A Conversation with Gordon Cherr - The Pine Run

By David Yon

To be the director of GWTC’s Pine Run 20K race is to be one entrusted with a special piece of art. It requires someone who appreciates the unique nature of this hilly trail run. Saturday October 13, 2012 will be the 5th year that Gordon Cherr has taken care of that art treasure, serving as director of the race. Here are some of his thoughts about the race.

1. What do you feel is special about Pine Run?

The Pine Run is unique in that it draws many runners who don’t often run trails, as opposed to roads or road races. For some, it is the only trail running that they will do all year. This Pine Run, held at the Tall Timbers Research Station, is really unique because of the land it is run on, from the upland long leaf pine/wire grass forest of the Red Hills, down through grassy fields of fall wildflowers in bloom, to the hardwood hammock bordering Lake Iamonia, and even onto peninsulas jutting out into the lake. There is so much natural beauty to appreciate on this course. Every time I run there I see things I never saw or appreciated before. The Tall Timbers people are incredible stewards of the land.

My proudest memory of this race and this place is the two women who approached me after the first race here in 2008. One of them was crying. She said that when they ran out on one of the roads that run through a lowland swampy area, that they just stopped and stared and forgot all about the race, gazing out into the swamp with all of its wildflowers in bloom. These ladies had never run trails and never run outside of the city. They said that it was the most beautiful thing they had ever seen, and it brought this one lady to tears.

2. Compare your experience as a runner vs a race director?

There isn’t any comparison. I mean when you run or race you are one-dimensional and just into yourself. Running for me is a core experience much of the time.

But race directing makes me nervous for weeks and months leading up to the race. There are so many logistics to worry about and I am not a great delegator, and putting on a race is definitely a group effort. We are so fortunate to have such a great track club here and so many people who give unselfishly of their time, volunteering to help out at races.

I worry about the care and feeding of several hundred runners; you want them to be safe, not get lost (which can and does happen in trail races as long as this one), and I want them to have a great experience. But this race hurts no matter how you cut it. It is long (12.4 miles) and there are some fine hills out there. If you finish in one piece, and if you wake up Sunday with your legs reminding you that you really did something the day before, then all of us putting on this race did a good job. I hope that when a runner who has tackled this race sees another wearing a Pine Run shirt, that they both know what it took to earn it.

3. How long have you directed the race?

I have directed this race since 2008 at Tall Timbers. I ran Pine Run dozens of times when it was held on the property of the International Paper Company outside of Bainbridge, Georgia from 1977-2006, I think. That was another tough course, different, but well respected by local runners. It had some monster hills and gravelly trail in places that was hard to run on. Remember “Monster Hill” that was a mile long, that started around the 10.5 mile mark? I do, and I’ll never forget it. It seems to me that the same core of local runners came back year after year for that challenge.

The Pine Run has never been a run for everyone and I haven’t tried to change it and make it easier for everyone either. It will teach a lesson in humility if you don’t respect it.