By Gordon Cherr,
The rain is beating madly on the roof at 5 a.m. Not the muffled sound you would normally expect, either. Last year we built a sunroom onto the back patio, and the new roof is some sort of high tech composite space-age material. It appears safe and sturdy here on earth and it does not have to put up with the rigors of orbital re-entry, but when it rains the sound of the rain on the sunroom roof is more something akin to the popping of popcorn in the microwave or of hailstones if the raindrops are larger. Right now it sounds more like some giant is dropping a sack full of big marbles from far above. This is not a real good sign because today is Marathon Sunday in Tallahassee. Not that I mind running in the rain. I love running in the rain as long as it is not cold rain. But today I have agreed to work this race and if you ever have done that (and you owe it to the other runners to do it at least once every year), then you know that race workers have it as bad or worse than the marathoners, in putting up with the conditions.
So, I grab my rain suit and rain hat and a pack of dry clothes for later, a folding beach chair and cooler full of junk food and drinks (for me and any coworkers who hang with me today), and I throw in about twenty “Gus” and “Carbooms” for good measure, because I know I will see some hurting puppies out there on the course later in the day. Gary and Peg Griffin have assigned me the crossover spot on Lake Bradford Road, which I guess is at about Mile 2.5, which means that it will be at about Mile 24 for those on the way back in, and some of those folks may need a little energy boost when they get there. Anything to help. We’ve been there. We know.
The drive out to the course is eventful between the rain, which is steady and heavy, and the now omnipresent lightning. It is still dark out, but there is no traffic this morning, and an oldies station on the radio is playing something by Spanky and Our Gang, “Sunday Will Never Be the Same”. The timing is not lost on me, especially not when the next song is “It’s Gonna Be a Bright, Bright, Sunshiny Day” (“I can see clearly now, the rain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way…”). This is too coincidental for me, and it is obvious that today will not be a bright, bright, sunshiny day. This is followed by Edwin Starr singing “War! What Is It Good For” and then “War Is Not The Answer” by Marvin Gay, who sounds just so smooth, and I am not thinking about marathons any longer, but rather trying to figure out what those cement heads think they are doing in Washington today, simultaneously waging war against starving Iraqis, the environment and the national economy. Oh, geez…
By now I am working my way up Lake Bradford Road, stopping every few seconds to exit my truck into the downpour, to right the orange GWTC traffic cones which some whirlwind has blown down. The cones give the runners a lane between the right side of the outside lane and the curb, that lane is about ankle deep in water. This reminds me of my first Tallahassee Marathon, the first which was run in Killearn. It rained the entire day and some of the course was off-road and the standing water there was ankle deep, and after running through there twice I had blisters the size of Mt. Fuji on both feet, which after they were popped, looked like moon craters.
Eventually I find my station on Lake Bradford Road. It is about 7:45 a.m. and I am way early since the race doesn’t even start until 8, so I go across the street to a small mom and pop convenience store for some bad coffee and whatever junk food I can find. The owner and his wife have the front door open, the power is out and they are mopping furiously, pushing water out the door. Flooding still is a problem here on the south side of Tallahassee, and by the disgusted looks on their faces it is clear that this is not an isolated event. She glances up and her face breaks into a big radiant smile, so totally disarming that I hear myself ask if I can help. Sure, here is another mop, and now the three of us are wiping and rinsing and pretty soon the floor is shiny dry. Coffee is perked, and it is a damn good cup of coffee too. One not too moldy Moon Pie later, I am on my way, back across the street.
Dawn has barely broken and angry grey storm clouds are racing low across the sky. A lightning strike here and there, but not too close, and I am wondering if there will be a Tallahassee Marathon today after all. I suddenly remember once running with a law school friend, Chuck Sullivan, during such a day, behind Killearn Estates, must have been twenty five years ago. There were few houses there at the time, I guess it is Killearn Acres now. It was raining and there was lightning and at some point Chuck started laughing. I looked at him and he pointed at his hair, which was quite long, ala Dave Rogers. It was standing up nearly straight and suddenly so was the hair on my arms, and we both had the simultaneous realization that we were standing in an area of building static charge. He tackled me right into the roadside ditch nearby and not three seconds later there was what felt like an enormous lightning strike, close enough that you could smell the ozone. Chuck, I never thanked you for saving my life, but I think that you did.
The morning has finally emerged, and it is a strange morning indeed. It is about 8 AM and two lone runners are working their way towards me. The one on the left is short and skinny and runs with a big overstride. The younger runner to the right is taller and has a kind of herky-jerky motion and for the tiniest moment, I know that must be Tim Simpkins, out front in his accustomed spot. What am I thinking…and damn it that it is not Tim.
As for the skinny runner to the right, I swear for a second that it is Leitch Wright, Felton’s father. I used to run regularly through Piedmont Park, where I often saw Dr. Wright running early in the morning. It was easy to recognize him running by his enormous overstride. A few weeks after his untimely passing, in the very early morning, I was running past the cemetery where Dr. Wright was laid to rest, on Piedmont Road, towards Meridian Road. I glanced up towards the top of the next hill and I saw him there just like always, running. No question about it, I know what I saw; his stride was so unmistakable, so unique. He disappeared over the crest of the hill. I was shocked and more than a little bit spooked. I really put on the afterburners and raced up that hill, and no one was there on the other side to be seen. Good trick, Dr. Wright. You got me good on that one. But I haven’t forgotten you either. And I never will.
All of these thoughts pass through my mind in a microsecond and soon the two runners are passing me and I direct them across the still deserted road. I must look silly to them in my blue rain suit, standing out there in a downpour like a fool. But of all things, they thank ME for being there for them. This is too much. I can’t wait for the others to come by, I want to cheer them all on their journeys, wish them well, comfort them on their return trip past me when they will be struggling within themselves, digging deep. But soon the right call is made and the marathon is canceled.
What a morning! All in all, it WAS a bright, bright, sunshiny day on Lake Bradford Road. Thank you, Gary, that was a good spot and I’ll be back there next year.