WASHINGTON RUNHERS UNLIMITED

A CLUB TO PROMOTE WOMEN'S RUNNING IN THE WASHINGTON DC METRO AREA

About Us

Board of Directors

Betsy Conner bconner@csc.com
Susan Betts, Treasurer susan_a_betts@yahoo.com
Elizabeth Ottaway elizabeth_ottaway@hotmail.com
Shawn Jirik
shawnrun@gmail.com
Patricia Cuff pcuff@ix.netcom.com

Constitution and Bylaws

 

Club History

RunHers was formed in October 1976 by twelve women who decided to establish a club to provide mutual encouragement for running and promote local women’s running. The club flourished, and today members represent a diverse cross-section of running interests, abilities and goals.

RunHers welcomes and supports women runners of all ages and abilities. The club aims to provide camaraderie, education, training programs, volunteer opportunities and, most importantly, fun to women runners across our area.

A detailed history of the organization follows:

Washington RunHers Unlimited
Pioneers in Women’s Running

The women’s rights movement in the late 1960s provided the catalyst for the rise of the female athlete in the 1970s. It was on this rising tide of women’s athleticism that Washington RunHers Unlimited was founded. In September of 1976, a few women gathered to hear black marathoner, Marilyn Beans. Inspired by her speech, the women joined together and held the first official meeting of the fledgling running club in October at Henley Roughton’s house. Twelve women and one man (Fred Roughton) attended this first organizational meeting. Valerie Nye thought of the name Washington RunHers Unlimited and the decision to accept it was unanimous. (Selection of Club colors was next – purple and green were chosen.) Purple stood for royalty and passion for running and green for new beginnings, the members believing that these colors would definitely distinguish them from other clubs. Officers were also chosen: Henley Roughton, President, Jennifer White, Vice President; Caroline Hahn, Secretary, Helena Carfield, Treasurer; Val Nye, publicity. Although Fred Roughton was the driving force behind the founding of the Club, he held no office but acted as coach and advisor. From the day (RunHers) was founded, its leadership and decision making would be in the hands of women.

Within two weeks of their founding, RunHers burst on to the running scene by placing in two local races (the Virginia Cross Country Champion and the George Mason University Cross Country.) Not content with just the shorter races, some RunHers burned up the roads at the inaugural Marine Corps Reserve Marathon in November. Out of the membership of twenty-two RunHers as of January 1977, seven had completed at least one marathon and many more were training for one. But the RunHers were not always winning races and being serious competitors. Social gatherings were also important functions to Club members. There were monthly birthday runs put on by the members whose birthdays fell within that month.

By March of 1977 the membership size had tripled to 43. Afraid of losing the intimacy and camaraderie that had been established within the club, RunHers decided to close its membership size at 50 and accept members by invitation only. Not wanting to discourage any women from running who inquired about RunHers, it was decided to encourage them to join other co-ed clubs or help form other women’s clubs. Because of their high visibility at local races and media attention, RunHers attracted women runners of all ages and abilities. It soon became evident that they could not promote women’s running by restricting the size of the club and limiting the membership. Based on a survey sent to all members in the Fall of 1977, the Club decided that it could serve the community best by opening up membership to all levels of women runners.

All members were encouraged to try competition and in 1977, the Club held its first women’s only race at Wheaton Regional Park in Wheaton, Maryland. The event was well attended and 70 women showed up. Because there were so few all women’s races, the Club led by Henley began negotiations with the Bonnie Bell cosmetic company to put on all women’s race in the Washington area. And the first of ten annual Bonnie Bell (10K) races was held on May 29, 1978. Washington area women runners responded with enthusiasm as 1,400 women completed the distance. Team competition was encouraged. The RunHers teams were seen everywhere and membership in the club reached 125.

President Caroline Hahn was concerned that the same core members supported club activities and new women joined, but did not attend club functions or meetings. The Executive Board strove to revamp Club activities to attract more members and appeal to inactive members by starting carpools to races and other activities, setting up area group runs and Tuesday night speed work sessions and long training runs.

RunHers continued to shine on the race scene and the 1979 Bonnie Bell was a big success with 1,716 entrants and a profit of $3,000. To enhance their race management experience and introduce more women to racing, the Club began a series of Low-Key Races to alternate on a monthly basis with Birthday Runs. It became a requirement that every club member help with a Birthday Run or Low-Key Race at least once during the year.

RunHers continued to shine on the race scene and the 1979 Bonnie Bell was a big success with 1,716 entrants and a profit of $3,000. To enhance their race management experience and introduce more women to racing, the Club began a series of Low-Key Races to alternate on a monthly basis with Birthday Runs. It became a requirement that every club member help with a Birthday Run or Low-Key Race at least once during the year.

To further distinguish themselves in the running community, RunHers decided that they needed a logo to represent the Club. The 1979 March/April issue of the newsletter became the RunHers Record and utilized the new logo on the cover.

In order to ensure that everyone was heard and to encourage more club participation, RunHers organized several committees: Birthday Run, Carpool, Fundraising, Membership, Newsletter, Phone, Programs, Publicity, Race Results, Race Sponsorship, Team Coordination and Typing! To make new members feel more welcome, the membership committee proposed sending a packet of information to all new members. Included in the new member kit was a flyer about the Club, a membership card, the latest edition of RunHers Record, membership criteria, roster, a copy of the constitution and bylaws, and RunHers items for sale. As the Club became more of a business, it was necessary to design a budget in 1980. A new committee was formed to plan workshops and meeting programs. This was another effort to get more members to attend meetings and functions and involve them in the club.

The Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) proposed holding a series of all women’s 5K races nationwide on the same day to lobby for the inclusion of women’s distance events in the 1984 Olympics. The idea was well received by RunHers and it was decided to hold the first Women’s Distance Festival in July of that year. In early 1981, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) yielded to the efforts of the International Running Committee (IRC), RRCA and other groups and agreed to include the women’s marathon at the 1984 Olympics. RunHers had played a part in these efforts to make women’s distance running more visible and widely accepted.

The Club decided to give something back to the community. RunHers made donations to the National Park Service to install one of the water stations on the par course next to the Mount Vernon Bike Path. In May of 1982, the Club gave two scholarships of $500 each to two female George Mason University students and $150 donation to the IRC. Everyone was encouraged to be active and promote running by participating in local races. To solidify this feeling of unity, the Club purchased new uniforms and asked members to wear them at all races.

In early 1983, the death of a female runner in Rock Creek Park frightened many local women and triggered RunHers into action. The Club immediately formed a Safety Awareness Committee, devised a flyer on Safety Tips for women runners and sent it out to many other running clubs on a nationwide basis. On the local scene, the Club conducted a workshop on running and safety for women at the D.C. Rape Crisis Center. In the Fall of that year the membership reached an all time high of 225.

With the trend away from racing and competition in 1985, many RunHers attended regular monthly training runs starting at the Columbia Island Marina in Arlington. This was a time for slow, comfortable runs at a conversational pace with lively discussion of family or job matters or running injuries. Not all RunHers were into leisurely running so weekly interval sessions were held at the Georgetown University Track.

In 1986 RunHers held their Tenth Anniversary Banquet and seven of the original thirteen were present. It was an emotional evening as the charter members recalled the early days of running and this brave group of women runners.

An exciting opportunity was proposed to the membership: Nike wanted to sponsor an all women’s 8K race in May of 1989 with RunHers putting on the race! The Club signed a contract with Nike and the race plans began. Sponsoring this race seemed to be the event that RunHers needed to increase the Club’s visibility and bring excitement into local women’s running again.

Through the years, Washington RunHers Unlimited has undergone many changes. The original purpose of promoting and encouraging women runners still remains as the central theme of the Club. Although the Club membership still consists of professionals, many members run lower weekly mileage and participate in other sports such as hiking, bicycling and swimming. For those new members just beginning a running program, the goal is to improve their fitness level and enjoy the camaraderie of being with other women. Many members who have joined within the last few years want to find other women running partners. During the formative years of 1978 through 1984, RunHers built a good reputation in road race management. Having the opportunity to sponsor the Nike Women’s 8K Race reaffirms the Club’s position as an experienced and qualified group in the running community.

What about the future of Washington RunHers Unlimited? As our membership increases so does the crop of enthusiastic and dynamic women eager to promote this fine Club and carry on the traditions of the original thirteen. RunHers would like to continue to attract new members and make new friends. We are particularly delighted you have chosen to join us.

Researched and written by Susan Radley