When our small group began our run just a couple of weeks ago, it was dark and quiet except for the noise we were making. Bradley’s Country Store was locked up tight with no lights that could reach us.
The first 2.25 miles of the run would be on asphalt (as will the last 2.25 miles of this out and back course). The sun immediately begins providing some light and chasing off the dark. Our goal – to the state line and back, a distance of 20K (12.4 miles), on Old Centerville Road
Our geographic area, without question, has an amazing array of national forests, wildlife refuges and parks all loaded with beautiful trails and most showing off rivers, lakes and other bodies of water.
There is even the built for cross country Apalachee Regional Park. The APR has become active again hosting cross county competitions. Despite the construction and renovation that is going on, it remains among the upper echelon of places to host cross country meets.
However, the best place to train might not fit into any of these categories. Old Centerville Road has been designated a “Canopy Road” and parts of the plantation lands that surround the road are managed by Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy but that is pretty much it.
So, it is easy to forget the stretch of road that runs from Bradley’s Country Store on Centerville Road to the Florida-Georgia state line is so special. It is approximately 10K to the state line and 10K back. It slices right through the heart of the Red Hills.
According to the Leon County website for canopy roads, Old Centerville Road “dates back to the early 19th century, shortly after the founding of Tallahassee and Thomasville, Georgia.” Originally it was a “six-mile-long wagon road [and] was part of another north-south route linking the antebellum plantations to the Tallahassee market and rail lines to St. Marks.”
Much of the land to either side of the road either is or was part of huge plantations with vast acres of land characteristic of the Red Hills. Some of the land falls under the supervision and management directives of the Tall Timbers Research Station.
Tall Timber’s website states: “The Red Hills region is a 436,000-acre area located between Thomasville, Georgia, and Tallahassee, Florida. Known for its rolling hills and red clay soils, the region is rich in biological diversity, historic resources, and scenic beauty… The Nature Conservancy has designated the Red Hills as one of America’s “Last Great Places.”
While it rarely takes more than two miles for me to fall off the back of my running group, it is wonderful running this old favorite place again. I think I first ran this road around 1990 or maybe earlier and it was rare to see another runner out there.
Part of that is the location – Bradley’s, the start for the run is approximately 10 miles north of where Centerville Road crosses over I-10. It also can be hard to find water and bathrooms on the route so runners must plan. Leon High School runners know about it, including Andrew Wills who coaches the Leon High Cross Country teams and consider it a great place to run.
But of late the number of groups getting their work out in has exploded. Cyclists with off road bikes have increased their numbers on this route. The variety of groups and the number of runners that run this road now is striking. A bus load of runners from Miami found their way to the road two or three weeks ago after competing at the ARP. FSU’s teams often take advantage of this great place.
A number of high school teams pound the road as well plus there are a lot of runners in groups like mine. They may race the ARP but they run and train on Old Centerville Road. When I finished our run, Bradley’s store had the feeling of the cross-country headquarters for this area.
The road has its own unique offerings for runners. First, over the years, the owners of Bradley’s Country Store have been wonderful in allowing runners to find a place to park.
Second, the surface of the road is great for running hard when it is dry although it can be hard enough to runners. It is hilly but it is beautiful and the traffic is light. Trucks create a dust storm during dry periods, while rain could turn the surface into a slippery mess caking shoes in mud.
If a runner wants to run more than the 12.4 offered by the state line and back course instead of turning around, head north into Georgia on the paved highway. Alternatively, you can make a left turn on Sunny Hill Road which feels like the perfect extension of Old Centerville Road. Learn about the three sisters.
Old Centerville Road is home to one of my favorite races – the GWTC 30K and 15K Races. It is challenging, especially the 30K. Look for it in January of 2021.
David Yon is addicted to running. In his spare time, he is an attorney with the Radey Law Firm.
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