Springtime Tallahassee 10K: The first 15 yearsWritten in 1989 by Bill McGuire
(First Appeared in March 1990 Fleet Foot)
In the beginning there were no hills in the Springtime Tallahassee 10K. In fact, the race had only about 6.5 Ks and it wasn’t even on Springtime Tallahassee weekend. What it did have was Dennis Fitzgerald, a man dedicated to its sponsorship, who has stayed with “Springtime” since its humble 1976 beginnings as the Gulf National Bank Fitness Run. Just one year later Gulf National was in the process of merging with the Lewis State Bank and the race was indeed a hilly 10K held downtown immediately prior to the Springtime Tallahassee parade.
That first year, however, the race was held on the Florida State University campus; it was a four-miler consisting of two loops around the athletic fields. George West and Donnie Cook, then track stars at FSU, tied for first place in 20:30. There were other familiar names among the leaders as Tim Simpkins and Herb Wills finished third and fourth. The women’s title was won by Janice Gage (now Janice Hochstein), who would go on to win more women’s titles (5) than anyone in the fourteen-year history of the run. Leitch Wright won the 40-49 age division; during the early years of Springtime he dominated what would come to be known as the masters division. The highest women’s division with any participants that year was the 30 & over; it was won by Tallahassee school teacher Angela Peterson.
The following year a number of factors combined to form the first Springtime Tallahassee 10K. Jeff Galloway, founder of Gulf Winds Track Club, had envisioned a road race finishing downtown with the governor presenting the winner’s trophy. Several members of the fledgling club, notably Andy Burns, took up this cause when Jeff left town for Atlanta in 1975. But Andy, the Club’s leader and first race director (there was no office of president at that time), had little success. “I spoke with the Springtime Tallahassee people (about the possibility of a race), and I got the cold shoulder,” he recalled. His luck with gaining police permission for a downtown race was no better.
By 1977 circumstances were more fortuitous. Jim Penrod, a local doctor, was president of the more formally organized Track Club. Dennis Fitzgerald and Gulf National were interested in keeping their run going, this time in a downtown setting. The two men got together and the idea for the Springtime 10K was born. According to Penrod, Dennis talked to his contacts on the Springtime Committee, and Jim was able to get an appointment with Captain Deason of the Police Department. With a bank executive and a respected member of the medical profession the local running community gained some immediate legitimacy with the powers-that-be. Doors which had been closed suddenly opened, the Track Club had its big race downtown, and Fitzgerald had a race that started and ended at the front steps of Lewis State Bank, which would pick up official sponsorship by 1978.
The inaugural 10K would have 205 finishers, representing the second largest field in a local road race to that date. (The Budweiser 5K the previous October had 317 finishers.) This began a trend that would see Springtime become, on the average, the biggest race in Tallahassee; other races have been larger in a given year, but none can match Springtime’s numbers over the long haul.
The 1977 race marked Jim Penrod’s debut as race director, a position he would hold for the 10K’s first five years. One of Penrod’s first chores was to design the race course, and for help with measurement he enlisted his brother John (Club treasurer and membership chairman) and future GWTC president Jim Stephens. The original 10K route was supposed to include the hill on the southwest part of Myers Park Drive where it crosses the railroad tracks. However, on the Saturday before the race a freight train was sighted crossing the race course at approximately the same time as the lead runners would be coming back down the Myers Park hill the following weekend. Jim had to do some last minute course alterations and he recalls that “John Borden (a Club member and friend) and I were still measuring the new route at 2 am the night before the race!”
But the course measurement did get completed and the next morning when Canada’s Morrison Reid crossed the finish line nearly a minute ahead of his nearest competitor, he became the first of six out-of-town runners to win an overall men’s or women’s title. In fact, the 1977 race was a sweep for non-Tallahasseeans as Nancy McCormac of Fort Walton Beach won the overall women’s race. Nick Costes, from Troy, Alabama, and Virginia Reinhardt of Ashburn, Georgia, both in the 50 & over age group, had the fastest men’s and women’s masters times. Neither received overall masters awards because the first Master’s Cup was not presented until the 1983 race. Reid’s excellent winning effort of 31:24 proved to be the fastest 10K time until the course was changed in 1983.
In 1978 the race gained in both prestige and numbers. The added prestige came in the form of Governor Reubin Askew, who made an appearance on the steps of Lewis State Bank to present George West with the winner’s Governor’s Cup trophy. And the numbers more than doubled from the previous year to 489 finishers. This growth trend continued through the 1980 race when the Tallahassee Democrat reported that “over 700” runners turned out.
In the 1980 and 1981 editions, the 10K’s most significant growth was not numerical, but organizational. In its first several years, Springtime had had its share of problems, particularly in the area of traffic control. But as Jim Penrod gained more race directing experience, the race benefited. The May, 1980 Phidippides newsletter (published by the running shoe store of the same name started by Jeff Galloway – ed.) reported that “Jim Penrod’s plan to have runners register for the race ahead of time seemed to be effective, as virtually all of the 700 runners pre-entered . . .The race itself went fairly smoothly and traffic control was much better than for last year’s edition.” The 1980 race also saw a near tragedy as Vic Matheny of Tallahassee collapsed on the Call St. hill, the victim of an apparent heart attack. A local doctor who happened to be running close by came to his aid, and Matheny was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. Fortunately, the problem was not a heart attack, but an electrolyte imbalance caused by severe dehydration; Matheny was soon running and racing again.
Jim Penrod retired after the 1981 race and long-time GWTC member Don Wilson took over the directorship. Under Don the race took another quantum leap forward. The 1982 edition, with 1,025 entered and over 1,000 finishers, can lay strong claim to being the largest competitive road race in Tallahassee history. Wilson also gave the volunteer force a tremendous boost, enlisting the aid of 100 race workers. George West made his third trip to the winner’s circle in ’82, after providing an exciting finish on Monroe St. His 32:11 held off Gainesville’s Ernie McKee by 4 seconds. “It was a good race against Ernie,” said George, “but I’ll never forget how bad I was hurting the year before (when he was out kicked by Mabry McCray in the last quarter mile). I was sprinting hard, really maxed out, but Mabry’s kick was incredible. He just took off.”
As the race continued to grow, so did the problems. Springtime Tallahassee, Inc. had never had much to do with the road race in the early years. The one exception was the year it protested to run organizers that the race’s T-shirt logo looked too much like the official festival logo. However, as the race entry numbers increased to significant levels in the mid-1980s so did the festival committee’s interest in the run.
More and more, Springtime Tallahassee viewed the run as a potential source of revenue for the festival. In the least, the Springtime Committee expected both the Bank and the Track Club to be members, which involved several hundred dollars per year. At various times, the Committee has also asked the race for one dollar per entrant, two dollars per entrant, and a flat fee of $1,000. These proposals were negotiated on a year-to-year basis. In exchange for its contributions, the race was supposed to receive publicity and promotion. Generally speaking, however, the race was left with little to show in this area for its substantial donations. Over the years, communication problems and a lack of continuity have made relations between the race and Springtime Tallahassee, Inc. difficult. In 1990, first-time race director Lloyd Cline will be dealing with an all-new Springtime Committee; both parties are starting anew and hoping to cultivate a more positive relationship.
The Springtime Committee had another concern regarding the ’83 race. Apparently the growing number of runners was causing problems for festival vendors who were setting up their booths downtown before the parade. The Committee had already prevailed upon race organizers to push the starting time back from 9:00 to 8:00 am. In 1983 the Committee asked that the race finish be moved off Monroe St. altogether. Race director Wilson and the Track Club discussed, and in some instances vigorously debated, various options regarding the route and starting time for the race. These included starting at 8:00 and retaining the original Monroe St. finish despite festival opposition, or even running south on Monroe St. at the front of the parade at 10:00 along an entirely new course. Ultimately Don decided on an 8:00 start and a Calhoun St. finish. The first 3.5 miles of the original course were kept intact, but Don redesigned the middle section, eliminating an uphill stretch and a hairpin turn near the 4-mile mark. And instead of turning right onto Franklin Blvd., struggling up Call St. and finishing along Monroe, the runners now turned left onto Meridian, and then struggled up Gaines and Calhoun to the finish.
Problems solved and changes made, the 1983 race nearly outdid its immediate predecessor in size with a record 1,100 entries. However, race day dawned rainy and the 300 no-shows set another record. Nonetheless, the race was still “big and fast” as Noel Shumann won a very competitive contest over Chris Lingle, a research biologist at FSU.. Janice Gage won an unprecedented fourth overall women’s title, while Dennis Barton took home the first Masters Cup; Gail Reinertsen led all female masters across the line. And although the heavy rain held off until most runners had finished, you couldn’t tell by Mike Eakin, who worked the finish line in a scuba-diving mask!
Although Shumann’s 1983 winning time of 31:21 had set a very respectable standard for the new 10K course, the ’84 race was a real barn-burner, with records being set everywhere. In what was the finest Springtime men’s field before or since, Larry Greene ran a sizzling 30:03 to triumph over Herb Wills (30:20) and Paul Waldron (30:28). All Wills remembered seeing was Greene’s back. “Larry pulled away going up the hills into Myers Park,” recalled Herb, “and it didn’t seem quite fair for a south Floridian to be doing that!” The women’s race was also fast, and even closer, as Carla Borovicka outduelled Margaret Coomber by six seconds, 35:57 to 36:03. “It was one of the two most intense 10Ks of my life,” said Carla. “I saw Margaret coming up out of the corner of my eye as we turned onto Meridian St. (with about a half mile to go), and I just took off. I told myself that I’d worked too hard to lose it now.” Carla broke the old women’s mark by a whopping 1:17! The masters division also saw records fall, as Sam Turnbull and Patti Sudduth became the first 40+ runners to break 36 and 40 minutes respectively.
Unfortunately, all these fine times were fated to have an asterisk associated with them because when GWTC measurement specialist John Hesselbart certified the new course for the 1985 race, it was found to have been approximately sixty yards short for the preceding two years. When Don Wilson did the original measurement he wheeled a wide arc around the intersection of Lafayette and Meridian Streets, the route the police had suggested the runners follow. However, Hesselbart was bound by TAC certification guidelines and measured the shortest tangent through the intersection (which was also the route the runners took, police suggestions notwithstanding). According to Hesselbart and Wilson, this accounted for nearly the entire discrepancy in measurements. Larry Greene’s time remains the fastest, but we can’t call it the course record. Unfortunately, Larry was again the victim of a short course in December of 1984 when he ran a world record time of 61:27 for the half marathon at Orlando’s Citrus Bowl. That course was found to be 69 meters short as run that year.
The 1985 race marked the return of Don Wilson as race director. Tec Thomas had taken over in ’84 when other commitments caused Don to step down temporarily. Now a certified 10K, the course was longer, but it didn’t slow the runners down much. Paul Waldron avenged his defeat from the previous year by winning in a swift 30:30, a time which still stands as the official course record. Carole Rouillard, a national-class Canadian runner, also set a course record, winning the women’s open division in 35:32. (She is now world-class, with a 32:31.6 track 10K, 25th ranked performance in the world in 1989 Ðed.) And James Dickson’s 35:44 was only two seconds off Sam Turnbull’s “short” course men’s masters mark. In the female masters division, Chris Van Fleet won a record third title, her others coming in ’81 and ’82 when she competed as Chris Levi.
Over the years, weather conditions for the race had varied from moderate temperatures with high humidity to oppressively hot temperatures with high humidity. Against this historical backdrop, the 1986 and 1987 races witnessed climatic conditions as likely as hell freezing over . . . twice in succession! Back to back Springtime runs were held in wintry conditions, with temperatures registering in the forties and winds which made it seem much colder.
The 1986 race marked Karen MacHarg’s Springtime Tallahassee debut. The former Venezuelan Athlete of the Year (from Bryan, Ohio) won the open women’s division in 37:16. Meanwhile, the University of Pittsburgh’s Dennis Rice used his spring break to good advantage, taking the men’s title in 31:15. A pair of Tallahassee racing veterans visited the winner’s circle in 1987 as FSU alumnus Jessie Close breezed to a 31:52 victory and Carla Borovicka won her second Springtime title, this time setting a course record 35:30. Cold as it was for the ’87 run, the Cypress Creek band played some hot licks in the park while race results were being tabulated. This continued a tradition of live music that began when Lynn Patrick and Bill McGuire entertained runners from the steps of the then Lewis State Bank after the 1981 race. (Lewis State changed its name to First Florida Bank in October, 1985.)
When 1987 race director Tim Kelly decided to become a responsible graduate student the next year, Joe Dexter obligingly substituted for him. What Joe remembers most about Springtime ’88 is that the Track Club’s two-sided clock refused to start even as the runners were winding their way around the course. Finish line ace Mike Eakin sped off in his truck to the 5K mark where an extra clock had been set up. “Mike had barely gotten the extra clock positioned at the finish when the lead runner was coming up the hill,” said Dexter. “Just then, of course, someone got the two-sided clock working!”
The lead runner Dexter referred to was Paul Waldron, cruising to his second title. Waldron was turning the race into his personal domain; he won again in ’89, and the average winning margin for his three victories was an incredible 63 seconds. “I’m always in good shape for this race,” said Waldron, “and I enjoy the old-time atmosphere, with the run being followed by a parade through town.” Asked to comment on the course, Paul replied, “it’s pretty, especially at that time of year, but it’s tough, with all the hills and turns. It’s probably close to a minute slower than a flat 10K.” Karen MacHarg also rejoined the winner’s circle in ’88, adding to her ’86 open title, while Mae Cleveland won her second consecutive masters victory.
The 1989 Springtime 10K featured over 900 starters, the return of a champion from yesteryear, and the best weather in the history of the event. With temperatures before the race in the high fifties, it was, in the words of returning race director Tim Kelly, “a picture perfect Tallahassee spring morning.”
Perennial last place finisher Casey Cason acted as official starter for the race. Casey, who will turn 79 years old this September, then joined the race to once again finish at the back of the pack. “I could have fired the gun and then gone to the bathroom for all the difference it would have made,” said Casey, laughing. Cason, who exults in his “last finisher” reputation, claims to have missed only one Springtime 10K, when he attended a family funeral.
If any recent Springtime race had a sentimental favorite, it would have to be Janice (Gage) Hochstein. An active member of Gulf Winds since before the Club even had a name, Janice had won nearly every distance competition in the region during the mid-seventies, including Atlanta’s Peachtree Roadrace. She had also run every Springtime Tallahassee race, save one (when it conflicted with the Jacksonville River Run).. But when the gun went off for the 1989 race, Janice had not tasted a Springtime victory in six years. The drought ended 37:54 later and Janice’s Springtime triumphs now spanned a remarkable thirteen year period! “I really cherish that win,” recalls Janice. “You get to the point where winning a big race seems like the impossible dream. There are so many good runners in town now.”
The 1989 run also saw Karen MacHarg switching from open champion to masters champ, setting a 40+ record of 38:45 in the process. In addition, Bill McGuire set a masters record of 34:48 in winning his second consecutive title.
The preceding information does not pretend to be a comprehensive history of the Springtime Tallahassee run. It touches on some of the highlights and attempts to give the reader somewhat of a feel for a local race with a great tradition. Yet so much has been left out! Like the defending men’s champion driving up to the 1983 race just as the gun went off, having to chase the entire pack, and eventually finishing fourth. Like the four-time women’s champ sitting in a Port-O-Let when the ’86 race started, and winding up in third place. Like John Parker, Steve Pfeiffer et al lumbering along in ’85 as the Georgia St. centipede. Like the year a lady put her front wheel in a ditch on Myers Park Drive during the race and Don Wilson had to recruit some volunteers to move it before the runners came by. The stories go on and on.
As for the future of the Springtime 10K, things are looking bright. Excited about the 15th anniversary of the event this year, Dennis Fitzgerald is already planning for the 25th. “We want to keep doing the run,” he says. “I think people really enjoy it. It’s a challenging course; it has a family atmosphere, there’s music after the race, and people can stay downtown for the festival. And we can help the Track Club.” Indeed, the Springtime race has been the Club’s major source of income for many years, annually generating several thousand dollars in proceeds for GWTC. Julie Sassano, who is in her fourth year as coordinator of race activities from First Florida Bank’s end, had a good laugh when it was suggested that putting on the race was mostly a lot of work. “It is a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun,” said Julie. “Every year we get calls from all kinds of people who want to volunteer. They really seem to enjoy it.”
So, from sponsors to organizers to volunteers, the Springtime Tallahassee 10K still generates positive energy. And the runners themselves give the race a resounding vote of confidence when they show up annually en masse. The race even draws a surprising number of locals who make Springtime their only race each year.
Finally, Dennis Fitzgerald, who runs his own race “about every other year,” has only one regret, and it is rooted in the best tradition of distance running masochism. “You know,” he says somewhat wistfully, “I kind of wish we still ran up the Call St. Hill.”
I would like to thank the following for their help in telling the story of the Springtime Tallahassee 10K. With written documentation of the race being somewhat scattered and incomplete, the assistance provided by these folks was invaluable.
Mae and Rex Cleveland, Don Wilson, Herb Wills, Felton Wright, Jim Stephens, Andy Burns, Mike and Janice Hochstein, Lee Cohee and Chris Van Fleet, Tim Kelly, Lloyd Cline, John Hesselbart, Dot Skofronick, Paul Brock, Gail Reinertsen, Nancy Key, Jim Penrod, and Dennis Fitzgerald.