So he strung some fake leaves on the back of his long-sleeved white shirt to stand out and get a laugh.

“It’s a fun run, just to have fun,” he said. “Just stand out a little bit in the crowd and make fun of the whole thing. And be colorful.” Youngman heard about it last year and immediately thought it was something he wanted to do.

“It’s great. It was worth it,” he said.

Since GreenWood Resources Director of Resource Information Systems Andrew Bourque had the idea for A Very Poplar Run five years ago, the event has grown from a relatively small 200-person event into a nationally known event hosting upwards of 600. On the Run’s official website, more than 1,000 participants registered, 65 percent of them female.

“I don’t know if we could handle many more,” he said.

But the race isn’t for the runners alone. Campers are lit near the finish line to keep spectators warm. It’s a remnant from the first couple of races which were held in mid-November, when the winter begins to bite. There are also hot dogs available.

“It’s a way to bring the families out,” Bourque said. “Bring the families out, come see the Hermiston-Boardman area. Maybe we need to tie it in with a two-day event with a winery somewhere.”

The course, though, isn’t for the feint of heart. The soft mixture of sand and dirt was noted as treacherous by several runners, and one or two rolled an ankle.

“If your legs aren’t strong, if your ankles aren’t strong, you can turn an ankle at the wrong spot,” Papenfuss said. “It’s like trail running, you’re on trails and its a little bit treacherous, but that’s what makes it fun, too.”

A Very Poplar run raises money for Hermiston Agape House, a local social services organization. Board member Doug Alvarez couldn’t be happier with how the race has grown in the last five years, saying it’s far exceeded Agape House’s expectations.

“It’s been terrific for us,” Alvarez said. “It’s amazing how it’s grown. That first year, we didn’t know what to expect and we had maybe 100, 150 people. But then when they saw the venue, people come across the finish line saying, ‘I can’t wait to tell my friends about this.’ It’s just amazing the way this place has grown.”

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