I Go for a Run

David Yon, Revised January 12, 2015 and January 15, 2016

On the second or third Saturday of each year, a race director will lift his or her hand into the sky and, as if all time had quietly stopped and had to be restarted, shout three bold commands: “Runners to your mark, get set, GO!” The runners who glide across the starting line have a chance to experience something distinct, especially those who chose the run the GWTC 30K. The lucky ones have been here often.

I go for a run here, on these clay hills,
In hopes that my feet will find,

The place where mind, body and soul
Sit, chat and share a cup of coffee.

Where sometimes friends drop in
To share in the sweat and toil of life.

Some places are that special.

Old Centerville Road

The photo hangs on the wall in a breakfast nook of our house, created by a friend who had his own special love for running on this rolling road that can transport runners back in time and away from the worst cares of the world. This photo is a window that I can step though when I badly need it to start a run on Old Centerville Road, a place that has often provided needed sanctuary.

Once on the other side of the photo you will find yourself a few dozen feet from Bradley’s Country Store, the start point for a very special running venue – Old Centerville Road. The mostly hard packed clay road cuts through the heart of North Florida’s grand plantation lands, climbing up and down grand hills, rolling past oak lined byways, pasture lands protected by fences and DO NOT TRESPASS signs with pine forests and swamp lands also under guard. Development has made inroads into this territory (including paving the first two and a quarter miles of the road) over the 25 years I have been running out there, but it remains a spectacular place to run. You don’t count the miles out here; you simply run from the second gate on the right at the top of the hill to the large oak at the bottom of the hill after the third plantation or from the old white church at the bottom of the hill to the Georgia state line. It is a place where you can run with yourself and discover an awful lot about your companion. It is a place where mind, body and soul can meet.

Bradley’s Country Store stands as a “not always so attentive” guard telling people who are in a hurry to stay on the paved road and away from Old Centerville Road. Like the venue it portrays, the photo has a special place in my heart. A beautiful large oak tree sits front right, clear and strong. On the left side, less dominant, a ramshackle wooden structure rests unevenly on concrete blocks and seems unlikely to survive the next strong wind. Yet, it seems it has been there always. Together they frame a wooden grinder waiting near the back of the photo for a mule to bring it to life. A fog is rolling in from behind the grinder, a few more minutes and everything but the oak tree will be gone from sight.

The fog was no doubt a warning – move now or risk losing the chance to do so. While he often seemed troubled about things, Kent rarely seemed unhappy either and often brought a room to its knees with laughter as he reenacted some episode of the Andy Griffith Show. He had a great eye for details in his photography and loved to photograph old machines on farms, including abandoned cars. But what I will always remember most, is learning how to run those tall, monster hills and battle the deer fly on Old Centerville Road and on Sunny Hill Road. We learned how to take advantage of the rolling terrain – charge up the hill steadily, but be patient, breath, recover and roll quickly downhill. On the uphill, I learned I better be ready to grab and claw, knowing that at the top of every mountain, there was a bottle of air waiting for each runner just after the crest. But often I just choked on it. Just keep pressing forward though and nothing could hold a runner back.

Ironically, Kent never had the chance to run the 30K on Old Centerville as he lost a battle to cancer at the age of 44 in 1996. It was long before the 30K found its home on Old Centerville Road, that Kent introduced me to the magic of the road. Maybe it was a bit cheesy, but there always extra anticipation when we run to “the state line and back.” The red clay road took us through the bluest skies anywhere, past wide open pasture land, surrounded by pine forests and pointed the way up oak lined driveways to the huge plantations on top of the hill. As silly as it might seem, running to the state line and back created a fun goal I quickly grew to love the hilly red dirt road, despite (maybe even because of) the fact some of the hills seemed to reach too high into the heavens to climb.

I had always admired Kent’s photography skills. He photographed our wedding in 1987 and had a great skill for capturing the “essence” of places and things. So, I tried to commission him to do a photograph from Old Centerville Road. Kent was one of those gracious human beings who just made you feel better anytime you shared space with him. He never met a stranger, having learned a great many of his lessons in life from Andy and his friends in Mayberry, RFD. Of course, he wasn’t about to take a cent for the photo, but instead one day he just showed up with a fully framed gift. I am certain there is some part of him that still runs that road and I rarely make the trip over the road’s hills without thinking about his kindness.

I am glad GWTC’s 30K has found this venue for its home (since 2006) and I hope those who run this event will understand why “I Go for a Run.”