This event consists of two races, a 50k and a 50 miler, with an overall time limit of 10 hours. It is the perfect race for the walker who wants to ‘move up’ to an ultramarathon distance. In fact, it was my very first ultra and it remains one of my favorites. I try to do it whenever I am in Florida.
Both events are put on by the Tallahassee Gulf Winds Track Club. Race Directors Gary and Peg Griffin have all the details down to a science: a corps of dedicated volunteers, yummy aid station goodies, well-marked course, and neat finishing awards – all the essentials for a wonderful experience. The course is a paved 10k ‘loop’ with several out-and-backs – 50k people run it 5 times while 50 milers do it 8 times, with an additional section at the beginning. It is hard to get lost, especially with the encouraging signs posted at significant points.
I drove to Tallahassee on Friday so I could spend some time with my son and his family. On Saturday, we rose early for the 30 minute drive to Wakulla Springs Park. Someday I will take the time to really explore the park and springs and watch the manatees, but on race day I am focused totally on the race. I brought a chair to set up just past the main aid station and put my drop bag with a change of shoes and socks and other essentials on it. People who drove could park in a lot adjacent to the course so access would be available on every circuit. The Lodge has rooms for those who need to spend the night and its parking lot also adjoins the course. Another plus for these races are the indoor restrooms at the start/finish line.
Packet pickup was easy and well-organized; bibs were arranged alphabetically by last names. There is no chip timing. Instead, racers meet their lap counters before the race and are encouraged to shout out their race number after finishing each lap. Lots of people return every year to do these races and I was happy to see several familiar faces – Mellody, Deb, Vickie, and Diane. I expected to see a friend I met in Athens but since she was flying in from Chicago, I wasn’t surprised when Evelyn didn’t make it. There were lots of grounded planes in the Midwest.
There was a brief race briefing at 6:45 and then Gary took the 50 milers to their starting point while the 50k racers line up behind a chalked line drawn on the pavement. Right at 7 am somebody said ‘Go.’ We all took off, walkers at the back, and began our journey through the park. The course is all paved and extremely flat, and since this is Florida, elevation is nil. The road is closed to traffic and bordered by tall trees. The hardest part of the course is a very long out-and-back between the second aid station and the next turn-around.
December weather in Tallahassee can be very cold but this year it was relatively warm, with temperatures in the high 50’s to start, a welcome change from the frigid temps of previous races. However, this year we had rain and thunder that began after about 4 hours into the race. It was impossible to stay dry, even though I had donned my yellow rain slicker. Despite the showers, I somehow managed to finish in 7:03, a personal best for me in a 50k.
These races are highly recommended for both walkers and runners.