OAKLEAF - In a strange year that 2020 is, what better way to finish it off than the Last Gasp 5K Cross Country Race and a thrilling changing of the guard finish, plus a visit from a iconic running …
OAKLEAF - In a strange year that 2020 is, what better way to finish it off than the Last Gasp 5K Cross Country Race and a thrilling changing of the guard finish, plus a visit from a iconic running legend who retired a few years but made a return to his first sport. First, the icon, Jay Birmingham, former St. Johns Country Day School cross country and track coach, who at 75, is getting ready for yet another Journey Race, which are extreme distance races.
“I’m doing the Gate River Run 15K in March, and I’m doing a race across Tennessee in July,” said Birmingham, referring to a race that will span the entire state, the Last Annual Vol State (LAVS) 500K Run, limited to 100 well qualified people. “A 314 miler, 10 days. You can go whenever you want. Most people walk it. I’d like to do a good job with it. I’m pretty good at that kind of thing, stage racing. Go, rest, and go, and rest. My recovery is very fast.”
Birmingham is still the American record holder for a Transcontinental run across America with just a backpack; unaccompanied from Los Angeles to New York City.
“It’s now known as the FKT, fastest known time,” said Birmingham.
Debuted in December 1977 as an English-style true cross-country race, the 44th Last Gasp race relocated from Jacksonville University, to New World Sports, on the Cecil Commerce Center Site where runners ran the golf course on an all off-road course. The flat course was set with absolutely perfect running weather to have 14 year old Graham Myers blister the field with a 5:37 mile pace to be the top overall finisher at 17:30 with his dad, Dr. Gary Myers, well known in the road running circuits in Jacksonville, just behind him in 17:52. Aldren Biala, a former Bishop Snyder runner, was tnhird at 18:07.
Only 10 positions behind was the overall female winner 18 year old Ellie Fluman who outpaced the next women’s runner by almost two minutes with a 6:15 mile pace to come across the line at 19:28. Behind Fluman, Orange Park’s newest running mom, Belissa DelValle, 33, finished as second female in 21:23 with Maggie McCloskey, 27, third at 21;39.
Birmingham, who at 75, outpaced his daughter, Molly Brissette. Birmingham completed the course at 37:54, while visiting 31 year old Daughter Molly, a Fleming Island High graduate, came across at 38:45.
“Hey- she hasn’t raced in 10 years. She is visiting for the Holidays and decided to come out here and run with Dad,” said Birmingham. “I’m proud of her, she did well.”
Birmingham said he can go 40-50 miles a day, get eight hours of rest and do it again, day after day.
“I’m still at it. I’m 75, no health problems. I could get sick tomorrow, but today I’m feeling great,” he said.
The field of 133 runners were spaced out at the start observing all COVID recommendations. After the start, runners were allowed to remove their masks.
Doug Alred, owner and founder of 1st Place Sports, was on-site at the Last Gasp. “I do the Last Gasp every year. It’s a regular for me.”
Alred is the Race Director for the 43rd annual Gate River Run and took a minute to catch up on what changes runners can expect.
“We were lucky to even get last year’s event in,” said Alred, noting the COVID nationwide shutdown went into effect five days after the River Run. “Going into this year, we had to make it safe for everybody, yet make it large enough to where we can do it right. The budget for the River Run is bigger than all the other races we put on for the rest of the year. With limited entries, and limited money, we had to make adjustments. Other than not as many people, most people will not realize any difference.”
Alred knows how to deal with difficulty in his races.
“In 1993 we had to postpone for a day because of the Storm of the Century, so we’ve managed to have it every year so we just hope everything stays safe and we’ll have River Run again this year,” Alred said.
The run is limited to 8,000 runners which right now is 85 percent full. The race will have waves of 1,000 to distance the runners. Also changes to the Expo had to be made. There are assigned times for bib pickup and you will not have to walk through the Expo to get out of the building. “It will be must smaller. You have to pick a time for your 2-hour window to get your packet so we can limit the people inside, 1,000 people every 2 hours. It’s all to keep everyone safe. The number of booths will be smaller too. A lot of changes all in the name of safety.”
In other race action over the holiday, Fleming Island High senior Kameron Wallizada took second in 4:48 at the Big Chief Tires One Mile road race on December 19 behind former Mandarin High ace Sem Sultanov, winner in 4:33. Fleming Island High freshman teammate John Keester IV was third in 4:55 with three more Golden Eagles in line behind the top three; Alex Bendig, Danny Sakowski, Michael Lyon and Andrew Leverett. Sultanov stayed busy with a win at the New Year’s Eve 5K in 15:28 and a 1:09:10 effort for sixth at the Ameris Bank Half Marathon on December 20.
In the girls championship race, Fleming Island High senior Grace Adams ran a 5:48 mile to take 10th with Belissa Del Valle eigth at 5:46. Winning time was 5:01 from Jane Bareikis. St. Johns Country Day School soccer ace Kamryn Towers ran 7:03 for 13th.
At the Ameris Bank Half Marathon, two former Ridgeview High runners; Andrew Smith, now 26 and coaching in Georgia, and also a mile record holder for Flagler College, and Alexandra Midgett, now 26, and FSU cross country coach, finished 17th in 1:14:16, and 66th overall in 1:27:33.