A Call to the Palace 5K

Elizabeth Kelsey, April 12, 2008

A trumpet sounded the call to the post, the shotgun blasted and nearly 800 runners took off from Messer Fields Saturday morning for the 34th Annual Palace Saloon 5K.

With the temperature in the upper 60s, women’s champion Lisa Johnson (18:46) found the conditions perfect: “It was just cool enough with a little bit of overcast — it felt great.” Johnson’s winning strategy took advantage of the hills. “I tried to push real hard and gain going downhill,” she said. FSU’s Nick Sunseri won the men’s division in 15:25.

The Palace Saloon 5K is one of Tallahassee’s oldest races — its point-to-point course from Messer to the saloon is also one of the fastest. Typical winning times are in the 14- to 16-minute range and many a weekend warrior can boast a PR from this event. There has always been a connection between the Palace Saloon and running. Several of FSU’s runners were bartenders at the Palace, and the race was envisioned while proprietor Chuck Fisher was out on a run with an employee. The race’s popularity fluctuated throughout the years: the 1970s running boom brought crowds of more than 1,000 but numbers languished by the millennium.

The event’s popularity boomed again when Gulf Winds promoted it to Grand Prix status and when race directors Reid Vannoy and Herb Wills took over management in 2002. When marketing the race, Wills used a variety of tactics: he advertised on every Web-based running site and got listed in Runner’s World . He became notorious for his Styrofoam-cups-in-fences ads at other local races. “At Springtime (Tallahassee) and some of the other tougher races,” Wills said, “I often hand out flyers that state that our race has fewer hills and more beer. That usually goes over well.”