Gordon Cherr, October 13, 2010

I wanted to write about the 2010 edition of the Pine Run and about how sweet it was to be the race director. I wanted to write about taking nearly four months of weekends to figure out the best and the toughest 20K race that Florida offers, but I suppose that will have to wait for another day. I wanted to write about the magical coyote that shadowed me out there every Saturday and Sunday all summer long three years ago as I measured and remeasured and wandered the land and the trails, about the little yellow warblers wagging their tiny tails in the north Florida breeze and the ever-shifting shadows of the long leaf pine, about the red cockaded woodpeckers, the heart stopping whoosh of a covey of quail, flushed from their hiding place in the underbrush as I ran by, the huge alligators on the shores of Lake Iamonia that fear no man and certainly do not fear me, or the huge bear paw prints I saw, but I never once saw their owner (but did he see me?).

Perhaps I would have written about the freezing winter night I rode out alone to this beautiful land and ran under an incredible starry canopy, listening to hoot owls and howling coyotes and only God knows what else moving through the tall dry grass that night, as my world shrank down to the far end of a very small beam of my headlamp, or so it seemed.

I certainly should have written about the 250 entrants who came to race and made the day so special, 100 more than I ever anticipated in my wildest dreams. Of the wonderful volunteers and race workers without whom there would be no race at all. I would have liked to highlight the winner of our race, Vince Molosky, who was leading the race but went off course last year, after winning the race the year before that, and who never once complained aloud to anyone, but quietly took responsibility for his own mishap. And who then trained and prepared impeccably for the race this year (as he does for all races as far as I can tell), and who then mercilessly devastated the remainder of the field of runners who trailed him once again.

It would have been nice to tell you about the incredible heart of all of the runners I saw on display as I directed traffic at the very top of the big hill behind the Beadel House, just past mile 11. I saw the heart and the spirit etched deeply on your faces and in your pain. And I watched in awe as each of you topped the hill, took a deep breath, and silently vowed to continue on. You are an impressive lot, if I may say so.

Face it. It is a tough race in a beautiful, spiritual place. When you woke up Sunday, you knew that you did something Saturday, didn’t you? Yes, you did. And when you see a Pine Run shirt around town or even in the mirror, you’ll know that it was hard earned. Wear that shirt with pride.
Instead of writing about all that, I am going to write about a situation that arose during the race and how I, as the race director, dealt with it. It is a public issue, so I mention it now. I do not know if you will agree with me, or disagree, for that is your prerogative. Draw your own conclusions. This is my letter:

“I have reached a consensus with myself as to how to handle this situation. It is my decision and no one else’s and I take full responsibility for it. It appertains to the Pine Run, and not necessarily how the club handles the GP situation. That is not my call, not directly anyway.

I have spoken with many people whose opinions matter to me, all are runners, many are race directors. I probably have gotten a dozen opinions and opinions on top of opinions. Suffice it to say that people are all over the board on this one. There are extenuating circumstances, but maybe they are distinctions without differences as we lawyers are want to say when it suits our legal argument.

I have heard from “###” twice, it is only fair for her to input since this concerns her. I haven’t spoken to any other runners who participated in the Pine Run, with regard to how to decide the issue. I have heard enough.

I am confident that the course was properly marked in this location so that no one should have gone off track (nevertheless we’ll do more next year). Pre race instructions were appropriate as well. The front runners did not do it, but once a few people did, it made an inviting footpath in the wet grass and dirt for others to want to follow, some did, most did not (I went down there and looked at it post race). Anyone who went off track (for those of us who run trail ultras, these things are almost a given), did so inadvertently and not to gain unfair advantage, which would be another story entirely. From what I have gathered we may be speaking of about 25 runners.

The issue however is not whether it was intentional but whether it happened. And then how was it dealt with by the runners. When one goes off course in a trail race and then recognizes the error, the proper protocol is to retrace steps until one rejoins the race course and then go on from there. If not, the correct thing to do is to DQ yourself at a proper time and place after your run is over. Admit it and move on. In reality, usually no one cares anyway, especially if you do not “finish in the money”, and especially if one runs further than the actual correct race length. This is exactly what Steve Barraco and Manny Gutierrez did in our first Pine Run At Tall Timbers, when they missed an important turn and ran a short course. They ran, they raced, they finished and then came up to me and DQ’d themselves. Class act, those two.

Here, some runners did recognize their error, did retrace steps and did carry on, completing the entire out and back. Those runners did the technically correct right thing under the circumstances. I do not know who they are.

Some others, more stubborn or hopeful, followed the incorrect trail that they were on, and it eventually lead them back to the race course, they continued to the right, reached the aid station and eventually completed the out and back. Technically, these runners should all be DQ’d even though they ran further than 12.4 miles and despite the fact that they did reach the aid station at the end of the out and back. It is not a matter of intent, but of following the accepted protocol when one goes off course. I do not know who they are. I know who some are, but not all.

“###” tells me that (as best I can determine), she went down the incorrect trail, but when it came back out on the out and back, she did not know which way to go, so she went left instead of right and did not ever reach the 6 mile aid station at the end of the first out and back. So, she cut the course. But, as she ran, she did notice that her distance was off, and at the 8 mile mark, she ran back to recapture the proper distance, turned around and reappeared at the 8 mile mark now having correctly run 8 miles, but not on the correct course. So, when she finished she had the correct 12.4 miles. I have no independent proof but I have no reason to doubt that she did the entire distance if she says that she did.

Technically, this runner should also be DQ’d because she ran the wrong course even if she ran the correct distance. The competition is on the same course for everyone. Again it is not a matter of intent or purity of heart.

Finally, for me there is another factor to consider. I cannot identify all of those others who went off course and failed to retrace their steps and return to the proper trail and continue to the far end of the out and back. That being the case, I am not going to treat “###” any differently in this case, especially because she did run the entire 12.4 miles. Either they are all DQ’d, or none are DQ’d. There is a technical aspect to this and there is an equitable one as well. I realize that other competitors may now feel unfairly treated, and perhaps they have been. As you have all stated consistently, this decision is my responsibility. That is my decision. “###” will not be DQ’d in this Pine Run.

Whether it affects the GP standings one way or another is not my decision.

GDC (RD).”

So, there it is. The Pine Run 2010 is over. It will not be forgotten however. None of them ever are.