Moments In Time – The 2007 Tallahassee Ultradistance Classic

 Gary Griffin, December 2007

Peg asked me today – the day after the ultra: “Did you hear Fran’s music yesterday?”  I had to admit that I had not, but that was not a reflection on Fran’s music – which Peg proceeded to note was exceptional.  It was more a result of my own single-minded approach to making it through 50 miles in the shortest time possible.

Her inquiry got me to thinking.  Fran’s music was an integral part of the event to the many who did hear it, and no doubt it enhanced their enjoyment of the day.  And so, what about all the other things that happened out there on Saturday that were important to some and yet, unrecognized by others?  After all -- whether you were out there for only the three and a half hours that it took our 2007 50K winner, Thierry Asselin of Ontario, Canada to get to the finish line or the 10+ hours that it took some to go the entire 50 miles -- there was no shortage of “moments.”

Ultrarunning is inevitably a series of peaks and valleys.  To quote one of the signs posted on the course on Saturday, “If you start to feel good in an ultra, don’t worry.  It’ll go away.”  That has certainly been the case, in my experience.  And so, you remember moments while on the peaks as well as those less pleasurable.   And – you remember what it was – an encouraging word or a smile or a joke or a story (as Sue Kelly employed to help me out on Saturday!), or whatever it is or was to lift you up.  I didn’t ask other runners afterwards what got them through it all, but from the post-race comments I received, as well as my own personal experience, clearly many contributed to the “moments.”  Allow me to share a few.

Fred Johnson was there.  Lt. Col. and soon-to-be Col. Fred Johnson, home from a 15 month tour of duty as a Deputy Brigade Commander in Iraq, that is.  He’s still “Fred” to all of us and he would have it no other way.  In fact, there are other names he goes by on occasion, and several were exchanged as he and other members of the pack chasing after Thierry breezed along.  It was good to have Fred back, no doubt, but it was equally good to see the smiling faces of his wife Laura and daughter Maddie as they ran and encouraged others at the start/finish line.  Those moments certainly lifted me and, no doubt, others.

The many volunteers who make the annual pilgrimage to Wakulla Springs State Park on the second Saturday in December were in attendance – far too numerous to mention, and furthermore, far too humble to even want to be mentioned.  Those who are there year after year know who they are, and we hold them dear.  I noted at the pre-race briefing runners who have run the TUDC more than 15 times, but also mentioned the fact that there are volunteers with similar numbers.  Their loyalty to this event astounds me, as does the commitment of those who joined us for the first time.  As one of our runners told me afterwards upon finishing her first 50K: “You are the nicest group of people – everyone was so positive and encouraging.”  Those comments are echoed year after year after year.  I tell you this from experience and with all certainty: you have no idea to what extent you are responsible for the successes of the runners.  I don’t mean to over-dramatize it, but I can tell you as a ultrarunner that one can get to feeling pretty pitiful at times, and what YOU do matters.  It matters a lot!

Joe and Nadine Dexter were there again in all of their regalia, appearing at one point as law enforcement and later as super heroes.  If anything will take your mind off how lousy you feel, it is seeing Nadine in a Superhero costume.  There’s no shortage of off-stage entertainment moments at the TUDC.

Fred Deckert was there – camera in hand to capture the moments for posterity.  It is remarkable how one can go from what Dana Stetson calls “the cooked shrimp look” to one of confidence and freshness when Fred and the lens appears.  Making yourself look better, albeit only briefly, makes for a good moment.

Far from the start/finish line crowd were the Hoovers, Paul and Myrna.  Last year when it was 18 degrees at the start they brought a tent and a portable heater to their post at the far end of the loop course.  This year, they simply pulled out the lawn chairs and made themselves comfortable for the far too many hours that they were there.  As always, they did more than count laps and stop traffic, though. They encouraged and lifted us, even as we fell apart out there, lap after lap.

Those are a few of the moments, and interspersed with them were moments of good racing and noteworthy performances.

In the 50K, the aforementioned Thierry Asselin, a talented Canadian triathlete, took the 50K crown with a blazing 3:30:25 (a 6:47 pace!).  Giving chase early were David Yon, Fred Johnson and Brian Corbin.  David won this race back in 1995, and Fred won it in his last appearance here in 2005.  Brian was making his first 50K start as he trains for a January marathon in Arizona.  David and Fred went head-to-head, chasing after the masters title through 25 miles or so before David threw in a 14 minute final lap to finish second in a time of 3:52:20 – the only other finisher to best 4 hours.  The women’s 50K race was even better!  Olivia Swedberg and last year’s masters champ, Kirsten Baggett, traded the lead all morning before Olivia – making her first go at 50K – prevailed in a time of 4:44:39.  Kirsten, bettering her 2006 time by over 25 minutes (!), was right behind in a time of 4:47:20 and took the masters crown for the second straight year.  Good racing ladies.  You showed a whole lot of toughness out there, as did all who battled the heat and fatigue.  Judy Alexander’s success story is a further reminder to never give up.  With 2 laps to go (27 miles elapsed), Judy decided to call it a day.  She was cramping and generally wiped out.  Doc Dunn – as stable a fixture at Wakulla as any runner or volunteer in the group – laid his magic hands on her and had Judy back on the course in short order.  Her last two laps were as strong as anyone out there at that time.  I’ll bet Judy will never forget Doc and those moments.

The 50 mile race was not without some drama – it was just prolonged a bit.  Marathon Jack McDermott needs to be officially renamed Ultramarathon Jack.  His recent successes at the distances beyond 26.2M dictate that.  In August, he won his second consecutive Hot 2 Trot 8 Hour Run in Atlanta, and followed that with a 3:34 50K win at the Darkside 50K in Peachtree City in November.  On Saturday, he battled some early stomach issues and a challenge from talented Raleigh, NC ultrarunner Brad Smythe.  Brad came into the event with a strong resume, including 115 miles in 24 hours as he won the October 2007 Hinson Lake 24-Hour Classic.  Jack overcame the challenges and powered his way to his dominating second win at the TUDC with a time of 6:41:23. He now sets his sights on the Umstead 100 Mile Run in April.  The women’s winner was equally dominating and tremendously impressive.  Jacksonville’s Amy Costa came onto the Wakulla scene for the first time in 2006 and easily took home the women’s title in 7:30.  Since then, she won the Croom 50 Mile Run in March and hammered the field in the tough Bethel Hill Moonlight Boogie 50M in NC in June.  On Saturday she lowered her TUDC time to 7:21:48 – a time bettered since 1991by only the women’s course record holder Nancy Drach.  Clearly, Amy Costa has established herself among the leading ultrarunners in the eastern US – if not the entire country. Gary Griffin was third overall and took the men’s masters win in 7:33:07 and lowered his 55-59 age group record by 15 minutes.  Susan Lance, coming off a victory at the Lean Horse 100 in August, ran her first sub-8 hour 50-mile.  Susan is from Whiteside, GA and won the overall women’s 50K title at the TUDC in 2006.  It seems to me that there are bright days ahead for both of our women’s champions this year.  I certainly hope so as both of them work hard at the sport, and run with strength and confidence.  Furthermore, both are class individuals.  They’ll be back in 2008, as I hope that each and every one of our runners and volunteers will return with her.

One final note: Peg and I love being as much a part of this race as you folks do, and we truly thank you for making it what it is.  This year we had 53 entrants – the most in over 10 years.  We were awarded a sponsorship by The North Face and the event was part of the North Face Endurance Challenge, and our 50M champions picked up a nice package of goodies as a result.

We’ll all gather back at Wakulla Springs State Park on December 13, 2008, and we’ll do it again.  Between now and then, there will be many moments in time and we trust that they will be good ones for all of you.