By David Yon
Just under a year ago, Mark Francis and Tim Simpkins piled into a car together and headed to Perry, Florida for the Forest Festival 5K. They chattered about training and race strategy, and for Mark, the possibility of achieving every runner’s dream – a PR. A flat, interesting course with decent weather provided the perfect opportunity. Tim claimed his third straight Forest Festival title and Mark got his PR – an 18:53. On the way home the chatter was even more intense. It centered on Mark’s PR though. As Mark said: “I wanted to talk about his win, but he kept changing the conversation back to my PR.”
This year Mark drove to Perry alone, but his thoughts were on his friend and Coach Tim Simpkins. He had prepared well for this race, tapering to run his best. He had also drilled Tim’s best advice in his head to guide him though his effort. While many of Tallahassee’s runners were hit hard by Tim’s death from cancer, Mark was especially close to Tim and was devastated by the loss of his coach. This morning, though, a very special ray of sunshine beamed down from the heavens as race director Martha Haynes held a moment of silence for Tim.
When the gun went off, two runners shot to the front: Mark Francis was elbow to elbow with William Carter. The two slowly pulled away from the crowd and ran through the first mile in just under 6:00 before beginning to slow. As they battled through the second mile, Mark looked around and made a decision. He sensed he held the upper hand and that it was time to press. Guided by his coach’s words, he began to push and slowly pulled away. By the time Martha called out the split at the three mile mark he was all alone. Or was he? Mark swears he still had a companion, his coach and friend, running with him. For the first time in his running career, Mark crossed the finish line first and in a time of 18:52 – one second better than last year’s PR.
Fran McLean took the women’s title with a time of 21:47, while William Carter grabbed first Perry male finisher. Mary Jean Yon was the first female masters finisher, while husband David was the male masters winner. Emily Ketring was the first Perry female finisher. The weather was awesome and the race well done, once again.