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30 years later, JC still one of the best running cities

June 19th, 2014 9:09 am by Tony Casey

30 years later, JC still one of the best running cities

Tony Casey

“ ... in a town most people have never heard of,” read the story from a 1984 edition of The Runner Magazine, ranking its best running city in America.

Most people have heard of Boulder, Colorado, Boston, Flagstaff, Arizona, Austin, Texas and San Francisco, so where in the heck must author Royce Flippin have been talking about?

Johnson City, Tennessee, of course. Why it was picked then and why it would be in the conversation today as a top running city in the United States is still evident. As Flippin mentioned in this somewhat shocking acknowledgement of what the area has to offer harriers, East Tennessee State University’s spot as a training ground for some of the best runners on the planet didn’t hurt its ability to garner such a distinction, but there’s more here than just a slew of uber-talented racers.

The layout, well described in the piece, explains a lot about what’s available to runners of all levels. Too frequently with running, where repetition is key to improvement, the scenery gets stale. But, Johnson City offers too many options to list for those looking to keep things fresh with their running.

Do you like hills? Well, if you do, I know a place for you!

Johnson City’s runs boast some of the best hills imaginable, with slopes that will make you chop your stride in half, let you feel like you’re climbing a ladder without the ability to use your arms and make your number one goal not to be setting a personal-best time, but to get through a run without walking ... or vomiting for that matter. This might sound downright awful, but it’s actually quite rewarding for a few reasons: you get to improve your fitness rather quickly and these hills typically lead the way to some of the finest views in several hundred square miles.

Do you like to race? Well, Johnson City, in its peak running season offers about three races a weekend. With so many famed runners, there are many runners putting on races, and who knows better about putting on a great race than a racer him or herself? In varying distances, you can often pick your distance, theme, cause or even T-shirt style with the race you choose to join. The races are well archived and updated, too, with results hitting local websites like nearly as quickly as it took the last finisher — bless their heart, we’ve all been there — to find that finish line.

In a time when people want things and they want them now, immediate results are a plus and you get that with most races in Johnson City. Do you want to see how quickly your mom finished the Turkey Trot six years ago? Yeah, they have that archived, too.

Do you like to run in groups? Well, looky here, Johnson City has many running groups that often branch off from the local running group — like the State of Franklin Track Club, which is always looking for members. Through this club, you can find other people who run your pace and are willing to work with your schedule. Before work, after work, during work, there are runners just like you, looking to run at every time of the day.

The old article, provided by former Johnson City Press writer Doug Janz, who was mentioned in the article, as was current City Commissioner Jenny Brock, shares some shots of those old glory days showing the top ETSU runners logging their miles much faster than we’d like to imagine on those old country roads surrounding the city. And that’s the good part, the roads are still there for anyone who’s looking for a blast from the past.

Brock, 65, who’s competed in four marathons in her time with her eyes on another, said 30 years later, she’s not seeing as much popularity in local running as then and that it might have lost its luster a bit. But a huge attendance in races like the Turkey Trot she started shows running in Johnson City is still alive and well.

Some things have gone downhill just a bit since the 1984 article, with not so much world-class distance running coming out of the university, but, then again, some things have improved, too. One screaming example is the Rails-to-Trails program which has converted a local railroad line into a new trail called the Tweetsie that could get any couch potato into their running shoes. Ray Flynn, a 3:49-miler and one of the before-mentioned uber-talented runners quoted in Flippin’s article showing off his training ground in Johnson City, has helped put the trail together in recent years and salivates at the chance to run on the trail.

“I’m biased, of course,” Flynn told Flippin. “I’ve traveled a fair amount, and this is the best place to train I’ve ever seen.”

Color me biased, too, but I can’t help but agree.

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