A View from the Top
The Tallahassee Ultra Distance Classic…..And Just Like That it was Gone
I want you to come on, come on, come on, come on and take it,
Take another little piece of my heart now, baby!
Oh, oh, break it!
Break another little bit of my heart now, darling, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Oh, oh, have a . . .
Have another little piece of my heart now, baby,
You know you got it if it makes you feel good. (Janis Joplin, Piece Of My Heart)
The announcement, short and to the point, that the venerable old road race, the heart and soul of so many members of this running community, would be no more, struck me to the very base layer of my running core. Well, maybe not no more, but mostly no more, as the old road race 50K/50M ultra, a throwback to so many fine days gone by, would be moved, next year, from its home from infancy to maturity, the incomparable Wakulla Springs, to some park somewhere near a garbage dump (uh, sorry…a landfill), where it could be like every other race, everywhere else. Progress you say?
This was a race run for so many years on a short 2.07 mile shady asphalt loop with a short out and back, where strangers passed each other so many times as they toiled together and alone from before sun up until after sundown, becoming the best of friends in the process. You cannot look so deeply into each others eyes, as you pass each other in this game of life, without becoming friends of those who used to be strangers, and strengthening immeasurably your friendships with those you already know so well.
This was a race where friends and family came down to support their own and those many others who blessed us by traveling from other states and even other countries. We ran many miles with them in support, we volunteered, counted laps, cooked food, paced, massaged (thank you Dr. John Dunn), shouted encouragement, commiserated and cajoled many to keep moving and no, you can’t stop now, watched little kids play contentedly in the dirt of the parking lot while mothers and fathers did what seems to be impossible to others.
It was a family affair. It was a love in. Now…just about gone.
Young Man: Quiet! Quiet, he’s gonna say something.
Forrest Gump: I’m pretty tired. I think I’ll go home now.
Young Man: Now what are we supposed to do?
Forrest Gump: [narrating] And just like that, my running days was over. So, I went home . . .
Except that after they went home, they kept coming back, year after year, for decades.
I remember . . .
Chasing Barney Klecker in 1982 as he set an American road record for 50K, of around 2:51+, or maybe his wife, Janis, who came back the next year and set a woman’s road record too, 3:13, I believe. Or maybe it was Sandra Kiddy, who set a American woman’s masters road record for 50K in 1983, which possibly still stands to this very day. Or her husband, Fred Kiddy. Remember, I said that it was a family affair.
The list of finishers in the TUDC in the 1980’s and 1990’s reads like a veritable who’s who in American ultra distance running in the era. It remained that way for many years. As exciting as those days were, I think I remember better the incredible aroma of the several varieties of chili that were whipped up each year by club members, which smelled so good in the small conference room next to the start/finish line. And the homemade cakes and brownies that club members always remembered to bring for tireless runners.
I sure will always recall the exhausted cadre of runners, young and older, who could hardly walk after their race had ended, who then limped like wounded soldiers, down to the big boil of Wakulla Springs. There, amid the sunning manatee and hidden alligators, they soaked their tired legs in the cold, clear magical waters of the springs, and found instant rejuvenation, like a miracle from Lourdes.
It was there that Dave Sheffield, more than a fair runner in his day, taught me that to save time during the race, I could walk backwards and urinate at the same time, without having to stop and pee in the woods. And it works too.
There was an old, dead tree on the course (now long gone) that before sun up, was full of turkey vultures. There probably were more than 30, sitting up there. They looked, collectively, like the Avatars of the Devil, sitting high and sitting low, staring at the runners as they passed in the dark and early dawn light, beneath them. It could be unnerving, but after a few years, we came to understand that the dead tree was the tallest tree in the park in that place, and that the highest branches caught the first blessed warming rays of the sun each morning, and that was why the vultures were crowded up there.
I recall David Yon miscounting one runner’s laps and entrusting his clip board to me, while he took a break. That runner came around to finish what he thought was his last 50K lap, but I told him that he had one more to run. He cursed me and my mother in front of everyone (I am not a “MOFO”, thank you), but like a real ultra runner, he kept on running. David came sauntering back a few seconds later and I told him what had happened. We looked at the clip board and realized that that really was that runner’s last lap, and that now he was running one more, needlessly. Being the honorable guy that he is, David threw down the clip board and took off sprinting after that poor runner. They came in together a few minutes later, laughing and smiling, all was forgiven. OK, it was Scott Barloga from Panama City.
That wasn’t as bad as the year Ray Krolewicz (or maybe it was Steve Warshawar) was told he had one lap to go, and he started shouting and cursing in disbelief and then proceeded to overturn a table full of fluids before setting out on his final lap. Temper, temper.
Charlie T was trying the use the 50M to qualify for Western States or some other equally prestigious affair. He seemed well on his way and then simply disappeared. We were justifiably concerned about his disappearance. Finally, one runner came by the start/finish line and said that there was some dead guy laying on the hood of a truck. Heading out to investigate, sure enough, Charlie T had taken a break and had fallen sound asleep on his truck, either on the hood or in the bed of the PU, as I recall. No, we didn’t wake him up until it was way too late for him to qualify.
How can I not remember Pat Judd’s mom, with her make shift aid station on a little card table, with those home baked snicker doodles? Mrs. Judd, we miss you so much.
Or Chad Ricklef’s wife, who would race many wild 100 yard wind sprints to give her husband some drink or supplement each and every lap, as he tried to break the 50 mile record a few years ago. No, he came up short and ran 5:24 or 5:26, but whatever it was, they were both fast. And both deservedly exhausted after that race.
One toke over the line sweet Jesus
One toke over the line
Sittin’ downtown in a railway station
One toke over the line. (Brewer and Shipley, One Toke Over The Line).
When the race first started there was a fellow named Ed Davis, who competed. Ed owned a hot tub company, and every year Ed would bring down a portable hot tub on a trailer he pulled behind his PU. I am not saying that there were drugs on the premises (the state park forbade that of course, and everyone respected that as well as the ban on alcohol, right…), or that there was any inappropriate behavior going on beneath the bubbling surface of that hot tub (as far as I know or can remember) . . . but hot tubs and ultras make for a sure fire happy combination, and we certainly missed Ed and especially his portable hot tub when he stopped running.
I could go on and on, but no. I respect the direction the new Race Directors have decided to take the race, and to tell you the truth, logistics at Wakulla Springs were becoming more and more of a hassle each year. But please don’t ask me and many others I suspect, to not bemoan the loss of a good old friend, a throwback to another time when every ultra was a road ultra, and when men were men and so were the women.
I am going to miss my friends, this race, every thing about this special place, and so are many of you.
The TUDC scheduled for this December, 2014 and directed by Gary and Peg Griffin, is still being run at the venerable Wakulla Springs. There are no changes in store until the 2015 edition of that race. And as far as that is concerned, we have no doubt whatsoever, that the new race directors for the 2015 TUDC, Jeff and Jolena Bryan, experienced ultra runners in their own right, will put on a great race at the Apalachee Regional Park, which is already an acclaimed Tallahassee running venue (http://www.leoncountyfl.gov/parks/arpt/).