Running streak interrupted but coaching, giving go on

David Yon, April 1, 2020

It is as simple as this – a runner must run, and so too a coach must coach. We just never anticipated something like COVID-19 lurking in the shadows ready to poison anyone who gets too close. For the runner who wants to get faster, there are weekly intervals at several locations around town.

Before the virus, a visitor on a Tuesday morning might see 35 or more runners banging elbows with each other on a track.

On March 25, 2020, an email showed up in my inbox with the following note from Gary Droze to Bill Lott: Bill, I’m sorry our streak ended. Thirty-one years adds up to over 1600 consecutive weekly sessions. We had a good run. Gary.

Good run? It was way better than that.

Sometime in the summer of 1989, Gary Droze slipped into the shoes of Tim Simpkins and began directing the GWTC interval sessions at the Florida State University track. The crowd running on Tuesday evenings at FSU was big and could be hard for one person to manage at times. Bill Lott recognized the need for a chief assistant and stepped into those shoes less than a year letter, becoming the driving force behind the streak, according to Gary.

Tallahassee has a well-deserved reputation for beautiful running trails. Often overlooked, however, are the fantastic high school and college tracks, available for use. FSU and Gulf Winds Track Club have had a good working relationship – providing each other volunteers for races, carving the Apalachee Regional Park out of the wilderness and making it the premier cross country course in the nation.

Head coach for the FSU track and cross country teams is Coach Bob Braman who operates much like his coaching predecessors and uses the track to create good will in the community.

Scott Eagan is the facilities manager at Maclay School and has also adopted the “serving our community” attitude. He first got to know the running crowd while working at the Palace Saloon as a bar tender. The Maclay Track has been home to Breakfast on the Track, Tuesday intervals, the Summer Track meet series and SMIRF racing.

What they all have in common is they are family building activities that attract hundreds of runners throughout the year. Tuesday morning work outs are a staple of my training experiences. Leon High School and Florida High have also been generous with their facilities as well.

When we count the losses from the coronavirus pandemic there will be the economic thrashing taken by anyone counting on raising money for their school or a 501(c)3 organization through a race. There are running related businesses like Awards4U, Fleet Feet and Cadence that are struggling.

Running can still be as simple as running out the door. Or maybe not. Step by step the places we run are shrinking. Some 10 – 12 area races have been canceled or postponed with many more likely to come. The Springtime Tallahassee race became a “virtual” race this year. The race is almost 45 years old and runners have endured hot weather, cold, windy cold, electron cold, rain, storms and more over the years. But never cancellation – until this year.

The streak was a remarkable accomplishment. Despite lightning, rain, cold, scheduling conflicts, traffic catastrophes or any other barrier, it would be 31 years before there was not a Tuesday evening interval supervised by either Gary or Bill, and probably less than 1% of those where both of them were not there.

During that time intervals fell on holidays, including Christmas and Christmas Eve. Once or twice on a bitter cold day, Gary might be the only one running while Bill yelled out splits. More than once, Sheryl Rosen received the most consistent and toughest runner award for being the only one to stare down a bitter cold day or a downpour.

While Tuesday intervals are about training hard and running faster, where you were starting made no difference to Gary or Bill. If you were out there trying, you were every bit as entitled to your piece of the track as the fastest person out there.

Gary had and still has one major peeve. Often you would see and hear runners who believed they were entitled to the inside lane yelling “track” to slower runners trying to tell them to move out into lane 2 or 3 so they could run by in that inside lane.

I must confess to yelling “track” and expecting runners (and sometimes walkers) to get out of my way. That is not something I have to worry about anymore. But Gary quickly pointed out how much less confusing it was if the rule was simply pass on the outside.

I asked them both why all the hours spent and the dedication. Bill was simple in his response – but straight from his heart. It gave him a chance to reach out and help people – especially new people he did not previously know. I suspect if Tallahassee ever decides to have a parade for Bill Lott the cars and floats would have to line up all the way to Quincy to include all the people who would want to thank him.

Gary cited the need to “give back.” I can assure you Coach Droze has done a lot more than give back. He has not only had an amazing impact on the kids at Maclay School who he taught and coached, but also to the many members of Gulf Winds Track Club.

OK, COVID-19, you have shut down our most loved races, broken our traditions, and made our most loved family and friends stay just out of reach. You are leaving a path of death and destruction in your wake.

But a runner must run. And a coach must coach. And it might as well be on a Tuesday.

David Yon is addicted to running. In his spare time, he is an attorney with the Radey Law Firm.