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Why Runners Are Flocking To Bend, Oregon

In one awe-inspiring package, Bend, Ore., serves up just about anything a runner could want or need. Here's a look at life in Bend.

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“The mountains are calling and I must go.”John Muir

There’s truth in that quote, according to 26-year old Kate Torcom, and the mountains that call her name are the Cascades, right on her doorstep in Bend, Oregon. It’s just one of several reasons the theater educator calls the town home.

About three hours east of Portland, Bend is a fast-growing mecca for runners and outdoor enthusiasts, and it’s no wonder. Situated in a high-desert climate, Bend is sunny the majority of the year. You can find trails of all kinds everywhere you turn. For water enthusiasts, the beautiful Deschutes River is steps away for kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and other water sports.

Lauren Fleshman, a Bend, Ore., resident and retired professional runner, hosted the first-ever Wilder Retreat in her town, and all the food prepared for breakfast was from local eateries. Photo: Jess Barnard

Restaurants and grocery stores are also geared toward the health conscious. If it’s organic, farm-to-table, vegan, gluten-free or anything in between, you’ll find it in Bend. There’s also an ingrained appreciation for craft breweries, populated heavily by the locals post-workout. Says Torcom: “Here, everyone is into beer, the outdoors and dogs.”

Torcom spent summer vacations in Bend while growing up in Chicago. After college, when a job opportunity opened up, she didn’t have to think hard about heading west. “No one takes themselves too seriously here,” she says, “but what they do take seriously is a love of the area and efforts to preserve it.”

That’s not to say serious athletes don’t call Bend home, because they do, in droves. Lauren Fleshman and pro triathlete husband Jesse Thomas are here, as are sister running phenoms Collier and Mel Lawrence, who train under Fleshman’s tutelage in the Oiselle-sponsored “Little Wing” project.

Related: Lauren Fleshman’s Wilder Retreat Shocked Me

Collier Lawrence says Bend is pretty perfect for everything she needs as an elite runner. “It’s a community of athletes,” she says. “You’ve got the best PTs, nutritionists, gyms, and coaches, all right here.”

Plus, there’s the amazing running itself. “You can easily get so many places to run,” she says. “And even when the weather is bad, it’s still pretty great.”

Bad is the rare snowstorm with ice. Otherwise, it’s the soft, runnable variety, say locals. “Winter doesn’t stop you here,” says 38-year-old Amanda Odum Bowers, also an educator. “Plus, you can get up into the mountains for all kinds of activity, including snowshoe running.”

Lawrence, in fact, often cross-trains with skate skiing throughout winter, something that allows her to feed her earliest passion for alpine skiing while minimizing the injury risk. She appreciates the variety and level of activity available in the area. “There’s so much going on all the time here that sometimes it’s hard to choose,” she admits.

Bowers, a mother of three, likes that she has an outdoor playground in which to raise her children, as well. “We’re up in the mountains all summer long,” she says. “You can’t help but be outdoors as a family.”

You also can’t help but become a trail runner of some sort, she adds. “That’s what Bend has done to me,” she laughs.

For all three women, Bend is home for the foreseeable future. “Right now, I wouldn’t want to leave,” says Bowers. “It’s pretty perfect.”