Always Running: Ann Arbor Track Club
While Ann Arbor is an ultra-distance from London and the running of the 2012 summer Olympic Games, the city has its own breed of athletes in residence. The Ann Arbor Track Club
, born in 1968 as an organization for elite post-collegiate runners, has begun attracting more garden-variety recreationists over time -- and its masters division for elite-level runners age 40 and up now gets national kudos.
The 359-member club also provides funding support for a competitive and non-competitive youth program and helps defray travel expenses to regional and national competitions. Four of its 18-and-under youth athletes recently qualified for the USA Track & Field Junior Olympics National Track & Field Championships, in progress in Baltimore, Maryland this week. And twenty-one athletes also qualified for the AAU Junior-Olympics National Track & Field Championships, to be held in Houston, Texas, beginning on July 27.
It counts among its young adult membership Brandon Bethke, a 2012 Olympic Trials finalist in the 5,000-meter event, and Erin O'Meara, an EMU student who competed in the Olympic marathon trials last January.
"There's a core of outstanding collegiate running here with the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University, " says Mitch Garner, the club's president. "John Goodrich of EMU has produced a number of high-caliber runners and Olympians in his career. The same thing goes for U of M, and so I think that collegiate runners like Ann Arbor as a place to live."
Ron Warhurst, a former track and field coach at U-M, continues to train Nick Willis, who runs for New Zealand and is the defending Olympic silver medalist in the 1,500-meter distance, at The Running Institute
in Ann Arbor. The London games marks Willis' third trip to the Olympics.
But sporting greatness doesn't have to end at 40. The USA Track & Field Association
(USATF) sponsors an array of masters-level competitions. Of late, elite masters athletes have been the club's sweet spot.
"The most outstanding runner in the history of the Ann Arbor Track Club is undoubtedly a runner named Doug Goodhue," Garner says. The 70-year-old has been a masters national champion dozens of times; the USATF designated him a top masters runner in the age 65-69 category every year he was in that bracket. And fellow member Terry McCluskey was the top-ranked U.S. runner in the 60-64 age group in 2011.
"Within our own ranks in the Ann Arbor Track Club, we have two individuals who were the number-one ranked runner in their respective age category in the U.S., which is very rare," says Garner, who is also vice president of the Road Runners Club of America
. "Most running clubs would be ecstatic to have just one national champion."
At the USATF Grand Prix competition in 2011, the club fielded the winning national champion team for males age 60 and up. "I'd say right now we're really flourishing as a master's elite organization," Garner adds.
"I think why [the Ann Arbor Track Club has] been able to have a good masters program is because they are one of the few clubs in the state, or anywhere, that has a Tuesday night workout that's always at the track. If you want people to excel at road racing or track, you've got to do workouts that are track-oriented at least once a week," says member and former Olympian Gary Morgan.
The workouts offer timed and paced quarter-mile, half-mile, and one-mile repeats at U-M's indoor and outdoor tracks.
"If you're doing some hard workouts during the week, then when weekends come you'll want to run faster," Morgan adds. He was the top American finisher in the 20K race walk at the 1988 Olympics.
The rest of us who aren't on the Olympic track or medaling in the masters division can run in club-sponsored workouts and annual races like the upcoming Kensington Challenge and the winter Mini-Meet. Teams also enter the Great Lakes Relay, Dances With Dirt, and The Crim 10-miler, which convenes runners from around the nation.
The club's marquee race, however, is the annual Dexter-Ann Arbor Run
. This year, 5,700 people registered to run either a half-marathon, 5K, or 10K, according to race director Gary Morgan. The event has had a significant uptick in registrants since its inception in 1974, largely due to one force: women. In 1980, 10% of U.S. marathoners were female, according to Running USA
. By 2011, 41% of the marathon field was female.
"I think women are very much involved in running and are really the catalyst to the second running boom because of their interest, I think, in fitness and challenging themselves and taking advantage of the opportunities that are presented to them in a city like Ann Arbor that has a safe running environment...In any given day, I probably see double the number of female runners than I see of male runners," says Garner, who does 40 miles a week.
Also augmenting the distance running growth curve are masters-age athletes; Running USA says that since 1980, the 40-plus crowd has gone from 26% to 46% of U.S. marathoners.
The club is known nationally for its masters winners and for having played host to the USATF Masters 10K national championship for the past three years. Due to scheduling conflicts, however, the 10K championship, which has been held in conjunction with the Dexter-Ann Arbor Run on the first Sunday in June, will have to be moved to another date. The club is in discussions with USATF to renew its contract; a final decision will be made in the next couple of months, Garner says.
Regardless of its hosting of national-caliber events, the Ann Arbor Track Club is "a complete club that tries to promote health and fitness and still give back to the community from youth all the way to masters. So that's why I've stuck with them," says Morgan, a member for 15 years.
Look for live Olympic Games coverage from Gary Morgan on Michigan Runner and from Mitch Garner at "Letters From London".
Tanya Muzumdar is a freelance writer, poet, and the Assistant Editor of Concentrate and Metromode. Her last article was "Foodies With Memory: Ann Arbor's Culinary Historians"
All photos by Doug Coombe
Mitch Garner with some of his running medals
Mitch Garner with an Olympic Flag signed by Olympic competitors
Mitch Garner with running awards
Mitch pointing out a photo with his friend Frank Shorter
The Ann Arbor Track Club training in Nichols Arboretum
The Ann Arbor Track Club Youth Program training at Skyline High School