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Unique Rim Rock Farm home to Kansas state cross country championships

The Rim Rock Farm finish line immediately below the
finish-line arch

By John Gillis 

Located 10 miles northwest of Lawrence, Kansas, the unique and very challenging Rim Rock Farm has for many years been the home of the Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA) state cross country meet.

With a street address of 2276 Burnett Lane, Rim Rock Farm was previously owned by former University of Kansas (KU) head track and cross country coach Bob Timmons, who donated the property to the university in 2004. Today, it is managed by Steve Heffernan, who ran cross country for coach Timmons in the 1980s.

Rim Rock Farm was designed by Timmons, who wanted to create a course that is both scenic and grueling, as well as very fan-friendly. It has several challenging hills throughout the course, and the runners will run through woods and through two covered bridges. In addition, the area near the finish line is clear, which enables a great view for the spectators as the runners come down the hill to the finish.

It also has a unique building often referred to as the “House on the Hill,” which originally was a cabin that coach Timmons and his wife Pat would use as a weekend retreat. It subsequently became permanently woven into the fabric of the Jayhawks cross country culture, as the KU runners would stay in it during fall camp. When Timmons donated Rim Rock Farm to KU, the cabin then became the home of the Heffernan family (Steve; wife Andrea, who was a member of the KU track team; son Owen, who is junior at Lawrence [Kansas] Free State High School; and son Eli, who just started cross country this year).

“When my family and I took over that historic building as our home, and to carry on that great tradition started by coach Timmons, we knew what we were getting into,” Heffernan explained. “We have been associated with Rim Rock Farm for all of those years except three years we were in Wichita. We wanted to continue coach Timmons’ vision.”

Heffernan, who now coaches the Free State High School boys and girls cross country programs, recognizes both the tradition of the course and the genius demonstrated by his mentor/former coach when he designed it.

“I think the history of how it was built and the thought that went into it by coach Timmons makes it special,” Heffernan said. “The course is probably the most challenging of all courses our runners participate on during their careers. It is a cross country course dedicated to runners of all skill levels that has very scenic areas. Although cross country is a sport that traditionally doesn’t always get a lot of attention, Rim Rock Farm has actually been a great recruiting tool.

“There’s something for everybody. The kids love the trails and the spectators love it, especially this time of the year. Coach Timmons planted a lot of red maple trees, so it’s a beautiful course.

Shown above is a KSHSAA state cross country meet
trophy presentation with Pat and Bob Timmons (third
and fourth from left, respectively).

“As far as actually running on it, you can’t just go out hard and hold on. The end of it is definitely the hardest part – that last mile or so really challenges the runner’s character. The final stretch is called ‘Cemetery Hill.’ It’s not a very long hill, but it’s very steep. Cemetery Hill has made a difference in many high school state meets and college championships, as it has changed the outcome of races. You will have a lot of jockeying for position at that point, which challenges runners at the end of the race.”

Heffernan graduated in 1986 from Kearney (Nebraska) Catholic High School, where he participated in basketball, cross country and track, the latter of which he won one team state title and nine individual state titles. This fall, Heffernan is the beneficiary of two very strong cross country programs at Free State.

“This year, we have one of the most talented girls programs we’ve had – we are currently ranked No. 1 in the state,” Heffernan said. “Right now, the boys are No. 6 in Kansas. The state meet will be held soon, so we are working toward that.”

According to Heffernan, even the name of the course has a unique and interesting story behind it.

“Before Timmons moved to Lawrence, KU had been using a variety of cross country courses around town,” Heffernan said. “Eventually, the university ran out of resources, and they talked about making a course with a lot of help from the cross country runners. As those runners worked on the course, the name (Rim Rock Farm) came from the fact that when they dug down about six inches, they ran into limestone rock. The name stuck.”

Adding an intriguing dimension to the end of the race is what is known as “Jim Ryun Skyline Finish.”

“With a quarter mile to go, you can see the runners – but all you can see is their silhouettes running, as the background is the sky. You barely recognize them,” Heffernan explained. “For that reason, coach Timmons came up with the idea of making nine-foot steel silhouettes of many of the great former Kansas distance runners, such as Jim Ryun, Wes Santee, Billy Mills, Herb Semper Jr., Glenn Cunningham, Allen Frame and John Lawson, and placing them at various points along the course.

“To that group of distance running icons, we added one more – coach Timmons. He is depicted wearing a stopwatch and looking down to the runners, and it appears that he’s timing them. He’s facing the starting line of the race, but is midway between the start and the finish – about 100 meters away from each.”

The course is set up for several different distances. The KSHSAA state meet girls course is 4,000 meters and the boys course is 5,000. It is also the home course for Free State High School, which hosts the Sunflower League meet and the state meet. Not surprisingly, to run a state cross country meet requires assistance from many individuals.

“We often will have more than 100 volunteers help us administer the state cross country meet,” Heffernan said. “These days, we don’t need as many people at the finish line due to technology.”

Rim_Rock3 Rim_Rock4 
Shown above are the iron silhouettes of Bob Timmons (left) and
Jim Ryun (right) at Rim Rock Farm.

The KSHSAA administrator who oversees the state cross country meet is Fran Martin, who has handled the sport during her 10 years with the organization. A state track meet participant in high school, Martin competed in basketball and track at the junior college level. Her high school had just started cross country when she was in school, but she was playing volleyball that same time of the year.

“I really enjoy working with the cross country program and our state managers,” Martin said. “Prior to coming to the KSHSAA, I was a high school athletic director. We hosted numerous regional cross country meets for the KSHSAA, so I had lots of experience in hosting meets.

“We have a great working relationship with Steve Heffernan. He takes a great deal of pride in the course and is constantly making improvements in things like where the awards are presented. The awards ceremony is handled by host Free State High School. Steve gets a lot of help from the Lawrence Running Club – they have a passion for cross country.

“The Rim Rock Farm course is great for several reasons. The cutouts of some of the famous people who have had a part in the course are a great addition. They are viewed looking into the skyline as runners start the course or finish it.

“There is a great view of the start and finish and you can see those without moving much. To see much of the rest of the course, you have to move. There are several great viewing places throughout the course, but since they run through trees and around a pond, you can’t see all of that from one spot. We do have people on the course relaying to the announcer who is in front during the race.

“The location of the course on large limestone rocks makes it very ‘Kansas-like’ For several years, coach Timmons and his wife came out to see the awards ceremony. That was always a highlight for the runners – to meet coach Timmons.”

Shown above are Steve, Eli, Andrea and Owen
Heffernan on a deck of the “House of the Hill” that
overlooks one of the eight ponds and part of the route
on Rim Rock Farm.

John Gillis is the associate director of development of the NFHS. If you have any comments or articles ideas, please forward them to Gillis at 

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