February 2, 2016

Who Is Adam (of Adam's Heart Runs)?

This article is also found in the Birmingham Track Club's newsletter: Vulcan Runner. Online registration (and guaranteed shirt) for Adam's Heart Runs closes Thursday. Go here to register. I'm race directing and planning to have a blast this Saturday, so I hope you come out and join us!


Adam's Heart Runs, you know it as the first race of the Birmingham Track Club's four-race series each year.


Who the heck is Adam? Why was he running or what was he running from? And what's up with hearts? When I agreed to be the race director for this year's Adam's Heart Runs, I knew basically zero about the race, other than that it supports the Birmingham Track Club, which I love, and it is held at Oak Mountain Park, which I also love. But learning the history of the race and especially more about the founder of this race was high on my list of must-dos to help me feel a more solid connection to this run and its purpose. 

Enter Dr. Adam Robertson, who I was fortunate enough to meet for lunch earlier this year. At one time a smoker turned avid runner and runner advocate, he played an integral part in growing Birmingham's running community. His motivation was to help others find an easy and fun way to stay active. "This was not about competition; this was about getting in shape," Adam shared. Living what he preached, during his tenure as emergency room director at Cooper Green for over 25 years, he would run commute to work, seven miles each way.

And even though he was a huge running promoter, he actually wasn't the race creator of Adam's Heart Runs. Around 1977, the race was started by a runner who soon moved to California for work. When it came time to hold the race again, Adam decided, "Well, I'll just do this for a couple of years until we can get somebody else." That couple of years stretched out further and further as Adam and his wife Ginni continued to direct the race for many years.

Adam's Heart Runs finish line. 

"Every year it was so easy to do because it was out there [at Oak Mountain], and we only needed one police officer at the corner. We measured it, and Rick Melansen certified it." Even though people tried to convince him to move the race downtown to increase the numbers, the simplicity of working with the park made the decision easy to keep the race at Oak Mountain.

Adam's Heart Runs start line.

"My wife did really well with the results. As the last person would come over, she would hand me the results. No computers. I just took a big circular clock that hung on the wall, and started it at 12, so as you crossed you could see your time." 

Originally the race was named Birmingham Heart Runs and was a fundraiser for the American Heart Association. When the Robertsons passed on the race directing torch, the track club changed the name of the race to honor Adam with the name Adam's Heart Runs. 

Speaking to how tight-knit the original Alabama running groups were, Adam shared, "Back then, everybody felt like they had to show up at every run. Nowadays there are people out there who run every day and never show up at a race. Which is good. The purpose of it to begin with was to get people to do it." 

Adam not only supported road running but was on the board at Ruffner Mountain for at least 20 years. During that time, he and his friends Bucky Wood, Vic Kelly, and Craig Christopher (who were dubbed The Ruffner Mountain Boys) held trail races that sound eerily similar to Race Against the Sun. "We had some red tape, and that was where you were supposed to turn. If you missed that, you were out of luck," said Adam about the simplicity of race marking for their Ruffner invitation-only race that almost got shut down. 

"We didn't realize that the coalition had already bought part of the mountain, and we were up there putting [the race] on when this guy walked up and said, 'What are you doing?' And we said, 'We're having a run on the mountain.' And he said, 'No, you can't do that.' So we invented the name Rufus McGrew as the race director, and we sent invitations to everybody each of us knew. Very formal with Rufus McGrew as the return address. Other people heard about it and asked if we could get them in. Before you knew it, we had a couple hundred people."

Proving even further that he has extensive knowledge of Ruffner trails, Adam testified, "You run 10 miles at Ruffner, it's close to 20 miles on the road." Truth. 

There were also white tuxedos and barrels of beer involved in his Ruffner race stories, so if you ever get the chance to meet Adam in person, you should definitely have him tell you about their Ruffner Mountain adventures. 

These days, Adam continues to better the Birmingham community by volunteering as the Crisis Center's medial director. 

From the Crisis Center's web site: 
According to the Department of Justice, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 33 men will be a victim of sexual assault in their lifetime. That is why we’re here - to help survivors of sexual violence and their loved ones heal from this terrible crime. No matter when it happened to you or your loved one, the Crisis Center offers help through our Rape Response and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (S.A.N.E.) Programs. This includes:
  • Free and confidential crisis counseling 24 hours a day
  • Prevention education programs to schools, civic organizations and other public groups
  • Services for the victim’s family, friends, partners or spouses
  • Information and referrals to other services in your area

Advocates are available to accompany survivors of sexual violence during the forensic examination at the SANE facility or the hospital, to the police station, and to court. Advocates provide objective, knowledgeable, and supportive intervention on behalf of the survivor, making sure that she/he has the necessary information about each system to make critical decisions. The advocate provides individual advocacy to the survivor to ensure that her/his rights are upheld.
Along with the SANE program, the Crisis Center provides a crisis line, help lines for kids and teens, a senior talk line, support groups, and mental health services. 

In keeping with his running history, Adam assisted in planning the Crisis Center's 2015 5K fundraiser, called Just a Call Away 5K, which they plan to bring back to the community in August 2016.

So who is Adam? With what started as a desire to "just get people out running," Adam Robertson helped establish a race that has brought thousands and thousands of people to Oak Mountain State Park over the years. Insider tip: look for Adam on February 6th, this year's AHR race date. It's no surprise that he volunteered to come out and support the event, even 40 years later. 


  1. Great post Lisa. I had the pleasure of running hundreds (probably thousands) of miles with Adam. I worked at Cooper Green for 14 years and we had many lunchtime runs that went well past my allotted one hour lunch. I also was proud to be an " honorary "Ruffner Mt Boy". My favorite" races" were the trail runs where we had to predict our finish times. No watches were allowed and the kicker was that we didn't know how far the race would be! Somewhere between 5-10 miles was all we knew! The mandatory beer stop made it more interesting. Thanks for triggering some memories.

    1. You guys were the original BUTS crew! He made me wish I had been running in those days with the Ruffner stories he told. That does not surprise me at all that you were part of their gang!

  2. Aw, thanks for sharing. This is one of my favorite races but I never knew the back story!


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