Hogeye runners remember marathon’s first outing 40 years ago

Courtesy, Hogeye Marathon/Facebook

Seventeen started, but only three finished.

Sounds a bit ominous, doesn’t it? Maybe even like the catchphrase for a Hollywood thriller opening soon at a theater near you.

Kurt Tweraser (left), and John Robinson, the first- and second-place finishers in the inaugural Hogeye Marathon

Photo: Terry J. Wood.

But it’s not. It’s just how Gene Tweraser described the genesis of what has developed into a grand Fayetteville tradition, the Hogeye Marathon.

“That makes it sound scary,” Gene said with a chuckle.

While Gene did not run in the marathon, her husband Kurt not only ran in it but also won it.

“You know, it was kind of scary,” Kurt said. “It was 85 degrees. There was no water and no facilities or services. Thinking about it now, it’s scarier than what I thought it was at the time.”

John Robinson, who placed second in the inaugural Hogeye Marathon in May of 1977, agreed with his longtime friend.

“I had run in one other marathon in January of that year at Petit Jean, and it was 18 degrees,” Robinson said. “We didn’t really know what to expect, especially with the heat. People fell out of the race all along the way.

“I didn’t know for years that there was another finisher. His name was Jamie Kohls, but he came in an hour after us.”

Kurt interjected, “I heard he walked a good bit of it, but he finished.”

The granddaddy of all public running events in Northwest Arkansas celebrates its 40th anniversary at 7 a.m. Sunday when an estimated 1,800-2,000 runners will compete in five races that comprise the Hogeye Marathon, according to Tabby Holmes, the marathon’s race director for the past 10 years.

Hogeye Marathon organizers have greatly upgraded conditions for competitors during the intervening years since Tweraser and Robinson made that first loop out to Hogeye on Highway 265 and back to the University of Arkansas.

Safety and amenities for the competitors are a primary concern, Holmes said, adding that adjustments are made year to year to improve the event for all involved.

For years the city has provided safety measures for the runners participating in the event, and amenities such as water stations and portable toilets are available to runners to make the physically taxing event more bearable. Holmes said she and everyone involved are thankful for the city’s cooperation and support.

Medical personnel will be at the relay exchange points, the half marathon turn around, and the finish line, according to Holmes. There will be bicycle EMT’s traveling the course, and there will be more that 19 aid stations where medical personnel can be summoned, she said.

Newspaper clippings from the inaugural Hogeye Marathon

Photo: Terry J. Wood

Robinson said one of the best adjustments the race made was to move the course inside the city of Fayetteville and to incorporate its trail system in 2003.

“The old course was just dangerous,” Robinson said. “I got hit by a truck in the 1982 marathon and spent the next week recuperating in the hospital.”

Holmes, who travels on her own time to recruit runners for the event, said that while the marathon course no longer goes out to Hogeye, the name recognition was too important to the event to let go.

“The marathon has a reputation as of one of the best in the nation,” Holmes said. “That’s something that we definitely wanted to keep. Hogeye is a name that stands out. So many assumed that Hogeye had to do with the UA mascot. But the history and tradition of the what Dr. Barry Brown originated remains very important to the event, and we honor it by providing the best conditions and course we can.”

The accident didn’t deter Robinson from running or racing. Though he didn’t complete the race in 1983, he bounced back to run it under 3 hours, 30 minutes in 1984, the cutoff for qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

While neither Tweraser, 87, who was a political science professor at the University of Arkansas nor Robinson, 79, who was the head of UA Food Services, ever ran in the Boston Marathon, qualifying for the event was their goal every time out. They both did it on their first attempt.

A local marathon for Fayetteville originated with Dr. Barry Brown, a former physical education professor at the UA, who now lives in Florida. Brown began to recruit other running enthusiasts on campus to participate in Saturday runs in 1976. As the group grew to around 15 regulars, a marathon seemed to be a natural move forward.

“Barry Brown was the impetus for the marathon,” Tweraser, a native of Austria, said. “The goal was to train and get a group of local runners into the Boston Marathon. If he saw someone running or who had potential, he asked him to join.

“We all ran through the week, but Saturdays naturally became more competitive. We built up week by week starting in the fall of 1976.”

Robinson had been running since he discovered Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s 1968 book “Aerobics” earlier in the 1970s, but he said the camaraderie and competition fostered by Brown and the other runners in the group pushed him to the goal of running marathons.

“I loved running,” Robinson said. “I wasn’t sure at first how far I could go, but after training and building up, I knew I could do it by the time of my first marathon at Petite Jean. It was cold, but I had on long underwear, and used a pair of thick socks for gloves. Once I got into the race, the cold didn’t bother me. You build up your own heat. That first Hogeye was a different story. That heat worked on everyone.”

Today Robinson continues to walk, calling it his favorite exercise.

“I love these hills, and trails here in Fayetteville are fantastic,” he said. “We could have gone to live anywhere after retirement. The country here and the beauty is is the main reason I stayed here since first going to work at the university.”

Tweraser said he loved running because it was a sport he was good at.

“I had been introduced to baseball as a young man by the G.Is in Austria,” Tweraser said, “but after missing every ball that was hit to me, I wasn’t asked back. I tried tennis, too, but again, not my sport.

“But running came naturally to me. Barry and others told me had I been able to run competitively in my youth that I could have been very good. When you find something you’re good at, it feels good. It felt so great to find my sport even though I was 47. It became a habit.”

Robinson agreed.

“I not able to run now because of my knees, but when I could, I just didn’t feel right if I didn’t get my miles in,” he said.

When asked about what he thought about while running a marathon, Tweraser said “The pain,” half kidding and half not.

“No really, I started off for the first two or three miles just listening to my body,” Tweraser said. “From there on, I think I would be in a zone. Then when you hit that wall, it’s just guts and determination to push your way through.”

Robinson said another runner told him that he made step-by-step building plans for a new home during a marathon run, starting with the blue prints right up to moving in. That kept him busy the whole race, he said.

“I was more like Kurt,” Robinson said. “You concentrate on your goal. Thoughts might drift in or out, but that’s really it.”

The marathon begins at 7 a.m. Sunday on the Fayetteville Square and concludes at Wilson Park after taking a route west out to Highway 112 then east for a loop around Lake Fayetteville Trail and then back south to the finish line at Wilson Park. Runners 15 and up are eligible for the marathon, but competitors under 15 will need the signature of a parent.

The half marathon and four-person relay both begin with the marathon at 7 a.m. The 5K Run/Walk takes off five minutes after the other races. Ages 12 and up are eligible for both.

The Hogeye also features a corporate challenge that allows local businesses to promote physical fitness and raise funds for charitable causes of their own choosing. All business competing in the challenge earns points for each employee that competes in one of the five of the events.

The awards ceremony will be held at noon in Wilson Park, with honors going to winners based on gender and age. There will be no parking at Wilson Park.

Fayetteville trails are closed to bicycles and other trail users during the marathon. Gordon Long Park, off Gregg Street, has a parking area and would be a good place for spectators without getting on the course. The Botanical Gardens provides a good place for marathon and relay team watchers to cheer runners.

Festivities actually begin Saturday with a fitness expo from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Chancellor Hotel. The expo will showcase products and information concerning nutrition, running shoes and apparel, and health services. Chiropractors, a podiatrist, massage therapists and other health care providers will also be on had to advise attendees.

The kids’ fun run for children under 12 begins at 2 p.m. Saturday behind Kohl’s department store in Fayetteville. There are two races of a mile and 2.4 miles. Finishers receive a T-shirt, a medal and a goody package.

The Chancellor Hotel hosts the Hogeye Pasta Dinner from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday. The meal is $10 per runner and $15 for guests. Seating is limited. Registration is at the hotel at the Hogeye check-in booth. Four-time Boston Marathon champion and author Bill Rodgers is the guest speaker.

For more information about the race, visit hogeyemarathon.com.

This article is sponsored by First Security Bank. For more great stories of Arkansas food, travel, sports, music and more, visit onlyinark.com.