A Conversation with the Heart (Mae) and Soul (Rex) of GWTC
By David Yon
Photos by Anstr Davidson
Mae and Rex Cleveland have been a critical force behind GWTC for as long as most of us can remember. They carry in their heads and in their files the most complete record of the club anywhere outside of Bill McGuire’s head. And while they may not be quite as active as the days when they served as club president, newsletter editor, board members and committee members, their contributions continue to make the club one of the best and most professional anywhere. Both are in the GWTC Hall of Fame, Mae was runner of the year in 1980 and again in 1999, and Rex won the Advancement of Sport award which is now known as the Cleveland-Caldwell Advancement of the Sport Award. Rex and Mae just celebrated their 36 anniversary and since they had recently tackled a difficult 50 mile race together, it seemed the perfect time to check in with them for A Conversation on how things were going.
David: How did you wind up in Tallahassee?
Mae: We came here in 1970. Rex started the doctoral program in social psychology at FSU. I was hired as a staff psychologist at Leon County Mental Health Clinic (now Apalachee Mental Health Center). When the social psych program lost its primary professor, the program collapsed and Rex left FSU. We stayed in Tallahassee because we liked the environment and activities–canoeing on the rivers, scuba diving, cycling at the Wildlife Refuge–and had close friends with whom we shared these activities.
Rex: I visited Tallahassee in 1961 on a round trip motorcycle trip from Chicago to Key West. When Mae and I lived in Atlanta in 1967 we visited Tallahassee together and we both thought it might be a nice place to go to school. So that’s what we had in mind when we arrived here in August, 1970. It’s not as easy to explain why we’re still here, but I know that taking up running in 1977 and getting involved with the Gulf Winds Track Club has had a lot to do with it. Friendships and associations that develop over half a lifetime are difficult to leave behind.
On that trip in 1961 I camped at Silver Lake, which was then a private campground. I remember thinking that if I had more time it would be nice to go swimming. I would never have guessed that over 40 years later I would have run out there so many times — in the Prefontaine 5k — and still not gone in swimming.
David: How did you meet each other?
Mae: We met in Chicago in 1966. I moved to the Windy City that year. It turned out Rex and the family I rented from were acquaintances who shared ham radio interests. We had talked over the radio but actually met while Rex was visiting one day. We discovered we liked similar things, like cycling around the local parks and talking about works of weird writers (Camus and Beckett come to mind), and traveling. Things just sort of took off from there . . .
Rex: Proximity. Mae was renting a room from a family nearby. Still, I might never have met her if it hadn’t been for Ham Radio. To help pass the time while recovering from a bad motorcycle wreck, I studied for and passed the exam to become an Amateur Radio Operator and set up a very basic station. When another station comes on the air less than 100 yards from you, it is hard not to get acquainted with the operator. The operator was a tenth grader, the son of the people who were renting a room to Mae. I first “met” Mae over the radio, and later met her in person when I made the customary trip over to “see the other guy’s station.” I still have the equipment over which we first spoke, and it still works. Of course, I probably would never have sat still long enough to get the radio license if I hadn’t had the motorcycle wreck, so arguably that unfortunate event was the real turning point.
David: Can you give us some of the highlights of your GWTC careers?
Mae: I think the first highlight for me was getting hooked up with training groups and meeting other runners, which probably kept me running. In 1978 we joined Pat Seery’s Sunday morning fun runs, which started at Tully Gym and ran through the old FSU farm and around the golf course. And, we started traveling with others to races, especially to small towns in south Georgia. These were the beginnings of many and lasting friendships.
There are so many racing highlights, both fun and serious; I get nostalgic just thinking about them. I got hooked on the Pine Run after my first one in 1978. Running around the old FSU practice fields, jumping over bales of hay, in the makeshift cross-country Fast and Half Fast Run was hilarious. The PRs and other personal accomplishments are always highlights, but the best part of being in GWTC is sharing running experiences and giving encouragement.
Serving the club as a delegate at large, as vice president and president provided a different kind of challenge. In a race we all get on the course and head toward the same, designated finish line, but serving on the Board requires working together, defining the direction of the Club, and making decisions as we go. A couple of highlights for me were working with two particular committees. One was the first Awards Committee, setting up the Awards and Grand Prix program in 1983 with Bill de Grummond and Rodney Anderson. We hashed out some guidelines and a scoring system and had no idea of the monster we were creating It has been interesting over the years to see how the Committees have adapted the Grand Prix system to suit the club’s needs, like adding a children’s GP. The second was working with David Yon and Toma Wilkerson on the Chenoweth Committee to set up the scholarship program for high school athletes.
Of course, I must mention another highlight: suggesting to David Yon that he run for president in 1997, and he did!
Rex: Looking back, I have to say it seems like it was all highlights. Being newsletter editor was probably the major one for me, though I suppose something that lasts eighteen years is a career in itself, not a mere highlight. I have had, as my mother would say, “a checkered work history,” but this job was my favorite. When Dot Skofronick asked me to be the GWTC editor I had already been working a short time for the State in my first editorial job. I think the fact that I was enjoying similar work already may have influenced me to say yes . It’s probably what I was best suited for and should have been doing all along. Yet another failure of 1950s high school vocational guidance testing!
GWTC ‘s annual awards meeting is always loaded with highlights. The tradition of keeping each award a secret, even from those being honored, seems to make each presentation more interesting and emotional. It is difficult to present the award without mentioning an awardee’s name until the last sentence or two, and there’s also the problem of getting them to attend the ceremony without letting on that they are to be honored, but I hope we will always do it that way. I have twice been an honored “victim” and can attest that the total surprise experienced makes the occasion extremely memorable — plus you are not expected to have a lengthy thank-you speech prepared. This year the most memorable highlight for me was Ray Hanlon receiving the Hall of Fame Award.
Central among all the highlights is having the good fortune to have kept running for so long. At this point I remember even the bad workouts and disastrous races with fondness so, as I said, the past seems like all highlights. One problem with this looking back is remembering all the fine people who are no longer part of the running scene, whether through death, injury or just moving on to other places, other things. But as long as I can move myself down the road or trail for eight to twelve hours a week at whatever pace, and spend some time competing and socializing with other runners, life will be good.
David: So how is retirement treating you?
Mae: Wonderfully. How did I ever have time to work, run, travel, and have some serious fun before! Now I get to visit family in Maryland-West Virginia-Virginia more often. There is more time to read all the magazines we get. Running is getting more priority, too.
Rex: There seem to be a lot of positives: Flexible scheduling, shopping at non-peak times, less stress, no deadlines, more time to travel, a spouse who is learning to relax more and seems happier. There are some negatives, particularly less income, which right now is no income as what little retirement money we can expect has not started yet. We may have to go back to work part time or temporary, but for now we are just going to be “retired.” Or maybe “on vacation” is more accurate.
David: What insanity possessed you to sign up for the Bull Run 50 Miler?
Mae: I desperately needed to focus on my fitness. I have been participating in a long term study of runners’ health and about every 5 years I get a questionnaire to fill out. One of the questions is, “What is your average mileage since the last questionnaire.” Last fall, I figured out my average for the past 4 years was 17 miles a week, not counting the weeks I did not run. So, I decided the first thing after retirement would be to take on a major physical challenge. Fifty miles seemed major to me, and yes, insane. The Bull Run was all on hilly trails in western Fairfax County, Virginia, in state-maintained parks. This is in an area we enjoy visiting. It seemed perfect. Now, all I had to do was train!
Rex: Are you saying that Mae is insane? Because it was her idea. A couple of years ago I had run the JFK 50 miler in Maryland and she probably would have run it also, but she was having knee problems at the time and just couldn’t train enough. I would have preferred to wait for the next JFK this coming November, but it was good to have Bull Run as a goal and we did some awesome (for us) training, such as our two 30 milers; the day before the first one we did 11 miles, then we did 56 miles in the 11 days leading up to the second one, which was much easier than the first. We decided we were ready.
Mae: There were only three and a half months to get ready, so I focused on doing longer runs and getting my mileage up to 50 miles a week, which seemed like a good goal since I planned to run that amount in one day! I was concerned about my right knee, which had not come close to this kind of training since arthroscopic surgery in 1999 and a car accident in 2001, so I ran only 4 or 5 days a week, rarely two days in a row. In the last month I put long runs closer together, like 20, 17, and 15 mile runs with a day off between. My longest run was 30 miles. I managed 3 successive weeks of 53 miles per week.
David: What was the best thing to come out of it?
Mae: The best thing was the feeling of accomplishment and confidence. Doubts about my doing this increased during the last few weeks before the race. Sometimes I did not handle the longer runs well, and since no woman over age 60 had finished the Bull Run under the cut off time, I thought perhaps I should get the message–we’re SLOW! But, I finished well under the cut off and had no problems, other than my quads felt trashed around 40 miles from all the steep downhills.
Mae crossing stream at Bull Run, April, 2003
[Ok, readers don’t miss that little factoid there – Mae became the first woman over 60 to finish the race under the cut off time.]
David: What was the worst thing?
Mae: Rex falling and not being able to complete the run. I did not want to believe it happened and was in denial for about 10 miles. Then I felt guilty for continuing instead of, what, helplessly watching him suffer? But he was well taken care of, and I probably would only have been a nuisance had I been around.
David: What was your general impression of the race?
Mae: I loved the course. It had enough variety–sloshing across streams, traipsing through bogs, and running over hills through the woods–to keep it challenging and fun. The volunteers were terrific. I would recommend the Bull Run 50.
David: Rex, Tell us about your Bull Run Run experience.
Rex: I felt great that morning and the weather was possibly the best they have ever had for the event, so I was very disappointed to complete less than five miles of it. I fell and dislocated the index and middle fingers of my right hand. Mae was right behind me at the time. I told her I would be OK and she should go on with her race, so she did. I tried pulling the fingers back into place without success. I even considered continuing the race, but the fingers looked so horrible I was afraid I might lose them, or at least lose the use of them, and there was no telling how badly they might end up hurting. I waited for a while to see if a medic might pass me who could pop them back in place. Finally a guy showed me a shortcut to the start/finish area, which luckily was only a half mile away. This same guy found Mae, looking worried, waiting at the next turnaround and asked her if she was all right. When he found out she was waiting for me he told her he had directed me back to the start and I would get medical care, so fortunately she was able to stop worrying so much and go on and finish.
Everyone was very nice to me. They called an ambulance, which turned out to be free. They gave me a cell phone number to call so someone could pick me up from the hospital and return me to the race. At the hospital everyone was also very nice, and they provided care even though I had no identification with me — I couldn’t find my wallet before the ambulance arrived. From what I’ve been told, Healthplan Southeast will cover everything; I have just my ER co-payment of $25.
The first doctor could not straighten my fingers. A second doctor arrived later and straightened them, but it wasn’t easy. By then they had been dislocated for three and a half hours, so maybe that made the job more difficult. I was back at the race by about 1:30 and got to see the finishers with times from about seven and a half hours on up. I think I must have met and talked to just about everyone in the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club while eating pizza and other goodies and waiting for Mae to finish.
If possible I would like to go back and try again. The race director offered me a free entry next year if I care to try. My goal will be to not fall down! This is a high quality event in which the runners are well served and looked after. The Bull Run website http://www.vhtrc.org/brr/ has full details. If you go to the photos for this year, Stream 13, Stream 20 and Finish 11 show GWTC’s only finisher in a collage with other runners. In the lower left corner of Finish 2 collage you will see a guy holding a folder full of x-ray photos.
David: Did you guys do much training together?
Mae: Before I retired, we trained together only occasionally. Now that I can run in the mornings, we train together a lot more. Often, though, we run our own workout and meet at the end to complain or gloat, whichever is appropriate for the session. We did most of the training for the 50-miler together, especially the long runs.
Rex: Yes, almost all our training was done together, another benefit of retirement. It used to be that we might train together once or twice a week. Now it’s only about once every week or two that we train separately. My only problem in training with Mae is she starts out too fast!
David: What impressions do each of you have of the changes GWTC has gone through since you first joined?
Mae: Certainly running has changed over the past 25 years, and GWTC has adapted just enough to maintain wide appeal and still keep the feeling of family. The Club has taken on a broader dimension with a greater community appeal. There is increased effort to support youth running, with club members coaching at local schools, staging track meets, and supporting gifted and needy athletes. The club has maintained good balance in appealing to the competition and social aspects of running and to supporting various causes through running. It still feels comfortable and secure to be a member of GWTC.
Rex: Keep in mind that we joined 25 years ago. The primary changes are that it is much more democratic, more people are involved in the work of the Club, we are involved in a greater variety of endeavors and we are more widely known and respected as an organization that contributes something important to the community.
On the other hand, I think that the world in general and running in particular have changed much more than the Club. In the early years of being a runner I felt much like I had as a motorcycle rider — sort of an outcast, and a target for people in cars! For those who weren’t there or don’t remember, people seemed annoyed or threatened by runners. From their cars people would hurl insults and threats at us, along with beverage cans, bottles, or coins. I once saw a passenger in a pickup truck lean out the window pointing a handgun at me and screaming he would kill me. Perhaps this sort of thing increased the feeling of the need to join some sort of organization like GWTC that had our interests at heart. I have never been much of a joiner, never joined a motorcycle club, but I don’t remember hesitating to join GWTC, and I think that the many ways in which it has remained the same have been in the best ways, the ones that make us feel secure in the face of the many changes in the wider world, in Tallahassee and in running itself. GWTC is sort of a warm, fuzzy security blanket for runners, and I suspect it’s the people in it and the way they behave toward each other that are at the core of it, and hopefully that won’t change much.
David: Where do you see the club five years from now?
Mae: I have not been involved in the “administrative” aspect of the club over the last few years and am not sure of the direction of the club. I do feel the basic elements which keep the club going will continue to be there–numerous volunteers, opportunities to train and have fun together, support for one another, love of racing.
Rex: I’ve never been any good at this five-years-from-now thing, and I don’t have a five-year plan. The Soviets had them, and look where it got them!
However, I have always felt that GWTC should have more members. In my perverted way of looking at things the amount of members we have is more significant than the amount of money we have. We need to somehow provide more membership benefits, especially the kinds that are available to all members, if we want to attract more actual members. Everyone loves us, but not everyone joins us.
I would like to see us make more and better use of computers. When I call or visit my local pizza parlor, or just about any place of business large or small, they ask for my phone number or some other identifier and instantly know who I am. We could use this technology to identify people as members or non-members of GWTC when they register for one of our races and provide members the benefit of a significant discount. We used to do more of this, but it seems to have died out, perhaps because race directors had no quick way of telling whether people were members.
Will we still have a GWTC newsletter mailed to us 5 years from now? Perhaps not. Some of the smaller running clubs have already abandoned their newsletters for the internet. At some point, we are told and often hear, everyone will have a computer and internet access. In that case, “news” could be emailed to members as soon as we know about it; the schedule would be “news when it happens.” Currently, most of our races have their results up on our internet site the same weekend they happen, and various announcements of upcoming events appear there also, so to a great extent, the newsletter is already becoming redundant for whatever number of members and potential members have internet access. At some point, it seems to me, we also have to consider making at least some of the material we provide via the internet available to members only. Some running clubs have already moved in this direction.
Since April of 1999 I have tried to provide an email list as a benefit for GWTC members only. It has proved a great way to get information out to members and to find out what their preferences and feelings are. The list averages about 145 subscribers. Although the information about subscribing to this list always includes the requirement that you be a GWTC member, only about 20% of the people who request subscriptions to this list prove to be members. So, I’m not sure it has caused anyone to join our Club, but I plan to continue it as a “member benefit.” If you are a GWTC member and wish to subscribe, send a message with no content to email@example.com
David: Have you blocked out time for breakfast after the 2003 Tom Brown Bash?
Mae: Definitely, unless we are in Scotland hiking in the Highlands at that time.
Rex: If we’re in town and healthy, we would never miss it or the Bash!