Memoir reveals trials of KU runner

Posted on Apr 16, 2014 in Alumni News, News, and Sports


Tim Tays, c’83, came to Kansas in the late ’70’s looking to become one of the greatest distance runners in the storied history of Kansas Track & Field. Was that too much to ask? In his first book, Wannabe Distance God: The Thirst, Angst, and Passion of Running in the Chase Pack, A Memoir by Timothy M. Tays, PhD, the alumni author reveals in excruciating detail the mindset of an aspiring college distance runner competing against the greatest of his era and the legends of KU’s past. The book, available in paperback and for Kindle at, features memorable accounts of famous figures in KU track history, such as Jim Ryun, Billy Mills and Coach Bob Timmons. In this excerpt provided by the author, Tays introduces us to Coach Timmons by recounting a typical cross country workout. As a former KU track runner, I can personally attest to the anxiety produced by that bumpy drive into the country for a distance run, leaving Fraser  far in the distance.

The Sag Wagon

“Lock an’ load, men!” Coach Timmons barked as he slid behind the steering wheel of the truck. “We’ve got four new tires and sunny weather! Hee! You get to run again today!”

In the face of yet another overwhelming workout, Timmie often held the enthusiasm for all of us. We clustered behind his rear bumper and waited to climb into the bed. Gnats stuck to my skin like pepper and collected in the corners of my eyes as I stepped into the truck. My quads felt the usual fatigue, so it’d feel good to sit, even if just for the time it took Timmie to drive us out of town. Since the good spots along the sides of the truck were already taken, I waded between the gauntlet of bare knees and plopped beneath the rear window. I was lucky; the last three guys had to stand.

“Hold on!” Timmie yelled. The truck lurched forward, and the guys standing clutched at our shoulders.

With my knees pulled to my chest and my arms around my shins, I was one of nineteen squeezed into the truck as it groaned out of the Memorial Stadium parking lot. My teammates joked with each other, and I envied their fellowship. They thought I was a shy freshman, but I saw myself as psyching up for the workout. On the bubble I ran fifth-to-seventh man, so my position on the team was tenuous. It was almost too much to bear as Timmie daily x’d out a square on a calendar in the locker room, counting down to the Big Eight Cross-Country Championship, proclaiming varsity runners must finish each interval of every workout in the top seven or risk losing their position.

So I approached workouts like a race.

My goal was to letter just as it had been four years earlier as a freshman in high school. This time, though, besides exceptionally talented older runners, I also faced overwhelming academics and homesickness. So I resisted the handful of guys on the wrong side of the bubble who had the same goal as me. They too sat stoic as paratroopers, looked down at their hands, and rested their foreheads on their knees. They knew it would hurt; it always did.

We crested a hill and were weightless for a moment. The standing guys sank into deep squats, their eyes wide.

“Yee-haw!” Timmie exclaimed in front. “It’s a bee-yew-tiful day in God’s country!”

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