The Day the Stars Came Out – 2004 Tallahassee Marathon

“Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

–Charles Dudley Warner, The Hartford Courant August 1897


By Gary Griffin, 


I would venture to say that there have not been too many conversations about the Tallahassee Marathon over the past 365 days that have not involved exactly what Mr. Warner so accurately noted over 100 years ago. After the February 2003 rain-out disaster, the overnight showers that preceded the mid-December make-up at Wakulla Springs, and then the five days of unending rain this past week, well – the weather was certainly more of a topic than any speculation about fast times on the new course, or the excitement of a finish that snaked past Doak Campbell Stadium and ended on the FSU Mike Long Track. As race directors, Peg and I were wondering if perhaps swim fins and snorkels might not be appropriate items to include in the race packets.

And so it was, that as I walked out into the 4:30 A.M. race day darkness, I felt the now all-too-familiar raindrops falling on my head. A half hour later, though, I noted the appearance of the moon, and a sprinkling of not rain – but stars! Yes, those were stars in the morning sky and maybe, just maybe, this Tallahassee Marathon would be run in sunshine. Three hours later, under a brilliant blue sky, that was the case. But, those were not the last stars that came out on this day. No, this was the day for the long-distance stars of Gulf Winds Track Club to shine brightly!

One of the truly wonderful things about being a marathon race director is the opportunity to be standing at the finish line as your runners arrive back from their 26.2 mile journey. It is the site of a wide range of emotions, and over the past 4 years I have been witness to some memorable happenings, and for this gift I will be forever grateful. Not many others get that chance. For example, I still get chills when I recall David Yon’s charge up the Tallahassee Nurseries hill in his emotional tribute run to Tim Simpkins, whose life was ebbing away from the ravages of cancer. The following year I saw Felton Wright and Ronnie Godwin finish hand-in-hand after working the course as a team, sustaining one another by their presence, through the tortuous hills of A J Henry Park, Hermitage Boulevard, and finally on Thomasville Road. It was a vivid tribute to the camaraderie that makes distance running such powerful experience. The 2004 Tallahassee Marathon finish line experience will take a seat right alongside those others, for I was able to witness the domination of the men’s marathon by those that have risen to be some of our brightest stars. In fact, six of the top seven finishers were from Gulf Winds Track Club and all ran under 3:09.

I was shocked several weeks ago when Jack McDermott told me that he had never won a race. Our 2003 Male Runner of the Year had excelled at so many distances, that it just didn’t seem possible that he not tasted victory. The fact is, Jack had traveled far and wide in his racing efforts and had placed consistently in the upper echelons of some major races. However, he had been eight times the so-called “best man”, and never the groom. This all changed this past Sunday at FSU, as Marathon Jack charged to the only sub-3 hour time of the day in 2:55:19. It was a joy to be a witness to his victory, and I take to heart his comment that he was glad that his first victory came in his hometown marathon. Jack, all I can say is that I hope that many more will follow. The second place finisher was Fred Johnson – a man that has established himself in his short time with us as not just a remarkably determined and impassioned runner, but also as a man that many of us have come to admire for what lies at his core, and because like many others in GWTC, has made us perhaps better than what we were before we met him. Lt Col. Johnson, fresh off a December victory in the Tallahassee Ultradistance Classic 50 Miler and 6 weeks of emotionally draining military duty in Puerto Rico, finished 7 minutes behind Jack in 3:02:19. If not for one of his signature pit stops just after mile 7, the gap may have been narrowed a bit. Fred was followed by the threesome of Jay Silvanima, Matt Minno, and Felton Wright – all within a minute of one another in 3:05:52, 3:06:09, and 3:06:42. They all ran their usual stellar, well-planned and determined races, with Matt’s time being a 6-minute PR. Right on their heels in 7th place was the incredible Bill Hillison, running like no 59 year old I have ever met, in 3:08:16. Bill too, was fresh off a victory at the Wakulla Ultra in which he bested Minno by 18 minutes. They battle one another every day in training, and yesterday was just another chapter in that saga.

The women’s race was won by Kim Bruce of St Petersburg, FL in a terrific time of 3:18:18. She trounced her nearest opponent, Kristen Lehmann of Minneapolis, MN by over 35 minutes. Kristen’s story is remarkable, though. As she turned off of Chieftain Way to enter the track area, she was told that she was the second woman finisher. Her response was an unabashed “No (deleted)?”. Therein lies another joy of small-town marathoning. It gives individuals like Kim, and Kristen, and Kathy Pike, our 2003 women’s winner, a chance to shine. They, too, were some of the stars that came out this day.

And, there were more stars. The field was full of them, including those many first-time marathoners, many of whom were part of the committed group that was tutored by our Julie Clark. Julie issued a call several months back and offered to share her wisdom and enthusiasm for distance running with anyone that wanted to become a marathoner. Many came forward, and eight found themselves at the finish line yesterday. Congratulations are in order to Keith Rowe, Kirsten Baggett, Caroline Noble, Catherine Nixon, Penny Isom, Ronald Morrell, Nadine Dexter and Bridget Edmond.

One final note is in order. All of us know full well that this event would never have happened if not for the selfless volunteer spirit of those that worked the aid stations, traffic control, registration, and the finish line. Peg and I were blessed, as we always are, by a committed crew far too numerous to mention. Those that ran Sunday know who they were. They were there for you, and you expressed your appreciation in earnest. An example of this volunteer spirit and commitment to this event was that of Jimmy Kalfas. Jimmy worked all night at the family restaurant and showed up at the heavily traveled Lake Bradford “crossover” to work with Wes Bruner, another committed volunteer. Jimmy and Wes gave us a full day out there, got all of our runners back safely, and did a critical portion of it without the assistance of the Leon County Sheriff’s Office. Well done, good and faithful servants. You gave the stars the chance to shine again at the Tallahassee Marathon.