Understanding The Tallahassee Ultra - It is a Lot Like FamilyBy David Yon, December 2006
To the outsider it might not make a lot of sense. Dozens of volunteers watching thirty runners go in circles for as little as 3 hours and 18 minutes and as long as 11 hours and 43 minutes. Many of the participants make this one of just a few Tallahassee races they run. They aren’t Tallahassee’s household names unless you come to this event for a visit. So why make this event happen every year?
When Gary and Peg Griffin took over as race directors this year, they learned something the hard way. The volunteers ain’t going nowhere. Don’t leave them off your email list. Don’t tell them they do enough already somewhere else. This is their labor of love; it is their race. “I have had the morning shift (that means being on post around 6:45 a.m.) since that Tarzan guy used to swim in the springs. It is mine.” Ask them why and they will know. Nick Mazza, Gordie Hawkins, Pat Judd, Bill Hillison, Dana Stetson, Don McNelly, Al Barker, Scott Ludwig and Gary Griffin are all institutions on the course. Ask them and they can tell you why.
There is a bond between runners and between runners and volunteers that develops in this race that is like no other. If your lap counter isn’t there – you didn’t run that last two miles. And if you let your runner down, well you would just as soon go punch the gator at the bottom of the spring in the nose. So you just don’t do it. You track their pace – are they slowing down or speeding up? Lap after lap. Or maybe you are there to make sure they find the turnaround each lap. Not that you think anyone would cheat, but because you want them to know a friend (or two) is waiting to greet them and tell them they count whatever their pace. They are all, for a day, family.
Fred and Margarete Deckert did a great job for 13 or so years at this event keeping the culture right. There is something warm and comforting about Gary and Peg taking it over. I think they may have just been born for this one. They understand and they know why – whether they can verbalize it or not.
So Colin Deasy, thanks for coming all the way from Coventry, England to win the 50K in a great time of 3:18:55 – a pretty good marathon time. I hope you took a liking to your new family. I know your lap counter is dad gum proud of you. And Bill Hillison – thanks for fighting through those injuries to come back and do your thing again – well enough for second place. Susan Lance, I hope you found the path from Whitesburg, Georgia to Tallahassee comfortable enough to come back next year and defend your 50K title. 4:43:14 made your counter smile a really big smile. “Yep, that’s my girl!” Blaine Broadridge, I know you felt something good, because you did 24+ laps to win the 50M in 7:17:49. Did you see how tall your lap counter stood? Amy Costa, you almost caught him – 7:30:37 was good enough to win the women’s title and take second overall. I-10 will bring you back from Jacksonville next year, I sure hope you come. And Nick Mazza – it just wouldn’t be the Tallahassee Ultra without you, so thanks for making the family complete – all 11 hours 43 minutes and 20 seconds worth.