From the Houston Chronicle

Feb. 24, 2005, 12:17AM


Taking advantage of prime location

Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

When: 8 a.m. Saturday.
Barbara Bush Elementary School, 7420 Crownridge Drive in The Woodlands.
The entry fee is $1. The course is flat and fast, and if you're feeling fast, the competition is stiff.

First-place prize? Bragging rights.

If you're not in the mood to race, that's OK, too. The Run The Woodlands 5K is a famously low-key event that welcomes beginners and anyone else up for a jog along a pretty park path.

The event is the baby of Woodlands resident Don Drewniak.

Now, after 123 races held without fail the second and fourth Saturdays of each month since Jan. 6, 2000, he's moving on. But, Drewniak says, he's leaving his run in the hands of people who say they will keep it as unpretentious as it has always been.

Drewniak moved to The Woodlands in 1999 from the Northeast, where he had been a major player in the Central Mass Striders, New England's largest running club for 20 years.

"When I came here I said, 'That's it. No racing, no organizational involvement; I'll confine myself to running around the block."

But his new house was near Barbara Bush Elementary School, and after Drewniak went running a few times, "I got itchy. I thought, 'What a honey of a course this is.' "

The area outside the school provided "a natural start and finish," and bathrooms were available in a nearby park. All the elements were there.

The area's running club had recently disbanded taking the popular 10 for Texas run with it and Drewniak thought there might be interest in a new event.

An experienced race director, Drewniak was accustomed to the countless headaches that come with organizing a run.

He was in for a few surprises. He called the sheriff's department, which told him that as long as the race was held on the paths, it didn't need to be involved.

Next was The Woodlands Community Association, which gave him the OK, as long as he had insurance. He called the school's principal: no problems there.

He enlisted a lone volunteer, hung a few fliers. Ten runners showed up that first Saturday, and Drewniak had himself a race.

Run The Woodlands may be low-key, but it has been meticulously documented. Results and photos from all 123 events are online, along with course records and stats.

Drewniak, 61, says that 40 to 50 runners is a good turnout these days. The all-time low was for what is now called "the Tropical Storm Alison race," when five hardy runners showed up.

The biggest event was what Drewniak calls "the Meow Mix race" in August 2002. It's a long story involving some unannounced college students cruising the country in a van painted like a cat, running races and handing out free Meow Mix T-shirts after.

They're still talking about it, and Drewniak likes to point out that it's as commercial as the race has ever been.

Though the race is being taken over by Luke's Locker, which recently opened a store in The Woodlands, regulars won't be seeing corporate banners hanging off the school.

"We're just trying to keep it low-key, and The Woodlands community seems to enjoy it," Mike Lucas said.

Stan Timmer, the force behind the monthly bus trips from the Houston Luke's Locker to Huntsville State Park, will assume race-day duties.

"Don is to be commended for the work he did to get it going and keep it consistent for two weekends a month for five years; it's amazing," Lucas said.

Drewniak has missed only five races and has run in a few. A self-described "runaholic," he used to log 90 miles a week and once ran three races in one day.

Now he's satisfied with 15 miles a week. Though he could run an 18-minute 5K and has a marathon personal best of 3:12, he says: "You reach a point in life where you don't want to hurt as much as you used to, and you're slowing up."

Plus, he admitted, "You get lazy!"

Drewniak and his wife, Dolores, are building a house near the ocean a short distance away from his family and young grandson. He estimates the odds of his organizing a "Run Fenwick Island, Delaware" as "slim and none."

"The Woodlands presented a really unique situation; it was pure happenstance," he said. "The community was ready; the attitudes were great. The place we're going to, it's not conducive to putting on a race with ease."

Maybe so. He better just hope he doesn't stumble across another "honey of a course."

Roberta MacInnis covers running for the Chronicle.