Year after year, thousands of kids from across the southeast (AL, AR, FL, GA, KY, LA, MS, NC, OK, Puerto Rico, SC, TN, TX, US Virgin Islands, VA, WV) venture to Charlotte, North Carolina for Footlocker South. So what's the big deal? What is Footlocker South and why would anyone want to drag his or her season out for another three weeks? Footlocker South has been a "big deal" for the past 20 years, but has only recently picked up a real booming interest from the sunshine state. This year marked the largest amount of participants (over 200) from Florida in the history of the meet. Kids travel to run at the majestic McAlpine Park for an experience like no other. The McAlpine Park course provides something that most courses in Florida cannot; scenery. After a mile is run in the back woods of the park, runners climb a relatively short but steep climb and descent followed by another shorter climb and descent. Then they come out around a lake and run 1200 meters in the deceptively tough woods, and finish the course with a run of about 400 meters around the lake and along a straightaway filled with screaming fans.
Race day is an absolute thrill with the cool and crisp weather the mountains of North Carolina provide, an unparalleled amount of competition, die hard cross country fans, and a course that has markers at every 200 meters. Florida runners run Footlocker South with hopes of finishing the season off with a much-needed PR and a change of scenery. There's also that whole qualifying for nationals possibility as well. The Footlocker National Championships are held in San Diego, California on the second Saturday in December (Dec 10). Qualifying for nationals is accomplished through the Seeded Race. The Seeded Race is the marquee event of Footlocker South, but is by no means for the faint of heart or the out of shape. The course is nicknamed "McAlpine Speedway" because of the blazing fast times that it produces from this race. The 1st mile of the girl's seeded race is hit in between 5:15-5:20 for the leaders, and the guy's race is hit in around 4:30-4:35. This race is not only top heavy but deep as well. There were 86 girls under 19 minutes and 61 guys under 16 minutes. In order to qualify for nationals one must finish in the top 10. Florida usually qualifies around 3-4 individuals combined. This year's qualifiers were Bona Jones of Estero, Justin Harbor of Flagler Palm Coast, and Kelly Parrish of Ocala Vanguard. This year, 10th place in the girl's race was 17:23 and 10th place in the boy's race was 15:08. Outside of the Seeded Race, there are races for every class (freshmen, sophomore, etc.) as well as 13-14 and 11-12 year old races for the young ones and an open race. Each race is loaded with competition, so not being in the seeded race is not the end of the world. If you place in the top 24 in one of the "class" races you receive an All-South Team certificate and a nice medal that kids tend to wear around all day.
As a spectator and participant I have been able to enjoy the atmosphere of Footlocker South for the past three years. One of the key orchestrators in transporting Florida runners to Footlocker South is Coach Doug Butler of the Holy Trinity Academy. For the past few years, he has organized a bus trip that shuttles up to 55 kids, parents, and coaches to Charlotte, lodges them in the host hotel, and transports them to the race. This trip provides a great chance to meet fellow Florida runners, to relax, and just have a good time. The bus ride lasts anywhere from 7 to 10 hours depending on where you live so you will undoubtedly pick up a friend or two. So next season mark the last Saturday in November on your calendar, and prepare to enjoy the "footlocker south experience."
--Check out http://footlockercc.com/2005/south.shtml for more details--
Justin HarborJustin Harbor (Flagler Palm Coast)- 7th in the Boys Seeded Race, 15:01
TG: Hey Justin, how'd you feel out there today?
JH: I felt like it was a controlled effort. You know qualify and just get to nationals
TG: It looked like you were tightening up a bit there the last 100 meters or so. Was that from last week's time trial, or what?
JH: Pretty much. I started pushing it with around 400 to go which was probably 200 too early. I got to the 3 mile and just kinda maintained. But I came through, got 7th, and got my ticket to San Diego so I'm happy.
TG: Were you trying to hit certain splits today?
JH: Well I just tried not to get swallowed by the human force. I just tried to not get eaten alive so I just wanted to stay to the sides clear of traffic really. Me and Jack [Bolas] were 20th at the mile, and just started picking people off left and right.
TG: Are you going to do anything differently the next couple of weeks?
JH: Well I just want to be more relaxed coming in to nationals. Last year I was way too tense and uptight. I just want to go and have fun with it. Training wise there's not much you can do right now that's really going to help you. Pretty much anything I do now is just to sharpen me up.
TG: Alright, thanks man. Best of luck in San Diego
JH: Alright, thanks.
Kelly ParrishKelly Parrish (Ocala Vanguard)- 7th in the Girls Seeded Race, 17:19
TG: Kelly, you looked great out there today. Can you run us through your race today and how it went?
KP: Sure. The pack kind of broke away after the mile. Basically it was 10 girls pushing the pace. The girl who won, Jones, was pretty much in the lead for the whole thing. At the two mile Kate Niehaus made a move and we all kind of followed. The last k (1000m) we really started picking it up. Aurora Scott made a move, Bona made a move, and you just have to hold on.
TG: Were you going for the win today, or just kinda running to qualify?
KP: Well you always want to come in trying to win, but I can't say I'm disappointed with the spread from 1st to 10th. I mean I was only 9 seconds back from the winner, but San Diego is definitely the place to fix that.
TG: So are you going to change anything up in your training or just taper down for nationals?
KP: We did a little bit of a taper coming into the race, definitely just trained through state. We're gonna work on turnover and just put the polishing on everything.
TG: So I guess the hay's in the barn so to speak?
KP: Ya, 5 or 6 months of work have gone into this. Can't really replace it.
TG: Are you going to take any time off after nationals?
KP: I'll take ten days off from running, but I'll stay active
TG: Alright, best of luck in California.
Maggie TraylorMaggie Traylor (Episcopal)- 22nd in the Girls Seeded Race, 17:57
TG: Maggie, great race today. Can you run us through it?
MT: Well, I knew I had to get out quick because I ran it last year and got majorly boxed in and I finished feeling like I hadn't run that hard. I tried to go out in around 5:30 for the mile and ended up being 5:35. I still felt really strong after the first mile, and just powered up the hill and then every time there was a downhill used it to pass people. And then going into the second loop, I kinda just used this West Virginia girl because that had told me she had run 18:09 here last year. And then coming out of the woods I saw Kayla Hale and knew I could work from her, and coming around the curve I read my watch and it read 17:17 at the 3 mile mark and I really wanted to break 18. So I put on the strongest kick I could, which was probably the biggest kick I have ever done haha.
TG: Were you expecting to run so well today? I mean that was like a 30 second PR, right?
MT: Ya. Well I was sick in the beginning of the year, and I really wanted to break 18 at state but the course was messed up and we weren't in a full taper for it. I knew there was no excuse today with the amazing competition and conditions.
TG: Did you feel any pressure to take it easy with Nike Team Nationals coming up next weekend?
MT: Well I didn't race last week and I really wanted to get one in before NTN. When I don't race in a while I don't run as fast I should, and NTN is a pretty hard course so I wanted to come here and PR. I went all out today. I didn't think too much about NTN today. It'll be like this next week though in terms of competition.
TG: Alright, well best of luck to you and the girls in Oregon.
MT: Thank you
Bona JonesBona Jones (Estero)- 5th in the Girls Seeded Race, 17:17
TG: Breakout race today Bona. How'd you feel out there?
BJ: I felt really good. Well I tripped the first 150 yards and kinda just rolled over someone. But I got back up immediately and got my momentum back.
TG: What was your plan coming in today? Did you expect to run so well?
BJ: Well I came in hoping to get top ten, but I didn't really know what would happen.
TG: Have you been doing anything special to prepare for this? I know you probably peaked for state, right?
BJ: Right. We peaked for state and then ran a hard week right after and then we backed off this week
TG: So you were leading the seeded race of Footlocker South with 600m to go. Did you ever think you'd be in that position coming into this season?
BJ: No, not really. I was really surprised.
TG: All right, well good luck and represent Florida
BJ: Thanks a lot!