LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ "A true field of dreams" for runners is what one college coach called the Rimrock Farm cross-country course north of Lawrence.
Bob Timmons, University of Kansas track and cross-country coach from 1964-88, has built the course over the last 25 years on 96 acres of hills and woods he owns in Jefferson County.
"I tell people this is my golf game," Timmons said. "It's fun, not work."
Timmons built the course out of necessity.
Kansas once had a cross-country course on the university's west campus, a course that was the site of the NCAA championship meets in 1965 and 1966. But that location had its problems.
"We couldn't control what happened on it," Timmons said. "Kids were driving on it with bikes and motorcycles."
The cross-country team became running nomads for a few years, running at Lone Star Lake and on golf courses at the Lawrence and Alvamar country clubs.
"It was bothering me that we didn't have a course," Timmons said. "We had land, so I thought, 'Let's see what we can do.'"
Timmons started work with shovels, rakes and chain saws, and later brought in an Oskaloosa construction company that built seven ponds as the centerpiece of the course.
"The ponds in a sense define the course," he said.
The first competition was held there about 1980, and the Big 8 championship meet was held there in later years. Rimrock Farm also was the site of the 1998 NCAA Division I and II men's and women's championships.
That meet drew about 6,000 fans and was the first time that two division championships had been held at the same location on the same day. The reaction from coaches has been overwhelmingly positive.
"I think it's one of the two or three best cross-country courses in the nation," Colorado coach Mark Wetmore said in a recent telephone interview.
Colorado, the 2001 NCAA men's championship team, has run at Rimrock several times.
"It's fun, it has interesting features, and it's challenging to runners of all styles," Wetmore said.
From the start, Timmons designed the Rimrock Farm course as a serious test for runners.
"Most courses are either in parks or on golf courses," he said. "They're manicured, smooth, and wonderful for running."
The Rimrock course has open areas where runners can push the pace, but it also has loops and switchbacks where footing can be difficult and where smart running pays off. It also has two covered bridges, one of which leads to a steep uphill, and it has the Billy Mills Ascent.
Several parts of the course are named for great Kansas runners, and the steep, winding uphill stretch that honors 1964 Olympic 10,000-meter champion Billy Mills often decides the winner.
"The Billy Mills Ascent is about one-half mile from the finish," Timmons said. "The runners are tired, and they're coming up a very steep hill."
That's where Adam Goucher of Colorado dropped his last challenger in the 1998 NCAA championships in front of hundreds of screaming fans who lined both sides of the narrow chute.
After the ascent, runners head south for about a quarter-mile along the top of a ridge, the Jim Ryun Skyline Bend.
"It's a spectacular view from the finish," Timmons said. "You can see the kids silhouetted as they run around the bend."
Once around the bend, runners head downhill about a quarter-mile, into the Glenn Cunningham Finish, fighting for the positions that decide the team score.
The Kansas high school 5A and 6A championships and several high school conference championships are also held at Rimrock. High school girls compete on a 2-mile course, high school boys and college women run 5,000 meters and college men run either 8,000 meters or 10,000 meters.
Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.