Turning 40 In The South This Spring
By Carolyn Mather
After working for two weeks last June at the 40th Grandmas Marathon, I realized that some of my favorite races in the south are reaching that milestone this year. For years my favorite 10K has been the Rose City 10K in Thomasville, GA. Not only will the 40th edition take place this April, but Jim and Carolyn Story have been the race directors for all 40 years. I suspect that must be a rare record and they do this as their love. From the silver age group award cups, to the medals, to the hot dogs and Little Debbie cakes, to the post race picnic, to the dj getting you up their "heartbreak hill," this race remains the best value in running and a great deal for $20 including a finisher's medal and gorgeous tee shirt..
Both the Cooper River Bridge Run and Reedy River turn 40 this spring and both of these events are well run and give you unique views of South Carolina. Thus three events turn 40 in the month of April. This also has to be a very rare occurrence as it is unusual for races to continue to flourish for 40 years.
Although there have been many changes for the race over 40 years, the Gasparilla Distance Classic turns 40 in February. Gasparilla was for many years the first stop on the winter running circuit. Held in the Tampa Bay area, the weather is usually a welcome change for our northern neighbors. In addition to the 40 year old 15K, there is a half marathon and a 5K now, and a beautiful run along the water.
The crown jewel Gate River Run 15K, which is the largest 15K in the United States, also turns 40 this year, and again serves as the national championship for the 23rd year. This is an unprecedented record and the folks at Gate are proud to host the national championship every year. Over 20,000 runners descend on Jacksonville for this classic. The Gate River Run is one of the best run races on the planet and draws the best elite, professional runners to Jacksonville to compete for $65,000 and a national title. Gate has a equalizer component where the elite ladies start six minutes before the elite men and it often becomes a battle to the finish to see if the female winner can hold off the male winner. Having ridden on the ladies press truck for a number of years I cannot begin to convey the excitement as the runners crest the green monster Hart Bridge and begin a fast forward to the finish line. I sit anxiously in the press truck looking for signs of the men approaching. In the past few years the female/male battle has been epic.
Richard Fannin is the consummate running geek and he begins recruiting fast runners almost the day after the race finishes. He goes far and wide to seek the up and coming runners and the tried and true. He manages to lure over 160 runners to Jacksonville (with no appearance money) to compete for the top 10 money spots and top three masters money spots and to have a high level of American racing and lots of fun also. Richard does this often thankless job completely as a volunteer. He not only holds down a job as Senior Vice President at UBS but has a wife and five children aged 14- 5, and coaches the girls cross country and track and field teams at Bishop Snyder Catholic High where his eldest son runs on the team. Richard also manages to train and run a few marathons a year along with racing with several of his children and wife Amy at local events. Fortunately for him he manages to get by on four hours of sleep and keeps in constant touch with the world of professional distance running.
Recently Richard has highlighted most of the runners on Facebook that he has lured to Gate this year. He has one of the best fields ever and the competition should be fierce. Both of the fields will be wide open with no clear favorite coming into the race. Most of the members of Coach Scott Simmons US Army WCAP team will be present as will members of Team USA Minnesota, BAA Elite, Boulder Track Club, ZAP Fitness, HOKA Arizona Elite, NorCal Distance Project and my own Atlanta Track Club Elite.
Also Richard says "bringing along the next generation, I just counted no fewer than 21 men that ran NCAA Division 1 cross-country championships from 2013-2015 that will be running Gate and I am sure I missed a few." Richard has also recruited a whole new class of young collegiate women. Over half of the large field will be running their first Gate 15K.
"Christo Landry has finished 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th at Gate the last 5 years. He has won the USARC Road title the last 5 years and a slew of national titles. He will return to Gate this year!" reported Richard. "Skechers athlete Kiya Dandena has made huge strides the last few years. In very warm, muggy conditions, he ran the Half Marathon in a PR of 63:13 to finish as the second American at Houston in January against a very tough field! Thrilled that he will be returning to Gate River Run in March!" A few of the top men and women are still on the fence waiting until after National Cross Country to finalize their commitment.
In the women's field, two-time Olympian Kim Conley will be racing her first Gate, taking on Neely Spence Gracey, Laura Thweatt, Meghan Peyton, Brianne Nelson, Emily Infeld, Aliphine Tiliamuk, Liz Costello, and Esther Erb to name only a few. It should be a barn burner. I can hardly wait to see the race unfold.
I am fortunate to be able to spend three days feeding, entertaining and providing race swag to all of the elites. With the able help of my sidekick Elizabeth Unislawski who works for the Atlanta Track Club and is a team mate on the Atlanta Track Club Elite Team, we manage not to lose our minds getting little sleep, and keeping "our children" happy and prepared to race. It is our work of love after Richard brings all of them to us. This year we will have quite a few newbies (say about 75-80) so we will have our hands full. As we discovered last year my precious Steve did jobs we never knew existed. I am sure he will be with us every moment making sure our works gets done to his highest standards.
If you want to see more about the elite runners racing, go to Richard's Facebook page. You will also find any additions posted there before race time. I hope many of my readers will be joining us for the run and the huge after party. It is definitely an event not to be missed.
Carolyn Mather, R.N. PhD. lives and runs in north Georgia and is a member of the Atlanta Track Club Elite. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared in the March issue of Running Journal.