North Texas Trail Runners
by Fred Holmes
Fortunately, I have kept journals from about 1973. Unfortunately, I am a lousy journalist and most of my entries have the date, miles run, and the weather. Occasionally, when there was something newsworthy, I might have a few comments, but you don’t realize how insignificant your life is until something like 911 hits your journal. I was lucky and made a few entries that stirred my tired old brain and I have been able to recall (with the help of my friends) a good bit of “How it All Began.”
I met Jay Norman after the 1992 Jackson 50 Mile and 100K National Championships, run in freezing, wind-driven rain. At the time I was strictly a road runner with a few marathons under my belt, including a Boston qualifier of 3:09, and had no desire to run trails. In fact, after I thawed out from the Bachman Lake fiasco I had decided anything over 26 miles was foolhardy. But Jay is an insistent promoter of trail running and soon had me hooked on the Northshore Trail. At that time we ran the trail from Murrell Park north to Twin Coves and back, a round trip of about seven miles. Occasionally, we would go south to Rockledge Park, another round trip of about the same distance.
There were a few bikes and a handful of runners including Steve Shopoff, Greg Andrus and Jack Johnson. I brought along Rodger Fanning and slowly a hardcore group of trail runners grew and were joined by a few mountain bikers braving the rough and rocky northerly loop. We didn’t go south much as Jay thought it wasn’t challenging enough. Jack and Jay were training for 100s and every now and then we would go to Crosstimbers where we had all the challenge we could handle. At that time it was rare to find runners braving Crosstimbers, and only a few backpackers cluttered up the trail. Even as remote and difficult as it was, a 50 miler was held there every March. Jay and Betty directed the race for a few years and he and Betty provided invaluable experience to the club.
In September of ’92 I ran my brother John’s 50K in Florida. It was brutal with temperatures in the nineties. The next spring I tackled the Cross Timbers 30K and waded through calf deep mud. I was so tired I could hardly change my shoes. After freezing rain, searing heat and miles of mud, I was about to go back to the roads. But you don’t denigrate trail running around Jay and he kept hauling me out to the Northshore Trail and dragging me around to the few trail races available at the time. In November of ’94 through sheer luck and a short course, I qualified at Inks Lake for the ’95 Western States 100. I blame that one on John Hargrove as I had watched him trotting slowly out of Twin Lakes in my Brother John’s first 100-miler at Leadville. It stuck in my ego that if Hargrove could do it so could I. I could run that slowly. But when brother John finished, beat to a pulp, in 26 hours and John Hargrave failed to make the time cut, I put a 100 on the back burner where it simmered until 1995.
I’m coming to it. I’m getting to the formation of NTTR. Be patient.
During the course of many training runs in 1995, Jay struck up a friendship with one of the Corps Park Rangers. Jay spent as much time chatting with anybody who would listen to his trail advocacy as he did running. He convinced the Ranger that a race on Northshore would promote the trail. At that moment the seed for the Rockledge Rumble was planted.
In December we went to the Sunmart 25/50 mile race and at the pre-race banquet, we ran into Donna Perkins and Chrissey Duryea selling t-shirts to raise travel money to run in the World Challenge 100k scheduled for Amsterdam. We were appalled to find out that the USTAF had allotted less than $200.00 expense money for each team member for travel overseas. The rest of the expense was born by each runner. We bought some t-shirts and sat around and bitched about the lack of support for our team.
We returned to Dallas and, with Jay promoting and me organizing, we set out in early 1996 to put on a race to raise expense money for our international ultrarunning team.
We convinced a handful of runners and non-runners and on April 17, 1996, a meeting was held at our condo to form a club with two missions; one to promote trail running in North Texas and the second to organize a race and take $10.00 of each entry fee to help with our ultrarunning team’s expenses.
Attending our first meeting was: myself and Mary, Jay and Betty Norman, Lisa Butler, Antje Spethmann, Will and Elsie Turner, Rick Tuzinski, Chuck and Pam Chandonia, Fred Champion, and Mike Rouse.
We came up with the Rockledge Rumble 50K, 25K, and four-person 50K relay. Also, after much discussion, we named our club the North Texas Trail Runners.
On April 22 we received permission from the Corps of Engineers to hold the race. They even let us use the Jackson Pavilion at no charge.
We had a couple more meetings and by June the inaugural Rockledge Rumble was ready to go… Hah.
On July 18th the club met and elected Mike Rouse, president, Lisa Butler vice-president, Fred Holmes secretary, and Betty Norman treasurer. We realized that a club had to be more than just a race and decided to hold club events to stimulate membership and justify our $20.00 annual dues.
On August 18th we had our first club run, our annual night run. Showing up were myself, Mike Rouse, Rick Tuzinski, and Chuck Chandonia. We ran the now 18-mile loop and had a great time. Mike got lost three times and fell once on the Murrell Park road, incurring a nasty road rash. I was a little discouraged with the turnout but because I love to run at night I had a great time and surprisingly everybody echoed my sentiments.
Later that summer Fred Champion put on a club run at a small trail at Lake Lavon. I couldn’t make it but a few joined Fred and another good time was had by all.
By now we were swamped with the myriad of details for the RLR. Flyers were put out all over town, Mary set and cooked our menu of rice and beans, T-shirts were ordered and the entries came pouring in along with little problems cropping up. On November first the Corps winterized the park and pumped anti-freeze in the pipes, forcing us to haul in water. We forgot to order Porta-Potties and Friday morning, the day before the race, Betty Norman begged and pleaded with the Porta Potty people and they were delivered about four that afternoon. I managed to talk the Corps out of a key to the park, Jay and Gregg Andrus marked the trail and a spot was picked out for the relay teams to exchange batons. Fred Champion handled the finish line and manually recorded the finish times.
The gate was closed and locked at Twin Coves so Rick Tuzinski had to carry all the aid station supplies a mile down the road to the 25K turn-a-round aid station. This also meant that the leg two and four runners on the relay team had to hike a half-mile through the bordering housing development to the turn-a-round for the relay. Finally, we were ready and to our surprise, one hundred and seventy runners showed up for the race.
We couldn’t afford trophies, so the week before the race, after entries were closed, Mary and I went to a yard where they sold rocks of all kinds, mostly to decorate houses. The manager quoted us a price by the ton and after we explained what we wanted them for, he thought we were nuts, but he let us pick out 200 small, flat rocks and only charged us $25.00. We took them home where Mary washed and dried them and then we glued brass plates to the rocks. Those premier runners who finished the Rock Ledge Rumble received a rock as a finisher’s award.
We did the rocks one more year and then with increased entries and rebellion from Mary we switched to small plaques for finisher’s awards. To my surprise, the runners complained about the store-bought trophies. They just loved those rocks. Well, most… some said, “Well, this is an improvement, last year I only got a rock.” We learned you can’t please them all. But I’ll bet there are still rocks on trophy shelves all over North Texas.
The first Rockledge Rumble was a huge success, membership rose steadily and the North Texas Trail Runners Club was on its way thanks to a crew of hardy trail runners, wives, and non-running volunteers. AND we sent a check to Chrissy for $1700.00. Our team was not going to eat boiled potatoes
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