By Herb Wills
The Devil came to the Mike Long track.
By 7:00 PM, almost two dozen lost souls had joined her to take part in the revival of Tallahassee’s Devil-Take-The-Hindmost run.
It’s a different sort of race. The first lap is paced by the Devil. After that, the runners may proceed at whatever pace they choose, as long as the front runners are no more than 100 meters ahead of the last runner. At the end of the second and subsequent laps, the Devil takes the last runner off the track. The run continues until the Devil has taken all but one runner; that remaining athlete is the winner. Formerly, the Devil-Take-The-Hindmost had been an annual Tallahassee tradition, purportedly borrowed from the Atlanta Track Club sometime in the dim 1970’s and held each summer as late as 1999. But until the 2004 race, the Devil had not been seen in Tallahassee for some time.
The actual Devil couldn’t be counted on an appearance, given that the typical Gulf Winds Track Club member has a clean conscience outside of exaggerating personal bests. Therefore, Christine Klassen stood in for “Old Nick,” donning horns and tail, as well as red stocking, red shorts, red cape, and a red athletic top. A lethal-looking trident completed her equipment. As the Devil, she took the field around the track for a leisurely first lap, and then waited to claim her first victim.
Like in a nature documentary, the slow, the young, the old, and the infirm were first to go. As the slowest runners left the pack, the pace became more heated. The struggle for survival was often cruel; Ace Haddock out-dueled Paul Peavy at the end of the 11th lap to win one more lap of life, but was so exhausted that he was easily take by the Devil at the end of lap 12. Occasionally the field was able to catch a breather, as on lap 16 when Keith Rowe fell 100 meters back and then took his own time completing the lap. Who would be in a hurry to meet a trident-wielding Devil?
The last few laps were all serious running. Jack McDermott was outkicked at the end of lap 20 by R. J. Von Merzeldt, who lacked the energy to chase down Zach Galloway at the end of lap 21. Galloway in turn failed to keep pace with Andrew Wills on lap 22. Wills went on to complete lap 23 alone, the only runner to beat the Devil and consequently the winner.
Until next summer.
Thanks for this year’s production go to Christine Klassen for appearing as the Devil, to Judith Taber for keeping the results, to Jeffrey Bryan for being the gatekeeper, to Bill Lott for working as flagman, to Jo Lena Pace for the photographic record, to Florida State University and Coach Bob Braman for the venue, and to Sports Beat’s Shannon Sullivan as Devil-Director Emeritus. Thanks also to the fans and the curious whose enthusiastic presence in the stands was much appreciated.