Sunday, July 14, 2013

Vern's No-Frills 5K #51 Race Report

Where do I start?  When I saw that I would be able to do the 5 Alarm 5K in Sealy last night, I also spied the opportunity to do Vern’s No Frills 5K in Georgetown.  This would give me a race in Texas city or town #84, but more importantly an opportunity to run a race established by one of the early Run The Woodlands 5K regulars Bill Schroeder of Georgetown.  (And a good friend from when we were fellow members of the Houston Striders.)

He and his wife Mindy have taken their own running experiences (from their days in Cincinnati) as well as others such as Don Drewniak and Roger Boak, added some nice touches of their own and put together a classic low-cost race/running/walking starter for families in northern Travis and Williamson counties.

The Vern’s No Frills 5K was started about five years ago.  The course is a sweet, winding double out-and-back that is on concrete trails in Georgetown’s Berry Springs Park and finishes on the crushed granite surface that is similar to Memorial Park in Houston.  The race is on the third Saturday morning at 8:00 a.m. of every month.  (This week was different as Bill heads to the National Senior Games Association next weekend in Cleveland, Ohio.)

The price on this race is just right:  $1.  You get your own bib that you keep for life!

The bottom line, though, is that it is a labor of love for Bill.  We had a chance to visit after I finished on a warm central Texas morning and he said that today is one of 25 races that he puts on each year.  (These include 12 Vern’s No Frills 5K and a half-dozen Georgetown Running Club events.)

For me, it was 10 years to the weekend from when I did my very first Run The Woodlands 5K – July 2003.

I went off course (yes, I crossed Crownridge) and was wearing a baseball cap and a cotton T-shirt.  I’ll always remember getting advice from Tom Pinney about the change of attire.  Everyone has to start somewhere, of course.  And today, like at many Run The Woodlands in the past, there were many folks for who a 5K run was a challenge and an accomplishment.

Me?  I was running on little fuel.  I left Sealy right after the race and made it to the hotel in Round Rock at 1 a.m.  It took the cleaning lady, I believe, 20 minutes to get me checked in and there were three people behind me!  I pity them.  So, it was a short night.  I got about three hours of sleep and probably another 45 minutes after I got to the Park where the race was being held at.

(When trying to save a buck, please do not stay at the Extended Stay America in Round Rock near McNeil Road.  Major, major mistake.)

Over the years, Vern’s No-Frills 5K has raced $7,000 through its $1 entry fees to give back to the Williamson County Parks and Recreation Department to use in the park that they hold the race.

Bill certified the course and sold sponsorships to have granite half mile markers (a la the HARRA markers in Memorial Park).  They looked really nice.

As I stated earlier, Bill took some of the hallmarks of the original Run The Woodlands 5K and incorporated them in this race.  One of those is something only the most hard core of us – me and Bill Dwyer probably – would recognize and that is that Saturday’s race was “Vern’s No-Frills 5K #51”.  Don Drewniak, the creator of Run The Woodlands, numbered each race, which is also what his original club – the Central Mass Striders – did on their weekly free 5K.

At this month’s race, the Ashlyn’s Angels organization was in attendance and Bill afforded three of their participants, better known as the captains of their racing chairs, to start early and miss much of the congestion.

After Bill thanked his sponsors and those others who supported the event, educating those that might have been there for the very first time, he had everybody raise their right hand and repeated, “I promise.  To be careful.”  Vintage Roger Boak on the Tour de Bayou free cross country races put on by HARRA.  I loved it.

Funny story on what might have been one of my only Tour de Bayou races.  I was just starting to run and I carried a lot more weight than what I do now.  It was an event that started near the Jackson Hill bridge, I think, and at the bottom of the Bayou.  It was two loops.  To start, you had to run up the hill and then do the loops.  Well, after the first loop, realizing that it was too much for me being new, I went back over the bridge and left after loop #1.

Saturday’s race was hot and humid.  Classic Texas conditions, of course.

It is on a winding concrete path heading west out and under Interstate 35 and back to the entry area where there was another half mile or so that had a similar turnaround at its terminus.

You passed the three-mile marker and then made a left on to the crushed granite trail where Bill and his timer would capture your lifetime bib number and tell you your time.

My run wasn’t too hot and this was a day that I probably shouldn’t have clicked my watch at the half mile markers as it clearly showed my demise.  And I had even dialed it back.

.5 mile – 4:48.06
1 mile – 4:55.59 (9:43.65)
1.5 mile – 5:07.41 (14:51.06)
2 mile – 5:23.64 (20:14.70 … Ugh! 10:07 a mile and I knew that the course was not off!)
2.5 mile – 5:20.80 (25:35.50)
3 mile – 5:26.89 (31:02.39)
Last .1 – 1:06.29 (32:08.68)

At least the last mile and a half was steady!  ;-)

I was 77th out of 161 – ha! – in the top half for the second straight day in a row.  I’ll have to pick up the pace Saturday at the Lunar Rendezvous Run to do it for the third straight 5K.

Results, with name, age and city, are online typically by noon at  (Just like Don used to do with RTW at

I also catch - and remember - very quirky things (my great love for facts, figures and statistics and what I think makes me a good race announcer) including the gentleman that had a ragged Woolmarket Duathlon singlet.  When I started to add this entry, I thought that it was from an event that I thought I remembered in San Angelo; however, this is a three-race duathlon series in Gulfport, Mississippi much like the Webster Bicycle Duathlon Series that Kevin and Jana Landry put on for years in La Marque.

If your schedule ever works out, this is a great, classic “grass roots running” event to take part in.

Here’s some material from Bill that speaks a little bit more to some of the tenets of the event:

+  The No Frills 5k was started in Apr 2009 and was renamed in tribute to Vern Cantwell, a dear friend who had a fatal heart attack while cycling with friends. He was the race’s first starter and a runner’s best cheerleader.

+  Vern’s No Frills 5K is usually held every third Saturday of the month. The event is free to students K-12 and $1 for adults. The race was started to encourage adults and especially children to get out and participate in a fun, casual, and professionally organized event. Over 7,500 runners and walkers have finished a Vern’s No Frills 5K event. Even only charging a very nominal amount the race has raised over $7,000 that goes directly back to Berry Springs Park & Preserve. The money has been used for a log splitter, wildflower seeds, stone half mile markers, certification of the trail, and updating the interpretive signs.

+  Bill Schroeder started the No Frills 5k to provide a low/no cost 5K event to encourage people to run or walk. The event appeals to not only competitive runners, but also first time participants. People pushing strollers and walking their dogs also come out to enjoy the casual, fun, and professionally organized event. Because the course is basically flat and only has 3 turns, many people run/walk their best times. Since the course is certified, people are ensured that they are running/walking an accurate course and because it is held monthly, they can come back and see how their fitness is improving.  (Much like Run The Woodlands 5K. – Jon)  Also, another side benefit to Berry Springs Park & Preserve is that once people come out to Vern’s No Frills 5k, they end up coming out to camp, picnic, play, and walk at other times because the park is such a hidden gem.

+  Every April on the anniversary of the race, the Georgetown Running Club and the Georgetown Taco Cabana contribute breakfast tacos as a little “frill” to all participants.

+  Bill Schroeder as the founder of Vern’s No Frills 5k and now President, Georgetown Running Club (GRC) continues to put on the event. GRC has always been a title sponsor and provides all insurance coverage (this keeps the cost of the event to a minimum) and almost all of the volunteers come from the club. Not only does GRC put on Vern’s No Frills 5K, but when the park was flooded in Sep 2010 and the race was cancelled for that month, the GRC turned out with 40 volunteers and helped to clean-up, repair fencing, and help to get the park back open sooner than later. GRC was also instrumental in getting the 5K trail certified so it is accurate and also purchasing and installing half mile markers for the trail. All of this was done without using any park funds or tax dollars. Other sponsors include No Excuses Running, REI, Luke’s Locker, Road ID, Luna Chix, and Taco Cabana.

+  Course records are 15:52 for the men and 19:10 for the women.  Most participants?  268 in July 2012.  The race has only been cancelled twice -- once due to the entire park being flooded and during a very long thunderstorm.

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