EUGENE — Grace Miller, 12, is training for her third 5K race. On Sunday mornings, she rises just after the sun and heads to Hayward Field to run with her dad.
Colleen Milliman, 90, also trains at Hayward on Sunday mornings, toward her own goal: She wants to set a running record for 90-year-olds. TrackTown USA holds a free weekly track workout from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. each Sunday at Hayward field. The event, TrackTown Fitness, is open to anyone regardless of age, skill set or motivation.
“Who brought the sun?” coach Vin Lananna jokes during his pre-workout pep talk at Sunday’s meet-up.
The sky is uncharacteristically clear, and families and friends run side by side, laughing and smiling through their exertions.
Lananna, a former University of Oregon track coach and men’s coach of the 2016 U.S. Olympic track team, runs the weekly sessions with Ian Dobson, who competed at 5,000 meters in the 2008 Summer Olympics.
“We started the program because we have this great community of people who give so much to track and field,” Lananna said. “It’s a community builder. I think all sports — especially collegiate sports — are community builders.”
Citizen running programs organized by UO track coaches and athletes date to legendary UO track coach Bill Bowerman, whose early jogging club in Eugene and book “Jogging” were credited with helping to ignite the national jogging craze in the late 1960s.
The TrackTown fitness runners are the latest to join that effort.
Miller is preparing for the upcoming Eugene Marathon 5K on May 6; Milliman is training for the 5K Twilight Run in Tigard on June 24.
Milliman said the welcoming, friendly atmosphere of TrackTown Fitness keeps her coming back.
“I love the people. They inspire me to do my very best,” said Milliman, who started exercising when she was 75, encouraged by her son and grandson.
Participants can self-select into one of three workout groups: the joggers, the walkers and those who do both.
Birk Nelson, 43, has attended the Sunday sessions since the winter of 2015. He comes to stay in shape. The three distinct groups promote comfort, enabling participants to work out with their fitness peers, but they also provide motivation to do better.
“My aspiration is to be in the ‘run’ group someday,” Nelson said. “After a long winter of hibernation, it’s nice to get the body moving and have other people around to inspire you.”
Alfred Lara, 64, has been attending TrackTown Fitness to condition for a fencing competition this month. “It’s a great workout, and it’s inspirational to see all these people running around at different ages and levels,” Lara said.
Anne-Jenelle Williams, 49, completes a long run on Saturday and attends TrackTown Fitness on Sunday for a recovery run. She is training for the Eugene Half Marathon — her third half marathon since December.
Williams ran her first half marathon in December — two days after she turned 49 — and she has a personal goal to complete five half marathons by the time she turns 50.
The social aspect of TrackTown Fitness keeps Williams coming back every Sunday.
“I’m not as quick as a lot of my running friends are, and when we work out together on the road, bike path or around town, I see them at the beginning and the end,” she says. “When we’re on the track, I get to be around them even though we’re running very different paces.”
As the morning workout draws to a close, runners hydrate at the water station and slow down to catch their breath.
An upbeat Simple Plan song blasts across the brilliant field: “It’s been 28 days since I’ve seen the sunshine … and I know some days will be bad, but I don’t wanna be sad no more.”