The Right Marathon Touch
Letters fly across the screen at an incredible pace. There is only one problem, the same letter repeats anywhere from 4 to 10 times, not because I am typing fast, but because my finger freezes. Most often, it is the “ooooooooooooo” and it is the finger next to the pinky that tends to sit heavy. When did I take that last carbidopa-levodopa dose?
It was over a year ago that Eric Godin and Jon Manry came to the board of Gulf Winds Track Club (GWTC) with a crazy idea. They were taking over as race directors of the Tallahassee Marathon and Half Marathon. At some point in the process Jon stepped aside as race director and his wife, Elizabeth (Ely) Rosario, stepped in to replace him. Over the period of 9 years, Jay Silvanima and Nancy Stedman had steadily nurtured the event as directors. There were 79 finishers in the marathon and 247 in the half the year before Jay became race director in 2007. When he and Nancy stepped aside after 2015, they left behind a race that has seen more than 300 marathon finishers for three straight years, including a high in 2014 of 358. The half was usually filled at 800 runners. They built the race by maintaining a well-organized event marketed for speed. You wanted a fast time, the course that began and ended at the FSU track was fast.
Jon and Eric brought a totally different concept to the event. They wanted an event that would showcase as much of Tallahassee as possible. That was a very ambitious dream, enough to bring out the “ooooo” in my typing. First, GWTC is an all volunteer organization. It has a hundred or so members that are very active and willing to help on a project like this one. Putting this event on took 300-400 volunteers and a lifetime of organizing by the race directors. Second, organizing the event was a huge logistical challenge. The out and back course that Jay and Nancy relied on had much fewer intersections and turns, both because of its out and back nature and because of the safety of the St. Marks Trail. Just marking this new course was a huge challenge. Jack McDermott, Bill Lott and I used to mark the entire St. Marks course in 3-4 hours. Over 3,000 cones, I believe, were set up on the new course to guide and protect the runners. (These were put in place by a professional team for a quite hefty charge.) Eric also put together 4-5 teams of people to go mark the rest of the course.
The third and maybe the toughest obstacle were the hills; the course would no longer be personal record fast. In fact, those who live in Tallahassee know you better not take a car with a stick shift out on the road unless you know how to use it. Trying to master shifting while sitting on the side of some of our hills is real trouble. So too is running 26.219 miles with at least 80% of it going either up or down can be big trooouble. The flat versus hilly marathon issue has been an ongoing debate since the first Tallahassee Marathon. My first marathon was in Tallahassee in 1985 and it was two hilly loops through Killearn Estates. There was another tough, hilly course that started and finished at Tallahassee Nursery on Thomasville Road, a course famous for its climb up through AJ Henry Park and along Thomasville Road up to the nursery. On the other side, the out and back course that started at Wacissa Springs was pancake flat for 95% and contained no big hills. I got my first Boston qualifier there in 1986.
I wavered between leaving town for the weekend, running the half and running the full marathon. Actually, it did not take me long to decide I wanted to be part of this event. The directors were offering runners a chance to be part of something special. But for the longest time, I could not decide between the half and the whole. Then at some point, after a good weekend of training and typing, I signed up for the full, with the promise to myself I would change if I needed too.
Somewhere after that my training started taking a hit. Maybe it was the travel, maybe it was training too hard. But the more I watched the race develop, the more I wanted to be a part of it. Training started going a little better and I began to think an “easy” effort would be fun. But then training seemed to turn again and by the Sunday before the race, dragging at 17 miles, I had convinced myself the half would be plenty. I reaffirmed the decision in my mind on Tuesday at the track. Running the full with all of its hills was going to be slow, hard and ugly and set back training efforts.
As the gun went off and we ran toward St. John’s Episcopal Church, its bells rang out playing Chariots of Fire and the priest blessed the runners as they passed. As we made our way out North Monroe Street to Glenview Drive, back through Midtown , out Mahan Drive to Capital Circle, back on Park Avenue, into Myers Park, around Cascades Park, up to Duval Street, down Madison Street , around Doak Campbell Stadium, around the FSU track, out the trail to Ocala Street, back through some tortuous turns around campus, up Call Street to Duval Street and further up on Duval before dipping to the newly painted finish line in front of Kleman Plaza it was in fact a magical journey through Tallahassee- a dream come true for a group of race directors not afraid to take a chance. Yes, somehow I was running the full marathon.
In the end a record number of runners registered (over 1386) and finished (1093) the races on Saturday. The one negative was the marathon had the fewest number of finishers (224) since 2009. Last year 336 finished the marathon.
It was my slowest Tallahassee Marathon ever. But I was part of something special and for that I thank all the volunteers and directors for a good day where GWTC and Tallahassee put together a great event without any exta ooo’s.
You can contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.