By Mack Robertson
It’s a sunny morning in early summer as I’m making my way up Saltzman Road, a gravel pedestrian path in Forest Park here in Portland, Oregon. Coming towards me I see a big smile and a bushy beard. If you spend enough time in Forest Park, eventually, you will cross paths with Charley Boynton. Always quick with a high five and some words of encouragement, Charley is a bit of a folk hero for Portland trail runners. I don’t quite recall how I first met Charley, but at some point we began following each other on Strava. I was initially struck by the huge miles he was putting in (with remarkable consistency), but soon became even more impressed with his outlook on running. Charley treats each day on the trails with the novel wonderment of a child experiencing nature for the very first time. He has the ability to see the beauty in the small details of the trails and appreciates the subtle cycles of the forest from day to day and season to season. Often you will find Charley running in the same area of the park for days on end. Where others might find monotony, Charley has a meditative approach to how he experiences the woods with a purity untarnished by “segment crowns” or “pump-up playlists”. He was gracious enough to let us share his background and approach to running.
When did you get into running?
I started running on roads back in 1978 with my sister Jill in Maine and we ran 10k and half marathons all over the state of Maine until 1980. Then I met my wife Elaine in college and stopped running. I got fat and happy and helped raise our family (daughter Cori and 2 sons, Seth and Zach). I started running again in 2015 shortly after I became a grandfather to twin grandsons, Henry and Hayden. Becoming a grandparent changed something inside of me and I realized that I needed to lose some weight and change my lifestyle so I dropped 75lbs and started running again. For the first year on roads, and then I discovered the magic of running trails.
I’ve always struggled with self-confidence and not “fitting in”- never really being comfortable with who I am. When I started running again in 2015 I would run very early in the morning so no one would see me and I could just move however I wanted. Once I started running on trails in Forest Park that was no longer an issue. I immediately felt at home and accepted by the trail community in Portland. I feel like I am a part of this amazing community and I feel that I belong here.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the State of Maine at the base of Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. As a kid I hunted and fished with my Dad all over the northern Maine woods never really appreciating what I had until I moved away.
What do you like to do outside of running?
My wife and I usually have our grandsons on either Saturday or Sunday each week and we always try to get outside and do a little hiking or some type of active exploring.
What keeps you running?
I set yearly, monthly, and weekly distance goals for myself and that really keeps me fired up. As anyone that follows me can see, distance is my thing! I set aside a block of “me time” after each work day and one weekend day to just put miles on my feet. I ran my 1st ultra timed race in 2019 at the Elijah Bristow 24-Hour Run and it completely changed my life. I proved to myself that I can do hard things and be part of a special community that is created within that weekend. We created lifelong friendships as we all did our own thing while supporting each other. It was life-changing for me!
What’s your favorite trail and/or trailhead in Forest Park and why?
This changes from time to time but currently I feel very comfortable parking at Upper Saltzman/Firelane 5 trailhead and heading down Saltzman Road to Wildwood and either going north towards Springville Road or going south towards NW 53rd Ave. My favorite section of Wildwood is heading toward NW 53rd. There is just a perfect blend of inclines, rolling hills and declines that I freaking love. I love the section going toward Springville Road if my knees are giving me any grief as the elevation gain is much less. I love running a Wildwood E2E [End-to-End] every once in a while and have on my bucket list a Wildwood E2E2E in the next year or two.
What’s your favorite season to be in Forest Park?
This is a hard one cause I kind of like them all. My favorite days to be out are the ones with heavy fog, a light mist and then the sun appears and everything becomes magical.
You consistently put up huge training weeks. Have you ever had any injuries?
I have had my share of knee issues and surgery and don’t have much left to “repair” any longer. My doctor’s advice was to keep moving at what feels “right” to me, to strengthen quads and leg muscles to stabilize my knees. I can tell if I am moving too fast or going too hard so I try to be conscious of this while I’m out or I will pay for it later. I tore my calf muscle on a group run in 2019 trying to go faster than I should have and that one scared me. It took about 6 weeks for it to heal, which seemed like a lifetime.
Are you always motivated to run? If not, how do you deal with the ups and downs of motivation?
Yes and no! I am always excited and feel blessed to be able to drive to the park on my way home from work each day. One of the reasons that I love starting at Upper Saltzman is that if I am struggling with motivation,I am usually already down the hill far enough away from the trailhead and I have to either fight it and continue with my planned route or do the “walk of shame” back up Saltzman, kicking myself. Usually I just continue and everything is good!
What does your family think of your running hobby?
My wife, kids and grandkids are very supportive. They all show up at any of the races that I sign up for and are always there to keep me moving throughout the weekend. My grandsons love setting up a “high five” station along the course to greet everyone. One of their favorite questions is, “When is your next race Grampy?”
What does “Easy Miles” mean to you?
“Easy Miles” is what I’m all about. As I’ve said before it’s all about the “miles” for me and they are always “easy”. I love stopping to take pictures, listen to the sounds of the forest, meet old friends and make new friends, talk to folks, pet their dogs and continue on my way. Trying my best to be a worthwhile member of this community and offer any support I can along the way.
Is there anywhere that you’ve never run that you’d like to?
Yes there are so many places on my bucket list. Running in the Gorge, Coast Range, Central Oregon, Cascades etc… All in good time. I love the 24 hour race format and have 3 planned for 2022 and I would really love to put myself into a 48 hour or more race in 2023 to see what I can do with that.