This year’s Hellcat 50K almost didn’t happen. Not only did the organizers have to contend with COVID, but highway construction wiped out part of the old course. If that wasn’t enough, Mother Nature dumped three inches of rain on the course the night before. Normally, the rain would not be a problem but due to the construction, the trail consisted of rough dirt which immediately turned into a mudfest. Luckily, those obstacles didn’t distract from the perfect weather—the unseasonable heat was gone and 106 runners toed the line for the seventh annual Hellcat 50K at the Military Museum of North Florida in Green Cove Springs. The races are held at the old Naval Air Station, Lee Field (now Reynolds Industrial Park), and commemorates the F6F Hellcat fighter of WWII fame.
Runners ran the circumference of the old base five times, and even ran through an old WWII ammunition bunker. The course is half pavement and half dirt (mud), and portions of the trail pass through cypress swamps where runners might see an alligator or black bear. Due to all the COVID restrictions on races, none of the runners objected to the sloppy mud as they were all happy as heck just to be able to get out and run. Runners came from as far away as New Mexico, Wisconsin, Colorado, Iowa, Connecticut, Georgia, Tennessee and a virtual runner in Australia. The grand marshal for the day, who fired the starting gun, was 95-year-old retired USMC Master Gunnery Sgt. George Smith who is a veteran of WWII, Korea and Vietnam.
First-place male was Flint Brady from Crescent Beach, FL, in a time of 3:51. The female champ was Amy Columbo from Boynton Beach, FL, in 4:57. The final finisher was 71-year-old Henry Rueden who flew down from Wisconsin just for the race. All runners agreed that even with the mud, they all had a great time “running through history.”