By Tim Unger
The twenty fifth annual Azalea Trail Run was a huge event with almost 4000 people registered for the 10k. GWTC Open team members Garth Grumme and Tim and Lisa Unger went to the Expo area Friday night before the race to meet Port City Pacers Team Coordinator, Just Cebrian, to make sure the GWTC team entries were correctly documented. Just met us with a warm welcome at the team check in area. He then looked behind us and asked us where was the rest of our team? The New Orleans Track Club had arrived on a chartered bus a couple of hours earlier with all three racing teams decked out in the complete NOTC purple warm up suits to match their racing singlets. Just mentioned how they looked like a professional sports franchise or a college team coming in and he was obviously impressed. We also talked about the great increase of interest in team racing, especially for the Azalea Trail event. Just had thirty-two teams registered for the different divisions, which was a significant increase over previous years. I kept thinking, “Without Greg Waddell here this year we were going to have a tough time getting into the top three.” Would ATR be the first race in 2002 that the GWTC teams failed to bring home the hardware? We left the Expo thinking that we were going to have a much better time at the race without worrying about how well our team placed. We were here to have a good time at the race and that’s all there was to it.
The weather for the start of this event was picture perfect for the first time in many years. It was fifty degrees with clean air and only a slight wind so many folks were ready to go for the gusto on this one. I started looking for our teams the next morning at about 15 minutes before the gun. All I could see at first was a dozen or so of the purple clad NOTC Co-Champions from 2001 holding down the first couple of rows at the start. I found Hobson Fulmer standing a couple of rows back of the starting line. Hobson had his game face on and I could feel his determination. It was obvious that he thought the racing conditions were ideal for him. We spoke briefly about team strategy such as, “Do we have enough to FINISH as a team?” and “Where did these guys get all those purple singlets anyway?” As the “One-minute to go” signal was given, I spotted Jim Frazier and squeezed up to him on the front line. Jim loves cool running weather and promised me on the spot he was going to be much quicker than at the warm and humid Gate River Run March 9. Jim looked past the purple clad NOTC warriors towards the gaggle of Kenyan runners and said, “Those are the folks to watch never mind anyone else.” As the gun sounded and the pack lurched forward, I could see that Jim got the start he wanted. He was up about a half block or so within the first two minutes of the event. The NOTC purple singlets were all around me as we worked our way down the first couple of miles on the course. New GWTC member Tim Bolton and I ran together briefly during this part of the race. We battled our way through the rest of the course in fairly good shape. Jim delivered a powerful 32:35 race to finish among the elite’s in 27th place overall. Jim was the fifth overall Master runner. I poked along to my best 10k finish in many months with a 35:05 that was good enough for 9th Master. I was aware there was only one more purple singlet ahead of me to catch but I had failed by about 10 seconds. I hoped our overall team effort did not come down to a few seconds like it had in 2001. Jim and I watched the finish chutes to see who the third scoring member for GWTC would be today. Out of the master’s chute popped a smiling Hobson Fulmer. Hobson had just run a fabulous P.R. and was proudly displaying 38:59 on his watch. He was gushing about how it seemed like everyone around him had slowed down for him in the last few miles. Hobson’s wife Jan was cheering the GWTC squad loudly at the four-mile mark on the course to give us strength for that final push. She was a lifesaver for those of us that thought we were running alone. “I must have passed like 50 people in the final stage of the race, including some of those purple singlets” Hobson chimed. Garth was the next GWTC member to come through the finish area. Garth ran a respectable 42:18, but he had started a block or two back from the starting line and had lost valuable time negotiating traffic through slower runners. Lisa was our next finisher with her third different distance P.R. within a 30-day period at 49:58. We were surprised that Lisa was the only Female GWTC team finisher on this day. Since we have no idea about the other ladies whereabouts, I will have to make a recommendation to the board next month that we should get the GWTC travel team a bus. We can verify we have our whole team with us if we all go together, right? I do need the GWTC team singlets back from the folks who did not attend this race.
Our final surprise was that the GWTC Men’s open team was honored as the Runner’s up team finisher to a local Mobile racing team on the awards podium. The outstanding effort of Jim and Hobson’s P.R. had us within about ninety seconds of the overall win. The Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Running Club based in nearby Ocean Springs/ Biloxi finished a very close third at just twelve seconds behind us. WHEW! The New Orleans Track Club Men’s teams finished out of the money in fourth and fifth spots respectively. Don’t give us no fuss, just get on that bus! I guess that proves you don’t always have to look marvelous to run great. I also wondered on the year’s anniversary of our good friends passing why I had not met Tim Bolton before Tuesday’s FSU track workout. Tim’s 35:37 was good enough to win him the 10th place medallion in his age group after only a few weeks of training. He could have been the catalyst GWTC needed to win the team event again. We were unable to add Tim Bolton to our team because the ATR team registration deadline was March 9. Tim Simpkins ran a 31:59 on this course in 1999 finishing just ahead of Bill Rodgers for fourth overall Master. He was never satisfied with anything other than winning and said the 1999 race had not been his best effort at the time. I know he would smile and give us all a hearty laugh if we could ask him what went wrong with our team race in 2002. We were missing at least one Tim for a team win at Azalea Trail on this day but another racing day will come for future GWTC runners to toe the line for the team challenge again.