It takes a particular person to participate in a race like the ‘Round the Bay Relay, ‘ which will start around five on December 30th. [you can still sign up here] The 36.8-mile run along the roads and paths of the Choctawhatchee Bay meanders along Okaloosa Island, The Mid-Bay Bridge, Niceville and Bluewater Bay, Next to the Airport, through Shalimar and Fort Walton Beach and ends where it starts: at the Elks Lodge on the Island.
It takes an even more daring runner to do the race, an ultramarathon, by themselves.
Robert Mayor didn’t envision himself running ultramarathons. The military brat was on the Navarre High School Track and Cross Country teams in high school after his family moved back to the US from Incerlik, Turkey.
But he took to it and loved the sport. After high school, he had to make changes to his running lifestyle. “Because I knew I knew my limitations, I was not going to be fast enough to try to get on the Florida State [University]’s team; ‘what can I do that still involves running, but that gives me that same type of satisfaction I had in high school?'” Mayor said.
He found the answer initially in the Ragnar relays – the team runs over a 200-mile course. Those got boring, so he moved on to more intense runs – 24-hour races with five teammates. “It gave me that sense of adventure,” he said.
He’s found that as his commitment to his sport increases, his religious zeal grows in tandem. After college, his running and faith took a backseat to other things in life. He moved back to the panhandle, Crestview, in 2017 and began to run again in 2020 and saw his faith grow and his mile splits decrease.
The secret to that growth is simple – no headphones or cell phones. “I made a very conscious decision back in college for safety reasons to not run with headphones, no music, no podcasts,” Mayor remembers, “So when I go out for a run, it’s just me and my thoughts and the Holy Spirit. I’d never put that together, but any time I go for a run, if I’m having a difficult time, it helps me organize my thoughts.”
When he runs the ultramarathon on his own, it will be with the same desire to better himself that he found after high school through running. “I was not consistent,” he said of his running before 2020, “nor was I in the shape I felt I should be. And I relate that to the faith because, as I reflect on it now – my running is very entwined with the journey of my faith. When my running is strong, my faith is strong. And when my running is weak, my faith is weak.”
This year’s Round The Bay Relay has the most signups ever. Organizer Dennis Samac says the 13th year of the competition will feature more than 300 runners on 35 teams. The run also includes 43 ultramarathoners like Robert, who will run the race by themselvesid.
But like every year before – no one wins prizes for fast times. The risks, Samac says, are too high to encourage individual competition. “We don’t give prizes out, so that our runners stop and make sure they don’t get hit,” Samac said in an interview with Mid Bay News.
Individual runners will begin their races at around five in the morning, accrording to the website – the teams will have staggered starts early in the morning, between 630 and 645. You should be able to see the runners in the Niceville area between 800 and 930. You will also see cheering supporters and support vehicles.
No roads in the area will close for the race, and runners are expected to follow regular traffic laws.
In addition to the total mileage, the course includes seven bridges, nine hills, and four bayous. The cost to enter as a relay runner is $35. Ultra runners must pay a $55 fee. People who sign up after 12/11/23 must pay an additional late fee.