Monday, April 5, 2010

440 Minutes at the SweetH20 50KM Trail Race

440 Minutes at the SweetH20 50KM Trail Race
Saturday April 4, 2010
This is one average runner’s experience at the SweetH20 50KM trail race on Saturday, 3 April, in Sweetwater Creek State Park, west of Atlanta, Georgia. Simply put, Race Director John Buice and his team put on a great event that I highly recommend to any looking for a real challenge at the 50 Kilometer distance.

“EPIC.” That was my thought as I crossed the finished line at the 7:20:21 mark, 440 minutes after the 0730 start. This was only my seventh 50KM and eleventh or twelfth ultra-marathon event; I’ll readily admit that in terms of ultra-marathons, the 50KM distance might not be readily or best described in terms of “EPIC.” Let’s face it, we’re talking about a sport with event distances of 50K, 50-100 miles and longer. But, that said, if a 50K race can be “epic” event, SweetH20 fits that handle.
Don’t be fooled by the “Sweet” part of the title, it’s the H20 and all the water on the 2-lap format course that makes this event extra challenging. You run through the spillway at the end of the lake twice; you rope down in, run through the water for 60+ feet, and then climb a rope back out; you cross two or three smaller creeks two times on the course, and then you have the actual rope bridge crossing of Sweetwater Creek itself at mile 17.25 on the course. You grab a rope bridge and pull yourself across at least 150 feet of fast moving river, run a 2.5 mile loop on the far side, and comeback across the rope bridge a second time. I’m an average 5’9” dude and the water hit waist high for me in at least 3 places. You also run on almost every type of surface; some asphalt road, two-lane trail, firebreak roads and some really technical, single track trail all over the course that included everything from beach sand, rock surface, roots, everything you could want to run off-road on. Lastly, The Top of the World, (TOTW) and the route into and off of TOTW pushes this 50K, in my humble estimation to the extremely challenging 50K category.

VITAL STATISTICS. These are just based on my review of the website, information received at the course, and intuitive, dynamic insight:
Temperature: I heard it hit 88 degrees on the course; I believe that.
Distance: 32Miles+/-. I wore my Garmin Forerunner 305 the entire way. I had almost exactly 32 miles when I crossed the finish line. I compared notes with almost everyone that I saw after the Race wearing some type of GPS and everyone had 32+ miles to 33 on their GPS; most were closer to 33KM. Bottom line is that every runner got their full 50K’s worth of distance in this event. Mr. Buice was pleased to hear that.
200 Runners signed up; I believe that was the statistic I heard.
Top Finishers: Males
1. JENN RINDERLE ATLANTA, GA F 36 5:51:33 7th Overall
3. SALLY BROOKING MARIETTA, GA F 53 6:07:13 16th Overall

155. Total Finishers; 124 Males; 31 Females
17. Age- Youngest Finisher: Mr. Alex Thomas Ryan. I spoke to young Mr.
Ryan and his father after the Event and basically told them how
impressed I was that he finished that event, his 1st ultra, at the
age of seventeen. I spent some time on the trail with him and he
showed a lot of heart out there.
67. Age of oldest finisher.
12. Number of different states represented at the finish line, with
the further being South Dakota, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and
New York
37-40? Average age for all finishers looks to be in the high 30s to early
40s; I’m not going to do that math though….
7! Number of major hill climbs to the best of my recollection in
route to and off of the Top of the World per lap. Nice.
26.2. By my Garmin, I was right around 26.2 miles into the event when I
finally reached the TOTW for the second time on lap 2.
17.25. Mileage at the 1st Sweetwater creek rope bridge crossing.
20. Mileage coming back across the rope bridge at Sweetwater Creek
8. Outstanding aid stations on the course. I still am constantly
amazed at the volunteers in every ultra I’ve participated in and
SweetH20 was no exception. Not only were the aid stations full of
great people volunteering their time, these were well stocked with
everything from Gatorade to Water to soda in some; snacks of all
sorts and even S-Caps in multiple stations.
64. I finished 64th overall. 51 males and 12 females finished ahead
of me; 10 people my age or older finished ahead of me.
440. Total number of minutes I was on this very tough course. That’s
the longest I’ve taken to finish any 50K except the Wakely Damn
50K which is a point to point, unsupported in the Adirondack
3. Total number of times I filled and finished my 1.5 liter Nathan
2.0 water blivet I had on my back.
9. Total number of S-Caps consumed during the race
1. Total number of falls I had on the course. Ironically, I was 20
feet from finishing my second crossing on the rope bridge across
the creek. Slipped and went in up to my neck in the same spot I
watched the guy crossing in front of me fall; nice and refreshing.

EXECUTION NOTES: The race started promptly at 0730 on the main road in the Sweet Creek State Park with the firing of a Civil War-era cannon by some Civil War Re-Enactment specialists, which I thought was a nice, unique touch.

The 2-lap course follows an almost figure-8 format that flows out around the northern perimeter of the park along the entry road for almost 2 miles and then ties into the park’s single-track trail system. Once you cross the spillway around mile 3.5 or so, you run along some terrific single track on the edge of Sweet Creek to the south end of the park.

Sweet Water Creek, really, is an impressively scenic river with a lot of rock formation and shore line availability that makes it worth a trip just to visit for any reason. There were a lot of non-racers out there but it was not packed.

Once you reach the bottom edge of the trail system, you run a long some wider, built and lined trails for a couple miles until you leave the park’s edge. You tie into a firebreak road system that eventually takes you to the Top of the World after traveling a combination of firebreaks and trail for two to two-and-a-half miles along a power line. This is a series of pretty significant up and down, very steep hill terrain. You’re right around 8 miles into the first lap of the race when you hit this, and finally hit the TOTW plateau for the first time around mile 10-10.5. You can clearly see Atlanta behind you to the east-northeast as you move across the plateau on to the firebreak Aid Station 4/7. You travel about 1 mile of an out and back from TOTW, to AS 4/7 as a check point, and then turn around and head back into the park.

Leaving TOTW, you route back out through a shorter section of the same ridgelines, down, up, down, up, down, until you re-intersect the trail along the Creek. You re-trace your steps to a water station, where you end up forking to the left back towards the heart of the park, 5 miles hence. I ran the entire first lap, which showed right at 15 miles on my Foreunner, in 2:50. So, by the completion of the first lap, I knew I was slow and that the entire course was going to be around 33miles, because lap 2 holds the water crossing with another 2.5 mile lap on the far side of the creek. I mentally prepared myself for running that extra distance, and that’s a point having the Garmin really helped me as far as having an overall predicted knowledge for the course without having to think too hard about it.

The second and final lap was very challenging. I was not over-trained for this event by any stretch, and TOTW on lap 1 took a lot out of me just to start with. Crossing the river at mile 17 and again at mile 20 provided a little refreshment and some lessons learned. The water was moving pretty strongly, and you really couldn’t see any footing; this caused a lot of tripping for almost everyone involved, yours truly included even though I was very focused on the guy ahead of me. I fell where he fell. My Forerunner survived the dunking and I was happy with that after I went in completely on my right side; fortunately, my Walkman was on my left upper arm and only my upper left side remained out of the water. My legs felt slow and heavy leaving the water on both sides of the creek.

It was significant emotional moment when I reached the TOTW plateau for a second time at about 6 hours into the event after 26+ miles of travel; I finally worked my way down to Aid Station 7 which proved to be my longest stop for the entire Ultra as I was at 7 a solid five minutes.
One of my lessons re-learned was that I still have stick points I have to work through no matter what the event is, around Miles, 18-19, again at 23-24, 27-28, etc. In other words, out past 3 hours, I move through good points and tough points and try to make do as best I can during the tougher parts. I’m still learning what the best course of action is for me personally to re-fuel during the race. I used a lot of S-Caps, several Gel packs and a lot of water during this race with some improved effects from my last two events. More to develop on this.

I broke the cardinal ultramarathon rule of never doing anything for a 1st time at SweetH20. I picked up a Nathan Hydration 2.0 hydration system and some Injinji socks a Big Peach Running store on the way out to Lithina Springs on Friday night. Although I've trained a lot using Camelbaks. I'd never worn the Nathan or Injinji socks before the start of the Race Saturday. I was quite pleased with both.

Great post race dinner. These are always good, but this one seemed to exceed the standard. The race finishes uphill, yes uphill, and each runner comes through the finish line to where those already finished are all directly assembled, and hanging together as a group. There was a lot of camaraderie assembled there, especially among those who have finished this race a couple times now. It was nice to be a part of that even if it took 440 minutes to get there….

Racers all receive a micro-fiber t-shirt as part of their packet. Race finishers received a cool high-tech SweetH20 50K which I really thought was terrific. I’m now a ball-cap guy.

Again, thanks to Mr. Buice (hope I’m spelling that correctly) and his team for putting on a challenging, extremely well-planned and executed event. I highly recommend this 50K to anyone thinking about running a spring 50K anywhere in the southeastern United States.

Tim Hardy
5 April 2-10

1 comment:

  1. Great race report Tim! As one of the 45 DNF-ers in the race, I can attest to the challenging nature of the course. It was my first 50K, and *my* lesson learned was that I need to train harder, carry supplies with me (I tried to run it using only aid station drink and food), and eat less before the run. I dropped at mile 15 because with 3:20 gone, I was moving too slowly to finish (likely) before the cutoff...and my hamstring was fried by that point as well.

    It was nice to meet you Tim, I look forward to seeing you at another 50K later this spring.

    Greg (of the Birmingham contingent)