A Challenge I Can Live With…

David Yon, December 4, 2007

I started running in 1983 and since then I have run in many interesting places all over the world. But there is something about an old familiar course, especially one with character, run many times that makes racing special. So when race directors Judy Alexander and Brian Corbin announced that the Ten Mile Challenge was moving back to Killearn Lakes, I must admit a wave of nice warm feelings rolled over me. It was like pulling out that well worn pair of jeans that fit just right – even if they have a couple of holes in them. On race morning 13 or 14 deer made the point as they welcomed early starters Mike Schneider and Susan Cornwell home.

The Ten Mile Challenge, one of GWTC’s oldest races, was “born” in 1977 as a 20K (12.4 miles) race under the direction of Leitch Wright (one of many good legacies he left the club). This event has always had its own special character – the name should forewarn – hilly terrain to challenge a runner’s grit and heart. A runner who puts themselves on the line in this race finds a test of courage that is easy to fail. There is no “flat” as it rolls up or down the entire way, the kind of hills that melt your courage in the heat of battle.

There have been some courage testing epic battles in this race. One of the best was the first year (1984) the race was held in Killearn Lakes when Felton Wright, Steve Meade, Karl Hempel and Kent Vann battled each other on the hilly course until Steve and Felton edged away from the group. Steve took advantage of a cruel climb up an energy sapping grass hill to pull away from Felton for 13 second victory. The next year it would be Felton’s turn to grab the top spot over friend Scott Hinkle by 9 seconds.

Tim “Superman” Simpkins fought his share of classic battles in this race. The colorful Tallahassee runner fought with Leon star Herb Wills in the very first race before Herb won by just 8 seconds. The next year Time cut the margin to 2 seconds, but still lost Joe Germano by the smallest margin in the race’s history. Tim would keep battling until finally winning the title in the 80’s before later losing a more important battle to cancer. My own battles with friends in this race (at a much slower pace) taught me the rhythm of the course was not kind, but rather caused a competitor’s heart in those close battles to pound on the body’s chest walls looking for a way out in to the open air where it could find more oxygen. A runner’s brain would constantly flash messages that the legs were changing to concrete and, if they did not slow down, they would not make the finish line. But the toughest competitors pushed on anyway with little more than pride at stake.

On Saturday it was Tripp Southerland who added his name to the distinguished list of winners of this Challenge in a time of 58:47, taking the best challenger Mike Martinez could dish out. Mike made the masters group proud by finishing second overall in 59:23. Sheryl Rosen proved she was strong coming back quicker than she went out on the out and back course to claim the women’s title in 1:04:04. Jane Johnson took the masters title with a second place overall finish among the women. Brian and Judy have proven to be good shepherds of this GWTC tradition. And while the 2007 course was half new, it was home and it was tough just the way Leitch Wright envisioned it.