When Just Being There Counts

David Yon, January 22, 2010

Some races are just that way – you have to be there if there is any way possible. The 30K is one of those. I was not around for the birth of this race off Springhill Road on the forest roads in 1978 and I missed the first visit to Natural Bridge Road a few years later. I first came to know this race in 1985 when it called the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge home. It was beautiful but very rugged with swirling winds that could make it seem as if headwinds prevailed both directions on the out and back course. It often battered runners with a bone chilling cold. Despite the pancake flat course (or maybe because of it), the last three miles were as tough as any I have ever raced – with the lighthouse in view for most of them just taunting runners. Those last miles consistently brought over confident runners to their knees. The grasses, the water, the dikes and the marsh, along with the waterfowl gave the 30K character like few races had. It got into your blood; I was hooked. But alas, the Refuge management decided no more and the race had to move. It tried going back to its early roots on Natural Bridge Road, but something was missing. Running past the prison just did match up to running past herons and egrets.

When Jackie and Jerry McDaniel became race directors they first did their best to take the race back to the Refuge. When that failed they found a new home. And this time it had magic. You find this course by driving out into the countryside until you see Bradley’s Country Store, first erected in 1927 and mostly unchanged since then. Three fourths of the race course traverses over red clay along what was once a wagon trail in the early 19th Century. The race’s character now comes from that clay, the endless rolling hills and the beautiful plantation lands lined with huge old oaks. Yes, the hills like the one starting at the turnaround (9.3) miles and not ending until the other side of the 10-mile mark. And last Saturday a wet night and misty morning rain gave the road a chance to shine in all its glory. Wet red clay makes a mess and it can be slick.

But almost 200 runners just couldn’t turn down the lure of this event. Yes, approximately half of them opted for the 15K version, but that didn’t save them from mud caked calf muscles and rooster tail streaks of mud riding up their backsides. You could recognize the runners with the highest leg kick by the amount of the mud staining their backs. It was the second year in a row the McDaniels had to field prerace questions about whether the weather would cause this race to shut down. Last year it was temperatures in the teens. This year it was rain. Those who asked just didn’t understand the character of this race.

Vince Molosky thought it was a great way to warm up for Mountain Mist (another “character” race). He captured his third straight win here and became the first person with two sub 2:00 times on Old Centerville Road winning in 1:56:12 (behind his best time of 1:54:06 last year). Myles Gibson was the top master and while he never threatened Vince, his time of 1:59:40 made him only the third person to break the 2 hour mark on this course. Sheryl Rosen was the top woman with a time of 2:14:22. It was Sheryl’s 4th straight win. Jane Johnson was top master and grandmaster with a time of 2:20:50. She has been the top master every year the race has been run on Old Centerville Road. The top male grandmaster was Felton Wright.

Old Centerville Road has a lot of meaning for the Leon Lions distance runners as it is a major training ground for the team. The boys have dominated the 15K race for most of the years since the race moved. This year was no exception as Matt Mizereck blasted the soggy course with a 51:50 winning time; his second win. Daniel Lee took second in 53:49. Reid Vannoy did the master/grandmaster double with a time of 1:03:45. Lisa Johnson matched Reid’s time to win the women’s title. Seeley Gutierrez was not far behind in 1:04:04. Mary Anne Grayson was top master in 1:11:08. Fran McLean was the grand master in 1:16:05.

So, a bum leg left me wondering whether to run this race, but that little voice kept saying “you just have to be there.” And a muddy, gimpy finish is better than not being there when some races call.