The Whispering Pines 50K was the race that almost wasn't. I literally waited till the last minute to register, and didn't really train like I should for the race. I hadn't actually run on trails since July and had been strictly road running due to time constraints.
Regardless, I knew that I needed at least one longer run before I thought about registering for the Cactus Rose 100 so the Whispering Pines 50K fit perfectly into that schedule.
This race was meant to be nothing more than a training run and placing in the top three never crossed my mind. I was gonna go out there and run the "race" I had planned.
The course was three laps of 10.3 or so miles on some beautiful rolling trails in the piney woods of East Texas. There were tall Pine trees everywhere with the occasional rock or two with the rest being perfect pine covered single track.
I drove out to Tyler the morning of and arrived early than planned. It allowed me about an hour to change and set up my chair near the finish/start area. Dave did the pre-race meeting while I finished up some last minute business, then I headed over to the start line to chat with friends for a few minutes before we were sent off.
Dave sent us off right at 7:30 and I was right in 4th place. Some guy jumped off the front pretty hard and I assumed we'd never see him again. There was a group of two guys just ahead of me, but were soon out of sight. There were a few nice quick little climbs here and I slowed to a hike once or twice. Soon the trail leveled out a bit on some nice smooth single track. I got to talking with the guy behind me and found out it was David Renfro. We had a great chat and enjoyed each others company for a few miles.
Soon enough he jumped ahead and started slowly pulling away. I stayed back with a guy named Jonathan. We did a lot of talking here and hung together for quite awhile. Soon enough we were past the last aid station on the loop and Jonathan told me we had less than a mile till we were back at the start. I really needed to pull off the trail and handle some business so I let Jonathan run ahead while I jumped behind a tree.
I did my business and quickly hopped back on the trail. Soon enough I was right back at the start but Jonathan was nowhere in sight. I said hey to Dave and saw that I'd finished the first loop in 1:34:28. I spent 1:32 at the start replacing gels and headed back out for another loop.
I quickly came up on somewhere else but was unsure who it was. I passed them and realized I was in 4th place. Then not a few minutes later I saw the guy that had jumped off the front early walking. I couldn't believe it. I gave him some words of encouragement and passed him for 3rd place.
I couldn't believe how much the people in front of me were slowing. Then all the sudden I could see another person up ahead. I started chasing a bit here and realized it was David! I caught up and we chatted then I made the pass for 2nd place. I wasn't sure at this point was place I was in, but David told me I was in 2nd. I asked if a guy in a red shirt was ahead of us and he said yes. I knew it was Jonathan.
Once I passed David I really focused on catching Jonathan. I was probably pushing a bit harder than I should have but I was pretty pumped to be in 2nd place.
After less than a half mile I caught up with Jonathan and did some more chatting with him. I found out this was his first ultra. We had a great chat, but soon the conversation started to fade and we were both working a bit harder. The course had some nice climbs after the 2nd aid station and there was one winding switchback climb that took a bit out of both of us.
After a few minutes I could hear Jonathans steps behind me fading a bit. I was really enjoying his compnay, but knew that if I was gonna get a gap between us I needed to open it up so he couldn't see me anymore. He thanked me for pulling him along for awhile and we parted ways. I jumped up to another gear and started opening the gap. Within a mile or so I couldn't see him anymore and just focused on keeping the pace up. My legs were starting to burn a bit and I knew the next lap would suck, but it was cost of the pace I was trying to hold.
This training run had quickly turned into a race.
I got back to the start and saw that I'd finished that lap in 1:30:54, about 4 minutes faster than my first lap. I spent 1:05 replacing my gels and headed out back onto the single track for a pretty painful last lap.
I ran out of the aid station and tried to run everything I could. I was definitely doing more hiking, but when I was running I was still running well. There were two aid stations out on the course and I just focused on making to the next aid station as quickly as possible.
I kept occasionally looking back waiting to see someone charging hard to catch me, but to my surprise I didn't see anyone.
My running was still pretty and my hiking was great. I knew that if I could make it to the last aid station, my odds of actually winning the race were pretty good. I made the winding climb back up towards the final aid station, did the short loop by the aid station and was suddenly back at the 3rd aid station filling my bottles.
I still couldn't believe no one had passed me. I was calculating my finish time somewhere around 4:40-4:50 and knew that really isn't that competitive of a finish time. I left the aid station quick and started running as quick as I could.
The course dropped quite a bit here so I opened it up and pushed the downhills pretty hard. I turned back uphill after around a mile and I could feel my left leg start to try and cramp up a bit. The heat was turning up and it was probably between 80-85 degrees. I kept sipping on my water and took an extra salt tab, but one bottle of water wasn't lasting between aid stations in this heat.
I paced the bottle just right and was completely empty with about a half mile to go. Then I could all the sudden feel my right calf start to try and cramp up. I shortened my stride quite a bit and didn't take any large steps up.
I kept looking behind me, but no one was to be seen. I growing confident that I was actually going to win the race.
I started recognizing the terrain and made the final turn to see the parking lot and finish.
I crossed the line in 1st place in a time of 4:50:57 and a final lap of 1:42:57. The final lap was 8 minutes slower than my first and 12 minutes slower than my 2nd, but I couldn't complain with the heat and lack of training.
It may not be my fastest 50K, but it was my first 50K win and that's something I can't complain about.
Big thanks to Dave and Endurance Buzz Adventures for putting on a fantastic top notch event. The attention to details is awesome.