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803 The Palmetto 200

Oglethorpe Runners at Palmetto 200

A while back, my friend Jon told me was going on a trip to South Carolina for the Palmetto 200. Hmmm, he acted as if I should know what the Palmetto 200 was, but I was clueless. Maybe, the Palmetto 200 was a new NASCAR race. I didn't think of Jon as a NASCAR fan, but he does like to have a good time!

He soon corrected me and I learned that he was running in a 200 mile relay race. Yes, they were running on foot - not watching cars race.

Jon had a great time and wanted to share his adventures of running the Palmetto 200 and more.

Palmetto 200 Adventure

I ran cross country in high school and college. Many of my fondest memories include these teams and coaches. Recent years have seen hiking and climbing become primary activities and running still serves to help me stay in shape.

My college cross country team just had a reunion, with our Coach, to run a 200 mile relay race from Columbia to Charleston, South Carolina, The Palmetto 200. I had no idea what I was getting into, but had a blast. I exclaimed during and after the race that I believed that other teams weren't enjoying the event nearly as much as the Stormy Petrels of Fire (corny combination of the Oglethorpe University mascot and the classic movie Chariots of Fire). One reason for this is because we have lots of experience being all sweaty and riding around in a van together. The main reason though is being brought together some 20 years ago by our fabulous Coach Bob Unger.

During my junior year, the coach announced that the program would be discontinued because we fielded a team of only 5 runners. A full cross country team is 7 runners, but teams of 5 regularly compete. Three of the five of us belonged to the same fraternity and conscripted 2 pledges to run cross country. Our coach finished that season with us and a full team of seven runners met our new Coach Bob Unger for my senior season. What a blessing.

During our reunion, many of us remembered how refreshing practices became with Coach Unger. He made us think about how to use our bodies, hearts and talents to work together and make our teams better. It was easy to allow yourself to be coached by Bob Unger. I was team captain during my senior season. The “men’s” team was undefeated (7-0) during our regular season of dual meets with other small universities. Coach was quick to remind me during our recent visit that a big reason for the undefeated numbers was because one of the Lady Petrels, Kate Baker Houston, ran in place of an injured male. You can’t make up stories like that. She finished ahead of enough men to place our team first!

In true Metro to Mountain style, here are a few Palmetto 200 notes ...

We were probably the oldest team based on average age. Most of us graduated in the early 90’s and coach is a few years older.

Still not at full strength, our team competed with eleven runners. Our plan is to field a full team of twelve runners next year! I believe one “ultra” team actually finished with only 2 runners competing.

We came in 28th out of 73 teams overall and 18th place among coed teams with an average pace of 8:51 per mile.

Program the coordinates for all of the exchange points into a GPS prior to the start. We had some confusion finding a couple of the exchange point locations.

We traveled in 2 vans. Folks in my van used lots of sunscreen and Sport Slick.

Don’t expect to get much sleep during an event like this. The race took our team just over 29 hours to complete.

I feel like I really did myself a favor by participating in this event and reconnecting with team mates and Coach.

Palmetto 200 team

Now for the best part ...

Memories from his first few Cross Country and Track teams at Oglethorpe University by Coach Bob Unger:

I remember moments -- just fragments of time, really. Like all of us, I can't recall the whole time span -- just memorable moments.

I remember the look of surprised delight on Jon Perry's face when, having his spotted a Hooters on the way home from a meet, I innocently asked if we wanted to stop there to eat. (Recently from the north, I had no idea of the ...decor?) His eyes kept widening -- that is, until the entire ladies team yelled (in unison). "NO!"

I remember our Evelyn -- now 26 years old -- in pink sun suit proudly telling her mom that she sat on Rod-i-ney's lap on the way to a meet. And Rodney dutifully holding her the whole way. And... I can still hear the step, clomp(!), step, clomp(!) of him coming across the gym floor to my office next to the extinct phone booth to report -- with some sheepishness -- he had broken his foot playing intramural football the night before. It was my inaugural season and the men had yet to lose. That afternoon we had a meet on campus with Georgia Military College. Rodney was 5th man ... Dennis Davis -- at 6th -- two to three minutes behind...

It seems within moments of Rodney's leaving that Kate Baker came shyly up to the office to say she had forgotten her singlet. We had originally scheduled a meet with Agnes Scott for that afternoon for the women. But, Agnes Scott had called the night before to back out. I reached down and grabbed a men's singlet, handed it to Kate and said, "here's an extra." She took one look at it and said, "It's the wrong one." I looked back at her and said, "Not today!" She began that characteristic laugh of hers -- a mixture of both fear and devilment... She finished in front of GMC's 4th and 5th man -- clinching an undefeated season for the men.

I remember Katie leading the race on North Georgia's rugged mountain course one afternoon after a torrential downpour that had lasted all the previous night and morning. So far in front, that she reached the mile mark UNDER 6:00. Then almost immediately taking a complete header into a swollen, swiftly moving stream -- heretofore not present -- yet now washing directly across the race path. She was completely soaked. I STUPIDLY watched her continue on for 5k, clearly tightening under the grip of hypothermia. I never stopped her. I should have. It was a horrible coaching mistake. I learned.

I remember Rob, as a freshman, leading what I believe was my first away meet -- hosted by Morris Brown at the old Atlanta Water Works. He was cruising, with a sizable lead over MB's best, Kevin Watley, and kicked the apparent finish ... at which point MB Coach Ian Dube runs up and says, "Oh ... you have to go around the reservoir once more!" Rob's shoulders drooped, he was spent, but gamely started back up. Watley, spying the scene involving Rob from behind, never slowed. He passed Rob somewhere along the next revolution of the course. For four years whenever Rob ran against Watley, Watley won. That is, until their senior year. We we're hosting a track meet against Morris Brown, Clark and Morehouse. Rob was to run the 5k. Watley was entered, too. I took Rob aside and said (something to the effect): "Beat him! You did four years ago, but got hoodwinked. You can beat him." Rob very nearly lapped him!

I remember reports from fellow students -- not faculty -- that Beau was no longer paying much attention in Math classes, but was charting XC courses and determining where best to make decisive moves. Faculty didn't mind, because Beau could do the work. I recall his countless visits to my office to plan strategies, speculate on the strength of our opponents and merely to psych each other up. I also remember how he made Alan drink the yeast mixture along with him that I had THOUGHT would improve endurance -- and the look on Alan's face as he swallowed ...

Speaking of looks on faces ... I clearly remember the serene look of peace, joy and gratitude on Steph's face as she ran her last on our home course and how it was her very best time. She did it because she loved the place. And all of us watched with some amusement, amazement -- but also with loving admiration -- that she could still smile through every blessed stride she took in South Carolina! She knows where the gift comes from.

I remember Dawn showing up -- I think because Katie got her to -- and turning in sure, strong performance after performance. Keeping our team solid. Her loyalty in bringing students from Florida where she taught and COACHED to my summer track camp. Because of her loyalty and grace, one of those track campers came to OU where I was privileged to coach her while she re-wrote our hurdle records.

I remember Linda's steady, continual improvement and great leadership qualities as she earned the role of captain of the women. I remember her getting Jenny Schillinger to join the team. Jenny averaged 12 -minute miles and was 5th on the team ... but with Linda up front, the ladies went undefeated. That was the year we could run only four healthy women at conference -- and an undefeated OU team did not score in the SCAC finish, while Hendrix ran soccer players to assemble a team. An injustice. I remember too when she stayed nearby after graduation to assist coaching. She encouraged me in an ATC race I was running one Saturday in the off season. It was at Piedmont Park -- a 5k. She had positioned herself at the 2-mile mark and hollered out to me, "Use your arms, Coach!" It was precisely at that moment -- when I was already hurting and did NOT really WANT to have to use my arms, thank you -- that I fully understood why visiting teams loved our course: their coach couldn't beat them to the woods to stand there and stupidly tell them to go faster!

I remember Brett mistakenly oversleeping his freshman year and missing the GA state championship meet at Panthersville. I was mad, disappointed... Beau who was assistant coach was ... well ... he wasn't too damn happy... But, on the following Monday (realizing what was truly important) I calmly told Brett, "It was your loss. You missed a chance to run the state meet as a freshman. That chance won't come again." He accepted that truth graciously -- and took it to heart -- he never missed nor even began to approach being late for another meet ... and, today, owns the 4th fastest 8k in OU XC history. (We saw vestiges of that in SC! Loved it!!!)

When I am no longer coaching -- and that will be quite soon -- it is these memories I will cherish. I love you guys. I won't recall in each of those instances -- with rare exception -- who we ran against or whether we won the meet (although, if we didn't win, we lost by a very narrow margin). It isn't the wins and losses that I will think on with gratefulness. It will be YOU. It was your commitment, your kindnesses, your fervor, your caring for each other that was the hallmark of the experience. You still care for each other.

I will ALWAYS love you guys - Coach

Happy Coaching Trails


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