Tall Timbers beauty on display for rugged, hilly Pine Run 20K

David Yon, October 11, 2022

Does it get any better than this? Not really, if “this” is the Pine Run 20K at Tall Timbers on October 8, 2022.

With a starting temperature of 61 degrees, a carefully manicured trail for runners, bright blue skies to spiff up the lake, forests and fields and Bill McGuire’s music to start the healing process for runners’ battered bodies and psyche after they finish the race.

It was dark when I rolled into the Tall Timbers Research Station Saturday morning. One of the unique things about the Pine Run 20K is how close to sunrise it starts. This morning (Oct.8) the sunrise was 7:35 a.m. and runners took off at 7:34 am.

Fortunately, it gets light a little before sunrise.

New race directors, Jennifer and Carter Hay, were busy at work and had been for some time. Unlike year one when everything was brand new, they were putting the pieces together for the second time and knew what to expect. Their seemingly well-organized efforts were carrying the day and keeping everything moving on schedule.

‘Tough course’ a signature event

The Pine Run 20K is not for everyone. The footing is never good, there are at least 5 misery loving hills and it is an odd distance – 20K or 12.4 miles. But for many it is a signature event defined by the rugged, beautiful course that is protected by the Tall Timbers Research Station and its land management and conservation practices.

Chris O’Kelley knows all about the Pine Run. He won the race in 2021 (1:18:02) and 2017 in (1:20:31). He has a marathon on his schedule in Charlotte, North Carolina, in November and he wanted to know just how good his conditioning has become. He selected the Pine Run to measure it.

Chris explained: “Pine Run is one of my favorite races mostly because of how beautiful Tall Timbers is, but I also look forward to the challenge of running such a tough course!” He went on to say: “I wanted to start out around 6:15-6:20 pace and work it down to 6:00 over the first few miles.”

Leonardo Canete took an early lead moving quickly under the huge oaks that line the entry way to the conservation land. Leonardo built the lead as he rolled down the path through the tall pines and then began climbing again. In the meantime, Chris and Trevor Touchton settled in at a comfortable pace behind him. After a few miles they began to reel Leonardo in.

Chris O’Kelly, Katie Sherron on top

The answer to Chris’ fitness question soon became apparent as 6:00 became 5:45 as he cranked through miles 7-11 at least until the finishing hills tossed him a 10-pound bowling ball. In the process he ran down Leonardo and pulled away from Trevor to win in a time of 1:12:54. Watch out Charlotte, I think he is ready to race. Trevor Touchton hung on to second place with a time of 1:13:58.

Katie Sherron has probably won more Gulf Winds Track Club races than anyone else. That is just an intuitive guess and regardless she has won a large number of club races, including the 2019 Pine Run which she won in a time of 1:37:40. She managed to add this year’s Pine Run to the total but just barely.

The Pine Run GPS coordinates are sometimes intercepted by the Gremlins of the Red Hills who lead you down a path to somewhere other than Henry Beadel Drive. So it happened that some nameless runners were miss directed and nearly missed the start of the race avoiding doing so by sprinting from their cars to the number pick up station and then to the starting line with little warm up.

And so, Katie and Amy Hines used the first 6 miles to warm up and catch up on friend talk – “It was a beautiful day and fantastic conversation” Katie reported. The pace gradually got more intense as they passed the half way point and began trying to reel in some of their male competitors.

Katie was first to get to the finish line with a big negative split giving her a finish time of 1:24:45. Amy was only a halfminute behind in 1:25:24.

Race directors lead the way

Hard-working, well-organized race directors usually result in quality races that grow and bring about a lot of happy smiles. If they can control the weather, then they really have something special.

Tallahassee and Gulf Winds are quite fortunate to have Jennifer and Carter Hay directing one of its most special races. In only their second year as directors, they seem to have found the sweet spot.

The Hay’s seem destined to direct this race: “We love being directors of this special race, but it’s important to recognize that it’s a team effort. Gulf Winds Track Club has a great relationship with Tall Timbers that goes back to 2008. Our liaison, Neil Fleckenstein, has been an outstanding supporter of the race, and he coordinates everything on their end to make it such an outstanding event. We love having this opportunity to show off the beauty of Tall Timbers and share their mission to promote land and wildlife conservation. We also are so thankful for the volunteers who devote hours to marking the course, directing, and supporting runners on race day, handling registration and timing, transporting equipment, and ensuring we leave Tall Timbers as we found it.”

This years’ number of finishers (124) was the most since 2016 (181). Most of those who completed this year’s race will tell stories about their efforts to complete the 2022 version and, hopefully, be back with a friend next year.

I am convinced the Pine Run 20K is in good hands with Jennifer and Carter. Maybe we can sign them to a 10-year deal.

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