Meet Summary of Flrunners 9 Day 1

It’s easy to get swept up in the spectacle that is the FL Runner Invitational. However, as I was leaving this cross country carnival at dusk on Friday night, my mind was seized by a non-running related thought. Here is probably the biggest, grandest running event in the State of Florida, and certainly a two day climax that was only reached after a year of planning and organization, but the greatest victory was that of human nature.

I couldn’t possibly contemplate a typical week in the life of Mr. Flrunner, but it is certainly busy enough with computer time, web design, reading my six to ten e-mails (multiplied by hundreds of other readers) and generating his subsequent replies, plus other tasks that I can’t even begin to imagine. Add to that the responsibilities of a routine family life, which can’t help but suffer compromise as a result of the demands of his other, “running,” family. Now you throw this invitational on top of all that. And, and…a man’s greatest gift, the birth of his first child, arrives to coincide with everything else. Oh, and of course, she being a preemie makes the local neo-natal center your second home.

I don’t imagine that the hospital had wi-fi? All kidding aside, those of us pitiful souls who eat, breathe, and live running owe you a debt of gratitude for what you do for us, and that was especially true during the past two weeks. Thank you, Jason Byrne.

Big Times in the Small Schools

Contrary to an oft-repeated cliché, pearls are a girl’s best friend…unless you are a cross country runner in Rockland County of New York State. If that’s the case, you might consider traveling that very short distance over Rockland’s border and running in the Garden State (New Jersey). Pearl River, you see, has won the last 29 Section I titles.

That’s not to say their 19 points (1-2-3-5-8-9-16) in 2007 had much weight past that point. Running up there must be tough; they finished third in the state meet.

We, diverge, however. This very young squad, composed of three freshmen (Molly Shine [eighth in 19:40] , Kelli Van Houten [11th in 19:47], and Caitlin Lardaro [22nd in 20:41]; three sophomores (Kerry Guerin [first in 18:57], her twin sister Erica [seventh in 19:32] and Chelsea Kushner [third in 19:19] and junior Keeley Bateman--a chaperone?-- (26th in 20:58) outscored 26 other teams to win the team title with a scant 27 points. Their main competition? Ask Kerry Guerin.

“It was hot. Sometimes you want to give up, but I kept pushing through,” said the winner.

“In New York the heat’s not this bad,” added Chelsea Kushner. “It was so hard to breathe. I grew up in Key West, but I was not expecting it to be this bad.

“Me, Kerry and the St. John’s runner (eighth grader, Danielle Dunn) went out together. My weak part was that I ‘fell asleep’ in the middle of the race, by the second mile. I tried to stay focused, but today I couldn’t.”

Danielle, however, was very alert, despite the fact that it was her third race in seven days. “I was sixth at FSU in 19:19 on September 27th, first in the Clay County Championship on the 30th (19:30) and second today (19:09).”

Dunn rehashed the race. “In the start it was pretty tough and I went out very fast. She (Guerin) gave me a run for my money.

“At mile one we were at 5:45. That’s about ten seconds off my (open) mile PR. I thought to myself that this might be the day that I break 19. I was pretty pumped up. Plus, I usually run pretty well on trails.

“I stayed with her around the lake. We were fighting for the lead, and I thought ‘this is a good thing,’ because I was running well. This would be a PR.

“At two miles, she pulled away. I tried to catch her, but it didn’t work out too well.”

Second out of 195? A 19:09 PR? Watch out for Danielle on a good day.

The next day, 20 Pearl girls, three coaches, three chaperones, and one parent would conclude their tour of Central Florida with a visit to a local theme park.

“It’s a reward,” said head coach Dan Doherty. “Last year we went to Disney. This year we’re going to Universal. We like to spend our money evenly,” he explained, laughing.

Team Results: Pearl River (1-3-6-7-10-21-25 for 27 points) was one of two NYS teams. The other, Tappan Zee (8-18-24-36-52-57-84) was fourth with 138 points. The top team of Native Floridians (until proven otherwise) was Episcopal (4-17-23-31-37-46-65 for 112 points).

A Chain of Runners Around the Chain of Lakes

By the time the girls were finishing up, here came the Boys’ Small School runners, led by junior Brandon Kempton. Shaking off a two hour ride up from Frostproof was only a little easier than shaking Justin Weatherspoon, a senior from Palmer Trinity.


“Before the race I don’t think I was ready,” Brandon said, referring to his car trip. “I was sleepy.


“My goal was a five minute mile; I ran 5:16. The starting sprint woke me up. I felt good. I let a few people pass me, and I ran their draft. I tried to run a smart race.


“The Palmer runner (Weatherspoon) and a runner in purple tried to lead. I let them lead almost the whole way. I took the lead when I passed by the finish (about 600 meters from the end), then held them off.”

Although Kempton finished first in 16:53 and Weatherspoon was second (16:57), ninth grader Ryan Pulsifer was the last in under 17 (16:58), and first of a well-spaced, but decidedly determined Wiregrass Ranch team. Although their nine point margin of victory seems secure in the results, this averaged out to1.59 seconds per runner. Winners can never quit.


Team Results: Wiregrass Ranch, as tough as their name implies, got the win (3-7-11-18-34-43-45 for 73 points). Their grades in school are 9-10-10-10-9-10-9; no doubt we’ll see them in the winner’s spot again. 187 runners competed for 27 teams.


Don’t Mess with Large School Boys

Sophomores Trent Craig of Cypress Lake and Will Bridges of Edgewater locked horns in a classic, mano-on-mano footrace that, after 3.10685 miles, came down to who could stretch further.

Craig: “I went out to follow the leaders and try to take the lead in the end. I never heard the splits. I took the lead about half way, coming around the lake.”

Bridges: “It was pretty fast. Last year it was wet, so a little slower. For most of the race I was running second. Then the guy in purple (could it have been the same guy mentioned in the Small School race???!) dropped back and I stayed with the guy who won (Craig).”

Coming in to the final 100 meters, Craig led, but there were times when Bridges’ shadow seemed to overtake him. Finally, they ran out of course, and it was Craig by .21 seconds, or about the length of this story.

“This is my first win,” admitted Craig.

Both moved their 5K bests a little closer to the 15s: Craig to 16:13.06 (down from 16:17 at Northport), Bridges to 16:13.27 (down a bunch from 16:28).

Team Results: Lyman, as always, it seems, was there for the biggest team award (3-7-10-12-19-73-111 for 51 points). 120 runners competed for18 teams.

Large School Girls

(wasn’t that a Billy Joel song?)

All kidding aside, Lake Mary senior Lauren Lundberg wasn’t listening to an i-pod, although she could have. She opened up with a 5:58 first mile, followed by a 6:32 second mile, and was never seriously challenged after that. In her own words she describes the kind of mental self-confidence that many runners wish they could take to the starting line. It resulted in her first overall win, just missing her best time of 19:38 by three seconds.

“I just tried to focus on my race. I think she (Lyman’s Ruth Ashley, second in 20:07) was, like 30 seconds behind? I really don’t know. I like to run my own race and let the chips fall where they may. I can’t focus on other people.”

Come next fall she hopes to direct that remarkable attention towards a career as an architect.

“Last summer I went to the University of Miami for a three week Architecture Camp and just loved it. I want to go there for a degree.”

And maybe become a member of their fine running program?

Team Results: And the winner was…Lyman, again. Led by Ashley, a solid 2-8-12-15-20-32-37 finish totaled 57 points and just under half of their nearest challenger, Gaither High School (6-10-21-33-41-44-48 for 111 points). There were 106 finishers and 16 teams.

Womens College (and Open) 5K

Usually, it isn’t difficult to tell a D-1 runner from everyone else. Just follow their vapor trail. Take, for example, Shantile Blackburn, a senior at the University of Central Florida.

Even her name sounds somewhat supersonic. Although Paoli Reategui (second in 18:16) followed along in her turbulence for awhile, by the last mile, it was only a matter of time, and not much of that. Oh, she gave lots of reasons why a 30 second win was harder than it looked, but you be the judge.

“It was tough. There were a lot of turns. We didn’t go over the course, so I didn’t know where to pick up at. I am an 800 meter runner, so I usually turn it up there. I just tried to keep up the rhythm…By the woods I looked back and saw that I was alone.”

Aw, shucks. And to think that as recently as September 13 she ran 21:07. Her previous best was 18:22 at the FSU meet. Now a 17:47. By the time she runs the Conference USA Championship on Halloween, she might have to wear a bright orange vest, so that the other teams don’t lose sight of her.

Some other vastly improved runners in this section, and I apologize for not being able to name more of them, include Colleen Mullholland of Stetson (she ran 20:56 at Embry Riddle two weeks ago, and improved that to 18:55) and running “orphan” Christine Marcano. Christine, 14, is still in middle school, so can’t run the high school races (such is the wisdom of FHSAA). Her 20:32 (31st place) already has many high school coaches hoping she moves into their neighborhood. The winner will probably be Matanzas, where her sister Akeda runs.

Team Results: FIU’s Daniela Espino’s 18:40 fourth place finish, and the aforementioned Colleen Mull Holland (team) fifth, combined to wreck UCF’s perfect day, but the Knights still scored a frugal 19 points (1-2-3-6-7-14-21) to win. Next was University of Miami with 69 (8-10-12-17-22-24-32). There were 117 runners from 14 teams.

Men’s College (And Open) 8K

By the time the final (Friday) race got off, the sun was sinking fast, a certain film photographer was trying to find a spot where he could still take advantage of its sharply slanting rays, and Dracula’s coach was hurtling towards the castle gates. (Remember that scene?) Well, maybe it wasn’t exactly Dracula’s coach, but the lead car did get stuck at the bridge. It was with no less urgency that Nova’s Jeffrey Palmer was trying to shake the hounds at his heels.

“I took the lead after the first mile. I tried to stay relaxed and take off after the third mile. But then the pace vehicle got stuck on the bridge. It hit the front of the bridge. We had to slow down because they couldn’t get it to go. That was where he caught up to me…Sebastian Castillo of FIU (second in 26:05).”

To add to Palmer’s woes, he was still nursing an ankle injury that cast doubt, not only on his ability to race hard, but his ability to race at all.

“I didn’t think I was going to make it. (Last week) I rolled my ankle and my coach made me take four days off. I was coming in to the race to see how I could finish.”

Somehow, he got past the pace car, ran through his injury, and even escaped from Castillo. Palmer was quite pleased with his 25:32 time.

“33 seconds, wow,” he said, referring to the eventual margin of victory.

Next? “Disney (of course!)  Then we have the Sunshine State Conference Championship.”

Team Results: Although Palmer outran FIU’s Castillo, his Nova team couldn’t find someone to outrun their fifth man, and lost 37 (2-4-5-10-16-18) to 39 (1-6-8-11-13-24-26). There were 11 teams and 96 runners.

Note: I was only in attendance for Friday’s races. On Saturday, I shifted my attention to Bartram Trail, where they held the Bale (as in hay) -n-Trail. You can read about that elsewhere on this site. --RE