A Carnival of Hope and Ambition; FLRXII

Day 1 Summary


In truth, we take great comfort in the misery attributed to weather. Running around in skimpy shorts and sleeveless shirts, we can’t help but notice that it’s hot or cold or wet.  And so we talk about it.

(Excerpts from a cell-phone conversation between a father at Chain of Lakes Park, and a son leaving by bus from Deland. It is mid-afternoon on Day 1 of FLXII):



“Hey…. It’s like 98 degrees here.”

“Do I really have to run?”

“Just hydrate beforehand; you’ll be fine.”

A few minutes later:


“What’s up?”

“It’s raining.”

“Are you serious? I brought my new racing flats!” To someone on the bus, “Do I have enough time to run back and get my old shoes?”

Five minutes further down the road.

“It’s cooler, at least; the wind’s really picking up now. Are you guys planning to set up a tent? Maybe a lean-to might be better?”

And so it went. Lightning and thunder. A drop in temperature. Partial clearing. A rise in temperature…. 

Great American observationalist (I had to invent a word to describe him) Will Blain was overheard saying—and proudly repeated himself many times over—“If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” More apropos, we have Joe Henderson’s (Iowa state cross country and track champion, and former editor of Track and Field and Runner’s World) comment that “A course never quite looks the same way twice. The combinations of weather, season, light, feelings and thoughts that you find there are ever-changing.”

By the next morning, fall—such as it is in central Florida—had arrived. Exiting the front door for the meet at six-something in the pre-dawn darkness, I turned up the collar on my Hawaiian shirt and tugged on the brim of my Panama hat. Yep, it’s definitely autumn.


How does one begin an event with no less than 17 planned races, and two that sort of sprung up spontaneously? Why, at the beginning, of course.

Girls JV Blue

“I’m just coming off a stress fracture,” explained 17 year old senior Caroline Coleman. “Last spring, during track and tennis—I do both—I had a stress fracture. I was in a cast for two months (March to May). Then it returned. I was in a black walking boot last month.”

Do you think that boot darkened her mood?

“I made it all sparkly; bedazzling!”

And bounced back.

“This is my second race back this season. We ran at the UF meet. I was in a walk-run mode. I ran for eight minutes, and walked for two; doctor’s orders. I finished in 26-something (26:0.96; 54th of 219). That killed me. It was hard to hold back.

“Today was a ‘test run,’ and it was a good test run. It felt incredible to let loose.”

Test, as in test pilot.

“I wanted to stay with the leaders. I guess I wanted to run 24 minutes, but at the first mile—6:58—it felt spectacular, so I kept going.”

At this point, we had to take a pause while she posed for a photo with Chris Abreau (a fan), who had turned 8 that day.

“I’m going to start training as hard as I can. I have a six week recovery plan. We have Hagerty (Invitational) next week. I’m going to try to break 22, and then keep going down.”

How far, one might ask? In this, her first race “back,” she finished first (of 133) in 22:48.51. Another set of numbers to consider is 20:00.70, the Boone senior’s PR, which was set at the Hagerty Meet last October 23rd. Then there’s a certain date that is on her team’s calendar: November 19th.

“We have a great team. Our number one runner is Heather Classe (fourth overall in the Large School GV in 19:45.80; Boone finished third). She trained her butt off this past summer.

“We have two freshmen who are in our top five,” Cassie Ketchum and Claire Collins, who finished in 20:25.10 and 21:54.80, respectively. “We’re looking forward to the States. We missed it the last two years, but not this year.”

And after that? Probably the sandy beaches of someplace even more tropical than Chain of Lakes.

“Maggie Box won a free trip to the Bahamas. I guess it was a good day for Boone.”


Four well-placed runners (2-3-4-6) helped Oviedo survive a fifth runner in 24th place finish (and 42-43) to finish first with 39. Episcopal of Jacksonville (8-10-15-17-26-28-29 for 76 points) jusssst edged Boone (1-5-12-30-31-35-38 for 79 points) in second and third, respectively. 133 runners and 13 teams scored.


Speaking of close calls, Morgan Panturo survived a near-impaling on this same course earlier in September.

“We were running, the day before, to prepare for the Astronaut Classic. I took a turn too sharp, slipped and one of those metal poles that was half broken caught my elbow. When I went down it got me in the armpit. 21 stitches.”

Unfortunately, you can’t see the actual scar on the Friday album. My personal censor thought it too gruesome for sensitive eyes. (I doubt if she ever read Tom Sawyer.)



17 old senior Kenny Richmond rode a wave of green jerseys—Ft. Myers had 27 finishers by my count, and seven were in the top ten—in a race of closely matched teammates.

“Last year I PR’d at this race,” he said of his 18:52.64 on October 1st, 2010.

A week later, at the Lehigh Lightning Invitational, he lowered that to 18:24. This year, his just run 18:20.6 is yet another PR.

“It’s all grass here, and very fast. There are no big hills. Most courses around Fort Myers have at least one, like Estero Community Park and Optimist. That’s where Fort Myers runs. (Here also) there are a lot of spectators cheering you on. The (Ft. Myers) team runs this, so they know where to go to support you.

“This is the first time I’ve won a race. My freshman year, I was kind of slow. The next two years I worked hard to run faster. There are 57 guys on our team. Since this is my senior year, I’d like to make it to varsity for big meets, like Districts, Regionals, and States. I’d like to get close to 5th     (17:32.18 at this meet), and a place on varsity.”

His having just won a race with 201 finishers would be a good starting point.


With seven in the top ten (1-2-3-4-6-8-9), Ft. Myers had 16 points and their position was never in serious doubt. Oviedo had 68 (7-10-14-16-21-61), and Boone 113 (15-18-19-30-31-43). 16 teams were scored.


With lightning as a backdrop, it was almost a foregone conclusion that the meet would have to be temporarily delayed. However, as suddenly as the cumulonimbus clouds appeared, they dissipated, and by the next race, it was as if it never happened.



Watching Adair Lyden run this race was an almost magical event. Aside from the fact that she seemed to be running in a class by herself (a fact that, as an eighth grader, she was), she seemed to circumnavigate the Chain of Lakes course without a care in the world.

“I love it,” she explained. “It’s a rush when you’re on the starting line, and the race starts. My favorite part is beating my time when I can.”

Her pre-race strategy?

“I don’t like to go up and down. I try to be consistent, within a minute or 30 seconds.”

And what about in meets as big as this one?

“The bigger the meet, the better the competition. I like those meets because they push me to do my best.”

Do you think your best years are as an eighth and ninth grader, or will you continue to improve until you graduate?

“I want to excel each year, and keep doing the best I can each year.”

That seems to be something that, literally, runs in the family. Her dad, professional writer Sean Lyden, also ran for Ft. Lauderdale’s Westminster Academy in high school. He was the 1990 FHSAA 1A Champion in cross country (16:10.0 for three miles). That spring—1991--he added the 1600 (4:30.0) and 3200 (10:00.9) to his list. (All this despite the fact that tiny WA had no track, or dual meets for him to train on.) From there he went on to become an NCAA star for Samford University, in Birmingham, Alabama, where he ran for four years.

In interviewing this little lady, it is obvious from her poise and intellect that she will go on to do great things, both as an athlete and as a person who has clear, long-term goals.


Unlike what her father experienced in high school, Adair doesn’t suffer from the “loneliness of the long distance runner.” With a 1-6-9-10-16-20 order of finish—their second finisher, Kristen Selbach, is a seventh grader—she can look forward to lots of company on the podium. Second to WA’s 42 points was Shorecrest Prep’s  94 (3-4-21-22-46), with Lake Highland Prep finishing third (116; 17-18-19-28-34). Of the 142 runners who finished, a good number did not compete for the 16 scoring teams.


The world has the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and Columbian Exposition to thank for such things (among others) as the midway, Cracker Jacks, and George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr.’s giant wheel (the “ferris wheel”), which he built to rival Gustave Eiffel’s tower (the centerpiece of the 1889 Paris Exposition). While Jason Byrne’s “midway” has caramel corn (we watch what we call a “cracker” in this state), snow cones, and a variety of places where a visitor can gawk and shop—including a “duty free” runner’s expo—it may be awhile before he adds rides. But then again, why not? We can make it an entire weekend. What about it, Jason. Jason?....I guess he’s still sleeping off a looong week.



If anyone wonders if kids still get excited about birthdays when they reach high school, look no further than Mackenzie Wilson of Jacksonville Episcopal. Now that she is a mature 14 year old, her course is clear.

“I always try to do the best I can. I didn’t know where I was (today), because I hadn’t done an actual 5K (this year),” she admitted. “I’ve gone off course three times in a row. One race I kind of followed the two runners ahead of me, and we went off course at Katie Caples. The next was the Leslie Baker. We went the wrong way and had to backtrack, and run the course again. In the end there was a pack of about 50, all running together and trying to figure out where to go.”

“We had walked the course beforehand,” said her dad, “but they didn’t have cones, and it was confusing.”

Not to worry, there’s a silver lining to every cloud. That race, which was filmed in its entirety, will premier at FLR XIII (2012) as a Max Sennett “long.”

Fortunately for Mackenzie, this race came with a guide named Savana Gornisiewicz, She is a very mature junior at Pine Crest High School.

Mac: “She led me the right way, or I probably would have gone the wrong way.”

Savanna: “No!”

Mac: “I guess it just turned out that way.”

Savanna: “It was my first year of doing cross country (in high school).”

Mac: “I just went out hard. We just kind of stuck together.”

Savanna: “That was a PR (19:17.20) for me. I did want to run with a front pack, but I wasn’t sure there was going to be one. It worked out really well.”

Mac: “Definitely. I wanted to push from the woods forward.”

Savanna: “It was very scenic. I’d definitely run it again.”

Mac: “And not the least bit confusing; definitely a plus.”

Even with the level of competition?

Mac: “Personally, I would go out with someone faster than myself, because you never know how fast you can go unless you try.”

Savanna: “Definitely. It is a great way to improve your time.”

Especially if the faster runners are each other.

Mackenzie, although well off her 18:39 PR (set as a seventh grader at the November 6, 2010 1A District 3 Meet, while running for Geneva),  was in control throughout, and had a winning kick.


No team clearly dominated the race, and St. Cloud took advantage of a tightly packed quintet that finished mostly in the teens (8-13-15-18-20-43-48) to score 74. Next was Pine Crest with 94 (2-5-9-32-46-65-84), and third was Oviedo with 104 (12-14-21-22-35-36-50). 24 teams and 183 runners came in to the chutes.


There were more than cross country races on the agenda. One event not listed was the Sno-Cone (or Shave Ice) test of endurance. Basically, it went something like this:  after two or three hours of  heat and humidity (worse if you ran during that time), just about the most inviting, refreshing thing you could ever imagine passed by in someone else’s hands, a GIANT cup of flavored ice. Money being no object at this point, you did anything you could to obtain it, then got in a line longer than the one at the start of your (respective) race. Finally, finally—with your tongue hanging so low that it was resting on your Nike’s colored laces—you got your own cup-o-joy! Now the race truly began. Can you eat $5 worth of flavored ice before it melted, someone knocked it from your frozen fingers, or you got a three-day brain freeze? I wouldn’t know. I had to take pictures (sniff).

By the end of the second day, more ice was melted in someone’s mouth (or dripped through tens of  thousands of frosted  fingers) than is locked up in the Ross Ice Shelf. (Thassalotta ice!)


BOYS SMALL SCHOOL (or David Farragut meets dejavu)

As soon as Blake Arnold came into the focus of my camera, I knew I’d been here before, and so had he. This would be the second year in a row that he won the race, and the second time I had to think of questions he wasn’t expecting to hear.

As if reading my mind, he said “Last year, I was surprised. This year I knew I had to try harder. There was more competition.”

So much so that, of the top ten finishers from 2010, he is the only one of four returnees who maintained his position. The second place finisher in 2010 (17:22.23) slipped to ninth this year (17:35.87); the third place finisher in 2010 (with a 17:31.92) fell to 24th in 2011 (18:09.82); and the ninth place finisher in ’10 (with 17:43.53) dropped down to 24th this time (18:24.61). (Most of the rest graduated.)

Is it lonely at the top?

“I try not to think about the runners, just go with the guys who show up and go with them. I try not to speculate because it can get you nervous.”

As defending champion, how does one do that?

“I just go with the flow, follow the leaders’ pace—not just the one kid—but the group. As soon as one breaks out, I go with him. My coaches tell me: ‘Never lose contact.’ My coaches are the main reason that I have the drive I do.

“It’s my senior year, and they’ve been pushing me.”

He went on to say that Head Coach Phil Barnhill and Asst. Coach Reva Moeler are emphasizing intervals.

“We had a 6 X 1000 workout. They just kept putting it on. Two days later, we had 8 X 800s. We did that last week. It built my confidence and helped me during this race.”

What goal(s) does he have left this year?

“My school’s record is 15:57. My PR, 16:45, was at the Crescent Lake Invitational in downtown St. Pete. It’s a flat course—cement—around the lake. It’s a lot of fun.  It’s (breaking that record) a long shot, but I’d at least like to finish in the top ten at the end of the year, perhaps a more achievable goal.”

And when he graduates?

“I’m applying to the Naval Academy. I’m a Navy guy.”


Astronaut took 3-4-5, then a 20th, but there was a long wait for #5, who finally came in at 100. Their 132 points was only 11 more than First Academy’s 143 (9-18-21-45-50-53-89), which didn’t place as high, but did so more evenly. Doral, with a similar spread, was even closer to Doral, with 149 points (16-29-32-33-39-40-106). 194 runners and 27 teams made it onto the results sheet.


From first hand observations, if I were to choose one word that described the overall theme of the 12th flrunners.com Invitational, it would be generosity.

First, there was the generosity of the sponsors, who gave away everything from shoelaces to shirts; advice (such as that from Christin Wurth) to ideas (many coaches, referees, and athletes shared their thoughts in what became a running symposium).

Second, the vendors gave generously of their products. This may have resembled a carnival in atmosphere, but from what I could see, the amount given of their product—for the price paid--far exceeded that of any event I’ve ever been to.

And lastly—and by far most important—was the time invested on the part of the volunteers. This meet was covered as no other: a doctor and his medical team (from the Titusville Fire and Rescue) provided prompt, expert attention to athletes in need; course monitors were everywhere to aid and assist; Brevard College campus security personnel were attentive, but relaxed (you were watched, but not bullied), and Jason’s family and circle of friends were there in force to put on another memorable event.


One of the advantages of a two-day meet, with so many different races, is the choice of competition. There were a lot of winners, on different levels, but none took the podium without effort.

“We probably would have run the Race of Champions (on Saturday morning), but had guys on the team who were taking the SATs,” explained Travis Christenberry, of HB Plant High School. “We wanted to stay together. We also want to run the lowest number of races, the fewest as a varsity, so we can focus on the end of the season.”

Teammate Curtis Fullshom, who finished second to Travis in a close race against Episcopal’s (Jacksonville) Matt Harwood (16:26.16 to 16:26.63), looked at it from his perspective.

“I was mainly focused on getting second, or at least finishing in the top five.”

“I would say that it is more of a training meet,” Christenberry added. “We had some PRs, but it is a fast course.”

“We’re training through it,” said Bryan, his team’s assistant coach.

“To see how we fit in with the competition,” Travis interjected.

Coach: “That way we can see how we stack up against Columbus (4A Region 4), and the rest of our 4A Region 2 teams--Colonial, Dr. Phillips, Boone—the guys ranked ahead of us.”

Travis (first in 16:10.20) and Curtis put that question to rest, at least for the weekend.

Travis: “We’ll go home feeling it’s the best we’ve done. Each meet we’ve dropped our times, gotten better and better, and gotten closer to where we are as a team. We’re closing our time between our runners, and lowering our team average.”

Coach: “We want to be State Champs.”


With four in the top ten (1-2-7-10-12-19-21) and a meager team score (32) in the biggest varsity race of the day (28 teams and 216 runners), the Plant team should sleep well tonight. Martin County (15-33-36-38-44-68-91 for 166 points) and Boone (17-22-41-45-52-65-70 for 177 points) were well behind.


By the time the college races rolled around, the weather conditions were getting to the point where running was not the chore that it was earlier. Maybe that’s why so many people were popping up along the race course? The whole neighborhood was at it, and in between the high school and first (of two) college races, there were a lot of runners out and about without uniforms.



To see Jacksonville’s Joane Pierre run is quite deceiving. The former Immokalee star seems all legs, and probably not just to spectators. During last year’s cross country season, those legs carried the (then) sophomore to a 17:33 XC PR at the Mt. Dew/UF Invitational (which she won), and a 17:51.91 third place finish at the Atlantic Sun Conference Championships (Spartanburg, SC, on October 30th).  In this race, where she finished first, her 17:35.20 is pretty close to her best of 2010, even though she wasn’t trying quite that hard.

“I didn’t want to go out as fast as I did last year,” she explained. “Where last year we ran as a group in most of the races, this year it was mostly as an individual. I wanted to pace myself; race competitively, but not too fast.”

She goes on to explain the differences between the UF meet (on September 24th, where she finished 12th in 18:07.86), and this evening.

“Compared to last week, the weather today was a little better, but I don’t think it was as competitive. A lot of things fit into it, but I felt better tonight.”

As far as the season so far, “I am seeing who is racing, and trying to get progressively better as the season goes on, rather than start out too fast and lose my edge.”

Would winning the A-Sun be her goal?

“Of course, it’s always a goal. That’s why we run. I’m definitely going to go out and compete.”

Joane gives credit to her coach, Ron Grigg, for much of what she’s achieved on the college level.

“He’s an awesome coach. He helps me prepare mentally, as well as through my training. He does whatever he can to help us be competitive, such as combining track and cross country; each involves a different mindset. He provides an outline, and talks us through it. He’s a good person to be around.”


The meet came down to two teams that train within a stone’s throw of each other: the University of North Florida, and Jacksonville. Pierre’s “1” helped JU (1-6-8-11-12-14-18 for 38 points), but UNF was too deep. Five Ospreys landed in the top ten (2-3-5-7-9-13-21 for 26 points), and carried the Dolphins’ lunch away. Palm Beach Atlantic (15-16-22-24-26-36; 103) had an even closer call with Saint Leo (4-19-23-25-34-35-38; 105). 74 runners and seven teams counted.


It was obvious, after only a few races, that the lasting imagery of this event would most assuredly include the creative use of sayings on the back of the t-shirts to carry a message, either inspirational, or otherwise. (Fortunately, political platforms—which are slowly but surely being excluded from taking over parades—have not invaded this “uniquely running” form of communication.) I tried to photograph every one that I saw, but if I missed a couple, please catch my attention at future meets. 



Unlike the women’s race, there was no one entered that spoiled the UNF’s juggernaut. Photos in  my Islandwide folder might make it appear that the UNF team is out for a warm-up jog—and hey, for all I know they might have been—but when they finished it counted.

In first was junior James Post, of Melbourne, and he surprised me by stating, “That was my first 5K in college. I haven’t run a 5K since high school.”

His last race? A 16-flat at the November 22, 2008 FHSAA finals.

“I’m a middle distance runner; 800 (1:51.86 at the April, 2010 FSU Invitational) and 1500 (3:51.92 at the same meet), and in cross country.

“Definitely, it was awesome. We do mostly 8Ks (his PR is 26:10.53, at the October 18, 2010 FSU Invitational), and I’m not a distance runner. So it was a nice change of pace. I liked the course. It provides a fast course. The weather was nice; that bit of rain—and it’s kind of overcast—kind of cooled things off.”

And so did his team.


In reality, despite there being eight teams entered, just three were actually “noticed,” and (unfortunately) there were only two trophies. UNF took the first eight places (plus 10th, and a whole bunch more besides) to win the big one. St. Leo’s Jon Norris—ninth overall, but eighth in scoring;16:27.69—led his team to its little brother (8-10-11-12-14-16-24 for 55 points). Besides the members of these two teams, the only other runner allowed to visit the stage for an award, and briefly at that, was Andrew Epifanio (11th  overall, 10th in scoring) from third place Stetson. The Hatters had 90 points (9-13-17-20-31-39-41).

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