Monday, November 5, 2018

Michael Niezgoda and Stella Lewis run down wins at the Rex Cleveland Downhill Mile

Sunday, 4 November 2018, was the day that tens of thousands of athletes were on the streets of the Big Apple, running the 26.2 miles of the 48th New York City Marathon. For a smaller group of athletes in Tallahassee, the focus that day was on a single mile, Gulf Winds Track Club’s third annual Rex Cleveland Road Mile. Michael Niezgoda won the race in 4:47.38, and Stella Lewis was the first female finisher, placing fourth overall in 5:53.15.

Michael Niezgoda

The mile is usually a track event, but occasionally mile races are run on less traditional courses. In the years immediately after World War II, Atlantic City, New Jersey staged an annual race on the city’s boardwalk. The goal of the Boardwalk Mile was to get a sub-4:00 performance. The race was entirely straight, a tailwind was possible, and some years the leaders were paced by a relay team. Without any of those advantages, Roger Bannister became the first athlete to break 4:00 for a mile, running in a different race on a track on the opposite side of the Atlantic Ocean. After that, interest in the Boardwalk Mile dwindled and the race faded away.


New York City revived the idea of an off-track mile on a straightaway in 1981 with the first running of the annual Fifth Avenue Mile. In Tallahassee, George West did New York one better, organizing the Belle Vue Mile. West’s course on Belle Vue Way was not only straight, but entirely downhill. Additionally, he treated the athletes to beer and oysters after the race.

Stella Lewis

The Rex Cleveland Road Mile is Tallahassee’s most recent downhill mile. First run in 2016, the race starts in the heights near the Capital City Country Club, plunges to Cascades Park, crosses South Monroe Street on the Cascades Park Bridge, then descends the bridge to finish along FAMU Way, following the course of the Saint Augustine Branch.


“It’s really a downhill three-quarters of a mile,” noted master runner Bill McGuire. “You better save something for that last level quarter mile.”

Jim Halley

Even the last quarter mile is slightly downhill, or the Saint Augustine Branch wouldn’t flow downstream. It probably doesn’t feel downhill to the runners, though, not after the pounding their legs take during the drop early in the race.


That initial downhill is dramatic enough that Niezgoda came through the first quarter-mile in 64 seconds. He had run track for Livonia Churchill High and for the University of Alabama, but his average pace for a mile had never been that fast. It was also quicker than he had planned on running that day.

Clifton Lewis

“Going into it, I just wanted to break 5:00,” said Niezgoda. “I’m not really training for a mile now, so anything under 5:00 is great.”


Niezgoda’s winning time, 4:47.38, was well under 5:00.


“I ran the 800 in college, so this is right in my wheelhouse,” said Niezgoda. “I crossed the finish line today, high-fived my wife, and said, ‘This is fun!’”

Jackson Rowe

Jim Halley followed Niezgoda across the finish line, second in 5:19.23. Taking third in 5:29.62 was Jackson Rowe, a seventh-grader on the Montford Middle School cross-country team.


Rowe wasn’t the only middle school athlete in the race. Stella Lewis, first in the women’s standings at 5:53.15, is an eighth-grader at Swift Creek. Lewis also ran the 2017 Cleveland Mile.


“My time here last year was 5:59,” said Lewis. “My fastest track time last spring was 5:58.”

Madison Sims

Clifton Lewis, a fifth-grader, was the second female finisher and fifth overall in 5:59.62. Madison Sims, a sixth-grader on the Fort Braden School cross-country team, was third in the women's standings and fourteenth overall in 6:24.19.


Nico Wienders was the first master runner in the race and fourth male finisher, coming in sixth overall in 6:00.85. Lourena Maxwell was the top woman master and seventh female finisher, eighteenth overall in 6:44.18.


76 athletes finished the 2018 Rex Cleveland Road Mile. Gulf Winds Track Club chip-timed the race.


Top Ten Men, Gulf Winds Track Club's 2018 Rex Cleveland Road Mile
  1. 4:47.38, Michael Niezgoda (M, 29)
  2. 5:19.24, Jim Halley (M, 39)
  3. 5:29.62, Jackson Rowe (M, 12)
  4. 6:00.85, Nico Wienders (M, 47)
  5. 6:05.55, Brian Molen (M, 42)
  6. 6:08.41, Michael Kennett (M, 45)
  7. 6:13.88, Cadden Maxwell (M, 12)
  8. 6:18.69, Jeff Nielsen (M, 60)
  9. 6:18.69, Connor Aarons (M, 12)
  10. 6:20.94, Darren Whiddon (M, 46)

Top Ten Women, Gulf Winds Track Club's 2018 Rex Cleveland Road Mile
  1. 5:53.15, Stella Lewis (F, 14)
  2. 5:59.62, Clifton Lewis (F, 10)
  3. 6:24.19, Madison Sims (F, 11)
  4. 6:35.63, Maddison Green (F, 13)
  5. 6:37.03, Aza Hampton (F, 12)
  6. 6:44.18, Lourena Maxwell (F, 43)
  7. 6:59.94, Logan Green (F, 13)
  8. 7:07.67, Charlotte Sikes (F, 7)
  9. 7:16.44, Loranne Ausley (F, 55)
  10. 7:28.61, Chloe Molen (F, 8)

Winners of Gulf Winds Track Club's Rex Cleveland Road Mile, 2016 - 2018
DateMenWomenFinishers
2 November 20164:09.14, Ricardo Estremera5:34.19, Amy Hines174
5 November 20174:25, Charlie Johnson5:53, Jillian Heddaeus163
4 November 20184:47.38, Michael Niezgoda5:53.15, Stella Lewis76


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