Sunday, May 6, 2012

Lake Atwood Goes Dry, But Not Us

The little town of Atwood, Kansas can lay claim to putting on one of the top competitive road races in the Midwest through the late 1970's and early 1980's.  Only Kansas City's Hospital Hill Half Marathon offered better fields than the Lake Atwood 10 Mile.  A list of Lake Atwood competitors reads like a who's who of the top runners from Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska from that time period.

I returned to Atwood in 1974, 75, 77 and 78.  I skipped 76 because I had traveled to Eugene, Oregon for the Olympic Trials and another long road trip just wasn't in the cards that year.  My journeys to Atwood were usually pretty tame.  Bob Silipigini and I went together again in 74.  I thought I was in decent shape but I think the heat got to me because I ran 8 minutes slower than I had the year before and Bob nearly beat me.

1975 wasn't much better as I dropped out of the race.  I remember getting a terrible side-stitch after 7 miles and with the heat being in full effect I decided to call it a day.  It was the last race I ever dropped out from in which I didn't suffer a serious muscle pull.  But that was just the beginning of a giant misadventure.

First we headed to a post race pool party at the Atwood municipal pool.  Somewhere in the madness I managed to lock the keys to my mom's Ford Galaxie inside it.  Kent McDonald came to the rescue with a coat hanger and we picked up a 6 pack of beer for our trip to Hays where we planned to spend the night.

I had 14-year-old Jon Blubaugh and 17-year-old Steve Wright in tow.  We stopped in Colby hoping to steal some ice from the Best Western before heading out onto I-70.  The ice box was locked and when we got back to the car, it wouldn't start.  At 10 p.m. at night and nary a mechanic in sight and the Best Western full our sleeping options were limited.  So we walked the mile or so back into downtown Colby drinking our beer on the way and found some derelict depression era hotel.  No they wouldn't take a credit card.  We were very, very tired and screwed.

We went next door to the police station to plead our case.  We wanted the cops to front our hotel bill.  They offered us a night in jail and the look of terror in Steve's eyes told me he had enjoyed a previous experience behind bars and I talked them into calling my mom.  She vouched for us and I left my K.U. ID as insurance.  So the three of us crashed for the night in a dusty old fleabag for a horrible night of sleep.

Back at the car at 9 a.m. the mechanic left us with a little advice.  Don't turn off the car.  Of course the first thing I did when we hit a fast food joint in Hays was turn off the car.  Thank God the only auto shop open on a Sunday in Hays was one block away and we pushed the big Ford to the garage.  They had a used starter and went to work.  The mechanic in Hays revealed that it was a good thing we had stopped.  A piece of metal rattling around in the engine could have flown up into the drive shaft and destroyed the motor. Two and a half hours later we were back on the road with a heck of a story to tell when we returned to Lawrence.

Blubaugh and I went to the 76 Olympic Trials together and that's a blog worthy of itself.  But in 77 we returned to Atwood where Jon would run at super fast 56:33 for a then race age group record for a 16-year-old.  I ran half decent race myself in 61:44 while K.U. great George Mason just missed out on the win losing to Colorado Buffalo Jon Hunsaker by 3 seconds.

The 78 race I took another group of high school runners with me.  The group was of mixed gender.  Robert Wiseman and Brian Copeland came along with Joy Meyen.  Joy was one of the best young women distance runners in Kansas becoming a top flight marathoner making our USA national tea at that distance in the late 80's.  We spent the night before the race in Hays and only two beds poor Joy, who was quite the innocent, opted to sleep on the floor.  It was a little rambunctious at lights out and hopefully she wasn't too traumatized.

Everybody but me ran pretty well.  I ran 67:55.  It was my senior year in college and I hadn't run much given my work load in school, my radio job and my television internship.  It was the only time we drove all night back to Lawrence after the race.  George Mason celebrated the return home by jumping in the pool at the Jayhawk Towers.

Sometime in this period the lake at Lake Atwood had dried up.  It had become this giant, awful looking mud pit.  It also produced a pretty bad odor on a hot summer night.  And it was bone dry when I made my next trip and one of the best in 1982.  I didn't run a great race, 64:12, but K.U.'s Tim Tays finally became the first Jayhawk to win the race.  Tim and I had traveled to the race together.  His victory made the drive home a complete joy.

The best part of the 82 trip is that a family had agreed to play host for that night to a group of four runners saving us the cost of a hotel.  They also opened up a refrigerator full of beer to us.  Tim, Bob Luder, Ted Crank, Rex Lane and myself pounded beers and swapped stories until 2 in the morning.  Our host was great, the beer was fabulous and the conversation was memorable.

It was the end of an era in a way for Lake Atwood.  The race had reached its peak in popularity and road racing in other parts of the state had taken hold.  Finding summer races to run were no longer a problem.  It would be 9 years before I would head back to Lake Atwood for a morning start and a big surprise from mother nature.


  1. Oh, yeah, John, I remember Lake Atwood, 1982, very well. It was a fun race, and afterwords we went to a restaurant and watched the race replay on VHS. I remember sharing the good times with you, and over at another table were Jon Hunsaker and the other Colorado studs having a good time of their own. That was my last visit to Lake Atwood, but I'll always remember it. Long live Bob Creighton!

  2. My one and only Lake Atwood was in 1980 and finished 12th, 52:33, 10 miler but it seems like it was at 8pm to miss the heat of the day. Not much time to drink afterwards, plus a long drive back to Atchison, KS. I second Tim Tays, mass props to Bob Creighton!