How does a 5ft, 4inch, 104 pound woman run 26.2 miles in two hours and twenty-six minutes? The short answer: one very fast step at a time. A longer, richer answer comes from Deena Kastor, American bronze-medalist in the 2004 Olympics women’s marathon. Kastor notes that although the marathon course appears populated by individual competitors, each one of those competitors relies upon communities of coaches, friends, family members, and fellow runners. Had Kastor grown up in West Texas, she might have pointed specifically to the West Texas Running Club (WTRC) as an organization that fosters the growth of running as a sport, helps individual runners achieve their personal best, and contributes to the quality of life in this region.
Although the membership of WTRC is now located primarily in Lubbock, the club had its beginnings in Brownfield. In 1972, Gene Adams, a long-time track runner and an engineer with Amoco, was transferred from Tulsa, OK, which had a running club, to Brownfield, TX, which didn’t. Determined to maintain his fitness by putting in laps, Gene started making regular appearances at the Brownfield high school track. James Morris, then Brownfield High’s coach, took note of this guy toting up miles and the two struck up a friendship. Gene asked about a running club in the area; James’s negative response propelled them into action. Recognizing that the population of runners in Brownfield probably wouldn’t be adequate to support a club, Gene and James determined to make an appeal for members regionally. That summer, during the Brownfield Firecracker race (which James had organized three years earlier to keep his high school runners active during the summer) James and Gene pitched the idea of a club and sparked the interest of a dozen or so runners. The WTRCs first race, a five-mile course, occurred a month later, in August, at Coleman Park in Brownfield.
The club didn’t hold elections. James and Gene flipped a coin to determine who would be president, and interested members helped with race organization. For several years the two founders assumed responsibility for writing, printing, addressing, and posting a newsletter to members. They, along with other charter members, also developed ingenious and innovative ways to ensure the accuracy of runners’ times and to attract more runners to races. Bib numbers didn’t come from a print shop, but instead were stenciled on sheets of paper that the racers returned at the end of the race. Not having a computerized timing system, race organizers used a combination of Popsicle sticks and wristwatches to keep track of which runners crossed the finish line in what order. Trophies came from a supplier in Big Spring who offered the largest number at the lowest price and who usually mailed these much-coveted awards to Brownfield in time for the race. James and Gene also decided that to generate interest, races had to be held in different communities throughout West Texas, thereby dividing up driving time. In the 1970s and early 80s, WTRC races were organized in Amarillo, Midland-Odessa, San Angelo, and Lubbock, in addition to Brownfield. Runners hungry for races would pile into cars and drive four hours to a race, taking advantage of the only races around.
By the mid-1980s, members of the WTRC started clubs in their own communities. The Permian Basin Roadrunners, Amarillo Running Club (aka Lone Star Running Club) and the San Angelo Road Lizards all spun off from the WTRC. The spin-off clubs provided an indication of the success of the WTRC, and of a more general interest in running. No longer did the club host races for twenty or thirty participants; instead, registration numbers might reach into the 400s. The running boom was on.
With a current roster of over 250 members, the WTRC puts on a total of thirteen races a year, all within an hour’s drive of Lubbock. Races are held the second Saturday of each month, with four exceptions: the 10 and 2-mile Firecracker Run is held in Brownfield on July 4th; the 5 and 10-kilometer Red Raider Road Race is held on the Saturday of Texas Tech University’s homecoming weekend; and in November, the club sponsors a 2-mile and 12-kilometer Turkey Trot at Mackenzie Park on Thanksgiving morning. The Run For The Arts is now a monthly club race(revived in 2005) held in April in conjuction with the Lubbock Arts Festival. Races are open to all interested runners; entry fees are generally $5.00(pre-registered)for club members at all races except Run for the Arts, Red Raider RR and Turkey Trot.
While the Brownfield Firecracker can lay claim to being the longest-running race in Texas (it’s 37th running was July 2006), the Red Raider Road Race (RRRR) is the club’s most popular (and populous) race. Scheduled for this year’s TTU homecoming on Saturday, at 8 A.M., the RRRR was the brainchild of Jim Douglass, Assistant Director of TTU’s Alumni Association and self-described “half-fast runner”. In July of 1982, Jim ran the Peachtree 10K in Atlanta, Georgia. Looking at the tremendous crowds and the helicopters overhead, Jim decided to host a 10K race to showcase the beauty of Tech’s campus; the RRRR was born. The first year, Jim awarded runners a short-sleeve T-shirt, but by year two, had moved to long-sleeve shirts with an image of Raider Red in running shorts on the front. The number on the running bib of Dirk West’s famous cartoon indicates the year of the race.
After a few years of running the race on his own, Jim turned it over to the West Texas Running Club. Putting on a race that attracts between 300 and 400 runners, a race that runs through campus, and a race that takes place on homecoming weekend, has presented special challenges to the club. George Jury, local veterinarian and a five-time Race Director of the RRRR, knows what it takes to organize a race that is fun for casual participants but also absolutely accurate for more serious runners. George has secured all required permits, lined up sponsors (necessary if the race is to show a profit), lined up volunteers, supervised registration and packet pick-up, started runners with the command of “go!”, clocked them in as they cross the finish line, and awarded medals to winners. According to George, particularly rewarding about this race is seeing alumni return each year to run, and “knowing we’ve done a good job and put on a good race.”
Another rewarding feature of the Red Raider Road Race is that all profits go to support scholarships at Texas Tech. In 1989, the running club was able to award its first such scholarship to Shiretta Ownbey, who received her B.S. and M.S. in Family and Consumer Sciences at TTU. Winners of scholarships need not be runners themselves, but must be nominated by a club member on the basis of a strong academic record. Since Shiretta, the club has been able to award up to four scholarships in a given semester.
In the years since 1972, numerous individuals have contributed to shaping the WTRC into the organization it has become; an organization committed to fostering running and racing in the West Texas area. The club relies on a volunteer board, on members who serve as volunteers at races, on generous sponsors, and on the community. In exchange for this volunteer effort, the club stages its own races, assists other non-profit organizations in staging races, and, overall, nurtures the spirit of runners who may (or may not) follow the steps of someone like Deena Kastor, coming up slowly from behind, giving her all as an Olympian representing the United States in the 2004 Women’s Marathon.
Madonne Miner, WTRC, 2006