Sunday, June 2, 2013

2013 Whispering Pines 50K Race Report

Nothing like a lengthy recuperation process from an injury for a runner to start spiraling down the drain of self-doubt and pity.  My ITB has been nagging me ever since Rocky Raccoon, trying to recover from it has been like taking two steps forward and one step back, every time I would build some confidence in it holding together on a training run, I’d be disappointed when it craps out on me again during a race.  My ITB has really been throwing my training off, making me apprehensive about tackling hills, doubting myself if I should take an extra rest day or not (and feeling guilty when I take too many), and overall driving down my weekly mileage to the point where hitting the mid-40s seems like a breakthrough.  I’ve tried various ITB stretches, foam rolling daily, and exercises that’s supposed to strengthen it, but the niggling presence of my ITB phantom has always haunted me in most runs...daring me to take that extra mile.  It wasn't all bad news though, while my ITB got aggravated again somewhere in the early 20s mileage at Hells Hills 50K, it was holding together well enough till in the late 20s at Possum Kingdom 55K, and the recovery process from those Ultras were fairly quick; progress and hope that I could hold onto as motivation in driving me forward as I train for Cactus Rose.

I felt like I needed more rest after Possum Kingdom, that extra 5K was really tortuous, my legs haven’t felt so trashed since my first couple of Ultras, my endurance has taken a serious hit from the slow ramp up in my training after Rocky, and I wanted to spend more time training before jumping to my next Ultra.  Whispering Pines 50K held at Tyler State Park, just 5 weeks after Possum Kingdom, was not a race I was going to miss however; last year when I was going through another such running funk after my first three rough and technical Ultras left me feeling beaten downed and weary of heading out on the trails any time soon, the promise of smoother terrain than what I experienced at the Capt’n Karl races and the lure of running through the beautiful Piney woods of Tyler State Park had me signing up...I was not disappointed.  Last year my spirit felt incredibly rejuvenated being surrounded by the lush greenery, towering pine forest, and beautiful wildflowers you’ll run past at Tyler State Park; I also felt more strong and confident than ever in my running (the smoother terrain definitely helped), after having gone through the gauntlet of the Capt’n Karl 60K races, all my training was paying off and I had one of the most exhilarating races from last year...this year’s race would be no different.

This year’s race at Whispering Pines 50K started off at a moderate pace, the humidity was around 80-90% (though many claimed it was 100%) and I completely soaked through my shirt in the first 2 miles even though it was only around 70 degrees when we started at 6:30am.  I felt sluggish adjusting to the humidity, moving along at a conservative but decent 11-12 minute pace for the first 8 miles or so, taking off my shirt helped somewhat with the occasional breeze providing some relief.  I’m trying to be more conscious about starting off more slowly at the start of an Ultra, but I was excited to be back at Tyler State Park after so long, and started to remember why I loved the course so much.  Texas is often not a forgiving place for trail runners, the trails are often extremely rocky, especially when it comes to trails in the Hill Country area, I don’t blame others for wearing those oversized Hoka shoes...I’m often tempted to wear them myself.  For a Vibram and minimalist enthusiast though, Texas trails are very challenging places to run, I dance around rocks like they were hot coals, and grimace and try to hold my tongue on rockier sections that I can’t avoid; my feet has gotten incredibly tough running so much Ultras in Vibram Spyridons, but stepping on rocks is never an enjoyable experience, and my finishing times are definitely impacted by the rocks.  I believe choosing to wear Vibrams has made me a better runner though, more mindful and respectful of the dangers of trail running (so many others sprained or broken their ankles or busted their knees that day), and my feet, ankles, and legs have become more resilient the more Ultras I do in them.  So, when I come across trails like the one in Huntsville State Park or Tyler State Park that doesn’t have much in the way of rocks to pound away at my feet (though there are a few stretches of rocky trails at Tyler SP), it feels very liberating to just be able to run and run fast.

I didn’t quite burn through the first loop as fast as I did last year, there’s a fair amount of hills the last two miles of the 10.4 mile course loop, and I took that opportunity to slow things down and conserve myself for the long haul; I finished the first loop at just over 2 hours, compared to around 1:47 hours the previous year.  It was slowly starting to heat up now, making the humidity seem even worse, I grabbed my handheld from drop bag, in addition to the fuelbelt I was already wearing, to use as a cooldown bottle to dump water over my head and headed off for the second loop.  It was ridiculous how much I was sweating, I was popping Endurolytes and S-caps like they were candy, and was dumping so much water over my head that the 40 ounces of carrying capacity I was lugging along barely lasted me between aid stations 3-4 miles apart.  Last year, Whispering Pines was held in mid October, a much cooler part of the year for racing, when it was moved to early June for 2013, I was quite nervous about running a 50K in the daytime hours of Summer.  I seem to sweat at an unusually high rate, seriously, it looks like I fell down a puddle just 2-3 miles into a run when it’s only 70 degrees or so outside; running an Ultra in June was not something I was looking forward to.  All the storms the past several weeks in North Texas has left the temperature pretty manageable in the 70s to low 80s however (probably the result of all the Tornados that ripped up Oklahoma...sadly), so I kept thinking to myself it could have been so much worse today, and I had better take advantage of the situation.  I was playing a game where I would only reward myself with squirts of ice cold water over my head after several minutes of running, to discourage myself from wanting to walk in the warm and extremely humid weather.  This kept my pace to a respectable 12-13 min/mile, I ran into a friend doing the 20 miler on the last three miles just past the 2nd Aid Station and we completed the loop together, finishing the 2nd loop at 4:15 hrs.

I felt surprisingly good after the first 20 miles, the crushing humidity notwithstanding, I had given up on my experiment of relying on mainly Clif Bars that I believe had a large part in me experiencing drastic declines in energy levels that I was running into around the 18-20 mile mark on my previous two Ultras at Hells Hills and Possum Kingdom.  Instead I went back to the old tried and true method of sucking down gels every 20-30 minutes...I probably would have dropped the race after two loops if my energy levels would have gone off a cliff again at mile 20, the heat and humidity would’ve stuck that fork in me long ago.  I started to leave for the 3rd and final loop, when I finally remembered to bring along my camera, before I left the Race Director said focusing on taking pictures may distract me from the heat and humidity, and surprisingly it worked.  I was so intent on running to the locations I was scoping out on the first two loops to take pictures, that I made it to the 1st aid station about 3 miles into the race with seemingly no effort at all; was just too bad most of the photos I took in those 3 miles were terribly blurry because my camera sucks at taking photos on the run, thankfully I figured it all out soon after.

One of the few early shots that turned out decent.

The next 3 miles is not one of my more enjoyable stretches, this is one of the more hilly sections of the course; shortly after you leave the aid station, you’ll be climbing around 150 ft for about a mile, then drop and ascend some more hills in a twisty section with lots of switchbacks up those hills.  What makes it seem even longer than 3 miles, is that you can actually see the aid station a few times as you make it through all the turns, and when you finally do make it to the intersection where the aid station is literally just 15 ft away from you to your left, you are sent off on one last mini-loop of around 0.8 miles...  This section was the hardest part for me last year because I only brought along one water bottle that ran out a mile from the aid station when it was heating up on the 3rd loop, and I highly recommend bringing more than one water bottle just for this section of the course.  With two water bottles with me to stay hydrated this year, instead of dreading that little 0.8 mile loop to get to the aid station, I was really looking forward to it the most in the run, as all along this little loop there were various wildflowers blooming and lush vegetation all around me; I definitely took more photos in this mile’ish long stretch than any other mile on the course.


I rested for several minutes at the 2nd Aid Station, giving my legs a little breather, before tackling perhaps the most fun and exhilarating section of the course.  Soon after you leave the aid station, you’re sent tumbling down an incline of over a 165 ft in a span of little over half a mile.  This was a pretty smooth and straight section with only a few roots to worry about, making it a blast to run down; my Garmin had me clocking in at 6:53 min/mile for my best pace on this section, pretty incredible considering I was over 27 miles into my run and had been averaging 13-14 min/mile paces for the past 7 miles.  I would pay for that brief moment of fun though, as it left my quads throbbing from the effort...just in time too for the last 2 miles of the course that’ll send you up and down (though mainly up) on some pretty big hills.  I puttered along at a slow 15+ minute pace to the finish, it was now hotter than it has ever been during the race as the Sun was finally breaking through the cloud cover for most of the day, combined with the already horrible humidity, it was like forcing myself through an invisible membrane of heavy, moist, and hot gas.

I finished the race in 6:42 hrs, having never felt more relieved since I finished my 100 miler at Rocky Raccoon, not just so that I can stop running in what felt like a sauna for most of the race, but simply for the reason that my ITB held together for all 31 miles.  I felt miserable for most of the race with the heat and humidity constantly wearing me down, and from my own lack of endurance because of minimal training leading up to the race that showed up pretty early with exhausted legs; thoughts of quitting or settling for a 7+ hour finish never entered my mind though.  Not once did my ITB threaten to blow up on me, I kept waiting for it to happen past mile 20, then 23, or perhaps 27, but it never came...and subsequently I didn’t have an excuse to slow down and ended up having one of my best race of 2013!  I don’t want to jinx myself, but I’m hoping the long road of recovery from Rocky Raccoon is finally over, and I can focus my mindset not on recovering, but on training for Cactus Rose instead.  Whispering Pines 50K brought me out of a funk and rejuvenated my running spirit last year, and it has done so again this year, this may be one of those special races that I’ll never try to miss...thanks Endurance Buzz Adventures for putting on another great race!

Some additional photos below taken throughout the race:


Garmin info of the entire race, it was over 2 miles off the mark (clouds and tall trees ruins the accuracy significantly), best used as an estimate -


  1. gorgeous park! glad you are running strong and healthy.

  2. Thanks for these WP race reports. Wanted to see how technical/hilly it was. The pics help a lot! Looks beautiful! Ran PK 20k yesterday and swore I wasn't going to do Whispering Pines. Then I woke up this morning, legs throbbing, and thought, "Yeah, let's see about doing WP..." I guess this is how trail running addiction goes, huh? :)

    1. The trails have a mysterious draw to them, that's for sure, you may be beating yourself up out there, but the views can be worth it :) Glad my report was helpful to you, Whispering Pines is a great course to run, mostly smooth the whole way (though you do have to be mindful of roots), a few challenging hills to mix it up, and gorgeous forested areas the whole way through. I would recommend the 20 mile option at WP, because you're just going to want to head out for a second loop anyway after you finish the first.

    2. Ha! Yeah, I promise, if another 10 miles sounds even remotely appealing when I'm done with one loop, I'll sign up for 20 next year. :) I'm not trained up for 20 right now, especially with it getting hot. At the moment, 10-13 miles hits that sweet spot for me of misery, accomplishment, and not feeling horrible the next day. See you out there!