At Rim Rock Farm north of Lawrence, the cross country course represents what the sport is all about -- history, determination and longevity.
Cross country is a sport that pits an athlete against the course, the weather, the clock and even himself.
Rim Rock encompasses all of these aspects. It was designed specifically for cross country on land used for that purpose only.
Rim Rock, designed and owned by retired Kansas coach Bob Timmons, will be the site of Friday's Big Eight Conference meet, and Saturday's 6A and 5A state high school championships.
Timmons is proud of how the course has developed through the years. He is most proud of the history and tradition he has tried to instill throughout the wooded area and brome fields. Timmons has labeled specific hills, turns and ponds after special home-state or KU athletes.
"Some of them (the names) are funny," Timmons says. "But the others are important because they give recognition to great athletes who are little known or unknown."
Timmons, who still coaches volleyball at Baldwin High, enjoys showing off the course that was first used in 1974. His enthusiasm is obvious as he drives through the mowed starting strip in his pick-up truck. The starting line is 125 yards wide for the large number of participants that regularly race in each event.
That area narrows about a quarter-mile later to about 20 yards before hitting the Jim Ryun Skyline Bend, named after Kansas' most famous long-distance runner.
It takes Timmons three-quarters of a day to mow the paths through the 93 acres, with the help of two other KU athletic department mowers. But in the beginning, there was much more work necessary to develop Rim Rock into what it is today.
Much of the land had to be cleared of rocks and timber, including the plateau were Timmons' cabin now sits, nestled within the woods with three ponds surrounding it.
"When we first built our cabin, I'd bring in the distance guys to stay," Timmons says. "They would run twice a day, swim twice a day and work twice a day. They really started taking a liking to the course."
After the Ryun Skyline Bend, the two-mile course breaks off from the main route where the 5K, 8K and five-mile races continue.
As the runners pass spectators, they leave the upper brome field and head into the woods encircling Timmons' cabin, clearly the most difficult part of the course.
Colleen McClimon, KU's top woman runner, has traversed this course for three years, and every year she hears the same thing from other teams.
"I've hear some complain that it's our course so it'll be to our advantage for the Big Eights," she said. "People will be complaining that the footing is bad. It's not a smooth golf course."
And because of that, the course is always changing, which gives no one a decided advantage. In the Jayhawks' last meet at Rim Rock, the Kansas Invitational, no Kansas male or female runner finished higher than Sarah Heeb's eighth place. Georgetown's Miesha Marzell won the women's race.
"It was a good course on a perfect day," Marzell said. "Running in the Midwest plains was fun. It was a lot better than running on the East Coast. Anything can happen on this course."
Hidden within the woods is a covered bridge. The athletes actually run through the bridge right before they reach John Lawson Hill, named after a KU distance runner who went undefeated during the 1965 season and finished as national champion. Lawson Hill is steep and narrow, formidable for any runner.
The lower brome field around the cabin is the flattest area on the course. Here, the different routes zig-zag to get the proper distance before hitting the end. The race's culmination starts with the Billy Mills Ascent, a half-mile before the finish.
The incline is named after a former KU runner who was the first and only American to win the 10,000-meter run in the Olympics. Runners push themselves to the limit to conquer this hill and finally head toward the finish.
"In general, people agree it's probably the toughest course we run," Bryan Schultz, KU's top men's runner, said. "There are many hills in it."
The runners turn along Ryun's Skyline Bend for the last time as they head toward the Glenn Cunningham Finish Line, named for a KU runner who broke the world mile record twice and finished second in the 1,500 meters at the 1936 Olympics.
Timmons says he built the course to push runners to their peak performance. He also wanted to do it to push himself.
"This isn't a perfect course, but it is so different that I think the kids really look forward to it," he said. "It's a challenge for them."