Race Report: SweetH2O 50K 2013 (Lithia Springs, GA)
· Date: 04/20/13
· Goal: 6:00:00
· Time: 5:40:32
· Overall Place: 16/197
· Age Group Place: 4/23
After years of obsessively reading about and researching ultramarathons, I signed up for the SweetH2O 50K. I had just run Rock ‘n’ Roll NOLA and the Lucky 13 Half in Little Rock on back to back weekends, but had been eyeing this race for a while. I was so stoked. What follows is not the proper way to train for your first 50K. Because of the previous two weekends, I planned on taking it light for a week or so. In the 6 full weeks between races, I averaged 17.5 miles with sporadic weekly mileage ranging from 6 to 36. I was undertrained, but not terribly as I’ve had a decent base for the past year+ and I had a good 18-miler two weeks before the race. The race had 2,797 feet of elevation gain, but all the hill work I could manage were so repeats on the levy. With that said, I was ready. Terese and I took off after work on Friday, as we have grown accustom to, and arrived in Lithia Springs at about 10 PM. Wait…time change…crap! 11 PM. I laid my gear out, set 3 alarms, and went to bed.
I woke up to a brisk 39 degrees, but knew it would get warmer and would be a great day for running. We drove the short distance to Sweetwater Creek State Park and arrived about a half hour before the race. I got my race bib and then headed to the bathroom, only to find a men’s line that was substantially longer than the women’s. As I inched my way closer to the bathroom, I could hear the race director making periodic announcements…15 minutes…10 minutes. I was getting nervous. I finally had my turn, had Terese bring my stuff up to the shelter, and arrived at the starting line a couple of minutes before the prayer.
The race director’s son said a prayer for Boston, which had occurred less than a week ago. The race director took over again and got us off and running by yelling “Go!” (a little different than the cannon used in previous years). The first mile and half were on a paved road that wrapped around the edge of the park. I had forgot to let my Garmin acquire satellites so I wasn’t able to start it until about a half mile in. We moved off the pavement, entered the woods and onto some single track. Almost right away, we crossed a 15-yd. concrete drainage ditch of some sort that had a few inches of water in it. Wet feet, 30 miles to go. We were primarily on single track through the first aid station and into the second, with Terese there waiting for me. This was my first experience with aid stations like this. Instead of running past lines of people holding out gu and water, you roll into these aid station, take your pick of water, pop, gu, s-caps, candy, fruit, sandwiches, pretzels, etc., take care of anything else needed, and take off again when you’re ready. I took off down a hill, through some more single track, and into some tall grass. Tall grass… I knew what this meant. The vert. was coming… Before the race, I gathered some tips for hills. Going up: own it; short and quick strides; stay upright and lead with your chest, focus on lifting knees and your legs will follow. Going down: relax; quick short strides; plant your feet under you, not in front; don’t brake. I can’t tell you how valuable this information was.
This is an 800-ft. climb in less than ¼ mile. Brutal. Next, we have the “gas line”, which is made up of 3 hills that are between 300 and 500 feet each. Up we go… hamstrings burn. Down we go… quads burn. I love running down hills with fresh legs. It’s a feeling of being just enough in control to stay on your feet. After the gas line, there’s a small creek crossing, then it’s a climb to the “Top of the World” (TOTW). This is a essentially a clearing at the top of this climb which feels a little weird after being surrounded by trees for so long. The climbing is done, for now. From here, we get some good running on fire road trails into the aid station at about 10 miles. Terese is here again waiting for me and cheering me on. “Those hills we crazy”, I told her. I was feeling good, but knew I was pushing pretty hard (common theme through my race reports early in race…hint hint, Jeff).
The next miles led us back along the fire road, over the TOTW, and then in a different direction that we came from. We’re then faced with the “power line”. This is another series of hills, similar to the gas line. Long hikes up and some crazy downhills. To me, these downhills were harder. They seemed longer and were more technical. I still had the legs to attack the downhills at this point, so it was a lot of fun. After this series of hills, we hit some fire road. When I least expected, Terese showed up on the trail! She had to walk a mile or so in to see me here. No aid station, no volunteers, no other people cheering. Just Terese! A quick hi and a quick bye and I was off again, what a great surprise. We hit some singletrack that brought us back to the area we started, ending loop one. Loop two was different than loop one in that it didn’t have the first section of road and it had one of the coolest parts of the race. You’ll see.
The second loop sent us out on that incredible single track once again. Within a couple of miles, it was time to get serious. I arrived at the river crossing just behind another runner so had to stand at the bank for a minute while he started heading across. When it was my turn, I worked my way across the river, trying to keep my hips square with the bank so that the current had less pull on me. One of the guys ahead of me seemed to cramp up as he got out. Luckily, when I stepped out, my legs felt great! I picked up the pace and passed a couple of guys before a monster uphill. We hiked up for a mile and ran down for a mile. Time to cross again. I made it across without any problems. I found out with this crossing that there is a level of wet past soaked. After the first couple ditch/creek crossings, my feet were as wet as I thought they could be. Nope! They were now waterlogged. Thankfully, Terese was there with my extra gear. I dried my feet some, switched socks, and emptied the rocks out of my shoes. After a quick stop at the aid station right there, the next 4 miles to the aid station at mile 22 was mostly single track along the river. This trail is incredible.
A quick note on my nutrition plan: I had planned on taking an s-cap (electrolyte pill) every hour, a gu every 25 minutes, and 24 oz. of water per hour. That looks nice and pretty on paper (which was taped around my wrist like a bracelet), but things change once you get out there. The gu was fairly easy to keep on track. I carried 2, picked up 1 or 2 at most aid stations. I filled water at every aid station and just tried to drink a lot. I took an s-cap each of the first two hours, but a while before that mile 22 aid stations, I noticed my fingers were swelling up some. I thought to myself, “More water? More salt? Less water? Less salt?” I didn’t know! I pulled into that aid station and asked for the opinion of a volunteer. He didn’t know. Two more got involved and were both confident… one was confident I should not drink any more water for a while and the other said to keep drinking it! Ok… I ate part of a banana, grabbed a few pretzels, and hammered down the hill. It’s funny covering the same part of the course that was easy a couple of hours ago… not so much now. We hit some single track, went through the tall grass, and were again facing the monster hills once again.
Over the wall and onto the gas lines. Before starting the gas lines, you have a view of all of them in front of you. Not a welcoming site. This time around, things were a little different. The downhills were painful, but still not terrible. The uphills were so brutal though. The last one brought me to a snail’s pace, but I finally made it. I asked a volunteer at this point how far I was. “25 miles”, he replied. We took a trail through the woods, crossed a small creek, and then climbed up to the TOTW. As I ran across the TOTW, I started to think, “It would feel great to just lay down up here”. I wish… I ran along the fire road to the next aid station, but I was moving a little slower overall than the first loop. I arrived at that aid station and asked a volunteer how far I was. “About 25 miles”, he said. Still?! C’mon!! I filled my bottle, downed some Mountain Dew, and grabbed some trail mix and a banana. Just before I left, Terese pointed out the guy in front of me and challenged me to catch him. I think her exact words were, “He is your Everest”. I wanted nothing to do with the climbing ahead of me, but the challenge had been set. I had a goal. You hear a lot about ultras being more about the community aspect and getting everybody to the finish. Well, not so much for me turns out. I wanted to beat that guy.
I rolled along on the fire road and came to the power line, the last hills on the course. Not much to say about the uphills… they were brutal. It was, again, the downhills that were the highlight for me here. I had the “rabbit” I had been chasing in my sites on the first downhill and gave it a little extra. Now that I passed him, I had to stay ahead of him (for fear of feeling like an idiot). Fortunately, I was able to do that and finally, it was mostly flat after power line. Now, hills are a funny thing. What seems fairly flat after 13 miles doesn’t necessarily seem flat after 26. As I ran along the fire road, I was brought to a walk/hike at least once. I came to the final stretch of single track on the course. I believe I was around here that I saw a lawn gnome holding a cup with a sign the said “DEPOSIT TOENAIL HERE”. Haha. I tried to keep a good pace, knowing the end was in site. The 31st mile came in at just over 9:00. As I came off the trail, I turned left onto some pavement looking at the beautiful site of…. a hill! Knowing I was so close to the finish, I didn’t let myself walk. Finally, I had to climb a few stairs (yes, stairs) and then had a few yards to the finish.
Done with my first ultra. What an incredible experience. This was an absolutely beautiful place to run and it felt so good to cross the finish line. We got a plate of food after the finish and hung around for a while to watch others finish. I don’t know if it is the trail community, the ultra community, or just the fact that it was a small race but things were different here than most races. I really enjoyed the atmosphere and would love to do more trail races and ultras in the future. After we watched the finishers for a while, we took off and enjoyed the rest of our time in Atlanta. We stumbled upon some festival, saw a free Sara Evans concert (one of Terese’s old favorites), and went to see the Centennial Olympic Park from the 1996 Olympics. It was a great weekend. Thanks to my beautiful wife for everything she did during the race to support me.