Coaching Management, 13.1, January 2005, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1301/bbfsuredcross.htm
The Florida State University men’s and women’s cross country teams are made up of runners, but some people may be tempted to think they’re actually long-range meteorologists or clairvoyants. How else to explain their decision, made not long after returning to campus in August, to raise money for hurricane relief in a season that would see Florida hit by four major tropical events?
The teams had no special insight into weather trends a month in advance, just good sense, says Head Coach Bob Braman. After all, the season’s first major storm, Frances, had already struck when the teams began planning their annual Across the State Relay, a 126-mile run across the state’s midsection from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. Seeing a continuing need for disaster relief wasn’t exactly going out on a limb. "In Florida, a hurricane or a tropical storm of some strength hits just about every year," Braman says, "so it wasn’t like we had a particular feeling that, ‘Oh, man, we’ve got to do something about this disaster.’"
But the historic string of storms and the ensuing national publicity has made collecting pledges easier. "After four storms, we’re finding a really strong receptiveness to what we’re doing," Braman says. "And we’re trying to double our record. We’re shooting for $10,000. I don’t know that we’re going to get there, but we’re shooting for it." About 50 runners took part in this year’s relay, held Sept. 18. The total raised hadn’t been tallied by press time.
The Across the State Relay grew out of Braman’s work more than 20 yeas ago as founder and president of the Tampa Bay Runners Club. Four ultra-marathoners were running the width of the Sunshine State as a training exercise. Braman thought that was impossible until he looked more closely at a map of the state and saw a manageable distance. The club took on the event as a relay, and Braman brought the idea with him when he began coaching, first at the University of South Florida, then at Florida State in the fall of 2000.
At USF, the relay raised money for the cross country program, but at Florida State, the teams solicit pledges for charities. "Whenever you do something for somebody else, it has more of a team-building element," Braman says. "Over the three previous years, we’ve raised more than $5,000 for various United Way agencies in the Tallahassee community. We’re bringing money into the community because the runners hit up their high school coaches, parents, employers, and grandparents back home."
Not only do the teams cross the state, but they also mingle the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. When they reach Daytona Beach on the Saturday evening of Relay weekend, they empty a one-liter baton-like bottle of Gulf water into the Atlantic. Then they dive in and enjoy the ocean for a while before sharing a pizza dinner, spending a night in a hotel, and driving home Sunday morning.
Braman says FSU holds down costs by using university vans, providing breakfast bars and snacks for the ride, letting runners get lunch on their own, and asking hoteliers for group rates. In addition to Saturday night in Daytona Beach, they typically spend the night before the relay in Yankeetown, a small community on the Gulf.
Most of the route follows quiet back roads, though traffic is increasing year after year on some stretches, Braman says. A few drivers honk out of frustration with being slowed down for a minute or two, but mostly it’s a low-key trip on the edge of the Ocala National Forest. Runners on each segment are paired by pace abilities so that starting and stopping and driver-switching locations and times can be closely planned. It takes about 13 hours, finishing this year in 12:44.
"A bunch of guys run early, get in a van and drive ahead, grab lunch, throw a Frisbee around, study, or listen to football on the radio," Braman says. "Later in the day, most will run a second leg that’s a medium or easy run for them. They’re two-a-day runners, anyway, so for them it’s just a normal training day."