A Good Thing Comes to an End – Pine Run 1977 to 2006
I have run the fastest Pine Run I will ever run. And I have run the slowest Pine Run I will ever run. I have run it healthy and with good courage and I have limped through it with injuries. I will forever hold the slowest winning time. I have raced friends and foes and above all made great memories. But I will never do any of it again. The era of the Pine Run has come to an end.
Each year, about this time, for the past four or five years, I have anxiously reached out to Janice Baty at the Southlands Experimental Forest and International Paper (IP) – “Will there be a race this year?” Often she did not know when I first asked. But somehow we kept getting one more year, including number thirty last year. But IP’s business model is changing and it is working hard to sell the property that serves as the course for Pine Run. Finally this year, the answer was “No there will be no Pine Run.” It has been a wonderful partnership and Janice and her coworkers have been wonderful hosts. So I choose not to be angry, but to appreciate all they have done for us over the 30 years we were blessed with the opportunity to run there. But if I could ask one thing, it would be to run it once more, knowing it would be the last – a last chance to say good bye to a good friend.
The Pine Run was the sport of running at its best – simple, tough, rewarding, beautiful and full of great companionship. In 1977, Herb Wills and Tim Simpkins fought each other before Herb captured the first title in 1:07:19. They were followed by 119 other runners. Rosemary Deslodge was the first woman in 1:26:21. Bill McGuire and Moondance became fixtures early in the race’s history, jumping on stage to entertain crowds of tired runners who spread blankets, libations and food on the grass turf. I wasn’t there for the first, but I know runners that year did what we all did for many years thereafter – they told stories of their efforts on the course, the hills, the rocks, the mud, the heat or the cold. The run, for those who missed this treasure, took place on the grounds of the Southlands Experimental Forest. When you entered the property you got a scary preview of what was to come as your car stalled climbing the “North Carolina type” hills and your stomach did a little flip thinking about trying to run those gut busters. The sides of the road driving in were marked by signs declaring when the rows of experimental trees were planted over ten year intervals. You had to be careful though as more than once deer bolted across the road just missing runners and cars.
While the course did change some a couple times, it never lost its unique character – marked by beauty and toughness. Many seasoned Pine Run participants believe the course was lengthened the last time it was changed and might have been “materially” longer than 20K. (Of course many seasoned runners believe ALL courses have been lengthened.) But, regardless, The Course made for great memories. On a rainy day, especially on the original course, there was slick clay mud that either slowed you down with ten pounds of new weight, grabbed your shoe or sent you sprawling on your butt. I recall a short downhill that was better skied than run. The Monster hill you had to climb starting late in the tenth mile was always tough, but became shear agony on a warm humid day. Getting out of your car on a cool fall day, made you think you had found a “Rocky Mountain High.” That sensation would last for three miles or so. And then there were the rocks IP used to maintain the roads; but runners cursed them with a passion usually saved for incompetent race directors. There was the false sense of relief after climbing the rocky hill in mile two and three when the smooth pavement under foot let a runner temporarily relax only to look up a few hundred feet later and see the top of another hill towering high above your head.
There was the joy of cresting that last “North Carolina Hill” and heading downhill for two miles making up some of the time you had just lost and giving you hope. Then it got flat. And that was ok at first, but it just kept going. And going. And you knew what was coming. The Monster. I always felt in many ways this flat stretch was the toughest part of the race. The calm and beauty of the woods called to you to just slow down and enjoy. “Save it for the hill,” the trees whispered. If you won this fight, you won the respect of the forest and you usually caught a lot of people. And then you had still had to climb the Monster. It was a long steep hill up a rutted dirt road that took you past the eleven mile mark and, if you conquered it, back to the pavement. The pavement that made you believe you could finish this race. The pavement brought respite and downhill until the last off road stretch which took you to the finish. To the music, to the food and to the drink – which usually included an IP furnished keg. And, finally, to the many friendships that made this event so special.
So, I have lost a friend, but I will keep the memories. They are the memories that remind me just why running is so special.