Oct. 4, 2012
TALLAHASSEE, Fla.- What began with a vision and a couple of men armed with a machete has evolved into one of the finest cross country courses in the land. The Apalachee Regional Park championship cross country course has been in use for nearly four years, but will get its first major test this weekend as the host site of the Florida State Invitational.
More than 2,600 collegiate, open and high school runners will compete in the two-day event, which marks the 40th anniversary of the first Florida State Invitational.
The action begins Friday with the College Women/Open 6-kilometer race at 6:15 p.m., followed by the College Men/Open 8-kilometer event at 6:45 p.m. It will culminate with 10 high school races on Saturday, which will bring together most of the top boys and girls teams in Florida, who will use the meet as a preview for the FHSAA State Championship on the same 5-kilometer course on Nov. 17.
"It's huge," Florida State men's coach Bob Bramansaid. "It will be one of the biggest meets ever in Florida. I think we can put on the best cross country meet ever in Florida with the things we're doing and bringing in, from the chip mats to the giant GoTron (live results board), to the Nike presentation with all the interactive things, and the filming of the races from the media. It will be just a fantastic event and we're excited about it."
Florida State will send teams to the starting line in both races Friday, though many of their top runners will be sitting out to prepare for next week's Pre-National Meet in Louisville, Ky. Still, with the course serving as the host site for the Nov. 9 NCAA South Regional, the collegiate competition figures to be the largest ever.
In all, 22 women's teams and 20 men's teams, including a host of ranked NCAA Division II squads, will compete in what figures to be one of the largest college meets held in Tallahassee in many years.
"It becomes the de facto NCAA South Regional meet and the de facto FHSAA State Championship; a precursor for two really, really big meets coming up here as well," said Braman, who was at ground level when the plans for the course were put into motion.
Saturday's action for the high school divisions begins with the first race set for 7:40 a.m. and the final one going off at 11:45.
The ARP, as it is known locally, is a collaborative project between Leon County, Florida State University athletics and Gulf Winds Track Club. This will be the fourth year the FSU Invitational has been held at the course, after a lengthy run at Miccosukee Greenway, and prior to that, Seminole Golf Course.
"It all started with Brian Corbin of Gulf Winds Track Club and I going out there, with the OK for designing the course, along with several entities from Leon County," Braman said. "It has just really come together.
"It's in really good shape right now and the county really deserves credit for that. We're getting closer and closer to a viable bid to host the NCAA National Championship. That will be Phase 2, to which in my mind is more like Phase 10 over five year, which we will get started once the cross country season is over. The work has been incredible from all those folks and organizations and probably too many volunteers to count. It has been truly a work-together-project."
Many have donated time, labor and money to bring the project along to this point.
"The center of everything to this point has been putting the course together and getting everything developed," Braman said. "Dean Richards, who is the park manager out there, he and his crew have just been incredible, bringing in materials and rolling the course - stuff that's incredible for cross country."
A large majority of the course improvements, giving the course a distinctively different feel that it had a year ago, have been made over the past six months. Wooden fences surround the racing area, a permanent awards stage has been built and the course has been widened significantly to help meet the minimum requirements to put in a bid to host the NCAA Championship.
Braman has added some additional touches by hiring Delta Timing, which has chip mats placed along the course, that will allow for instantaneous team scoring. That information will be projected onto a giant screen - the GoTron - which will enable race fans and coaches to monitor the progress of their teams throughout the race.
Nike has joined in and will have a 40x40 tent with interactive events and merchandise, and is also supplying flagging, streamers and signage throughout the course. A giant Seminole head - similar to the one at midfield inside Doak Campbell Stadium - is perfectly framed by two giant Live Oak trees near the finish chute.
It will truly be a one-of-a-kind cross country event; the largest ever held in North Florida.
Admission and parking are free both days.