Club SportsTrack & Field

UO Running Club provides competitive outlet for students

Every day, Tom Heinonen walks eight blocks from his South Eugene home to the University of Oregon intramural fields and stands on the North end of the field that runs adjacent to 15th avenue.

There, he waits.

He never knows exactly who he is waiting for or who will show up. But each day Heinonen is there, prepared to share a running workout with whoever joins.

Heinonen has repeated this daily ritual almost every weekday for the past 12 years, and he rarely alters his routine. He did miss two weeks of practice earlier this month while recovering from open heart surgery.

Heinonen serves as the head coach and chief organizer of one of the most interesting groups on campus: The University of Oregon running club. The running club finds itself intertwined in the running community of Eugene, a town that celebrates its own track and field history more than any other in the nation. It provides an experience unique to the club sport scene at the University, but more importantly, provides an opportunity for Oregon students to chase their passion of running competitively.

“For a lot of kids, it’s the best part of the day and for a certain nucleus of the club, it’s their main social group,” Heinonen said. “Some people just want people to go for a run with whenever it fits their schedule, and other people want to train and race.

“Some of them wanna train pretty hard.”

Prior to taking over the UO running club, Heinonen spent 28 years as head coach of the University of Oregon women’s distance program, where he coached numerous NCAA champions and collegiate record-holders during his tenure. With the running club, he finds himself in a less-stressful environment and makes a point to only assign one “hard” training day per-week.

“I definitely am not doing as many hard workouts now… It’s not as time consuming or demanding,” said Dana Fry, a grad student who competed at Division III Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts before coming to Oregon.

The running club recently returned from the NIRCA National Championship meet in Cincinnati, Ohio where both teams finished in eighth place while competing against running clubs from other large public universities.

At its very best, the club has fielded podium teams at nationals and in some cases, even better. They swept the men’s and women’s titles in 2006, and dominated the men’s championship in 2013.

The club’s runners also get the chance to test themselves against runners from local colleges that range from the junior college to NCAA Division II.

At the Charles Bowles Invitational held at Willamette University on Oct. 3, the women finished in eighth place in the team standings, comfortably ahead of Eastern Oregon, an NAIA Division II school. The men finished eighth as a team, just ahead of Oregon Tech.

Oregon junior Ryan Jones, who has been the men’s top performer this season, finished 20th as an individual, less than a second back of Carlton Corbin — the top runner for the 2015 NWAC champion Spokane Community College.

Jones’ story is similar to many athletes who compete for the Oregon running club. He enjoyed a fair amount of success as a prep runner at Southridge High School in Portland and had the chance to run collegiately at several small schools in-state. But he was set on attending a school with a strong design program. He came to Oregon, and began running for the club as a freshman.

While the running club has served as a niche on campus and competitive outlet for hundreds of runners, it has been just as beneficial for Heinonen.

“It’s certainly the highlight of my day, everyday,” Heinonen said. “It’s one of the few places I would think in the university, where if you choose to be there, it’s because you really want to be there.”


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Jarrid Denney

Jarrid Denney

Jarrid Denney is an associate sports editor and senior reporter at the Daily Emerald. He primarily covers the Oregon football and baseball beats. Follow along for Twitter updates @jarrid_denney.