By David Yon
Each year the whispers grow a little bit louder – “this might be the last Pine Run.” I think this year, the forest was listening and it put on quite a show. As we drove in over the “North Carolina” hills, a deer bolted from the woods, almost running into our car before it turned around and sprinted back into the woods. As Clint Watkins was in the middle of his warm up another deer darted out and nearly trampled him as it charged with fierce elegance and grace to the other side of the road. The wind blew through the tops of the trees bringing with it just enough coolness to let us know this was a “showcase” day for the Pine Run. The Southland Forest, home to International Paper since 1957, seemed to say, I will be here forever.
The Southland Forest extends beyond just the Pine Run area and it is a special place. Not only does it serve as a lab for growing trees, but the silver lake tract is part of a “habitat conservation plan” for the red-cockaded woodpecker that has received special recognition from the Georgia Audubon Society. The International Paper company 2004 Forest Facts boasts not just of profits, but that a pair of eagles in this forest has produced 17 offspring to add to the local eagle population.
And on October 8, that strangest of all species – the Human Runner – invaded the place for the 28th running of the 20K. Under Joe McGlincy’s direction and with the outstanding support and help of Janice Baty and IP, a good crowd of 136 runners made the case why this is the most special race of the year. Miles Gibson led the pack from the beginning and, if he ever looked back, it wasn’t to see anyone gaining on him. His winning time of 1:19:41 was the fastest winning time since Art Remillard’s win (1:19:28) in 2000. Reid Vannoy overtook Tim Unger late in the race to capture second place in 1:21:06. Jane Johnson, tuning up for her marathon in North Carolina, captured the women’s title with a time of 1:29:55. Second place went to a smiling Kim Likens (maybe the only person to finish with a smile) who ran 1:37:56.
Of course the post race celebration included Bill McGuire’s music, blankets spread on the grass field, sore and stiff bodies, and lots of smiles. One of those smile belonged to race director Joe McGlincy who said, “you know in two years it will be the 30th.” I could hear the whispers in the breeze behind me saying “Ok, two more years – at least.” Here is hoping the trees keep growing taller and a wonderful experience never dies.