So what’s up with the Gum Tree course this year?
Yes, you faithful Gum Tree entrants will notice a different second mile Saturday. But should you worry?
No! In fact, this might make the course easier.
OK, OK, since I’ve said easier, let me explain.
First, on the old second mile route, you had the steepest incline on the course from the end of Park Street to the intersection of Jackson Street and Clayton Avenue. Now turning off Park Street onto Blair Street, you still have an incline up to Clayton Avenue, but it is not as steep.
Second, Woodlawn Drive has more shade than the Jackson Street stretch between Clayton Avenue and Joyner Avenue. And while the Gum Tree in recent years has not suffered from intense sunlight, shade is still nice.
Also, the Woodlawn Drive stretch is still downhill, like the Jackson Street stretch.
Now that I’ve said what is positive about the new second mile, let me tell you what might be the biggest complaint more turns. I figure that most of you who will do the Gum Tree will have no problem with two extra turns, but the fast runners competing for money and age division honors might.
Why? Let me use this example indoor tracks versus outdoor tracks. Times at outdoor track meets are faster than indoor because the outdoor tracks are bigger and there are fewer turns.
So, after what I’ve just said, what is my short response about the new second mile? Get used to the new scenery, because this seems to be a good change and a permanent one.
First mile: The only way you can make the first mile tough is to go out too fast. It is shady, mostly straight and any bumps are not worth noting.
Second mile: Already discussed, but let me tell you it has the highest elevation point on the course.
Third mile: After leaving Joyner Avenue, the most turns on the course. Still plenty of shade, but it is the last mile when you will have relief from the sun.
Slight uphill on Joyner Avenue, at end of Chester Avenue and Maxwell Street. Slight downhill on Marshall Street and very slight on Clayton Avenue.
Fourth mile: This is usually where the fun begins for the fast and slow runners alike. I’ve seen many an eventual champ make their move this mile, and many a person hits their wall about this time.
Great little downhill on the ramp from Country Club Road onto McCullough Boulevard. And when you’re on McCullough it’s the beginning of one of the most invisible uphills you’ll find.
Do not base your opinion of McCullough from driving the course.
Fifth mile: First half continues the McCullough hill. Then you get to exit down onto Front Street.
No shade here if the sun is beating down.
Final 1.2 miles: Now you’re hit with the Gum Tree’s second optical illusion. Here in the sixth mile do not look at the Bank of Mississippi Building.
It NEVER seems to be getting closer, no matter how hard you run. Wind can be a problem here also.
Caution: Watch out for early turns in the course because of how tightly grouped everyone still is.
The big danger is the first turn from Front Street onto Jefferson Street. Also at the end of the first mile, the turn from Jefferson Street to Park Street is very sharp.
In the second mile, turning onto Joyner Avenue always seemed very sharp to me, and it should still be despite the course change.
Turns in the third mile are not quite as noticeable, partly because the field has thinned out by the time you get there.
My advice on how to run the Gum Tree?
Well, if you’re trying to set a PR, run smart until you get to McCullough, then I hope you trained enough to survive after that. Actually, there is no good advice except to run smart, and enjoy Mississippi’s largest and finest road race.
David Wheeler writes a monthly running column for the Daily Journal.