Mary Jean Yon,


What is it that makes a race special in Tallahassee? Is it history and tradition? A fast course? Or is it a never ending promise of a cold beer that waits at the finish line every year without fail? Or maybe it’s the relentless onslaught of creative advertising that gets people thinking about this race months before the starting gun goes off. With the Palace Saloon 5K the answer is “all of the above” and race directors Reid Vannoy and Herb Wills bring us a healthy mix of tradition and ingenuity as they seek to return participation levels in this Gulf Winds Track Club (GWTC) race to their glory days.

The Palace Saloon 5K certainly has a long and interesting history. The 2006 race was the 32nd running of this event, with all but the first two of those years having the same course. That fact alone makes the Palace Tallahassee’s oldest race that has been run on the same course. To quote Gary Droze, “The Palace Saloon 5K still begins with a flat first mile around Messer Field, a downhill second mile on Jackson Bluff Road, a steady climb past Belle Vue Middle School and a screaming downhill for the last ¼-mile. Longtime citizens can use the course to chart their yearly climb to fitness-or decline to sloth.”

In 2006, a grand total of 456 finishers were present and accounted for and set a “modern era” record for the race. When the team of Reid, Herb and Jeff Bryan took over this race back in 2003, it was clear some remedial work was called for. As with many area races, the number of finishers had slipped steadily from 1999 to 2002. Once the new team came in, that trend reversed and today we have a booming 5K that Gulf Winds is proud to call a club race.

Another component of fame for this race is that of speed. Yes, it’s true that runners enjoy the downhill finish that helps them crank out those personal bests and impressive course records. But it’s also great fun to have race directors that have proven themselves in this category as well. Herb, aka: Mr. FSU Hall of Famer, was among those toeing the starting line back in 1976 when he turned in an impressive 15:05 at the tender age of sixteen. And while it’s true that was a different course back then (two loops around Messer Field) it was still impressive. It’s also fun to think that back in 1976 a 15:05 earned 5th place overall! And let us not forget Reid, GWTC Runner of the Year last year, who chooses to refrain from running the race he directs but knows well how to run it in a sub-18 minute outing. So maybe it’s the race directors that entice all those runners to come out.

Or maybe it’s the beer. There is many a runner who will quickly tell you how wonderful and motivational it is to know that the Palace Saloon is there for them, year after year, pouring cold ones just as soon as they cross the finish line. No coupons, no silly rules…just use your head and try not to overindulge…all before noon!

But do you want to know what the real reason is for the resurgence of runners at the Palace Saloon 5K? It is Reid (and his lovely wife Linda) carefully and meticulously plotting a redesigned t-shirt and figuring out race logistics. It’s that rascal Herb strategically placing his plastic cups and signs in random fences around Tallahassee, spelling out his invitation to run the Palace. He sneaks up on unsuspecting runners and tempts them to dream of a shorter faster race that…can you guess…has ice cold beer waiting at the finish line! Think about it. Where do you see Herb’s handiwork? It starts at the GWTC 10-Miler, progresses to the 30K and cleverly awaits marathon and half-marathon finishers at the FSU track where they finish the Tallahassee Marathon. Kind of like that V-8 commercial isn’t it? Wow…I could have run the Palace instead!

The power of persuasion works and don’t let Herb and Reid fool you. They’re masters at directing this race and every bit deserving of this year’s “Race Director of The Year” award!