The GWTC 30K Passes Hands (Hearts) Successfully
David Yon, January 21, 2016
The 30K is one of those unique events that define Gulf Winds Track Club. The distance and the terrain offer runners opportunities they are not likely to find many other places. When this race changes directors, I always take a deep breath and cross my fingers. If there was any doubt, however, the new 30K Race directors understood the nature of the task they had accepted, that doubt was erased quickly. “Hey knucklehead, you are not going to take that ‘no-wheel-drive-pretty-boy-car’ on that wet clay road, are you?” one of them yelled. “Please don’t, because I don’t want have to pull you out of the ditch with my truck.” Ouch!
It helps to understand and appreciate Old Centerville Road and the Red Hills Region as an exceptional, if not sometimes challenging, place to run. Of course, not only did they understand it, I suspect that is part of why Jillian Heddaeus and Zach Deveau agreed to take on the race director duties. Jackie and Jerry McDaniel directed this race 12 years before stepping away after last year. The McDaniel’s set high standards for whoever would follow them, taking a race that had fallen on hard times (38 finishers in 1995) and giving it life and character again. And on Saturday 21, 2017, despite a good amount of rain in the preceding days, the new directors debuted with a flawless event; well, flawless but for the weather.
Indeed, the temperatures stayed above the 70-degree mark as a record 219 runners sloshed their way through the 15K race. Only 56 runners braved the 30K, leaving the total number less than the “official” record turnout of 350 in 2013. Rain threatened for the entire weekend and several inches fell over two days or so before the run; it was more than enough to turn the road to mush and to turn a runner’s stride into a slide. The warm humid day on top of a very slick clay and dirt road sapped a lot of energy from runners and no doubt led added to the number of participants running the 15K distance instead of the 30K. The conditions created an extra layer of worry – especially two new ones. “Will anyone come out in this weather?” Which is more important for runners’ safety, an ambulance or a tow truck? How do we get volunteers out to their stations and back?” And who wants to be outside at 4:45 in the morning in the pouring rain trying to get everything ready for the runners? To run 18.6 miles over those hills?
The 30K has always had some unique places to call home. It was first run in 1978 on the sandy pine forest trails of the Apalachicola National Forest, starting near the intersection of S.R. 267 and Springhill Road and directed by local running legend Tim Simpkins. Twenty-five runners finished the race Tim called the “Ides of March 30K Road Race.” The next year the race was moved to the Natural Bridge Civil War Battle Field in Woodville and was part of a “GWTC running festival.” GWTC members Rod Anderson and Daryl Ellison reported in their history of the race that over 800 runners participated in the festival that year and that 124 of them finished the 30K. That is the only mention I have seen of the festival, but the 30K continued at the monument until 1982.
Much of the course however was on wide open stretches of flat pavement. Cars and trucks flew on these roads and when a new race director, Tony Kronenburg, started looking for safer places, he hit the jackpot when the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge allowed him to move the race there. I have no doubt the race would still be there if the Refuge had management not decided the race was “not consistent with park uses.” The coastal marshes along the out and back course were among the most beautiful and interesting habitats anywhere. On the negative side however, the weather could be brutal and there were no places to hide before or after the race except in cars. There were some amazingly fast times run in the Refuge. Before running a time of 1:38:54 (5:18 pace) in 1986, Rod and Daryl recounted the following:
“The 1985 race marked the re-appearance of Herb Wills, who had gained national prominence since 1978 when he finished a distant second to Tim Simpkins. Herb won, but he had company much of the way from a tenacious Felton Wright, whose 1:46:58 was a PR.”
And how could I not repeat this one: “Mae Cleveland, at age 48, won the women’s title in 2:10:04.” You said what? It was in 1988, look it up!
Rod and Daryl wrapped their piece in 1988 by saying:
“Much of what makes this race unique is the setting. Amid the wild splendor of the coastal marshes with virtually no spectators and little traffic, the runners struggle with the natural elements and with themselves. It gives us a certified course over a distance rarely run in the South, and serves as an excellent tune-up (if you don’t race it) for our marathon in February. After the race there is the traditional camaraderie at Posey’s, with beer, oysters and smoked mullet that makes this a great social event too. Low entry fees, unique trophies and quality tee shirts have also been a tradition. The GWTC 30K is a race worth running, and worth remembering.” (http://www.gulfwinds.org/Club%20Races/30K/30K%20History%201978-1988.asp)”
The splendor of the coastal marshes has been replaced by the ruggedness of the Red Hills and giant oaks, Posey’s with the Retreat at Bradley’s Pond, oysters and mullet with beans and rice, and Growler Country has stepped up to make sure the beer remains on the menu. I would say it is about as good it gets.
Thanks for all you did, Jerry and Jackie, and thanks to you Jillian and Zach for taking the reins.