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A Sense of Sadness in 2016

David Yon, December 30, 2016

It is not to say that there were not a lot of good things that happened during 2016, because there were many good things.  It was another strong year for the running community led by an explosion of activity at the Apalachee Regional Park, also known as the ARP.  Early in the year, the church bells rang as runners started their journeys along the marathon and half-marathon routes in a very successful effort to show off Tallahassee, including its hills.   Almost 6200 finishers, the most ever in a Tallahassee racing event, completed one of four races on a weather perfect Thanksgiving morning celebrating our community and enjoying a good time.

It was also a year during which Gulf Winds Track Club had its largest and most active outreach programs to young runners.   The SMIRFs, summer track meets, school grant programs (a record 14 grants totaling $4200 were awarded), Miller Landing Madness, Steve Prefontaine 5K, Youth Strider Programs, Kent Vann awards, Chenoweth Fund grants all saw growing participation. These kids all deserve a world that offers them fair opportunity.

I quickly counted 113 events with results posted on the Gulf Winds’ web site (thank you Peg Griffin and Bill Hillison for most of those), representing over 29,590 finishes. The number was roughly the same as 2015, when 114 races produced approximately 29,237 finishes. (Number of finishes are thanks to our data guru, John McCoy.)  The running club is very solid financially and continues to invest a lot of money and resources into the Tallahassee running community, as well as supporting a host of nonprofit entities.  It remains a volunteer organization, but it has grown in sophistication and size and faces new challenges every year.  After serving two years as president of the club, Tony Guillen has passed the mantle to Zack Scharlepp.   Tony did an excellent job and certainly saw the full range of the club and the demands it can put on a leader.  Zack has had a year in training as Vice President and no doubt will be up to the task. Behind him is an ever-growing network of experienced volunteers.

So, in many ways 2016 was a good year.  And yet, 2016 was a year of many losses.  Losses of friends and family members hit especially hard and often aging parents and spouses suffer much before leaving. We were constantly reminded that fitness from running, swimming and cycling help the body fight disease and maintain good health, but they do not guarantee anything.  

Even as many of us slowed to better handle the aging process, the world around us moved faster and faster, seemingly reaching “warp speed.”  The simplicity of the sport of running was one of its strengths - a shirt, shorts, shoes and a Casio or Timex watch that let you know how long (not how far) you ran was all you needed. The newsletter was the primary method of communication among club members, mailed once a month via the United States Post Office.  Runners met in person for training, races, and social events and once a month to do the club’s business.

When I hit start on my Garmin now, I almost expect it to lift me off the ground and take me to the finish in a record time.  Instead, it reminds me how slow I am and if I am not careful it will tell the entire world about it. The process of replacing simplicity with complexity and youth with aging has of course been going on for much longer than a year. But the unkindness of 2016 punched hard, undermining the foundations we had built upon. I always knew that one day I would set personal bests that would never get broken, but I had no appreciation for the fact there seems to be no limit to personal worsts!

In 2016, the world at large seemed more divided and more brutal that at any time I can remember. The world of running continues to offer people a place where they can get along and give as much as they take, usually more.  It is a world where volunteers spend hours counting laps for runners they don’t know at Wakulla Springs, making new friends as a result. But in the world of instant responses, there is a growing group of participants who do not understand that part. People who cross the finish line and begin tweeting that no one cares about “me.”

When I run, the endorphins flow sometimes and I find the courage to believe that given enough time and effort people will work out their differences and build a better world. It seems so rational. A belief that if we run together enough, we will stop hating each other. A hope that when Jesse Owens ran in Berlin, people saw something that would forever change their view of racism and of violence.  A thought that when Jackie Joyner-Kersee won three gold medals (two in the grueling heptathlon), a silver medal and two bronze medals with tremendous grace and athleticism, the world would understand that glass ceilings for women should fade away into history. Instead, World War II followed the 1936 Olympics and women still bump their heads.  I still want to think the Olympic spirit is bigger than the scale of Russia’s drug cheating.

The marathon in Oklahoma City begins and ends at the Oklahoma City National Memorial.  On April 19, 1995, you may recall Americans Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols killed 168 people, injured 680 and destroyed or damaged more than 324 buildings, including the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, with a car bomb.  The memorial erected on the site of building destroyed by the blast remembers those killed in the blast in a haunting layout of empty chairs and provides inspiration to those who visit it, is one of the most moving I have ever visited. The empty chairs on the lawn bear the names of those who died and are guarded by arches containing the time on the clock that marked the moment before the explosion and the time immediately after. It all tells a chilling story, before asking visitors to learn from what happened.

We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity.

The marathon is a major sponsor of the memorial and adjacent museum.  The marathon’s mission is described as follows:

Our mission is to celebrate life, reach for the future, honor the memories of those who were killed and unite the world in hope. This is not just another marathon. It is a Run to Remember…and a race to show that we can each make a difference and change the world.

I am certain someone had a lot of endorphins flowing when they described the marathon’s mission. Neither domestic terrorism, nor international acts of destruction have slowed in the least. And yet, as I look around, I still see a lot of hope. 2017 will not be easy, but I believe the words above offer the best way to get the sour taste of 2016 out of our mouths.  May 2017, be a Happy New Year.