WeRunFar Profile: Joyce and Joe Prusaitis

The story of long-time trail race directors and trail runners Joyce and Joe Prusaitis is as much a love story as it is a story about trail running. It was love and running that led them to each other, to co-founding one of the USA’s earliest trail-race companies called Tejas Trails, and to making a lasting impact on the Texas trail community.

The couple’s shared journey began at Lady Bird Lake in Austin, Texas, in 1992. The trails, paths, and green space around it attract thousands to run, walk, and recreate daily in downtown Austin. Joyce, then 35 years old, and Joe, 37, hadn’t yet met when they both independently decided to run their first-ever 26.2-mile race: the Austin Marathon. Soon after, the duo noticed each other running laps on the footpaths around Lady Bird amidst the sea of people using the urban park. Joe’s training buddy vied for Joyce’s attention, but Joe’s approach was more subtle and they started chatting about their training schedules.

“We weren’t looking for romance when we met,” says Joyce. At the time, Joyce was a busy single mom who fit in few miles each day. “Then, for our marathon build-up, we both ran a local 5k,” she continues. “We were goofing off together at the race, and that’s when my crush began. I still have a crush on him today.”

Just two months after they met, Joe told Joyce he would marry her one day. “It was pretty bold of him,” remembers Joyce. They tied the knot two years later. Now, 27-some-odd years after it all began, they’ve collectively crossed the finish lines of hundreds of road and trail races.

Joyce and Joe Prusaitis on the Hardrock 100 course in Colorado in 2008. All photos courtesy of Joyce and Joe Prusaitis.

“As hard as we’ve always worked, we work very well together. That perfect balance is what made Tejas Trails,” says Joyce about the trail running and ultrarunning events company they founded in 2001. At the outset, the couple never envisioned launching a full-time business from their passion project. But Tejas Trails filled a niche they found was desired in their running community, and which led the business to become a pioneer in the then-nascent industry of trail-race companies.

Even their entrance into trail and ultrarunning was unplanned. Joyce was healing from a stress fracture, which inspired them to train in the woods—on softer ground—rather than on the road. Other runners on the trail asked Joyce and Joe if they were training for an event, which is how they discovered the very existence of a trail-racing world. Back then, in 2000, few to no websites and no online entries existed for the sport’s gatherings. Word of mouth was the best if not only way to discover an event. Joyce started with a 50k while Joe trained for a 50 miler.

As the couple met more trail runners, they formed a friendship network and became a social glue in the community. They decided to organize a multi-day fun run for friends, which was hosted at Hill Country State Natural Area with a cabin rental and just a handful of folks. Runners at the grassroots get-together asked the Prusaitises to coordinate a formal race. To start, they launched an unsanctioned, unpublicized fat ass with 25 runners. Then they created their first formal race, in 2000, and the number of participants more than quadrupled for that run. This was the inaugural 100-kilometer Bandera Endurance Trail Run.

“We call it our hobby gone wild. We had a passion for running, and we stumbled into trail running by accident. Our passion was divided between our personal goals and sharing these experiences with other people,” Joyce says.

Joe was a software engineer by trade. He easily adopted the organizational and technological tasks involved in their passion project that would become Tejas Trails. “Joe is a wizard on the computer, so he created the website and kept everything in order. I was the emotional, mushy side. I gave out hugs and took care of people at the aid stations,” says Joyce, who was a working as a clinic coordinator for an orthopedic surgeon.

Joyce and Joe at the 2003 Austin Marathon in Texas.

Liza Howard, a San Antonio-based ultrarunner, Sharman Ultra coach, NOLS Wilderness Medicine instructor, and iRunFar columnist, has run and volunteered at a number of Tejas Trails events over the years. About these experiences, she says, “It was like being at a large family reunion. You wanted to be part of their family whether that meant marking the course, working an aid station, running the race, or cleaning up after it was all over. Joe’s matter-of-fact, no-nonsense vision of trail running grounded their races. And no one is sweeter or more skilled at smoothing ruffled feathers than Joyce. Helping them at a race was like watching a master class in working with and communicating with your spouse. When I ran one of their races, I always wanted to make Joe and Joyce proud. You knew they would rejoice in your success.”

The pair was raising a family of six kids–Joyce and Joe each had three children from respective previous marriages–and financially their only initial goal with Tejas Trails was to not pay for the races out-of-pocket. Joe would order high-quality t-shirts for participants, and the race fees barely covered all of the expenses. Their kids, friends, family, and volunteers all played roles on-the-ground at the races. They didn’t hire any employees.

Joyce while hiking on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina in 2017.

“We liked working. We were comfortable with full plates, and we seemed to roll with it all just fine,” says Joe, who was juggling international projects as an engineer at Motorola. Beyond his work and his own running and racing, he was also a co-race director and on the Board of Directors for the Austin Marathon, and he created and organized a local trail running club. Within a few years, the Prusaitises also adopted the then-10-year-old Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile and 100k from the race’s founder and first director Mickey Rollins. Let’s just say that things escalated quickly in terms of the duo’s leadership in both the road and off-road running communities.

When Joe was laid off from his job in 2004, he was surprisingly stoked. “I didn’t want to work in a cubicle again for the rest of my life,” he says, so he decided to become a full-time race director. He fine tuned and rounded out a business model that could earn a profit and support their family.

“I created one race a month for the rest of year, and then kept adding races,” Joe says. He started consulting and race directing for other race brands, and got involved in USA Track & Field (USATF) and trail running clubs. “I needed to learn as much as possible, so I got involved in every part of the community that I could. I jumped in,” Joe says.

Tejas Trails expanded with the Cactus Rose in 2006, followed by Wild Hare in 2009, Nueces in 2010, Pandora’s Box of Rox in 2013, and Mellow Paleface in 2015—to name only a few of Tejas Trails’s events. The company evolved to include 15 trail running races, a handful of which have been or are part of national-level series and championships, such as the Hells Hills 25k as part of the now-defunct La Sportiva Mountain Cup and the Bandera 100k a part of the Montrail Ultra Cup which has now evolved into the Golden Ticket Series. Growing the business into diverse running communities from around the nation and abroad was intentional and helped to change the sport as we know it today.

“I was trying to grow a business and make money. I was traveling all over country, becoming really good friends with other major races and race directors. We got to know each other. I was creating circumstances to get their racers to come to our races: I gave out comped entries in other cities, states, races, and clubs that I was joining all over the country. I was doing grassroots marketing without knowing what I was doing,” says Joe.

Over the course of two decades, Prusaitises’ drive led them to direct more than 100 races. At its peak with the pair at the helm, Tejas Trails served around 5,000 runners a year. “A couple of years after we started the company, our accountant was laughing at us, and said, ‘I have never met anyone that was so shocked to make money when they start a business.’ It just kept growing,” says Joyce.

The pair near Ouray, Colorado in 2011.

And so did their love of trail races. For two decades, they did all of their ultrarunning training together. After his first year of ultra races—two 50 milers including the Sunmart 50 Mile—Joe ventured into the 100-mile distance. Joyce paced Joe for second half of his 100-mile races, which he consistently ran, while she preferred the shorter ultras and marathons.

Says Joe, “I always liked camping and the outdoors. Doing trail races didn’t overwhelm me. Back in those days, with less internet and information online, it was hard to find out about races, but I went looking for them. My second year, I did four 100 milers, and then did all the crazy stuff—the Barkley Marathons, Hardrock 100, and Badwater 135. I was running these really long races and running long on weekends and busy with kids all week. We weren’t traditional trainers. We just did what made sense for us.”

A few years ago, Joe, now 64, and Joyce, 62, retired and sold Tejas Trails to Chris and Krissy McWatters. Chris had experience as a race director and had raced at Tejas Trails events for years, including a number of top finishes. For a year-long transition, the Prusaitises race directed side-by-side with the McWatterses.

Today, Joe and Joyce still volunteer at the Tejas Trails races, and Joe consults for Tejas Trails as well as other races out of state. “I’ve learned to let go of directing. I love crewing for Joe and watching other people direct races,” says Joyce.

Though the pair has stepped back from race directing, they’ve also moved forward into other leadership roles and interests. Since 2012, the pair has worked with Liza Howard and others to put on the nonprofit Band of Runners trail running camp. About this, Liza says, “The purpose of Band of Runners is to welcome military veterans into the trail running community and share the physical and psychological benefits running in nature provides with them. What I wanted to share, fundamentally, was what Joe and Joyce had created with Tejas Trails. They inspired the project, and they guide it now.”

Joe at the Band of Runners trail running camp in Texas  in 2014.

Joe is still running everything from half marathons to 100 milers–he ran 21 trail races in 2018–but has retired from high-altitude racing and almost exclusively participates in close-to-home races. Joyce has stepped back from trail races and reacquainted herself with another life love, owning and riding horses.

But Joe and Joyce aren’t ready to retire from their annual tradition of the Austin Marathon, the event that started it all in terms of their shared life path as well as their journey in growing the Texas trail running community. “I’ll run the Austin Marathon with no training, because that’s what we do every year,” says Joyce. “I have a gratitude for the gifts we’ve been given and we learned a lot through Tejas Trails and are trying to take advantage and appreciate the time we have right now.”

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

Now for the fun part of telling Joyce and Joe Prusaitis stories! Did you race a Tejas Trails event while they were its owners? Have you run in the same event as one or both of them? Are you a part of their trail family? Leave a comment to share your story.

Joyce and Joe along with Joe’s daughter Erica McMillen and her husband Sean McMillen at the 2017 Austin Marathon.

Morgan Tilton

is an adventure journalist who writes about the outdoors with a focus in travel, industry news, and human endurance. She is a recipient of multiple North American Travel Journalists Association awards including two double-award articles—“Wild & Broken: A First SUP Descent of Utah’s Escalante River” and “A Wild Space”—that share her first descent on stand-up paddle board of Utah’s wild Escalante River, a self-supported journey she shared with four friends. She works with close to 50 publications. Follow Morgan on her website and Instagram account.

There are 18 comments

  1. JacobsA

    One of my most cherished ultra memories takes place before my first 100 miler. I was camping near the race hub and of course, I didn’t sleep a wink. Around 3:30 I gave up on that and made my way to the start/ finish tent on that cold, rainy morning. Turns out, Joe was there as well for whatever reason and we set there talking for a spell before racers started filing in. For the life of me, I can’t remember the content of that conversation. To say that Joe and Joyce are an invaluable part of the trail season is an understatement.

  2. Breanna Fancher

    My trail running passion was sparked long ago in high school cross country but I wondered away from it, only to become impassioned again after moving to AZ and attending a Team RWB trail running camp. When I moved back to TX and landed in Austin, I quickly found Joe and Joyce by way of Trailzen, the running club they host. Free weekly group runs helped me learn the local trails and the conversations got me up to speed on the race scene. I completed my first Ultra last year and am shooting for 4 this season. This couple is inspiring in every way! Their kindness, love for each other, love for the trails, and love for the running community is contagious. They make you want to be the best runner you can be, to push your limits, to plug into the community and give back. So happy to see them highlighted here!

  3. Michael Langer

    Here in Central Texas we are spoiled by the highest standard of the trail marking and event organizing from Joe and Joyce. Many a Texas runner would end up hopelessly lost at a trail race out of state, because not every race organizer has this obsessive attention to detail.

  4. Stephen

    Great profile! Bandera, Rocky Raccoon, Cactus Rose, and countless other Tejas Trails events are among my fondest ultrarunning memories.

  5. Dorothy Hollis

    I don’t know how many Joe and Joyce events I’ve done, but they were awesome and well organized. Joe was one bad ass director and Joyce’s presence was calming. My most memorable was Cactus Rose 50; Joe wasn’t sure I had the mental fortitude to finish, but his delight when I crossed made me feel like I had just landed on top of Everest!

  6. Michael

    I can safely say my own (and I’m sure many others) venture into trail running the last ~10 years wouldn’t be possible without their awesome leadership of TejasTrails. They’re simply the best. Caring after the lead runner and back of the packers all the same. Joe’s running resume is impressive too – would shame just about every runner out there – I believe he finished Hardrock 7 times, and suffice it to say, Joe always has a great running story.

  7. Shirley Musfy

    Joe got me through my one and only 100 at Rocky. Using his training schedule long runs back to back and always move forward made it very doable.
    I have timed with a few friends at his rocky races Joe and Joyce would always make you feel special.
    Did his Bandara races a couple of times (still not sure why) they are a bugger.
    Thanks Jo and Joyce for the fond memories.

  8. John T Sharp

    Joe and Joyce are the absolute best. It’s been an honor to run and work thier events since 2008. They introduced me to Hardrock and the ultra community at large. I’m forever grateful for thier friendship. My life has been greatly enhanced.

  9. Moogy

    Two of the nicest people that you will EVER meet. I owe my start into the ultra-running community (racing and volunteering) to them. We have had some good times together and I hope that they will continue (when I am able to get back out there again). 8)

  10. Jonathan Johnson

    I started trail running in Tulsa in 2006 and heard of their races at that time. A group of us signed up for Rocky Raccoon in February of 2007, based on word of mouth reputation for the races that Joe & Joyce put on. I got a new job in Dallas at the same time, and I coordinated the car pool to let me park my car at a hotel in Dallas so I could ride down to Houston for my first 50-miler. The hospitality for the race was amazing and helped keep me grounded on what was a whirlwind of a weekend. I was hooked. Bandera in 2008 was next, and I remember a conversation with Joe at Rocky Raccoon in 2009 regarding the course changes. Felt like I was talking to a superstar and a regular guy all at the same time. A couple of dozen races later with Tejas Trails, I made sure to carve out time to read this article.

  11. Thomas Bowling

    This was a well researched article. Joe & Joyce have been the glue to the Texas trail running community for years due to their passion, hard work, and encouraging attitudes. I still love seeing them at races or anywhere, for that matter! I think they made a great choice in their handoff to the McWatters family, who have kept the Tejas Trails races going strong. One of the greatest draws for trail running and racing is the community. Joe and Joyce helped me feel part of that!

  12. Paul Schmidt

    I met Joe at the Arkansas 100. We ended up running the race together. Joe retrieved me after the third time I missed a turn on the course. Running together mostly on the the flat sections as Joe goes like a madman downhill and I liked to jog uphill. We have been close friends ever since then. Spending many hours together on the HardRock trail and even hiking together on the Appalachian Trail. I dearly love Joe and Joyce!

  13. Nelson Prater

    Joyce and Joe had a way of making you feel like you were about to embark on something really special when you signed up for one of their races. I think I finished because I didn’t want to disappoint them. I take that with me today – that every time I go out for a run I am embarking on something special. (If you don’t believe that, ask one of your running friends who is injured and can’t run right now.) Thanks, Joyce and Joe, for a lifetime of inspiration.

  14. BRUCE JONES

    This story doesn’t involve Joe directly, but rather Brad Quinn – another familiar name in the realm of Tejas Trails races.

    My first adventure in trail running & Tejas Trails was 10 years ago at Muleshoe Bend. It was an early version of the popular “Captain Karl” night race. Brad was in charge with a handful of volunteers and a modest number of runners. Having no prior experience in doing a trail run, I signed up for the 30K race, which started bright and early at 7:00 am on a humid August morning. To keep things simple, the race organizers plotted out a 10K loop. The runners did 3 laps for a 30K run. Later that night, the hardcore trail runners would do 6 laps at night for a 60K race.(at night no less) About a week later I learned that the race staff & volunteers did not accurately measure the loop. It was 7.33 miles instead of 6.2! So instead of running 18.6 miles, I ran 22!!

    Years later at Colorado Bend, Brad Quinn and I recalled that weekend and he told me that many of the 60K night runners were so frustrated because they couldn’t believe how slow they were running and how dog tired they were at the end of the race. Little did they know that they had just finished a 44 mile run!

    From these humble beginnings, Joe carved out a trail running empire.

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