It is a rare farmer who invites hundreds of strangers to tromp around on his land, spooking the cows and flattening the corn. But the tenant of Rim Rock Farm, a 96-acre spread outside Lawrence, Kans., is not like most farmers. He's Bob Timmons, the track coach at Kansas from 1966 until his retirement in 1988, who is celebrated as the mentor of America's greatest miler, Jim Ryun. On Nov. 23, Timmons and Rim Rock Farm will host the NCAA Divisions I and II cross-country championships for men and women, four races in all, and whatever fears Timmons might have about some 775 pairs of feet overrunning his farm will be lost in the joy of sharing a course that is his labor of love.
"It's an unbelievable course," says Villanova coach Marcus O'Sullivan. "When I first came over here [from Ireland], I was disappointed because so many courses are smooth parkland. I was used to more arduous terrain—running over streams, plowed fields, through gaps in fences. This throws me back to courses like that."
It's unusual for the NCAA to use a privately owned course for its championships. Timmons's two courses (10,000 meters for men, 6,000 for women) range across almost all of Rim Rock Farm's rolling acreage plus some adjoining land, combining difficulty and variety. There are ponds and fields, hairpin turns and nasty snub-nosed hills. There's even a Cemetery Hill that climbs past a real graveyard.
Knowing that quirky features with catchy names are part of the charm of great running courses, Timmons has christened many parts of Rim Rock to honor prominent Kansas runners. Billy Mills Ascent dominates mile 5, while runners are silhouetted perfectly against the sky as they round Jim Ryun Skyline Bend and head for the Glenn Cunningham Finish. Also situated around the course are statues of the Jayhawks' NCAA champions.
"The Billy Mills statue is 20 yards off the course," says Timmons, who is 74 and tickled pink that so many runners have fallen in love with his pet project. "The other day I saw some high school girls reaching up to touch his hands for luck."
Last month the Jayhawks hosted the Bob Timmons Invitational meet on the course, and nearly everyone who saw it found something different to praise. Adam Goucher of Colorado, one of the men's favorites in the NCAAs, pointed to its snaking woodland trails, and O'Sullivan noted the covered bridge just past the four-mile mark, which, being only 12 feet wide, is guaranteed to trim the pack.
"Just the fact that it's on Bob Timmons's farm is cool," said Stanford coach Vin Lananna, whose Cardinal men are ranked No. 2 behind Arkansas. "And that Jim Ryun lives nearby! I'd never met Coach Timmons before. I made a point of introducing my runners to him, and they thought that was really neat."