It happened just the way everyone hoped it would on Sunday, February 5, 2023. Well, actually, it started 1 minute early when co-race director Felton Wright gave the lone wheelchair entrant the go sign. James St. Clair did just that – taking off and rolling through the streets of Tallahassee on the half-marathon course all the way to the finish line in College Town crossing the line in the time of 3:13:36 earning the wheelchair division title.
One minute after St. Clair took off, the gun fired for the rest of the competitors, and they took off on the same journey around Tallahassee. Temperatures at the start were nearly perfect – 45 degrees. It was the 46th time the race has been run and the third time it has been run on this current version of the course. And for at least the third year, the bells at St John’s Episcopal Church have rung as Rector Lonnie Lacy sprinkled holy water on the runners as they ran by the church in the first quarter mile.
The course was designed to give participants a good view of the City of Tallahassee and it succeeds in that effort. It starts in between the stately Leon County Courthouse and the most strangely designed Florida State Capitol complex on Monroe Street. The course takes runners north on Monroe Street, past Lake Ella to Glenwood Avenue, on to and through Midtown, Franklin Boulevard to Cascades Park, Myers Park, along FAMU Way, past the Jake Gaither neighborhood, Lake Henrietta and more.
The first runner to cross the finish line was the winner of the half- marathon, Alberto Mena, from New York City. His time of 1:11:58 was just enough to squeeze out a win over William Whelan who finished second, just two seconds back, in a time of 1:12:00. The winner of the half-marathon race received $500 and second place receives nothing. Whelan is from Newburg, New York. On the women’s side of the competition, the local ladies took charge of the race with two strong performances. Ann Centner finished in 1:18:28 to claim the top spot for women and third place overall. Fellow Tallahassee runner Katie Sherron was second in the women’s division with a time of 1:18:58. Like the men, the top finisher in the women’s division received $500 while second place received a trophy.
In the marathon, Hisato Suetsugu won the top prize of $1000 with a time of 2:33:23. Kyle Greig, after trying to pull Suetsugu back, settled for second place and $750 finishing in 2:35:14. Logan Roberts (Pensacola) settled into third place receiving $500 with his time of 2:51:46. The top master in the male division was Orinthal Striggles who, at age 47, ran 2:53:14 and received $250 for his performance.
The top woman was Purity Munene and she finished in 2:51:34. Debbie Greig was close behind in 2:54:08. Third place went to Mo Palmer who ran 3:15:57. The top master in the female division was Jennifer Bayliss who ran 3:23:34. The prize money structure was the same as the men’s.
Directing this event is a heavy load; there can be no disputing that. However, it also brings a feeling of accomplishment to those who work hard to make it happen. And it has a real benefit to the Tallahassee community even for nonrunners. It is a mark or a test of what kind of community we live in.
The Tallahassee Marathon, Half-Marathon and Relay brought in runners from many states. Of the 1300 registered runners40% listed a home address not in Tallahassee. Each of those participants brought additional people who cheered for them and spent a little money while in town.
Directing a race like the Tallahassee Marathon is a very difficult task. First, the cost of putting on an event like the marathon is expensive. Second, it is a lot of work. Over 200 volunteers have to be recruited and then educated as to how to perform the managed task they are called upon to do. There are a lot of moving parts and missing any one of them could be devastating. The race is organized and executed by members of Gulf Winds Track Club. Gulf Winds is a nonprofit 501(3) entity that relies almost completely on volunteers. The 2023 year was directed by a committee led by Co-chairs Felton and Bonnie Wright and Mary Jean Yon.
The future offers opportunity. Things went incredibly well this year with the half-marathon growing by over 300 finishers while the full marathon and relay races grew, but by smaller numbers. The races are well situated to continue that success. On the other hand, volunteer fatigue is heavy.
To keep things going in the right direction it is important to bring in new energy, ideas, and sponsors willing to invest generously in the effort. We remain optimistic as do all the runners who proclaimed they will be back in 2024.