ORRC History and Impact on Oregon Running
By Tracy Reisinger
Imagine a running world with no Internet or World Wide Web. Today we take it for granted. If you want to find out what events are going on in a particular weekend you can go to any number of race calendars online. Or if you want to research a specific event you go directly to the event website. All events have their own websites, and usually a Facebook page as well. Most events also have online registration.
Also imagine a world where there are few running events and those that were held averaged 30-50 participants. No Hood to Coast Relay, and no Portland Marathon. Unlike today where there are dozens of events in any one weekend, and participation can measure in the thousands. When you did run an event and wanted to see the results, they were nowhere to be found, unlike now when you can look up almost any race result online within a few days of the event, if not instantaneously while the event is going on.
In 1969 there were only four events in Oregon; one in Seaside, one in Lake Oswego, and two in Tigard. Races were simple. Race Directors didn’t get permits or insurance, and courses were “certified” with a car odometer. Runners had no way to communicate with each other. No newsletters, no chat rooms, and no Facebook pages. This was the scenario prior to the running boom of the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. Running stores and information did not exist as they do now.
Enter the founding fathers of the Oregon Road Runners Club. They had a vision of a club where its primary purpose would be to put on more events and runners could connect with one another. Excerpts from the Fall, 1981 Oregon Distance Runner article by Mel Davis described it like this.
“In February of 1970, a large field of 240 showed up for the first Trail’s End Marathon, directed by Ralph Davis. Among them were Dick Forbes, a biology professor at PSU, and his running partner Ric Raymond, a student there. They were encouraged by the large turnout and felt that it indicated a potentially bright future for road running in Oregon. The original idea was Ralph Davis’, and Dick and Ric followed up on it. They sent letters to everyone who had run at Trail’s End proposing the establishment of a club whose essential purpose would be to organize more races for its members. Twenty-seven people responded by sending in their dues, and the Oregon Road Runners Club was born.”
The 70’s – The Beginning
“It is our goal to have a race available…at least every other weekend throughout the year,” promised the Oregon Distance Runner, the club newsletter which then consisted of a few mimeographed sheets. Progress was made thanks to the efforts of a handful of volunteers who served as directors for club races. A description from the same article said “One frequent director reportedly used to show up about 30 minutes before race time, make a few chalk marks on the pavement, fire the gun, then jump in and run the event himself.”
Membership was small starting out, but Portland became the center of northwest distance running during the running boom of the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. Except for Seaside’s August Beach Run, the ORRC events were the only organized distance running events in the state. Everyone knew everybody else and “so enthusiastic was the participation that if you weren’t at a race, either running or assisting, you were obviously sick or out of town.” In 1973 the club had grown to 70 members, and with the goal of making more races available having been accomplished, a fundamentally new direction was established of introducing more people to distance running and enjoyable family activity to broaden the club’s appeal. Enter Bill Gorman and Ken Weidkamp who led the club through its phenomenal growth spurt. “I’d like to see us organize a running program with a place for everybody; one that recognizes and rewards achievement at all levels.”
Recruitment efforts were stepped up and membership skyrocketed in the late ‘70’s.
February 1970 = 27
July 1973 = 70
December 1973 = 300
September 1975 = 900
July 1977 = 1500
April 1979 = 3200
Spring, 1984 = over 4000
At one point ORRC was the second largest running club in the country, next to the New York running club. Today membership has stabilized at around 1000 members between individual and family memberships.
In 1972 the Treasurer’s Report listed club income for the year as $511.25, expenses were $500.52, with a balance on hand of $10.73. Most expenses were related to awards for events, printing and mailing costs. By 1976 ORRC was publishing a 28-page ODR, conducting 21 races, including the Sauvie Island Marathon (that later became the Portland Marathon), conducting “Jogathons” every two weeks that were open to the public (which were free if you were an ORRC member), had over 3500 members, was actively compiling race results on races from Vancouver, BC, to Northern California, listing races for the Race Calendar published in each ODR, and offering ORRC club apparel. The club incorporated as a non-profit in 1977, under the management of a Board of Directors elected from the general membership.
The early ‘80s saw the burgeoning number of non-ORRC runs for every possible purpose and cause. Runs that brought attention to a particular cause or issue, runs of a more political nature, runs that raised money for non-profit organizations, runs that promoted events such as annual fairs or community celebrations, and runs that promoted profit-making organizations. ORRC’s board took no position on the increasingly controversial issue of profit-oriented runs. However, the board did want to ensure there were standards of quality for runs. In the 80’s there were so many runs available every weekend, it was a far cry from the origins of the club only 10 years prior and reflected the huge change with the running boom. 1982 saw the club’s first involvement with the ORRC Thanksgiving Turkey Trot. The race had already been established by OMSI, but this was the first year ORRC became involved with the event that would eventually become the ORRC Turkey Trot at the Zoo.
In 1985 and 1986 the board set new goals for the club. To 1) “stop acting like a small running club that just put on races”; 2) Begin endorsing and co-sponsoring other quality road races; 3) Establish an ORRC statewide educational program consisting of clinics, individual counseling, and group training opportunities, and 4) become a large umbrella organization under which all smaller running clubs could gather. The club welcomed walkers and created a special “Walking Coordinator” position on the board in the mid-80’s. Today many of the ORRC events include separate walking divisions to encourage walkers to participate. Also, age-group awards were standardized for all events for both male and female divisions, which was a change since there had been fewer divisions for women due to smaller turnout in their categories.
The ORRC club mission statement was established as follows: “ORRC is a non-profit organization promoting road racing, running activities, and informational programs for both competitive and recreational runners, for the benefit of fitness, fun, health and quality of life.” ORRC was committed to being financially sound to protect membership equity, while providing quality events at a reasonable cost and a publication we could all be proud of.
In 1988 ORRC worked to improve the trail systems at Tryon Creek State Park at Mt. Tabor Park. They also repainted the quarter-mile indicators on Terwilliger paths, and refurbished and repainted the quarter-mile markers on Leif Erikson trail in Forest park. In 1990 ORRC worked to get a drinking fountain installed at the start of Leif Erikson with a bench and new gate, as a memorial to “Buzz Willits” a former board member and ORRC volunteer. So when you run at Leif Erikson trail and see the water fountain and painted mile-markers, thank ORRC!
In 1992 membership was down to under 2000 and decisions were being made to help the club get back to a positive financial position. However, in 1995, while ORRC membership was down, it was still the fourth largest running club in the country.
In 1993 ORRC teamed up with David Fix, head coach at Lewis & Clark College and a grant from NIKE & RRCA Children’s Running Development program to start a Metro-Southwest Track Club. The club was for kid’s ages 7-14 to teach athletic skills, proper training methods, and learn to enjoy running. The first year had 36 kids join. The format changed in the fall to cross-country training. 106 kids participated in the 2nd year of the program, and this program thrived for many years under the leadership of Paul Vanture.
In the mid-90’s the club continued to conduct and support road races and other activities for a broad range of participants of all abilities, as well as provide race schedules, flyers, publications, race results, training programs and tips, and other information that members could use to enhance their running and walking activities. In 1996 the mission statement was updated to be “The Mission of the Oregon Road Runners Club (a non-profit organization) is to promote running and walking for the benefit of all; for fitness, fun, safety, health, and quality of life.”
In 1998 the paid Executive Director position was eliminated and the club went back to being an all-volunteer organization. But they did pay for other services, such as finish line results. Russ Zornick was hired to coordinate finish line results for most of the ORRC events in a relationship that continues to this day. One of the ORRC events that was discontinued this year was the “Best Dam Run” 10K in Estacada. This event was later brought back by ORRC in 2003 through a partnership with Phil Lingelbach. Phil was race director of the event until he resigned and turned the event over to ORRC in 2009 but continued to play a role in helping market the event in Estacada. Unfortunately, the agreement between Phil’s Estacada organization and ORRC was not clearly spelled out, and in 2011, ORRC had to cut ties, which made the club have to re-think any further partnerships without clearly spelled out agreements in writing. Today the Best Dam Run continues to flourish as one of the largest (and fastest) events the club puts on.
The late ‘90’s were one of financial insecurity for the club. Expenses for putting on races were increasing tremendously, and the board was put in a position of trying to figure out how to keep the club from losing money. Some runs had to be cut due to dwindling interest, or no race director to put them on, or too few volunteers. Some runs also had to be canceled due to safety issues.
In 1999 Jeff Hollister became the newest President of the club and started the first Tuesday Night Workout group. The group met in the evenings and offered an opportunity for runners and walkers to run and workout together. This training opportunity was expanded in 2008, by Susan Fugate when she started the Thursday Night Workout group, and both continue to this day. This was also the first year the Turkey Trot was moved to the Zoo. The next year the Turkey Trot was changed to a 4-mile fun run and a holiday tradition was born. Also in 1999 a new logo for the club was selected.
History of ORRC Part Two
As previously reported, the Oregon Road Runners Club was established in 1970 with the goal to put on low-cost, quality running events in Oregon. Membership skyrocketed in the late 70’s and early 80’s, and ORRC was the leading running organization in the state and west coast region.
In 2000, the club’s 30th year, the club was facing more competition from other organizations that were starting to offer the same services formally only offered by ORRC. Their publications drew advertisers, their races drew sponsors, their websites delivered information and services runners wanted. ORRC was no longer the only game in town to get information on events and results. All of these services used to be ORRC’s nearly exclusive domain, and these organizations captured the attention of many who might otherwise have become active ORRC members. But the club was doing better financially due to generous contributions and careful scrutiny of finances and trimming of expenditures.
Also in 2000, ORRC’s first July 4th run, which included the famous Grete Waitz, was announced in a revolutionary method… by electronic communication to its members. With the discontinuation of the paper newsletter, the first e-mail blast to members was done and continues to this day.
In 2002 the club had its first female president with Margie Palmrose-Mace taking the helm. What issues did Margie face? 30 years ago ORRC was the only game in town, and the running boom was happening and participation in many events skyrocketed. However, now participation in all Portland area events was down. What ORRC found was a huge shift in who was participating, with most new participants now being women and walkers. Fortunately, these two were two groups ORRC had long been welcoming and supporting. More effort was made to increase awards at the races and recognize more walkers at the events.
In 2003 the goals for the club were to maintain its financial stability, maintain high quality events, increase activities for walkers, and design a user friendly website. The club continued to thrive and in 2004, due to the success of the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot was able to donate $10,000 to the Oregon Zoo. Each year, the success of that event has increased with over 3000 participants and $22,000 donated in 2012. In addition to the yearly donation to the Zoo, ORRC also donated funds to local non-profits, such as taking funds from the Wildwood Trail Trial 10K donate over $1200 to Human Solutions & Daybreak Shelter network.
2005 saw the start of the new ORRC 10K Series, which included 8 events throughout the year. The first year had 25 people sign up for the series. In 2013 it peaked at over 370 participants in 7 events.
2006 saw over 5279 runners and walkers in 17 ORRC events, with countless kids runs added in. Unlike in ORRC’s early years where the primary source of income was from membership dues, now 71% of the club’s revenue came from races, only 28% from dues. The Turkey Trot was the most successful event generating over 49% of the club’s annual revenue. Total revenue for the club was $65,842. Total expenses were $41,186, with 37% of expenses being the ODR magazine now being printed 6 times a year. Total net income for 2006 was $25,656. A far cry from the $10 in 1972!
In 2009 after 30 years, the club was still contributing to the running and walking community including donating $1000 to the renovation of Cleveland High School Track (where the Thursday Night Workout group met), donating to Human Solutions, and contributing over $18,000 to the Oregon Zoo
In 2010, in yet another attempt to develop new volunteers and to provide a service to the local running community, ORRC offered its first Race Director Workshop. The workshop was designed to train people with no experience on how to put on a running event. This included topics such as figuring out a course, finding volunteers, and marketing the event, and ordering t-shirts and finding insurance. Basically, the workshop answered questions asked of ORRC on a regular basis, and tried to take the guesswork out of putting on an event. A race director handbook was prepared and then also made available on the website to anyone who could not attend the workshop, free of charge, to spread the information and share our knowledge with the running community.
In 2012, in an effort to give even more back to the community, and because the club was strong financially, the club started its new Community Outreach Grant program. One grant was to provide funding to non-profit organizations that promoted running, with the first grant of $1000 being given to “One Step Closer” which promoted running and fitness for the homeless in the Portland area. Numerous other grants were given to promote kids running and fitness by donating to area schools. Liberty Fit was the first recipient of $1000,. It is a program for low-income kids at Liberty High School to train for a half-marathon. In all, ORRC gave over $6000 and ribbons and medals in 2012 to 8 different organizations including high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools. This partnership with schools encourages kids to get involved in the sport and be healthy. In addition many of the different ORRC events continued to donate funds to local school sports teams by paying a group of volunteers from the school to help put on their events. A win-win for everybody.
In 2013, as a way to support members who may not win awards, but needed help getting motivated to “get out the door” ORRC started a new “1200 Club”. Borrowing an idea from the Birmingham Track Club, the 1200 club rewarded any member who ran or walked 1200 miles in one year with an ORRC jacket. In future years, if the member already had a jacket they’d receive a patch to add to the jacket. You didn’t have to be fast, you just had to get out the door and average 100 miles a month, or 25 miles a week. It was a goal over 174 members signed up for and 111 made the goal, which was the equivalent of about 10% of members. The next year over 200 members signed up for the challenge.
In 2014 the club started a new 5K Series which it hopes will eventually be as successful at the 10K series, and be short enough to encourage new runners and walkers to “get off the couch and out the door”.
What’s Changed in the Running Community?
While in the ‘80s and ‘90’s the largest events in Oregon numbered in the 3000 participant range, now there is a steady stream of “mega-events” with 10,000 participants or more. Costs for runs have skyrocketed with 5K and 10K events costing $40 or more. For-profit organizations are putting on more events with “gimmicks” or “themes” such as obstacle courses or “color” runs. Runners and walkers can find information on any number of websites and in many different running stores. Running stores offer training programs and group social runs almost any day of the week. Amidst all this, ORRC continues to navigate the changing tides of runners and walkers looking for what information and events would meet their needs amongst all the choices that weren’t there 40 years ago.
What Hasn’t Changed?
In the words of Ralph Brown in a 1990 interview, “The quality of the people involved continues to endure. There is a positive atmosphere before, during, and after the races. Members are supportive of each other.” ORRC is an organization devoted to health, physical activity, competition, discipline and friendship. The club continues to offer a diversity of distances in its events and a mixture of locales to keep everyone challenged, and tries to keep entry fees low. ORRC continues to be blessed by the enthusiasm of its membership and the efforts of its race directors and volunteers.
Portland Marathon History
The marathon was the club’s most popular event. Started in 1972 with about 90 finishers, the Portland Marathon was very different than it is today. It was first held on Sauvie Island since “requests to hold a marathon or any other running event in the inner city fell on deaf ears at City Hall in the pre-running boom years.” Road runners had neither numbers nor clout. It transitioned from being the “Island Marathon” to the “Portland Marathon” in 1977 and had a $5 entry fee. It was held in North Portland at the Expo Center and University of Portland for several years, then moved to starting at the Memorial Coliseum in 1981. In 1982 the marathon formed a committee. Les Smith was President of ORRC in the mid 1980’s and in the last year’s of his Presidency, Les Smith took on leadership of the marathon because it was languishing and he believed it could become a premier event. In 1988 Les formed an Oregon nonprofit corporation, Portland Marathon, Inc., and ORRC concurred with the transition of the event to Les’ separate nonprofit entity. The revenues from the marathon went back into the nonprofit organization and while it kept the ORRC label for many years, it was no longer considered an official ORRC event from that point forward. ORRC members were still key volunteers for the event, and Les and ORRC planned things together and promoted each other, and continue to have a relationship to this day. In fact if you ever look at the Portland Marathon finish line, you’ll see an ORRC clock displaying times for runners as they finish!
Hood to Coast History
Another signature event started by ORRC was the Hood to Coast relay. Bob Foot was President of the club in 1985. He started the relay in 1982 when there were 8 teams that finished, and the relay grew significantly over the early years. As with the Portland Marathon, net revenues from the event became “seed money” for the following year’s event. Income and expenses were reported as part of ORRC’s expenses, with net revenues used for promoting the event the next year. However, there were disagreements in the direction the relay was going, as well as conflicts between Bob and board members over use of the revenue that could be used to support the club versus paying the race director, when no other race directors for ORRC events were getting paid. ORRC was not willing to take over responsibility and liability of the event, so in 1987 ORRC agreed to sell the event and Bob organized a “for-profit” corporation Hood to Coast Relay inc., and took over responsibility for the relay. The for-profit entity was later merged into another Bob Foot entity and there are no longer any ties or relationship between ORRC and the Hood to Coast Relay.
Longest Serving Board Members and Volunteers:
· Daniel Brewer served on the board for 13 years starting in 1993, including serving as President, and continues to direct multiple races for ORRC to this day.
· Ken Weidkamp was an original member of the club in 1970 and served on the board for 16 years, directing many of the clubs early events, including directing the first Portland Marathon, in 1972 when it was on Sauvie Island. Ken was considered “to have done more over a longer period of time to make ORRC a success than any other single person” in the club’s first two decades.
· Ralph Brown served on the board for 17 years, and directed many of ORRC’s events, and still volunteers at many events to this day. By his count he and his wife Carol have directed over 250 races.
· Diane Bemrose served on the board for 18 years starting in 1990, and is still a regular registration coordinator for many ORRC events each year.
· Dave Green has been serving on the board for 34 years, starting in 1981 and continuing to this day. He directed many ORRC events including the Blue Lake run for over 20 years and the largest ORRC event, the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving until just last year.
A complete history of ORRC Board of Directors volunteers, and award recipients can be found at the ORRC website.