Through the thick forest, dozens of running shoes crunched along in the gravel and dirt of Newport News Park on a warm August evening. Runners from Peninsula Track Club (PTC) approach the starting line, ready to begin the Tom Ray Memorial Predict Your Time 5-Miler.
“Remember, you can’t have a phone, a watch, earpiece or anything to help you keep a pace or a beat,” says Steve Peters, PTC president, as they lined up. “You cannot have any electronics.”
With no assistance from external time-keeping techniques, the runners take off. Thus began the first race in the PTC’s Summer Fun Run Series, a sequence of six races that can be traced to the summers of the ‘80s. This event was named to honor the memory of Tom Ray, a beloved runner and PTC member. The winner would be whoever finished the race closest to his or her estimated finish time.
As the oldest running club in the Commonwealth of Virginia, established in 1955, Peninsula Track Club has served Hampton Roads as a celebration of physical activity and a champion of community. A nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization operated by volunteers, PTC takes part in about 30 to 40 events each year. its member base is between 400 and 500, including families, couples and individuals who all share a common passion for running.
A vibrant Virginia running community is found within Hampton Roads. With PTC finding a place among multiple other Virginia chapters of the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA), “We might be one of the most densely running populations in the country,” says Peters.
Whether members are interested in a fun run, an 8k or a marathon, PTC offers opportunities for participants of any skill level. While many races are PTC “originals” staged by the organization, others are joint efforts among other local nonprofits to benefit community causes. PTC often offers scoring, timing and other services for these events. The proceeds of most races go toward another nonprofit recipient, such as Transitions Family Violence Services, a past recipient.
Peters says, “We returned to our primary mission, which is to promote running in the local community for the health and social benefits of it and to help organizations produce races of their own.”
Following Peters’ active-duty Air Force career, he began running to get back into shape and quickly, as he says, “got sucked into the community and fell in love with the people.” Highlighting the social aspect of the club alongside an inclusive atmosphere for runners of all kinds, he accepted presidency of the organization in January 2020.
Jaime Cox began running races along with her dad, also a runner. Cox’s dad told her about Peninsula Track Club, encouraging her to join. Cox did in 2003, and in 2010, she was named PTC volunteer coordinator. “Runners are the nicest people you’ll ever meet,” she says. “Everyone is always so welcoming.”
Some PTC members partake in their fair share of runner’s superstitions. One marathoner used to appear wearing a different colored tutu for each race. Another runner carries an American flag on a pole during every race. Other participants will dress festively depending on the event’s theme.
Most races categorize participants by age. From under 14 to 70+, all kinds of runners can find their place at PTC events. Recently, a walking category has been introduced, which allows for more casual participants to take part in the competition.
Since 2015, the Fast Before the Feast 5K has proven to draw the most runners of any race. About 900 participants gather on Thanksgiving morning preceding family festivities for a race, benefiting the Virginia Peninsula Foodbank, raising tens of thousands of dollars over the years. Additionally, the Joe and Sue Moore Memorial PTC Scholarship presents an opportunity to benefit graduating seniors in high school with membership ties to PTC, showcasing the wide-ranging skills of local young runners. The club awarded four students with that honor this year.
Both stand-alone races and race series fill the pages of PTC’s newsletter, On Your Mark, edited by Bruce Davis and Steve Amarillo. The production of the newsletter, the programming and meetings, and organization operation are all funded by membership dues. Volunteers and officers gather after the newsletter has been printed to stuff the pages with upcoming race promotions and other materials of interest before distribution.
Throughout the decades, the impact of Peninsula Track Club on its members and its community has never wavered. Although events were delayed by COVID-19, time has allowed for the wide range of races to resume again, drawing from 30 to 40 runners at smaller events to more than 200 runners, depending on the occasion.
Peters praises the club’s dedicated volunteer base of about 25 people. “These folks keep us running — literally,” he says. “And we are always looking for more interested runners and volunteers.”
TO THE POINT:
Peninsula Track Club
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Contact: Steve Peters and Jaime Cox