The 2011 Tom Walker Memorial Half Marathon

On Saturday I took a quick drive over to Boulware Springs to cover the 2011 Tom Walker Memorial Half Marathon.  This was my first legitimate race experience, and even though I didn’t actually run the race, the energy and excitement of the race’s 254 participants left me completely motivated and inspired.

The race started about 10 minutes after its scheduled time of 8 a.m., and, for the first time this year, I could see my breath in the early morning air.

The starting line of the 2011 Tom Walker Memorial Half Marathon

Chilly runners mingle before starting the Tom Walker Memorial Half Marathon.

After the runners took off down their 13.1-mile run along the Hawthorne Trail, I knew I had about an hour and 10 minutes, give or take a couple, before the first-place runner came to the finish line.

This gave me a chance to chat with some of the race organizers, as well as fellow spectators.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again.  The running community here in Gainesville is 100 percent welcoming and encouraging.  Every person I met and talked to – and I mean every single one – was excited about the race, willing to talk to me “the reporting blogger” (if I asked for an interview) or willing to simply pass the time with me “the spectator that doesn’t know anyone.”

Here are some snippets of conversation I had with a few of the folks organizing, timing or participating in there race:

Mark Ou – race director, Florida Track Club member and Marathon Maniacs club member.

RG: Do you wish you could be running in the race today?

MO: Yeah, I wish I could run it, ’cause it was, like, I think it was the very first road-race I ever ran.  So then, like, when it was in danger of being cancelled, ’cause there was no one to take over the race directing, I decided to become race director.  So now, like, instead of running, I get to take care of all the runners... It’s more satisfying – to see people finish the race has been more satisfying than any race I’ve personally finished.

RG: How did the Florida Track Club get involved with the Milestone Race Authority [the company in charge of timing the race]?

MO: Actually, that was through one of [Florida Track Club’s] members, Barry Murphy, who was the race director for the Veteran’s Day Fisher House 5K.  He was looking into professional timing for that race… so after he talked to [company owner] Jim Shields, of Milestone, and arranged a quote and stuff, he said, “Oh, what if we do both races, if you’re going to be in Gainesville?” … so after we looked at it, we thought, “It’s an increase in our operational cost, but as far as, like, bringing value to the runners, it’s something that was really worth it.”  They brought a whole-different level of professionalism with all the setup.

RG: Does the track club make money from this race?

MO: Yeah, we make some money.  It’s not a huge profit.  There’s been years where we’ve probably lost money.  It’s not a primary goal for us to make money.  Although now that we’re on the [Hawthorne] trail, we like to share part of our profits with the Friends of Paynes Prairie.  It’s usually 20 to 25 percent of the net profit that we donate to them.  So we would like to make as much profit as possible, but it’s not the motivating factor.

_________________________________________________________

Jim Shields, founder of Milestone Race Authority, on how the electronic timing system works:

JS: What we have here with Jaguar [Chip Timing System] is we’ve got overhead antennas that will send out a signal to an electronic chip that is on the back of the bib.  And that chip is woken up by the first antenna, and then multiple antennas will read and track the runner as they come in.  The reads can come out as far as 30, 40 yards, and we know who is coming across the line before they actually come across.  The readers are keeping track of the people as they come [to the finish line].  The last reader that has a read on that chip, as they pass under it – boom, that’s their time.

_________________________________________________________

With about 20 minutes before the lead runners were supposed to be finishing, I made my way over to the finish line to find a nice view of the run’s home stretch.  There I met Pedro Pedroso, a Gainesville resident and engineer, who’s wife, Carmen, was running the race.

As it turns out, Carmen wasn’t always a runner.  She had to overcome a disability and ensuing self-confidence issues to become one.

Carmen Pedroso, Tom Walker Memorial Half Marathon finisher.
(Audio below, as well as a transcript of the interview.)

RG: How did you get started running?

CP: Actually, it goes way back to when I was a little kid… I was born with a  clubbed foot.  My left foot was turned inwards, and I could not really walk normally. I couldn’t really do anything.  So for a number of years I wore, like, braces that went, like, from [my knees] to my ankles, and they did all this stuff over the years.  Well by the time I got old enough to stop wearing the braces, I was too self-conscious to try to, like, ride a bike or run or anything like that.  So I became very inactive, and after a number of years I ended up weighing up to 206 lbs. 

I had a little bit of a heart scare when I about 30-something or so, and that’s what made me, like, “Ok, I’ve got to do something about this.” So I started exercising.  I started, you know, watching what I ate a lot more, and slowly but surely lost 92 lbs, have kept them off for now for about four or five years.  I started running – at first it was running, quotation marks. I was really walking.  But, you know, after a while I got to two miles, three miles in, and now I just run half-marathons, marathons – it’s all fun.

RG: And how many marathons or half marathons have you run?

CP: Half marathons, I have run five.  This is actually my sixth now.  I have another one next weekend and another one three weeks from there.  And I’ve run two marathons.  My third one’s in Disney in January.

RG: That’s great! How’d you feel about today’s race?

CP: I actually felt really really good… This was my first half marathon ever, actually, so it was kind of nice to come back and do the course again and see how it went.  So, funny that, a couple of years ago my time was about 20-something minutes slower than today.  So it actually felt really good to see that clock.

RG: What keeps you motivated going through these really long races?

CP: I think it’s the fact that when you run you feel like you really are doing something good for you.  And it’s also cool for me to, like, see my friends who are wanting to lose weight become motivated by that.  And it’s almost like my motivating them motivates them and then they motivate me in return.  So it’s all a matter of just living a healthy life and just staying fit and just enjoying life to the fullest.

RG: Do you plan on running for the rest of your life?

CP: Oh yeah! I mean… of course, I’m not one of the fastest runners right now, I will admit. But I’m hoping that when I’m 80, enough people will have dropped out of running that I’ll finally be able to place in my age group.  That will be awesome.  But, yes, I’m hoping that it will be for life.

Pedro and Carmen Pedroso

Pedro and Carmen Pedroso after Carmen's completion of the Tom Walker Memorial Half Marathon.

And here’s a video I shot of the race, which includes:

  • The race’s start.
  • The 1st overall finisher, Samuel Palmer, with an amazing time of 1:15:49.
  • The 1st women’s finisher, Sarah Petrick, with an equally amazing time of 1:23:08.
  • The post-race awards ceremony.

I’d like to thank Mark Ou, Jim and Hilary Shields, Barry Murphy, Tom White, and Pedro and Carmen Pedroso for being so warm and receptive to me, the stranger writing everything down.

I hope to see you all soon and at next year’s Tom Walker Memorial Half Marathon – only next time I’m going to run it =)

-Ben

About Benjamin Markus

Media professional seeking employment opportunities.
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