On the run
A local training group has grown over 35 years.
Joe Farris, foreground, is a longtime member of a local running group now called Fun at Rogers Track. Members meet weekly in the fall to run and socialize over beers.
For more than three decades, a group of runners has gathered weekly each fall at the Will Rogers High School track to train for the Tulsa Run.
The tradition began a year or so after the first Tulsa Run in 1978 and has evolved from a handful of young men to a coed group of 50-60. It is social exercise: serious training on Tuesday evenings followed by companionship and beer at a nearby park. The group also has a tent at the Tulsa Run finish line for after-race refreshments.
Longtime participant Joe Farris says the group developed from two smaller groups. Half a dozen young men did speed training at the Jenks High School track, and a group called the Friday Afternoon Running Team ran daily at noon from the Tulsa Club.
The two groups coalesced for Tuesday night training. They split beers after the speed workouts, but Jenks “eventually kicked us out because of the beer … so we moved from there to the Edison dirt track, and the group began to grow as others joined,” Farris says.
The Bomani Striders, another local running group, also played a role in that growth, according to George Singer and Bob Doenges. The Striders switched from their morning routine at Edison High School to an evening meetup so more people could join.
As the combined group grew, so did the particulars of the workouts — and the importance of the beer.
“The protocol evolved to the point where participants were assigned beer duty and only good-quality, non-gas station beer was specified,” Farris says. “Likewise, the structure of the speed work became formalized.”
“Membership involved showing up,” Singer says. “It didn’t matter who you were … it was having a good time and running. An absolute lack of organization was the keynote.”
The group is competitive on and off the track, says early member Malcolm McCollam.
“In part, it became a contest to see who could bring the coolest, best, most exotic beer,” he says.
The runners briefly relocated to Bishop Kelley High School and ultimately settled on Rogers in 1992 because of its all-weather track and adjacent park for socializing.
Brent Johnson compiles the workout schedule and beer list for the group, which is now called Fun at Rogers Track. Johnson says its demographic has expanded over the years.
“Now we have people in their 70s and kids in high school,” Johnson says. “We’ve got two generations, parents and children; husbands and wives. While these changes are significant, the group is still alive and thriving only because of this evolution to a more diverse group.
“People are still out there for the workout, to increase speed. There are still people that love running and want to get better.”
For Doug Maercklien, the training sessions are about more than an end goal.
“These workouts are the highlight of my workout week in the fall,” he says. “After a while, I realized I enjoyed the track workouts more than the races.”
Fun at Rogers Track also birthed a running group called Sweeney Strong. The spinoff was named for former University of Tulsa football player Neal
Sweeney, an early group member, who was murdered in September 2008 at his business.
After his death, benches and a memorial plaque were installed at the park pavilion at Rogers High School, where runners meet for post-workout refreshments. Some Fun at Rogers Track members continue to wear Sweeney Strong T-shirts at races.