Even the Sun Knows Not to Doubt


David Yon,


The Sun has learned don’t try to beat Bill Hillison to the start line. It will be a long day for both of them, but Bill will finish in good time long before the sun sets. After all, they have both been at it for a long time and those Ultra runners just need a little space. But almost as sure as that sun will come up (and that is not 100% of the time as those of us who worked the rainstorm in 2009 know), Bill Hillison will be at the Tallahassee Ultra Distance Classic starting in the dark and running the 50K (31 miles). December 8, 2012 he completed the race for the 22nd time.

This race demands a lot of work from its race directors, Peg and Gary Griffin, and from its volunteers, and is an excellent example of what makes GWTC special. I would dare say if you were to measure the number of volunteer hours divided by the number of runners, it would produce the highest ratio of any event in town. The event provides an opportunity to a unique group of participants – those who want to go beyond the marathon distance and race a 50K or 50 miles.

No wonder Bill Hillison loves this event. You won’t find his name flashing in neon somewhere followed by glowing praise for all he has done. (Well, not before this column, that is.) But the man is consistently there before the sun comes up, quietly making the Tallahassee running community a better place. He is one of the directors of the Bowlegs 5K, he is the driving force behind the club’s new chip timing system, and he is always lending a helping hand. And he has “owned” this Ultra event, at least the 50K.

The Ultra records show that Bill was 43 in 1987 when he ran 3:47:50 to complete his first GWTC Ultra. Saturday he was 68 as he went after his 22nd finish. In 2004, at age 60, he had only slowed down to a 3:50:10 when he won for the 8th time and probably blew by the marathon split in under 3:15. His best effort, at the age of 50, was 3:37:26, just a tad over a 7:00 minute pace. In that race he crossed the marathon threshold around 3:02. It remains the 42nd fastest time ever run in the 50K event at Wakulla Springs State Park.

The Ultra is about consistency. Race directors, Peg and Gary Griffin, have turned this event into a growing draw for ultra runners by consistently providing a high quality event. A big key to Bill Hillison’s success has been his consistent approach. Gary Griffin describes it this way:

Over the years I have watched many a young runner try and run with him from the start. They knew his history and what he had accomplished out there and they thought, “I can beat this old guy.” Every single person who I ever saw try to do so died around mile 25. The reason he has excelled down there, outside of his strength and determination, is his incredible patience and sense of pace. If you look at the graphs of his performances over the years, they are always flat. He will run the same pace on the last lap (if not a little faster!) than he did on the first lap. He’s incredible.

I asked Bill what made the event special to him. After imploring me to write “about the Ultra, not me” he said:

Although the race attracts new runners each year, there is a nucleus of runners that come every year. In many cases it is the only time to see each other and re-establish relationships. It is almost like being in a club with those of like interests. The volunteers, too, tend to be repeaters and it is common to see the same people year after year. Although many work a shift of a limited number of hours, some stay for the full event, lasting over 10 hours.

And many of those volunteers get there well before the Sun starts its day just to see Bill off on his journey.