Whispering Pines 50K was my fourth Ultra in 6 months, a training run to gauge how much progress I’ve made before I move onto the goal I’ve been really aiming for all year, Wild Hare 50 Mile in November. Being a training run, I didn’t come into the race expecting to put on a strong performance, I hadn’t even tapered as much as I normally did for my previous Ultras. Two weeks out, I ran 57 miles, the most that I have ever ran in a week, that left my legs completely trashed and while dialing it down to 30 miles the week before the race, I decided it would be a good idea that weekend for some punishing hill training at Cedar Ridge Nature Preserve; spending both Saturday and Sunday with 11 mile trips that had me climbing around +1,600ft each. I wanted to see if I progressed to the point where I can get away with a light tapering period for a 50K distance race, 3 days till the race I worried if I would be able to finish it at all with how my legs were feeling.
WP50K would just be a training run, finishing without injury would be my goal I kept reminding myself right before the actual start...not that that ever does any good. I blew past the first of three 10.33 mile loops in what is for me a blistering time of 1:54 hrs; I had been tagging along with a small band of 10-11 min/mile runners for most of the first loop with little regard to pacing myself for later in the race. I was feeling a lot better than expected when I started, spending the last few days before the race walking for a couple miles each day helped to loosen up my legs a lot, and all the hill workouts I did the week before left my legs feeling strong climbing the uphills. Then there are the trails themselves, nicely groomed pine-needle covered single track trails, while having quite a lot of roots to dance around, there was only a few rocks to worry about (nothing my Vibrams couldn’t comfortably handle), making the trails particularly fast and fun to fly through. What started out as a simple training run, after seeing how well I did at the end of the first loop, ended up quickly being a race to see if I can best my first 50K finish time of 6:36 Hrs at Hells Hills 50K back in April.
I was starting to feel the effects of going out too quickly at the start of the race shortly into the 2nd loop, suddenly I started noticing all the hills I was blazing past in the first loop, over 900 ft elevation gain per loop, and fell over a minute behind on my pacing. It was the pace I probably should have been running anyway, and it was a sign I needed to start taking things more conservatively. I was struggling a bit to even keep up that slower pace, until I finally caught up with a friend who was having problems himself; misery loving company and all, we ended up running together the last half of the second loop. Finishing the second loop with the time of 4:09 Hrs, I didn’t have much room for error if I wanted to beat my Hells Hills 50K finish time; bidding my friend goodbye at the starting area aid station, I started what would turn out to be a gauntlet of a third loop.
For around a dozen miles or so this lady has been on my tail, no matter how much I tried to lose her, she would always eventually catch up to me. I was being chased by the Terminator (helps me sometimes to think I'm being chased by wild animals, Zombies, or killer Robots), even her stride sort of resembled how the T-1000 Liquid Terminator ran in Terminator 2; for the next 7 miles into the third loop, I was desperately trying to keep a comfortable lead ahead of her. It was nearing Noon by this time, and the Sun was starting to burst through the morning cloud cover, driving up the temperature to the mid 80s; compounded with the already very humid weather, the third loop was a struggle just to keep going at times, every little hill was an excuse to walk. Around the 6th mile into the third loop my water bottles ran dry (first time running out of fluids the whole race) a mile away till the next aid station, and my left calf muscle started to cramp up. I had no choice but to slow down, and surely enough, the Terminator Lady passed me by around the 7th mile...after around 20 miles of chasing me. I still had a small but comfortable margin to break my Hells Hills 50K record though, and that was enough to keep myself from taking it easy for the last 3 or so miles
Not only did I break my Hells Hills 50K record, I found the reserve the last few miles to haul my butt to finish in just under 6 and half hours (officially 6:29:17 Hr), a new 50K PR made all the more impressive considering Hells Hills 50K had half as much elevation gain! I’m more confident than ever now after this race that I can handle my first 50 miler at Wild Hare in November. I feel that I’ve been making significant progress ever since I started my 1st 50K Ultra in April, so it’s great to see my efforts in training so hard over the summer validated with a strong finish at Whispering Pines 50K. I’m also very thankful for this race for letting me discover the beauty that is Tyler State Park. The trails running through lush and cavernous Pine forest areas were breathtakingly beautiful at times, I’m already trying to see when I can next make it out there again for a training run; Tyler State Park is a gem out in the middle of nowhere, I will definitely be back next year for this race!