Ultra Distance the mother of all local races


By Dana Stetson


A general trends in running is; the colder the weather, the longer the race. If this holds, December 8th should be a mighty cold day indeed. That’s the date of the running of Tallahassee’s longest race, the Tallahassee Ultradistance Classic, really two races, 50 miles and 50K.

This race is to a 5k as Arnold Schwarzenager is to Don Knotts. It’s held within the Wakulla Springs Park boundaries. The course is a little bit longer than two miles so a 50 mile is 24 laps and a bit. The 50K (31.2 miles) is 15 laps. The effects of multiple laps are many. You are always in touch with your position relative to the other participants; you are never unsure of the course; and it is only a short distance to your supplies and rest area. Some people find the high number of laps a burden, but the course is the site of world and national records. The 50K course record is 2:51:53, a very good time for the marathon!
The natural surroundings make it seem like a run through the woods. I have attempted the race eleven times since 1988, for a total of 441 miles. I know it’s every pothole and crack. Over the years it has been changed slightly, in distance and in direction run, yet each year seems a continuation of the same race.

Many of the same people run and volunteer for this event. In looking back at my log, I noted that Craig Hasty was a conspicuous source of energy the last time I ran it. He was dressed as Santa Claus while keeping track of laps. Joe Dexter is the unique “themed runner” for five or six laps. His varied costumes lend to the surreality of the surroundings. The distance does take a toll on the runners. Wallace Randall, a finisher of the 50 miler, swore that he was followed by hungry circling buzzards for a good part of his run.

The race requires the usual course personnel to keep people on the right track and also requires lap counters with the patience of Job. They must hurry up and wait all day as their slowly disintegrating runners try to manage the job of finishing their trial by tribulation. There is nothing crabbier than an ultra-wannabe who thinks their laps are not being counted properly. Woe to the lap counter if that suspicion is entertained. As far as is known, no one has ever ended up running an extra lap. The volunteers, during breaks, often get out on the course and run themselves. This provides the runners a) new people to talk to that aren’t already sick of every joke and running anecdote you know, and b) someone new to look at. (After a few hours, the regulars start to look a bit gnarly).

The mixture of runners and different volunteers causes the event to have its distinct moods and moments, some of which can stay with you for years. Even now, I see “ghosts” of people who have helped me out there in the past.
In summary, it’s the combination of all this that gets you through your full day’s work of running 50 miles or 50K. The best part of this race is that win, lose or draw, the same people will be there next year to try it again. In these days of turmoil and change, that’s actually quite reassuring.