Learning at the Feet of the Best

Team USA head coach Vin Lananna addresses the crowd at TrackTown Fitness
2016 US Olympic men's track and field head coach Vin Lananna (forefront, standing) addresses the crowd at TrackTown Fitness

If you want running tips from 2016 US Olympic men’s track and field head coach and University of Oregon associate athletic director Vin Lananna, you have two options:

You could quit your job, spend countless hours each day working out and running on tracks and trails, eat a carefully planned diet, and then, if you’re good enough, qualify for Team USA.

Or, you could roll out of bed on a Sunday morning, lace up a pair of running or walking shoes, and head to Hayward Field at 8:00 a.m. for TrackTown Fitness clinics—a free weekly gathering open to the public.

(You still have to go back to work on Monday with option two, though.)

More than 50 years ago, legendary UO coach Bill Bowerman, BS ’33, MEd ’53 started a community running program in Eugene that helped launch a nationwide movement. Thanks to Bowerman, who once said “If you have a body, you’re an athlete,” running went from a sport for Olympic hopefuls to a pastime enjoyed by anyone with, well, a body.

With the IAAF World Track & Field Championships coming to Eugene in the summer of 2021, Lananna—who is constantly on the move, as his job titles also include USA Track and Field president and TrackTown USA president—resurrected Bowerman’s running program, in order to achieve his goal of making Oregon the most active state in America by the time they get underway.

“Bill Bowerman was so much a part of the fabric of what this community is made of,” said Lananna. “People forget about what came before them, but we’ll never forget about Bill Bowerman. He was so far ahead of his time: Think about it, a fitness class that turned into a running boom where 20 million people are running throughout the United States, and who-knows-how-many around the world? It’s great to be able to pay homage to him, and we’re excited to connect so many things we do currently to Bowerman’s days here in Eugene.”

While TrackTown Fitness is structured toward runners and walkers training for the Eugene marathon, half marathon, and 5k, it is open to people of all ages, all abilities, and with all goals. You don’t need to have your sights set on being able to run 26.2, 13.1, or 3.1 miles to join in—in fact, you don’t have to have your sights set on anything more than just getting out of bed and getting involved.

For those who arrive at Hayward Field at 8:00 a.m. on a Sunday, Lananna isn’t the only Duck they will hear from. Helping Lananna and “assistant coach” Ian Dobson—a 2008 5,000-meter Olympian and the coach of Team Run Eugene (TRE)—are Dobson’s elite runners, including Alexi Pappas, MA ’13 (five-time All-American, 2016 10,000-meter Olympian); Megan Patrignelli, BS ’14 (three-time All-American, 2016 Olympic steeplechase trialist); Mel Newbery, MEd ’15 (2016 British Olympic steeplechase trialist); and Kimber Mattox, MS ’13 (four-time All-American, 2014 Warrior Dash World Champion, UO adjunct faculty member).

After Lananna and Dobson begin a session by going over that day’s keys—arm swing, foot strike, core positioning, and the like—the TRE athletes lead the runners and walkers through warm-up stretches before joining them on the Hayward Field track for the morning’s workout.

Stretching before a run
Former Cornell University and South Eugene High School distance runner Brian Eimstad (third from left) and 2016 Olympian Alexi Pappas, MA '13 (fourth from right) lead a group through stretching exercises before a run.

“TrackTown Fitness is amazing and important because it provides an ongoing, reliable touchstone for fitness inspiration every week,” said Pappas. “It’s much easier to stay committed to your fitness when you know you have a reliable, motivating group to report to each week. To be part of a community where anyone can show up  Sunday mornings and run, jog, or walk around Historic Hayward Field under the supervision of a legendary coach like Vin is incredibly special.”

“We are Track Town, USA, so it’s cool to involve more than just the elite runners and collegiate runners,” echoed Patrignelli. “It’s high school runners, kids, adults, people who’ve never run, people who walk—anyone who wants to move and enjoy being outside on Hayward Field. It’s a great place to bring everyone together. It’s not about how fast you go or how far you go, everyone’s out there together and you get to meet a lot of really cool people.”

Track Town Fitness will be held at Hayward Field from 8:00–9:00 a.m. every Sunday leading up to the Eugene Marathon on May 6 and 7. Visit for more information.

—Damian Foley, UO Communications. Photos courtesy TrackTown, USA.