Oyster Races Bring Adventure to Bend, Portland and Seattle

By Jenny Furniss –

The Merrell Oyster Off Road Adventure Race is no ordinary race: part endurance, part trivia, part scavenger hunt—and part beer tasting—Oyster is the kind of fun people imagine as kids mixed with the outdoor adventuring they seek as adults. Racers will bike, run, paddle, climb and perform crazy athletic stunts while pushing their physical abilities. On June 25, the Merrell Oyster Off Road Adventure Race will descend upon Bend, Oregon—the first stop on a three-city Northwest circuit.

Merrell Oyster Urban Adventure Races will also be held in Seattle and Portland, July 23 and August 20, respectively.

“It’s an adrenaline rush – slash – hilarious,” said 27-year-old Maggie Anderson. A self-described adventure junkie and casual athlete, Anderson ran the Seattle Oyster Adventure Race the last two years and plans on participating again this year.

The courses are kept top secret until the races begin—racers only know the first segment, or “passport” as it’s called in an Oyster Adventure Race. For instance, teams of racers may run to a hotel and head to the top to spy their next destination. Then they hop on bicycles and race to that location, discovering they will need to use kayaks to complete the section. Their next passport could include roller skating through an obstacle course, racing to a local hot spot for a beer and trivia question, booking it across forested terrain on mountain bikes, zooming down a Slip ‘n Slide or completing one of the many other activities race organizer are plotting.

“It’s a good reason not to prepare,” jokes Anderson. “You know there’s going to be biking, you know there’s going to be running, but you don’t know what else there is going to be.”

Oyster Adventure Races first started in Denver in 2003. Why is the race called Oyster? It was originally dubbed a ‘Rocky Mountain Ball Buster’ taken from the novelty dish Rocky Mountain Oysters. Oyster Races now take place in 11 cities across the country. Bend is the latest addition.

“When we looked at expanding the Oyster Off Road Race to the west coast, we immediately thought of Bend,” said Jason Ornstein, executive director of adventure for

the Merrell Oyster Racing Series. “Bend is a preeminent outdoor recreation town and

the course will incorporate many of its natural attractions.”

According to Ornstein, Oyster Adventure Races are longer and more physically challenging than other scavenger hunt races, such as the Great Urban Race, CitySolve or Warrior Dash, and the Oyster also incorporates cycling and teams of three.

“We affectionately say it’s The Amazing Race on steroids,” said Ornstein. That said, the Oyster is designed for every skill level—from relaxed groups that just want to have fun and complete the race to serious athletes.

“A lot of people are at different levels but everyone is super friendly,” explained Anderson, “Everyone is trying something that they’re really good at or is totally foreign to them—like beer pong or stand up paddle boarding.”

This is the 5th year the Oyster Urban Adventure Race has been held in Seattle, and the 4th year it’s been held in Portland. An average of 500 people enter each race every year. The urban races held in these cities are slightly different than the off road event held in Bend. The off road race includes mountain biking and trail running, while the urban races are completely set in city limits. That doesn’t mean the urban races are less strenuous. In fact, the urban race is 20 to 30 miles, while the off road race is 10 to 20 miles. Urban teams are also larger, with three to six team members, while the off road teams are comprised of two to four members.

In Portland and Seattle, the urban races also offers three separate divisions with the goal of hitting the endurance level of every athlete: the full Oyster, which requires higher endurance for people looking to mix up their triathlon and duathlon racing schedules; the half Oyster, which is half the distance of the full course; and new in 2011, the Oyster Shooter, which is designed for individuals and people who’d like a more traditional 5K to 10 K foot race with several Oyster challenges thrown in. There is also a relay option in the full Oyster.

Racers are encouraged to raise pledges for a designated nonprofit—the more pledges they raise, the more valuable clues they get to help them in the race. One hundred percent of the money raised by participants goes to the nonprofit. This year, the Portland and Seattle Oyster Races will benefit the Arthritis Foundation, a local nonprofit that improves lives through leadership in the prevention, control and cure of arthritis and related diseases. The Bend Oyster Race will benefit the Deschutes River Conservancy, a Bend nonprofit with a mission to restore stream flow and improve water quality in the Deschutes River basin.

The first three teams in each division win great prizes and the signature Oyster cowbell. For more information on the race or to register, visit www.OysterRacingSeries.com.

“You get a whole day of adventure planned out in your own city,” said Anderson. “You have great volunteer support, you’re surrounded by your friends, they feed you, they challenge you—what could be more fun?”