Gordon Cherr,


“We live in an ‘instant’ society, with instant fast food, instant diets, instant Internet, instant cell phones, pagers, email and 24 hour news. That outlook sometimes filters down to running. There are, however, no instant results in running. Seeking instant success typically leads to disaster. Better to steadily put in your long runs and to stay injury free. In fact, if you did nothing but long runs you would improve and be more likely stay injury free. Our sport is a patient, long drawn-out affair that requires, above all—more than talent, attitude, or a new pair of shoes–determination, dedication, and discipline. And the most dedication is required for the long runs.” (Running Tough, Michael Sandrock, 2001).


I called Gary Griffin late in the afternoon on Thursday:

Me: I need to go long on Saturday.
GG: Where and what time?
Me: The Greenways at Fleishmann Road, 7 AM.
GG: Good, I need 2.5 to 3 hours.
Me: OK, 15-16 miles to Crump Road and back. See you there.\

Of course, going long is matter of definition. For me, recovering from injuries, surgeries and a persistent staph infection in the ankle, long has gotten longer each week, on it’s way to 20-25 miles. Gary is pretty easy about such things and I am relieved. I haven’t run with anyone in months. Being out of commission for a while usually means that you lose your running buddies until you can get back out into the group’s collective schedule, and that you build up enough strength and stamina to be able to keep up. Otherwise you are dropped like a hot potato, nice to see you again, but tough luck. Besides, Gary is training for Western States in late June (the grand-daddy of all 100 milers and in the mountainous Sierra Nevadas of California), and we have a lot to talk about, his race strategy, fueling and hydration issues, travel and accommodations, pacing, crewing. You don’t go into this race on a whim and you need support. Gary has all of these things, with David and MJ and Peg to accompany him, I would say that they are all maximizing his chances of success. But if we didn’t all have a collective sense of nervousness, well, then I would be worried. The Greenways is a good place to get caught up with my friend. And running long but alone is something I have not had much patience for lately. I am relieved to have such good company.


“Some coaches say, ‘Oh, go out for a long run.’ I say if you are just out jogging you might as well be watching TV. This is a hard, long run.” (Mark Wetmore, University of Colorado head track and cross county coach talking about Magnolia Road, a two hour suffer fest at 9000′ and on “rolling hills” in the mountains west of Boulder).


The run down from the Fleishmann Road parking area is just that, “down.” There are some roots and ruts and you need to watch where you are going or take a header. You can go straight downhill on the trail but this is my run and there are roads that criss-cross the main trail and I like to take these because they add additional distance and some local color. After half a mile we pass a fenced but hidden old cemetery. We stop momentarily to try to read some headstones. Of equal interest are the wildflowers blooming in the cemetery. It is still early in the morning and this part of the trail is shady and cool. Long runs should be relaxed like this, it is time on your feet that matters, not distance or pace. At least I like to tell myself that. In reality I know two things for sure: First, we are going to have to come back up this trail in a few hours and the last 3.5 miles of this run are going to be hard. There is no way around it, no short cuts, no short circuiting the effort needed. When you run the last few miles back to the parking area on the Greenways, you get a good gauge on just how your distance fitness is progressing. Second, Gary has but a limited amount of patience and is in much better shape than I. At some point he is going to make a break for it and it is up to me to try to stay with him for as long as I can. Oh, well, I’ll worry about that later. Besides, running with someone faster than you makes you a better runner. Eventually. If you don’t die first.


“It is old fashioned to say it, but the fundamental physiological mechanics of running have not changed. We used to run 22 miles through the mountains and now you don’t see people doing it much anymore. People have gotten soft and flabby. It is a question of application, not talking. Why did Peter Snell do the mileage and the 22 miler? Because he knew it made him a better runner. He saw the improvement.” (Coach Arthur Lydiard commenting on a hilly 22 mile run over the Waiatarua Range, from sea level to 1500′, west of Auckland, New Zealand).


Eventually we break back out on to the main Greenways trail, still heading east towards the now rising sun, and, of course, still going downhill. This is an interesting time of the year in north Florida. Did I say “interesting”? I think I meant “gorgeous.” There is a short window of opportunity in the spring here, maybe 6 weeks or so, when you can see ground fog nearly every morning. The Greenways has some long distance vistas which are also rare in Tallahassee, where you run the trail and look out over the bordering fields, and the fog is lying low, below you. If you let your imagination run free for the moment, it is almost like running in the mountains and looking down on clouds. It reminds me of where I lived and ran in Asheville some few years ago. In fact, this is about the best time to run in Tallahassee before the crushing heat and obscene humidity and relentless plague of mosquitos and biting flies and chiggers starts to overwhelm the staunchest of runners here. I am smiling to myself and actually laughing inside. My ankle feels perfect. I have been on a home IV unit for weeks now with tubing sticking out of my left arm, taking an antibiotic to fight the staph infection, and it makes me absolutely sick every night for about an hour. The doctor said to not run during treatment and when I pressed him about this, he said that he did not want me to “jar” my ankle. But I could walk as much as I wanted or workout on the exercise bike or lift weights, whatever, just do not run. Well, I had been running about 40-45 mpw for the past few months with the infection, and I did not want to stop now. Besides, we suffer all year long just to enjoy being in shape this time of the year, when the running here is just perfect, and after two weeks of climbing the walls, I had to make an executive decision. I like the doc and he really knows his stuff, but when a rather rotund doctor who is not a runner tells me not to run…you get the picture I’m sure.

Soon we are in the open fields by Edenfield Road. Instead of going straight on the main trail, we break off to the north and run the longer fence line, in the low grass. There is a trail here, it is subtle but you can find it. The grass is wet and cool. We can dry out our shoes later. Gary and I are laughing about our wet shoes squishing with each stride. Every footfall sounds like a little fart. Laughing because we both know that we could hardly give a damn about wet shoes. Especially when he and David will be crossing the Rucky Chucky late at night in ice cold water, hanging onto a rope for dear life at about Mile 77, come next June 27. David, I envy you for being able to go and pace when I cannot. And should not, for David will really be up to the task and I am looking forward to some funny stories from you two guys. All too soon we are out of the open fields and into the still woodlands. We have many miles yet to go. There is nowhere else on earth that I would rather be right now. And nothing else that I would rather be doing. I have had too few runs like this, but when they occur, as if by chance, they become indelibly etched into your soul. You simply do not forget them. One with David at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge on the Stoney Bayou/Deep Creek trail several Novembers ago. One all night jaunt with Jeff Bryan for 34 miles through the ominous and very dark Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas, watching him run an awesome 100 miles at the Arkansas Traveler. There have been some others, for some inexplicable reason they are private and personal but intense efforts. Sometimes running is an affair of the heart as much as anything else, I guess. Explanations are superfluous and just take away from the effort.


“Many runners take a buildup to a season, a 14 week marathon plan. I didn’t have that buildup plan, but if you asked what I was doing the other 40 weeks of the year, I was running 20 miles every Sunday, every week.” (Frank Shorter).


Before disappearing into the woods, we run the periphery of the big open field by Thornton Road. I would not want to do this in the summer at high noon, it would be a killer run in that sun. But now it is still early in the day and still April and we have been blessed. This is a huge field with a good steady climb up one side and down the other. It reminds me of a cross country course I ran in high school in New Jersey, “The Mountain”. The finish was like this, a big field open field where you could look around and see who was in front of you and who was behind as you trudged uphill, seemingly forever, towards the finish line. All of the championship races were run at The Mountain (actually Garrett Mountain State Preserve). The start was great, runners were stretched across the field, 400 strong, and after about 150 yards we were all funneled into a tree lined gravel path exactly 1.5 runners wide, for the next two miles or so. This made for some interesting “traffic jams,” flying elbows, shoving and even fist fights as runners literally fought for position on the narrow trail. I remember racing a kid from Paterson Central for years there, little Frankie Emolo. Little Frankie and I were evenly matched and seemed to battle shoulder to shoulder in every cross country and track season for all of our years in high school. We used to run side by side on the narrow trail and curse each other out for two miles, then race like hell up the big hill for the last half mile, all the way to the finish line every year, in the county, regional and state meets. We hated each other. But as seniors we had a dual meet at The Mountain. Little Frankie and I sprinted across the field at the start as usual and geared up for a nasty and painful race. But this time my teammate, Artie, had another idea. Artie was a wannabe runner in my mind, who always started out way too fast and was always tanking at the end of every race. This year, Artie decided he was going to beat both Little Frankie and me t o the narrow trail and across the field we three flew. We hit the narrow trail three runners wide and Artie refused to give ground. I was to the right, Little Frankie in the middle, and Artie was hanging on, to the left. The trees lining the path were coming up fast. Artie was screaming like a little candy ass for us to move over or let him pass. At about that same time I looked at Little Frankie and he looked at me and we both started grinning that same smile connoting instant agreement. We moved left in unison, pushing Artie further off the trail. It has been more than forty years now but I clearly remember Artie’s high pitched scream “move ov…” and him slamming his left shoulder into a big oak tree. Little Frankie and I laughed together for the next two miles and jogged into the finish about dead last. Both coaches were yelling and cursing at us. We laughed even harder. Artie eventually came up the hill minus some skin and a few big patches of blood on his left cheek, neck and shoulder. Somehow this has entered my mind as Gary and I circle the big field. I wonder whatever happened to Little Frankie. He was a good guy.

We are soon on the shady, winding trail that will take us to Crump Road and back, for the next 6-7 miles. The run is peaceful after crossing under the I-10 overpass. Birds aplenty on the trail and Gary is a birder at heart and is trying to identify the call of every bird we hear. Most of these trails are new to him and once you cross over Miccosukee Road to the south side there are many single and double trails that cross each other. Gary doesn’t know these trails but I do, like I know the back of my hand. Western States again becomes the topic of discussion and we agree to do some 2-3 hour night time runs on local trails as soon as possible to simulate the conditions of the race. We scope out some new trails, and turn around at the Crump Road parking area. Eight miles down, about eight more to go. I know that on the return trip at some point he is going to put the hammer down some. And the last 3.5 miles of mostly uphill are still beckoning. OK, it is “go time”. I am not worried one wit. If I was I wouldn’t bother to be out here.


“Those were the the two workouts that made the difference for me. The long run gave me confidence and the quarters improved my speed. It helped me to have training partners for these runs.” (Katherine Switzer discussing her 27 mile overdistance run which she did during the winter in the heavy snow and cold of Syracuse, New York).


The run back from Crump Road is rolling and on rooty single track trails until we cross back over Miccosukee Road, heading back to Thornton Road, where there is a water spigot. After that it is uphill for a great deal of the last few miles. But once you cross back over to the north side of Miccosukee Road, the trail is wide, the footing firm and the grade is a gentle downhill. This is the place to make haste and I can sense a bit of impatience starting to emanate from my comrade. Talk of Western States and anything else is now over and I am watching the pace drop on my Garmin GPS each mile or so, from a gentle 10:30/mile, we are now down into the 9’s and the pace shows little chance of slackening. This is good, I would not be doing this if I had been running alone. Hence the value of training partners and good friends to share the run. We stop for a moment for me to fill my water bottle. Gary skips the water, he is a camel on these runs. If he tries that at Western States he will pay a heavy price, given the warm temperatures but low humidity in the Sierra Nevadas, which together fail to trigger the normal warning signs we have here, to drink. I say, “OK, let’s get this show on the road, let’s git ‘er done”, but I am just talking to myself at this point. Gary is already motoring away from me up the big hill towards Edenfield Road.


“One dark, midwinter evening in early 1971, Steve Prefontaine and Frank Shorter were on a 10 mile training run high in the mountains outside of Taos, New Mexico. It was cold — the bitter, goes-right-through-you-like-a-knife kind of cold that often descends on the Rockies like a sheet of ice after the sun goes down. There was no spandex back then, no Lycra, no polypropelene tights, no shoes with air or gels in the soles, no heart rate monitors or digital watches. Those of you who have run in such conditions know that the winter wind bites right through those flimsy, antediluvian nylon tops we used to wear and once the wetness freezes, your legs and arms numb up. You can’t see because the sleet and snow are blowing directly into your face, crusting up and freezing your eyelids and turning you into a snowman-or snowrunner in this case. It was Shorter’s and Prefontaine’s second run of the day. . . . . The two runners were freezing, tired and cranky. ‘Frank, this is crazy. Let’s head back, light a fire and have some dinner,’ Prefontaine said through the ice hanging from his moustache and eyebrows. Shorter looked over at his friend, squinted into the blinding snow, and said: ‘Steve, no one is training as hard as we are right now. No one.’ With that the duo put their heads down and finished the run, warmed only by the knowledge that they were doing the best training they possibly could. (Running Tough, Michael Sandrock, 2001).


I am trailing Gary up the big hill to Edenfield Road, and when I finally run him down there in the parking area, my breathing is coming in staccato blasts and his is steady and measured. We run through the parking area and right up another hill. The hills will be coming steadily now over the last 1.7 miles, and every time you think you have hit the last one, another, steeper one will appear. There are longer ones but as we approach the parking area at Fleishmann Road, the hills become shorter and steeper. Gary is just running away from me now, correction, he has run away from me, disappearing up ahead in the twists and turns of the final uphill mile. We both want to finish and be done with it. I call it “finishing anxiety.” It is hard to be patient after 14-15 solid miles with a little more to go. But being patient and running smart is what Western States will be all about. And that is what Gary and David will be all about too, that is what I am thinking.

The big hills in the last 3.5 miles of the Greenways are making me think too. I need more miles, more speedwork, more intensity and I need to get up with my running buds more often. Done right, those miles will expose in broad daylight your shortcomings and weaknesses. Those last few miles are tough. The Greenways does not lie about it.

Good luck at Western States, you guys. Run smart, run long, run tough. You will.


“There are champions everywhere.” (Coach Arthur Lydiard).