Run favorite trails and routes often enough and they often begin to blend together. We know exactly where to turn, which soft spots to avoid, where every hill starts, and when we get to cut our legs loose and get after it. But what is it that makes certain trails and running routes so special?
Like almost any outdoor sport or activity, the community is often what makes a certain trail or experience memorable. The reason certain areas are so well maintained and vibrant is a direct result of the surrounding community.
One of the most active outdoor communities near Orlando is in a small suburb called Clermont. Their trail of choice is the 10 Mile Clay Loop. At first glance it may seem a little lackluster. It’s a clay road around cow pastures and old orange groves. But the combination of soft dirt, rolling hills, and the away-from-everything feel of the locale makes for running nirvana. As this is a road, so you may see some vehicular traffic, yet not much. Plus it's plenty wide for passing, and even running three, four, or five across.
The best running happens early in the morning before the sun comes up. It’s cool and humid, often with a layer of fog blanketing still green pastures. Once the sun rises, you'll see all the other runners out for their early morning sweat session on the 10-mile loop, everyone from high school teams to running clubs, to professionals to those out on their daily run. Some are running a lap, or two, and others are getting in some hill work. Think Florida’s flat? Talk to some of the professional runners that come here to run on the soft, yet leg-burning hills.
On occasion, professional athletes, like triathlete Michellie Jones and runners Jenny Barringer and Nick Symmonds, can be spotted amongst the regulars, high school athletes, and weekend warriors.
The Loop is no ordinary dirt road; it's soft, smooth, and forgiving.
“Such a nice run. I love it out here," said 800m World Champion David Rudisha after a visit. "This was like Kenya, but with no rocks. Soft, yet quick.”
Some professional runners, like Sarah Haskins who competed in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing China, consider the 10 Mile Clay Loop their home training trail.
Aside from being a great training ground for professionals and locals alike, the community also puts on some fun, friendly, runs throughout the year. The most notable is the Death March in June. The race starts around 1:00pm and runners must have at least 12-ounces of water when leaving checkpoints on the 5K and 10-mile routes due to the brutally hot and shadeless conditions.
For those who prefer racing in cooler temperatures, the Clermont Clay 15K, a one lap run of the loop, happens Sunday, November 22. Follow the directions in your phone or on your GPS to 8928 North Bradshaw Road, Winter Garden, FL 34711. Be on the lookout for event volunteers that'll help direct you where to park.
On race days, portable facilities are usually on site for use. Any other day though, go before you get to the trailhead or be prepared to become one with nature, discretely of course.
The next time you’re in Central Florida and are looking for a good run or some hill work that’s easy on the knees, give this loop a run. Be sure to bring plenty of water, sunscreen and bug spray. If you want to join a group, check out The 10 Mile Clay Loop’s Facebook Page . The "Visitors Posts" section is where you can find out about upcoming runs or post queries for running partners.