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Pheidippedes Would be Proud

Pheidippedes Would be Proud

Gulf Winds Triathletes Members Shine at the Tallahassee Marathon & Half-Marathon

By Rob McNeely

It’s 490 B.C., September. The Persian Empire has spread from the western shores of Turkey to the borders of Central Asia. Its emperor has his sights set on Greece, especially the cultural jewel of Athens. It’s still more than 450 years before the founding of the Roman Empire. Arguably, if Athens falls, Greece will fall, and with it, the future European continent will become Persian. The future history of Western civilization as we know it will never happen.

Leave it to a marathon runner to save the day.

The Persian military forces, some 30,000 strong, aided by a deposed and exiled king from Athens who was promised a return to rule for his help—albeit under the thumb of the Persian emperor—came ashore within marching distance of the Plains of Marathon. The plan was to conquer the smaller Greek army composed mostly of men of Athens, march to Athens nearly 25 miles away, and take the city. Ten thousand Greek soldiers stood between the Persian army and Athens at the Plains of Marathon.

The Greek commander knew he needed reinforcements. He wanted the Spartans, citizens of Greece by geography but members of a more military culture in the Greek city-state of Sparta. The problem: Sparta was 148 miles away from the Plains of Marathon.

The commander turned to a man named Pheidippides, a soldier and a “day runner,” experienced at running with messages for days at a time. Pheidippides received orders to run to Sparta to elicit the help of the Spartans to turn back the Persian army. Through rugged terrain, presumably with neither aid stations nor GU packets, Pheidippides ran the 148 miles to Sparta in 36 hours. His last name may have been Johnson.

Pheidippides delivered the urgent message to the Spartan commander and received a good news/bad news message in return. The good news: the Spartan army would march to the Plains of Marathon to fight with their Greek brethren against the Persians. The bad news: Sparta was in the midst of a religious festival and would not march until the moon was more favorable to the gods.

Pheidippides then ran 148 miles back to the Plains of Marathon to deliver Sparta’s reply. The Greek soldiers and the Persian army had held their ground, neither attacking, evaluating tactics. The Greeks hoped the Persians’ supplies would run low, and the invaders would leave. The Persian hoped the Greeks would attack first and would march straight into a slaughter.

By the time Pheidippides returned—running 296 miles in less than one week—the Persian commander planned to split his army and send nearly two-thirds of it by sea in a flanking maneuver to launch a direct attack on Athens. The Athenians would never know what hit them, especially with their main fighting force out on Plains of Marathon. The city would fall.

The Greek commander saw the movement of Persian troops toward their ships. In a near-suicide mission that defied then-conventional battlefield tactics, the commander spread out his vastly out-numbered troops long and thin, reinforcing them at both flanks. And they attacked, Pheidippides with them. By the time the battle ended, the Persians had lost nearly 6,500 men; the Greek army, barely 200. As the Persian ships started sailing away with nearly two-thirds of the Persian fighting force headed for an unsuspecting Athens, the commander turned again to Pheidippides with one more mission: run from the Plains of Marathon nearly 25 miles to Athens and warn the city of the imminent invasion from the southern shores.

So Pheidippides ran again. After running nearly 300 miles in a week and fighting in a battle that included a direct charge into Persian army lines while wearing 70 pounds of chest plate, helmet, shield, and spear, Pheidippides ran again. This part of his story is the part of legend and is generally well-known. He ran to Athens, delivered his message of the great victory at the Plains of Marathon and of the impending Persian invasion from the south. Then he dropped dead from exhaustion. His electrolytes were probably pretty messed up, too.

His last run yielded history-changing results. His message inspired and allowed Athens time to field a second army to march south to meet the Persians. The Spartans, fresh with a proper moon and, perhaps, strong abs from a Sweat Therapy workout with Ely Rosario, joined the march. The Persians approached from the sea, saw the gathered army, and turned away. The future European continent was preserved. The deposed Athenian king remained deposed, and Athens governed itself by a new system called “democratia,” the forerunner of democracy.

This is the history remembered, intentionally or otherwise, every time a marathon is run. These goals, these distances, these life-altering results are as much a part of the modern marathon as spent quads at the finish line.

Against that backdrop, against a race in Tallahassee that originated in 1975 with just two runners, the 42nd running of the Tallahassee Marathon & Half-Marathon launched a new tradition during the event on Sunday, February 7, 2016. Previously recognized by a national runner’s magazine as one of the top ten marathons for runners to qualify for the Boston marathon because of seasonally cool temperatures and a pancake-flat course running mostly south of town, the new edition of the marathon had a completely different personality. It was as if Pheidippides had been given new orders to forget about qualifying for Boston but to show off Tallahassee landmarks and to prove—both to out-of-towners and to local residents—that not all of Florida is flat. Indeed, Tallahassee is built on seven hills, and most runners felt like all 14 of them were part of the course this year.

Sixty-four members of Gulf Winds Triathletes were among the 1,094 runners who finished the marathon and the half-marathon. Pre-race registration boasted of the largest field (more than 1,380) in the history of the Tallahassee Marathon and Half-Marathon, but race-time temperatures in the low- to mid-30s, with afternoon temperatures staying in the upper 40s may have persuaded a few hundred registrants to stay in bed.

The cold, however, was not the main topic of conversation of those who braved the day. It was the new course, which immediately became, well, Spartan-like in that there was good news and bad news. The good news was it was beautiful, well-organized, safe, and universally praised for running throughout the city. The bad news described the course alternately as “hilly,” “HILLY,” “HILLY!!!” and, simply, “brutal.” The marathon course featured 1,207 feet of elevation, akin climbing to the top of the Florida state capitol building nearly four times. Per mile, the half-marathon course was hillier, with 60 percent of the marathon’s hills being featured in the half-marathon (712 feet).

Nevertheless, Gulf Winds Triathletes represented, and represented well. Charlie Johnson, M35-39, enjoyed a fourth-place podium finish at 2:43:42, an average pace of 6:15 per mile. The Club’s fastest female marathon finisher was Sarah Monbarren, F30-34, finishing second in her age group at 4:08:45. Kate Harrison, F20-24, pacing a friend during his first marathon at 4:24:42, earned third in her age group;; and Cathy Jones, F45-49, also earned an age-group third at 4:21:02. In all, 17 Tri Club members ran the marathon, ten men and seven women.

Tri Club women narrowly outnumbered Tri Club men in the half-marathon, 24 to 23. Of those women, Jillian Heddeaus, F30-35, was the fastest female, snagging the fifth spot on the overall podium by finishing in 1:34:44. The top male finisher from the Club was Grady Smith, M35-39, who claimed ninth place overall and first in his age group at 1:23:41. Gulf Winds Track Club President, Tony Guillen, M45-49, finished tenth overall in1:24:26, good for second place in the Masters division. Other half-marathon first-place awards went to Angela Wable, F40-44, female Masters winner at 1:39:13; Mike Peymann, M50-54, top Grand Master in 1:26:43; Melanie Leitman, F30-34, in 1:40:25; and Angela Dempsey, F45-49, at 1:46:30. Additional age-group awards went to Michael Stribling, M20-24, placing second at 1:43:21; and Felton Wright, M55-59, taking third at 1:48:45.

A list of all members of Gulf Winds Triathletes finishing the marathon and half-marathon appears by following this link. Congratulations to all!

Congratulations also to Kathy McDaris who organized Tri Club volunteers to brave the cold and the long morning to provide aid and encouragement to marathon runners at an aid station in Myers Park. In a friendly competition recognizing the runners’ top three aid stations, the Gulf Winds Triathletes version tied for second place. Thanks to all the wonderful volunteers.

Rob McNeely is an attorney at Messer Caparello, P.A., a past-president of Gulf Winds Triathletes, and the Gulf Winds Track Club’s 2014 Male Triathlete of the Year.

 (Updated March 13, 2016)

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