Thursday, June 25, 2009

A tour of the Apalachee Regional Park cross-country course

In order to tour the Apalachee Regional Park cross-country course, first you have to get to Apalachee Regional Park. The park is located at 7550 Apalachee Parkway, or about four-and-a-half miles east of US-319 on US-27. The map below shows the route from the intersection of US-319 (Capital Circle) and US-27 (Apalachee Parkway) to the park.

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Once in the park, the dirt road to Seminole Remote-Control Airfield also goes to the cross-country course, which is just north of the airfield. Be respectful of the pilots and their aircraft--these are not predator drones, but no one wants a remote-control plane or helicopter to hit you in the head. The course actually runs along the tree line north of the airfield, but the starting line is in another field to the west (i.e., on your left as you head north past Seminole Remote-Control Airport).

The starting line will be at the west end of the west field. Looking east you can see the first quarter-mile of the course, a flat straightaway across the field.

At the east end of the field, a quarter-mile from the start, the runners will have to pass through a stand of live oaks into the next field. In a race with a large number of runners, getting through this narrow "gate" may be exciting.

Once through the "gate," you're back in same field as the Seminole Remote-Control Airport, which will be to the runners' right. The course heads straight to the tree-line.

Having reached the tree-line, the course follows it along the north end of the field.

Continue to follow the winding north edge of the field.

Approaching the end of the first half-mile, the course starts making a turn to the north. You'll leave the field and the course will run along an unpaved road.

Near the half mile, the road is continuing to turn to the north. The road was still a clay surface when these photos were taken, but Leon County plans to add a layer of pulverized oyster shells, which should hold up better in wet weather.

Past the half-mile mark, the road runs almost directly north. You probably won't even notice it, but to the right is old Leon County landfill. To the left is a thickly wooded area that the second half of the loop runs through. Straight ahead, you can see that the road makes a sharp right turn to the east.

After a sharp turn, the course briefly continues on a road bordering the old landfill. Soon, though, the runners exit the road to the left to run through a field north of the road.

After leaving the road, the course heads north across a field and then into a pine woods.

Near the three-quarters-of-a-mile mark, the course winds gently through a pine woods towards Lake Lafayette.

Nearing Lake Lafayette, the course bends back toward the west.

The course continues to bend until you're headed south, away from the lake and back out of the pine woods.

Once out of the woods, the course runs along the edge of the field south of the old landfill. Up ahead, hidden by the trees, is a dip in the course, a challenge to runners' footing.

The dip! Be ready for it so that you don't stumble or make a face plant. Runners prepared for the dip won't experience anything worse than a brief break in their rhythm.

After the dip, the course continues west along the rim of the field, but on a shaded stretch that photographers will love.

Here's another view of the short canopied stretch of the course, just before it makes a right turn into the jungle.

The course turns right and slopes down into the jungle. the one-mile mark is coming up.

Past the mile mark, the course continues to descend gently downhill. Notice the root marked for removal with orange spray paint. This part of the course started out as a small trail hacked
out of the jungle. A lot of work went into bringing it to this state, and much more work is planned to improve it further.

Here you're coming up on the lowest part of the course. You can see it ahead because it has been elevated with gravel, like a similar stretch of hiking trail in Pine Log State Forest.

The rocks, a gravel stretch through a low spot of the course. The footing isn't good, but it's much bettter than the forest-floor muck on either side of the course. Additionally, the county plans to add a layer of pulverized oyster shells on top of the gravel, which should make for much better running.

Once the oyster shell layer is in place, the trees in the jungle will start to layer the top of the trail with leaves. A couple of seasons of fallen leaves will make this one of the best stretches of the course.

Here you can see ahead to the end of the rocks. As mentioned before, the rocks mark the lowest part of the course, so the rest of the loop will necessarily be more uphill than downhill.

Past the rocks, the course starts to climb gently upward through the jungle.

Climbing further, the course crosses an old berm. This is historically exciting, because it's probably left over from old agricultural use of the land, possibly ante-bellum cotton culture, or even pre-Columbian settlements. However, for runners it's just another place to stumble if you're not alert.

Beyond the berm, the course continues its gentle climb. If you're not tired, you might not even notice that the course isn't flat.

Ending its gentle ascent, the course makes a gentle descent to another low area, the second bridge. You probably didn't even notice the first bridge, did you?

Up ahead, the lighter-colored soil marks the second bridge--i.e., where a drainage culvert was added to channel water under the course.

Okay, maybe I'm over-selling it by calling it a bridge. But it does mark the last low spot on the loop. From here, it's all a climb back to the starting-line field.

Past the bridge, the ascent has started, gently at first. Because of the trees and the turns, the runners never see all of this hill at once, so it's difficult to gauge how long or tough it is.

The course continues up through the jungle on its way back to the west field.

Up ahead you can see a bright spot through the trees, marking an open area--the west field. Once the runners crest this hill they're almost done with the loop.

Back in the first field is the one-and-a-half mile mark of the course. Keep heading south.

Around the starting straightaway the first loop ends. In order to do a five-kilometer cross-country race, the runners will have to turn left (east) here and do a second loop, a modified version of the first loop.

Here's a map of the second loop, courtesy of Brian Corbin. The main difference between the two loops is that the second loop doesn't go as far east, omitting the pine woods.

For a five-kilometer run, at the end of the second loop the runners will continue south past the starting straightaway, heading for the south end of the first field.

At the south end of the field, the runners will turn left (east), following the edge of the field.

The finish line will be along the edge of the field.

That's how the course appeared when I visited in June 2009. Leon County will be doing more work on the course, and there will be at least one more volunteer work day out there this summer. Another thing that would improve the course is having people run on it. So head out to Apalachee Regional Park with your walking or running shoes, and see if the photos do the cross-country course justice.


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