Monday, January 20, 2020

Track 2020

This week marks the official start of high school track and field practice in Florida.  2019 was epic and 2020 could be reach heights beyond our wildest expectations.2019 could be a historic year for high school middle distance running in Southwest Florida.  Sorry guys, this is the year of the woman.

Any one of a half dozen boys could be the it distance runner in Lee County this year. Estero's Hugh Brittenham's large shadow that dominated the state for the last two years.  He's now lacing them up for Florida so that begs the question, which runner or runners will dominate the scene.

Track and cross country really are two different sports so that doesn't mean the boys that owned the area during the fall of 2019 will show up in the spring.  Fort Myers has two runners capable of running dipping under 4:30 in the 1600 and 9:40 in the 3200, Liam Holston and Colsen Palmer.  Ida Baker senior Franklin Cacerces should be a handful as well.

SFCA's Ethan Tank is a year older and a year stronger and the junior distance runner showed a lot of promise as a sophomore.  And who knows what will rise out of the Estero fleet of distance runners.  Colton Tucker has a lot to prove going into his senior season and I like his chances.

The question is will a wild card emerge among the boys?  A couple of sophomores could emerge, Evan Meyer from Lehigh or Jacob Fritz from Ida Baker.  A season of cross country could help an injury free Oglar Bartolon from Dunbar as well.

The smoke show will come from the gals.  The Oliviera twins will leave ECS after this season as legends.  Both will compete next season for the University of Miami.  Moriah will keep her focus on the 400 which is a shame because her 800 potential is off the charts.  That leaves Sierra to make a little more history at the longer distance before graduation.  Sierra clocked 2:11.04 which is national class.  If she breaks 2:10 she will only be the third Lee County girl to do so.

Unfortunately for Sierra, another local stud stands in the way of her for a state title.  Canterbury's Jessica Edwards ran a 2:08.4 to defeat Oliviera for last spring's 1A state title.  With two more years of running at the high school level in front of her, Jess could do all sorts of damage to the best ever lists for Lee County girls.

She's capable of running 2:05 for the 800 and well under 4:50 in the 1600.  Edwards will dip her toes in the 400 where she wants to run 55 or better, that's stupendous speed for a middle distance runner.  The capper will be if she can overcome her reluctance at the longer distance where a sub 11 minute 3200 seems well within her grasp.

That brings us to the biggest question mark moving into the spring.  Can Fort Myers senior Stephy Ormsby capitalize on her stunning fall in cross country.  Ormsby was a 300 meter hurdler as a freshman.  She rounded into a state caliber 800 runner over her sophomore and junior years.

But Ormsby is a completely different athlete than the one who ran for the Green Wave last spring.  She transformed her body, leaning out, improving her endurance and becoming a real threat to take down some pretty big barriers this spring.

A healthy Ormsby will have no trouble running 2:15 in the 800, under 5 in the 1,600 and under 11 in the 3,200.  The question is, can she touch any of Krissy Gear's times.  Breaking 2:10 in the 800 would be monumental.  Running under 4:50 for 1600 is within reach.  I like her chances of running under 10:40 for the 3200.

To run those times Ormsby will need competition which she will only get at the FSU Relays and Florida's Pepsi meet.  My guts tell me she will focus on the 1600 because it's a more glamorous event.  I've seen a lot of great high school girls over the last 50 years and I think under the right conditions Ormsby could run under 10:30 for 3200.

Regardless, the distance women of Lee County will own this spring, mark my words.

Friday, January 10, 2020


As we roll into 2020, I roll into my 50th year as someone who identifies himself as a runner.  Evidence of it exists in the photo above.  I sit in the second row, on the left, the second in with the sweatshirt on because I wasn't good enough to merit a singlet.  I wasn't good enough to run any of the varsity events.  The only one I had a shot at was 440 yards and my 63 seconds was about three seconds too slow.

I went out for track with visions of Jim Ryun dancing in my head.  I had seen him run the previous spring at the Kansas Relays on a world record setting distance medley relay.  I wanted to run the mile, but it didn't exits at that time in the world of eigth grade high track and field.  I had the stubborn determination to be a distance runner.

I would spend my summer running about 200 miles in preparation of joining the Abilene High School cross country team.  I would make the varsity on a team that would eventually place third in the state of Kansas.  Unfortunately, I would transfer to another junior high in Lawrence, Kansas before that trip to State happened.

But I was a runner, probably logging north of 300 miles in 1970.  The total was certainly well less than the 750 miles I logged in 2019.  That total is the lowest I have run since 1971 when I ran my first competitive mile, a school record at South Junior High and a city record for one, very short year.  I would make the Lawrence High varsity cross country team as a sophomore that fall.

2019 marked only the second time since 1971 that I ran less than 1,000 miles in a year.  Having knee surgery at the end of November 2018 didn't help.  A brutal summer of heat didn't help.  Having a grand daughter nearly killed in a car crash didn't help.  And turning 64 didn't help either.

I managed to run only one race in 2019.  A 58 minute 10K in Naples that I thoroughly enjoyed my slowest time ever by four minutes.  It matched my total number of races from 2018, a half marathon in Riga in 2:04 that I thoroughly enjoyed, my slowest time ever by 10 minutes.  I know that if I forced myself to race more, I would train more.  My duties with the Fort Myers Track Club and owning my own running store has actually hurt my ability to race more than it has helped.  But that's a me problem.

The fact is, I am still a runner.  I may have plugged away at a barely sub 40 minute four mile this afternoon but it was a run nevertheless and I rue the day that I might not be able to lace up a pair of running shoes and hit the road.  I kept threatening to stop running and racing throughout my 40's and by the time I turned 50 I began to realize what a gift it is that I can still run and race.  I don't care about my times... much.  I just enjoy the feeling of pushing myself, something that I rarely if ever do in training runs anymore. 

I see it as a gift and one that is not to be taken for granted.  Here's to another 1,000 plus miles in 2020.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Race Director

Don't read this as a look at me, I'm great or feel sorry for me or about me at all.  I just want to write about the difficulties involved with organizing a race, any race, but this one, River, Roots and Ruts comes with a unique set of challenges.  Let me start with the thing I hated most as a competitive runner. I hated running on a poorly marked course.  Once it cost me a win, another time it cost me a second place finish.  River, Roots and Ruts is a race begging for a runner to get lost.

Back in 2016, Steve Brookman, the race founder, says he's ready to give up River, Roots and Ruts.  It's a popular trail race in Lee County that offers a difficult course that's kind of dangerous and really beautiful.  The last year Steve was race director the run was held in the middle of a horrendous downpour.  Runners who loved this race were worried that this was the end so I stupidly offered to take over as race director.

In the fall of 2017 I realized I was hopelessly ill-prepared to take over this race.  If it weren't for trail nerd Phil Nissen the race might not have ever happened.  He got me out and made me familiar with the course.  Phil put together a half marathon that on the face of it seemed overly complicated.  There were too many turns and too many parts of the course that needed human bodies to make sure runners didn't get lost.  This is a race that requires a lot of volunteers and unfortunately I didn't do a good enough job of getting boots on the ground or getting them into the spots we needed them.

Even though I warned folks that they could get lost on the course, they did, and though the vast majority of runners took it for what it is.  Those that did complain stuck with me and those that criticized me, well, where were you when I needed help?  Wind had taken out one of the important course markers and that led some runners astray.  So it was back to the drawing board.

2018 came along and so had Hurricane Irma four months before our race.  The damage to the Caloosahatchee Regional Park was so severe the good folks with Lee County Parks told us if we wanted to race we had better push the date back at least two months.  As fate would have it the Hooters Half Marathon was going away so we pushed RRR to the Hooters date at the end of February.

This year with a ton of help from JeAnne Hertel and the Fort Myers Track Club we put together a half marathon course that we felt would a much better and easier to navigate.  Boy were we wrong.  After spending six hours on a Saturday carefully laying out tape, road markings a signs, a few idiots removed some of the key signs in the expansive Sun Meadows and again runners got lost.  A handful of runners bitched about it.  Why weren't we checking the course before the race.  The answer to that we would have to be out on the course at 4 a.m. covering the entire course on foot with a flashlight before the 8 a.m. start.

I was ready to give up the race.  I hated the stress.  I hated letting runners down.  Yet, JeAnne encouraged me to stick with it and I made the decision to dumb the race down.  I figured if we eliminated the troublesome Sun Meadows we would keep runners from getting lost.  The changes worked, except for a terrible stretch of the course which took runners through a horse trail with ankle high grass.  Plus we shortened it to 10 miles helping the race go fairly smoothly.

My problem was with the pre-race organization.  Lee County had tightened its application rules.  I suddenly was confronted by a mountain of paperwork.  I had to get more than a half dozen departmental approvals.  This goes hand in hand with trying to find sponsors which I am terrible at and getting the tremendous support of the Lee County Sports Authority, without those folks, there would be no River, Roots and Ruts.

The stress of dealing with the paperwork just about did me in.  But once again the folks at Lee County Parks were the reassuring voice in my ear.  Their support and organizational skills, especially from James Eash helped me get through this nerve wracking experience.  JeAnne Hertel deserves a lot of credit as well.

Now I would like to point out that it takes at least two to three hours to take the course down.  That's on top of the five to seven hours of setup to get it going.  Plus there is the endless help of the Mudcutters.  The course is the course on the north side thanks in large part to all of their help.

This brings us to 2020.  I was ready for the paperwork and I was ready to make the trail run even better by getting rid of the section of the course through the horse pasture.  We kept the runners on the challenging single track trail.  But I had built in a course issue for the uninitiated.  If you weren't paying close attention, you could end up doubling back on the trail and I failed to put a human being in a spot where runners needed to be directed back to the finish.  Once again, 20 or so people got
lost.  We guy went off on one of our teenage volunteers making an ass out of himself.

You see I spend the 90 minutes running around like a madman making sure water tables, volunteers and parts of the course get their finishing touches.  We can't mark the entire course the day before because part of the trail is open to bicyclists the day before and they take down and remove anything we put up that may interfere with their ride.

Once again, I had warned the 200 plus runners that they could get lost.  It's part of the hazards.  Just like the parts of the marked trail that had been monkeyed with by a group of uncaring bicyclists that were riding on the south part of the park which is forbidden by county rules.  We knew they could cause mischief and the industrious Addie Jenkinson repaired their damage after we had spent three hours on Saturday making the course idiot proof.

This year I was only nervous about the whole affair in the last week leading up to the race because we didn't get our medals until two days before the event.  The medals were not as good as I would have liked.  I will fix this for the 2021 event.  Just as I will fix the course mistake by making sure we have volunteers in the right spots so the event is a success.

This is a great trail race.  It is a challenging piece of real estate with incredible scenery.  The morning of the race this year I saw deer, a bounding bobcat and a family of wild hogs.  We will do better.  This race is going into its 18th year.  We've got a great sponsor in Hooters and the Lee County Sports Authority.  And remember this, I don't make a cent doing all of this work. Every dime made in this race goes to charity or to non-profit groups that work in support of the race.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Lee County's Decade

I must be honest.  When I first moved to Fort Myers 17 years ago I didn't pay close attention to the high school distance running scene.  Outside of Estero's Bona Jones, a Footlocker finalists, there just wasn't the quality of depth that you would see in the Midwest where I had lived much of my life.

Running in Southwest Florida isn't an easy task.  The lack of hills, the heat, and what I suspected, right or wrong, a lack of mileage being asked of the high school athletes in our area made for average results.  Estero's Jeff Sommer was starting to kick things into gear with his DDD program around the time I moved here.  It was focused on quality overquantity and his program was by far and away the most consistent in terms of success in Lee County.

It seemed from my limited perspective that a light switch started to come on by the end of the 2000's  largely due to DDD.  Suddenly Fort Myers was starting to compete with Estero in terms of consistently producing state caliber runners.  By 2010 Estero's Erick Montoya and Kacy Smith made it clear that Lee County was ready to start producing a steady stream of state caliber distance runners.

So the purpose of this blog is to name the top boy and girl distance runners over the past decade along with the top coach.  Looking over the decade we saw a dozen or so runners from the 800 to 3200 that made their names known across the state of Florida.  Fort Myers High produced the first and only boy's Footlocker Finalist from Lee County in Tyler Bennett.  His teammate Emily Edwards enjoyed stellar results.  Emily's sister Jessica who runs for Canterbury has more history to write as she put herself in the the conversation as the best 800 runner to come out of the area after running 2:08.  She has two more seasons to make history.

ECS has produced the Oliveira twins, but Sierra is the only middle distance specialist having clocked 2:11.04 with another year to join Jessica Edwards in the sub 2:10 club with the as yet unmentioned Krissy Gear from Fort Myers. Estero's Montoya and Smith brought were followed by more quality runners like Ayre Beck, Katy Slater, Daley Cline and Alyana Goll.  Riverdale's Chelsey Oliver and Kayla Easterly from North Fort Myers made their marks as well.

Lee County Girl Distance Runner of the Decade
The best of the best among the girls is the aforementioned Gear.  Soccer's loss was a massive gain for the sport of running.  The only chink in her armor was cross country.  Gear was very good, but not great on the turf.  She excelled on the track breaking 2:10, 4:50 and running close to 10:40 flat across the 800, 1600 and 3200 putting her in a league of her own.  Not only is she the best distance runner of the decade but she is clearly the greatest distance runner produced in Lee County, male or female.

Gear's influence on the Fort Myer's High School program wasn't only on the track.  It showed the young women that followed her what can be accomplished if you put your heart and soul into the sport.  Just look at Stephy Ormsby cross country season this past fall and that says it all.

Lee County Boy Distance Runner of the Decade
Estero's Hugh Brittenham caught my eye when he was a mere freshman, but I would have never guessed he would accomplish what he ended up doing in re-writing his school's record books.  The bomb dropped at the FSU Relays with a Friday night coming out party his junior year with a stunning 1:51.92 was stunning.  He left no doubt that he was the real deal following it up with a 4:12 1600 the next day.

Hugh became the first Lee County runner to break 4:10 in the 1600.  He capped his career with the difficult 1600/800 double gold at State and landed a scholarship to Florida.  He did it under the tutelage of three different coaches which is in and of itself even more remarkable.  Hugh may well be the best male high school runner in Lee County history although some would argue Cliff Betts who ran for Fort Myers in the mid-70's is in the conversation.  I plan to research his career to learn more about this three time state champion.

Lee County Coach of the Decade
Estero's Jeff Sommer is the only choice, not just for the runner's who he coached, but for his undeniable impact he add on other coaches across Lee County.  He forced coaches to up their game.  Just ask Rob Strong who coached at Cypress Lake and Fort Myers.  Rob will tell you that Sommer was the gold standard.   Sommer died doing what he loved best, coaching his girl's 4 X 800 team to a State Championship in 2015.  But his DDD program helped propel high school distance running across Lee County to it highest highs.