The Flash Always Runs in the Rain
As we drove toward St. Marks on Saturday for the 2017 Flash 12K-6K, I turned on the wipers and squirted my windshield hoping to wash away some of the dirt. It worked a little bit, but I also noted water spots still beading up after I had stopped squirting. Mary Jean and I looked at each other and then she looked at the radar on her phone. “It is coming,” she said. But the rain on the windshield was light and soon stopped all together. “Maybe it will bypass us or get to St. Marks late,” she said in a hopeful tone.
By and large, race directors are at the mercy of the weather. It goes into the category of “things we cannot control.” The first question we all get with any sign of rain is “Will the race be cancelled?” The experienced racers know the answer is almost always no, but runners will stay home.
This race has had 3 locations as home base, but since 2011, it has started on Fire Escape Road, a stone’s throw from the banks of the St. Marks River, at spot just before the St. Marks joins the Wakulla River for their flow into Apalachicola Bay and maybe the Gulf of Mexico. It is a beautiful spot with major weather exposure.
Pre-registrations were strong for Saturday’s run – approximately 320 runners, a good crowd but not a record. I would guess another 15-20 people registered on race morning; a number reduced somewhat by the threatening weather. My job was with the registration crew passing out race numbers and packets to runners and assist those who wanted to register that morning. We had a good roof over our heads, but we were otherwise exposed to the weather. Every now and then it seemed a gust of wind would bring a sprinkle of rain, but the river remained calm and it appeared likely the race would end before the rain would soak anyone. Only about 290 of the 340 registered runners chose to crowd behind the starting line, waiting for the race director to tell them to go. Another 25-30 volunteers waited out on the course. It was clear bad weather was coming.
So, just how does a race become the Flash 12K? Well, it usually starts with a person like Joe Dexter, someone who wants something a little bit different. Joe, one of the hardest working club members before he and Nadine moved to Orlando almost 10 years ago, reported that the idea of putting on a 12K race came to him while reading about two of the largest races in the United States – Bay to Breakers in San Francisco and the Lilac Bloomsday Run in Spokane, Washington (both well above 50,000 runners). Of course, if you know Joe, you know how much he likes to add some quirky twist to his races. The idea to call it The Flash 12K came while Joe was playing in the Cosmic Cat comic book store with his sons. His son Chris was a collector and they found a Flash comic book – The Fastest Man Alive.
In March of 2001, the race adopted another special character and close friend of Joe’s. For many years, the best known runner in Tallahassee was Tim “Superman” Simpkins. In addition to being a very talented runner, he helped start many of GWTC’s races and volunteered at many others. Perhaps more important, he served as head cheerleader for hundreds, if not thousands of runners. Tim was quite flamboyant. He often ran across town on some of the busiest streets in superhero costumes, most often Superman. Tim had a remarkable way of reaching out to people. His costumes were one way. His ability to remember and care about the details of others’ lives was a more important one. Despite his supreme fitness and having never ever smoked, Tim would lose a bruising battle to lung cancer. The Flash and its superhero theme remains a good way to remember Tim.
The race started at Chairs Elementary School for the first 16 years (1989-2004) and was an out and back course on Chaires Cross Road and Buck Lake Road, no man’s land at the time. The course was difficult with wind and hills making it challenging, but it had some unique turns and the hills made it good for racing, especially against a competitor who did not know the course. But every year the traffic increased until the course had to be moved. From 2005 until 2010 the race was run from J. Lewis Hall Park in Woodville onto the St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail, running south of the park for a bit, turning around and then returning to and past the park to the north. The runners turned around one more time and finished in the park. In 2011, Mark Priddy made the move to St. Marks and it has been a big hit.
On Saturday, Mark finally called the packed group of runners to attention and gave the command to send them on their way. The rain was still holding off, but the feeling in the air was that it was not going to delay much longer; not the Flash, nor Superman and not even the race director was going to stop it. And in fact, it started falling shortly thereafter, slowly at first and then building steadily until most everyone was soaked.
In the end, most ignored the weather and ran like superheroes. The volunteers guarded their post, ignoring the weather. No doubt a significant number stayed in the warmth. Surprisingly, 128 runners finished the 6K, while 162 finished the 12K. That is the most ever for the 6K as perhaps some sought the option of getting out of the rain sooner. The 12K was down substantially from its high of 262 in 2014. Eighty-six finished the 6K that year, making it the biggest Flash race (348 combined) ever.
We all know race directors can only control so much – and that means sometimes we have to run in the rain. But I have no doubt that those who did braved the weather will indeed tip their hats to Mark and his volunteer crew for a race well run!