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The RRCA is the oldest and largest organization in the US dedicated to distance running.

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History of the RRCA

Important Highlights from the 54-Year History of the Road Runners Club of America

1950’s

  • 1958, the RRCA was founded with a few founding member clubs including the New York Road Runners.  Only a handful of road races were held nationwide.  The athletes that founded the RRCA felt that the AAU was not interested in serving distance running athletes by putting on events for them.
  • 1958, first RRCA Championship events were awarded.

1960’s

  • 1961, RRCA members had hosted over 600 road races around the country.
  • 1963, the RRCA ignored the AAU age requirements for racing, ignored the AAU medical requirements and did not set air temperature limits for RRCA member races.
  • 1964, RRCA began certifying course accurately measured, and awarded certificates for time on the certified courses. (The USATF certifies courses today, though the original process was developed and implemented by the RRCA.)
  • 1965, the RRCA held the first National Women’s Cross Country Championship at the extended distance of 2.5 mile distance, despite significant objection by the AAU.
  • 1964, the first fun runs to promote jogging and health were hosted by RRCA members called “Run for Your Life”.  These events did not fall under AAU sanctions, because they were fun runs and not competitive events.

1970’s

  • 1970, the RRCA hosted the first ever women’s marathon championship event on October 25, 1970 despite the fact that women were not allowed to run marathons by the AAU.
  • 1976, RRCA received the group exemption status with the IRS making chapters of the RRCA nonprofit organizations.
  • 1978, RRCA President, Jeff Darman helped lobby Congress for the passage of the Amateur Sports Act of 1978. The Act changed the nature of amateur sports in the US and essentially broke the AAU. This ended the virtual monopoly that the AAU had on Olympic sports governance in this country. The result of the breakup of the AAU was the formation of “The Athletics Congress/USA” (TAC).
  • 1979, the RRCA liability insurance program for clubs and events is launched after the Atlanta Track Club was sued in 1977 in the first known lawsuit against a road race.  The suit was ultimately dismissed.

1980’s

  • 1980, the RRCA launches the Women’s Distance Festival in protest to emphasize the fact that women were not included in distance events in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.
  • 1983, the RRCA expands the categories for the National Running Awards, which already included the RRCA Hall of Fame started in 1976.
  • 1986, the RRCA launches the Children’s Development Program, which included education materials for clubs interested in hosting youth running programs.  With a grant from Nike, RRCA issued 600 grants to youth programs through the rest of the 80’s.

1990’s

  • 1996, RRCA launches Certified Distance Running Coach course.  The RRCA has certified over 1500 coaches since the course’s inception.
  • 1996, the RRCA launched the Roads Scholar program to provide more money to emerging elite athletes due to a lack of funding for US distance athletes at the time.  This RRCA has raised over $410,000 for the program since its inception.

2000’s

  • 2005, the RRCA starts the annual RUN@WORK Day promotion, which was an evolution of Run to Work Day found in1986.
  • 2006, RRCA establishes the Kids Run the Nation Grant fund.  By the end of 2011 the RRCA will have granted $50,000 in five year to youth running programs.
  • 2009 the RRCA launched the Runner Friendly Community and Runner Friendly Business designation program.
  • Early 2012 the RRCA will launch the first ever Race Director Certification Course, which is currently under development.
  • The RRCA has over 1200 member clubs and events.  Thousands of people run every week with their local running clubs and millions participate in running events annually.

The Concise History of the RRCA

In the late 1950’s, jogging for heath and fitness was practically unheard of in those days. Competitive long-distance running was an official Olympic sport, but with the exception of a few races in New England, there were very few distance racing events in the United States.

In those days, the Long Distance Log was the chief means of communication with distance runners, primarily cross-country athletes. The publication had a circulation of 126 readers. In the January 1958 issue of the Long Distance Long an editorial by Olympian Browning Ross proposed the developed of an organization for American distance runners. He suggested that membership not only include runners, but officials, race sponsors, coaches, and more. Ross envisioned the group would encourage running, meet regularly, raise funds, coordinate schedules, recruit sponsors, and promote competition in long-distance races such as the one-hour track run.

Response to the concept was positive and on February 22, 1958, the Road Runners Club of America was born.

Meeting at the Paramount Hotel in New York City, Ross and nine others discussed the general direction for the organization and developed the basic operating structure. Ross was named acting provisional president. The first RRCA National Championship races were awarded for various distances. The events were held in Chicago, New Jersey and Philadelphia. One of the oldest distance running traditions, the RRCA Championship Event series continues to this day.

Interest in the RRCA began gathering and by April 1958, the New York Road Runners Club (now the New York Road Runners) was established with twenty-nine members. In 1960, under the leadership of RRCA President Ted Corbitt, the organization began work on a booklet about accurately measuring road running courses.

By the end of the RRCA’s third year, their members had hosted over 600 races around the country compared to the previous handful of races nationwide. At the same time, newly elected president Hugh Jascourt set out to tackle the political issue of the RRCA’s relationship with the AAU and the newly formed United State Track & Field Federation. The USTFF took the damaging steps of prohibiting several of its affiliate universities from letting RRCA member clubs use their tracks. The AAU had historically sanctioned RRCA events, and the USTFF had declared a governing body war on the AAU. The RRCA, trying only to promote distance running, was caught in the middle.

In 1963, the RRCA took the political position of removing the AAU age requirements for racing, removing the AAU medical requirements and not setting air temperature limits for RRCA member races. The RRCA also voted to sponsor long-distance races for women. By 1964, the RRCA took further steps to officially advocate that race doctors accept medical certificates made within 90 days of the race. Under AAU rules, at the time, only the “race exam” given at the race by the race doctor was acceptable for competition.

In addition, the RRCA Standards Committee began certifying course accurately measured, and the RRCA awarded certificates to runners that accomplished certain times on the certified courses. While the program was slow to catch on, it formed the basis for modern day course certification (The USATF certifies courses today, though the original process was developed and implemented by the RRCA).

In tandem with its efforts to enhance competition through course certification, the RRCA also established the first events for recreational joggers. The events were called “Run-For-Your-Life” and came to be commonly known as fun runs. These events did not fall under the jurisdiction of the AAU. This was great news for women who were not allowed by the AAU to run distance more than 1.5 miles. Women and girls of any age could participate in the fun runs, which were typically 2-mile events. In the fall of 1965, the RRCA held its first National Women’s Cross Country Championship at 2.5 miles, despite significant objection by the AAU.

The 1970’s began the tremendous surge in growth of the RRCA, and in 1974, the RRCA applied for and received IRS group exemption status. This allowed the RRCA the ability to grant 501(c)3 status to affiliate members that desired and qualified for the designation. By 1978, RRCA membership had grown to 142 clubs representing over 33,000 individuals.

In 1978, RRCA President, Jeff Darman helped lobby Congress for the passage of the Amateur Sports Act of 1978. The Act changed the nature of amateur sports in the US and essentially disbanded the AAU. This ended the virtual monopoly that the AAU had on Olympic sports governing in this country. The result of the breakup of the AAU was the formation of “The Athletics Congress/USA” (TAC/USA). Between 1980 and 1992, TAC/USA served as the official governing body for the sport. In 1992, TAC/USA changed their name to USA Track & Field (USATF) to increase recognition for their organization and the sport. USATF continues to serve as the governing body for the sport of running. The AAU continues on primarily as a youth sports organization.

In 1979, the RRCA started “National Run For Life Day” on May 19, 1979. “Run For Life Day” was designed to educate and motivate entry-level runners to start and stay with an organized running program. This, along with the National Run to Work Day, was combined in 2006 to form the RRCA National Run@Work Day with the message of incorporating thirty-five minutes of exercise into a person’s daily routine to improve general health and fitness.

By 1983, the RRCA membership included 400 clubs. 1986 marked an organizational shift as the first woman president was elected by the membership. Henley Gabeau assumed the responsibility during a time when the insurance industry was in crisis and could no longer offer coverage to RRCA clubs. Despite the crisis, Gabeau was able to retain members, implement new programs, including the RRCA Children’s Developmental Running Program. The first edition of the RRCA Children’s Running Booklet and the Parent & Teacher’s Curriculum authored by Don Kardong and Jim Ferstle were circulated to thousands for clubs, teachers, schools and more.

By 1989, the RRCA regained its liability insurance policy, a significant benefit of membership that continues today. Membership was up to 450 clubs, and Gabeau was preparing to serve the organization as the first paid executive director.

In 1996, the RRCA developed and launched the RRCA Coaching Certification Program and the RRCA.org was launched through the assistance of webmaster, Warren Finke.

In 1996, Montreal Olympic Marathoner Don Kardong was elected as the RRCA president. Kardong continued to build on the success of RRCA programs and services and introduced the highly successful Roads Scholar Program. In 1997, the RRCA gave a grant during the second year of the Roads Scholar Program to a young distance runner by the name of Deena Drossin (Kastor) who went on to win the bronze medal in the 2004 Athens Olympic marathon.

In 2001, after six years of board service and ten years of service as the RRCA’s first executive director, Henley Gabeau retired from the organization. After her departure, the organization’s attention turned to finding a replacement and managing a negative financial position brought on by the rising cost of producing FootNotes, the membership magazine, coupled with a financial loss from a previous national convention. By 2002, the RRCA was forced to halt production of FootNotes and cut programs. It was evident that the organization was in the throws of an organizational mid-life crisis. Over the next three years, the RRCA would experience turnover in staffing and downsizing in an effort to improve the financial position, which, at one time, reached negative net assets over $200,000.

Despite the challenges facing the organization, the RRCA stayed true to its mission and a dedicated group of volunteers vowed to bring the organization back to prominence. In August 2005, the RRCA Board hired executive director, Jean Knaack, an experienced nonprofit management professional dedicated to the sport of running. The organization finished the year with significant positive net assets, erasing the years of deficit spending. That same year the largest individual contribution of $100,000 was received to support the State Reps Program. Membership by the end of 2006 exceeded 775 member clubs and events. The RRCA Board took action to restrict $100,000 of the organization’s net assets to protect against a return to deficit spending.

In 2008, the RRCA celebrated its 50th Anniversary of the founding of the organization. Several founding members including Tom Osler, Gar Willaims, and Hal Higdon were present at the Convention luncheon celebrating “Running the Nation for 50 Years.”  Read the detailed account of the RRCA history.  Read the 50th Anniversary Report.

Today the organization continues to be true to its original founding mission and represents the common interests of over 1000 running clubs and events nationwide.

The future of distance running and the RRCA’s impact on the sport will continue to be written for years to come.

Learn more about the RRCA’s History.

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