Rochester Track Club 50 years and running
In its evolution, the Rochester Track Club has come to resemble a marathon much more than a sprint.
That begins with its longevity. This marks the 50th year of the RTC being a Rochester organization. It got its start thanks to Dwight Pierson, a Rochester newcomer in 1969 who was looking to be satisfied the same way the Twin Cities Track Club had been satisfying him.
So Pierson started a running club here, which forever more became known as the Rochester Track Club, an organization which has morphed through the years. The RTC’s inaugural meeting took place Friday, April 11, 1969 at the Soldiers Field clubhouse.
As for its inaugural focus, it had as much to do with sprinting as distance running. It began by catering to competitive high school and college-aged athletes as well as their school’s coaches.
That’s miles different from the RTC’s current look. It’s now dominated by middle-aged to older folks who are in it for the long runs and with its membership expanding from under 30 those first few years to its current 163.
“When you look at the history of it, distance running (for recreation) was not that common back then,” RTC President Dave Phillips said. “The (RTC) was for more competitive runners who were looking for a group to join when it first started.”
Fifty years later, and with pride, the RTC’s mission and focus has completely changed. But what hasn’t changed is the feeling that it continues to fill a vital niche.
“I take a lot of pride in our club,” said RTC membership coordinator Jean Murray, who joined the club in 1998. “The events and the (race) equipment we provide, those are the reasons to keep this going. And being an active runner, and the mental health and the social life that that provides, that has been one of the most rewarding aspects for me. Always having people to run with in Rochester, it’s part of what makes it a great place to live.”
Phillips recognizes the RTC as having gone through three distinct stages. The first was the competitive actual track club that Pierson created, catering to athletes in their prime. Then came the transition away from those athletes, their schools and their coaches, to a club that mostly drew adult male runners. Membership grew to about 50 in the late 1970s under that model. Then came stage three, with membership growing to around 200, with a big increase in women members and the RTC offering numerous running, social and educational events.
Murray isn’t sure if the RTC is done growing. Its number have slipped in recent years with other running and active sports clubs — some which include more social events than the RTC offers — cropping up in Rochester.
But the RTC still has its niche, including the ability rent out race event equipment, inform the running community via its website of events being offered (not just their own), offer half-marathon group training runs, provide manuals for budding race directors, as well as put on a host of races, including the popular 49th-year Hal Martin All-Comers’ Track Meets at Soldiers Field for kids. Those go from early June until the middle of July each summer.
While those involved with the inner-workings of the RTC — all of them volunteers — continue to stand behind their mission and be motivated by it, they also see it as one that’s continuing to evolve.
Murray and Phillips both see a fourth stage coming for the RTC. They say it will stress not just competitive distance running, but running for people of all abilities.
And after 50 years, they might even change the club’s name.
“We are thinking about doing some rebranding,” Murray said. “We may promote a new name and logo. We’re trying to do that in conjunction with this being our 50th year as a club.”