Monday, April 5, 2010

Sweet H20 50K - Reality Check

My adventure of running three 50K's in four weeks peaked on Saturday with the Sweet H20 50K in Lithia Springs, GA. I actually ended up running 50K, 25 miles, 50K which is fine. It was all that I could do to finish each run.

This is all about Sweet H20. Here is the race description...

"Sweetwater Creek State Park offers winding, moderately difficult trails in and around the park, following the lovely rapids of Sweetwater Creek, and venturing past Civil War-era textile mill ruins. This 50k crosses the Sweetwater Creek twice - you WILL get wet. (but that's the extra fun part!) The race will be open for 9 hours allowing for plenty of time for course completion. An intermediate cutoff of 4.5 hours at mile 17 will be enforced for runner safety."

This is a very accurate description of the race. After reading it a few times I was sure that this would be one of the easier 50Ks out there. As usual, I was terribly wrong, terribly wrong!
This quote sums up my experience going into the race and attempting to finish it...

"Life is tough, it can be tougher if you're stupid" -- John Wayne

A week before the race I was boasting about finishing Sweet H20 under 7 hours and treating this as a "race" instead of a long training run. What in the heck was I thinking?! For the past month I have been eating horrible, skipping mid week runs and workouts, and just being lazy in general. I'm not sure how I come up with this stuff? There is no substitution for race preparation.

Here is the story, but please be warned that its not pretty & heart warming...

The travel and pre-race stuff went smooth. I was able to drive down with my friend Aaron who met me coming down from Charlotte on Friday. We ate dinner at the Cracker Barel with Wayne, his wife and some other friends the got to bed around 11 PM.
We were up at 4 AM on Saturday and getting ready to race. I slept light, but sound. We picked up a few other runners on the way to Sweet Water Park and ended up with about an hour to kill before the race. As always, it was great to see all of the running friends and meet new ones.

I felt so confident about this race. My plan was to go out fast, taper off, then hold a steady 11-12 min/mile pace throughout the course. No problem - I got this thing!
We were directed to lineup at the start around 7:15 AM. Some civil war patrons were there and we heard the normal distorted last minute updates from the race directory. The calvary blew up the cannon and the race was on!
*I mooched a lot of pictures* Courtesy of Beth, Aaron, and Perry - Thanks!
The Start Line...
Confederate Soldiers Start the Race With a Bang!
The first 1.25 miles are on pavement and circle around the beautiful lake in the park. I went out of the start line running my 5k pace in a hurry trying to out run lots of runners to the trail head. (Huge Mistake) - Lesson learned - DON'T START OUT FAST!

We hit the trail head after about 9 minutes and I'm out of breath, but moving quick through the forest. A few runners take off past me and we quickly run upon this drainage ditch around mile 2. As you can see there are two ropes on each side of the ditch. Rappel yourself down, cross the river, and then pull yourself up on the other side. What a great way to begin an ultra - I loved it!

The next 6-7 miles were runnable with a few rocks & roots thrown in the mix for fun. The trail rolled up & down the beautiful river bank which had recently been severely flooded. I ran the first 10 miles very fast (for me). I averaged about a 10:30 mile/min pace and knew where this was heading. The morning air was still crisp and cool beside the river and I rejected logical thoughts of pacing myself with stupid visions of hurrying before it gets hot.

I hit a low mental point around mile 10. I doubted that I would finish this race and I had not even seen the toughest part of the course yet. I thought back to my lack of training over the month and the "pity party" began. I slowed my pace down to a walk and the trail took a turn toward the section of the course known as "Top of The World".

I knew this was going to be a tough run because it was the first heat run of the season. I started popping Scaps (electrolyte tabs) every thirty minutes. I was getting very hungry and I had nothing to eat. The two aid stations that I had passed did not have food and my stomach was starting to churn. I won't lie - I wanted to quit at this point. I felt tired, winded, and defeated. Heck, I had just ran a hard 10 miler and a fast pace - no wonder!

I kept moving. I have learned how to ignore my thoughts and smile when I'm feeling low. I try to focus on other runners, pick up litter, sing to birds, moon walk, anything other than thinking about the run ahead.

After running through a flat field of tall grass the course takes you to a very steep gravel road that climbs up for about 1/4 of a mile. This is the tongue that takes you into the mouth of the beast.

After power walking the gravel road I ran down a short gnarly rocky trail and then stood looking straight up at this....This climb just goes straight up for what seemed to be about 1/4 - 1/2 mile. It may have not been that far, but it seemed like it. You could not see the top from the bottom. There was weeping & gnashing of teeth on this hill.

Pictures will not do justice to these climbs. There are about 4-5 rolling & sun exposed climbs that let you see the next one in the distance. Here is a picture looking at the final climb after going up and down about four of these. It cant be overwhelming to look at it too long...

I took a deep breath and reminded myself one step at a time. I was pouring sweat at this point and my head was getting very dizzy. I knew that I was hot and very hungry. Something bad was about to happen, but I wasn't sure what. All that I knew to do was take two Scaps and keep moving. I drank my last bit of water to swallow them and I worked my way up the final climb to the top.

I was about to pass out at the top. I felt worse than I have every felt during a race. My head was on fire, dizzy, weak and I dashed towards some trees to vomit. And then one more time. I had one more mile to get to the aid station which had food. I ran hard since I just wanted to eat and had all of that water off my stomach.

One minute after getting sick I reached the hard earned TOTW...You could look out in all directions and see great views of the towns below. I didn't care - I wanted to eat and eat a LOT! I made it to the next aid station in about 10 minutes and ate well. Chocolate chip cookies, oranges, PB & Jelly sandwiches, jelly beans, and Gatorade. I felt like a new man & ready to run!

After leaving TOTW the trail takes you back down to the river, but it's not quiet that easy. There are three more massive & exposed climbs to conquer before you see the water again.

The trail takes you over this hill and one other before dumping your straight down to the river. By the time I reached the river I was feeling like crap again and not wanting to take anymore of this Sweet H20 punishment. I just kept moving forward.

Miles 12-19 were a blur. I kept eating and drinking, but didn't think of much other than where my next foot was landing. I arrived at the river crossing around mile 20 and I figured that if I had made it twenty miles I may as well try to get across the river.

When I came to the river crossing there were two ropes going across. One for each direction of running traffic. It was a busy place. Runners were coming & going in both directions and another aid station was here as well.

I plunged into the water and it felt magical. The cold water revived my legs and I snapped back out of my mental funk. The current was strong through the water and I'm glad that I had a rope to hold.
I dunked myself under the water before getting out on the opposite side. I felt SO much better! The trail takes you on a 1.50 mile loop before throwing you back out to cross the river again. The volunteer told me that there was a hill coming up in a quarter mile, but I figured that it was nothing compared to what I just did. Well the theme of the day is me being wrong and it continued! I came upon a monster hill that took me by surprise. It beat me down and I was dragging myself back down the hill to the 2nd river crossing.

I made it to the river and struggled across this time. I tried to put my game face on for fellow blogger/runner Beth B. as she was taking pictures on the bank.

This picture was taken by Beth just as I was getting out of the 2nd river crossing. Yes, I was praying and trying to cool down. It was just a coincidence that my hands were like that, but kinda cool. I could have laid in that river for a long long time.
So now that I'm out of the river there are about 12 miles to go as I'm now 20 miles into the race. I chased down two Advil with a 5 Hr. Energy and got back on my way. The drugs kicked in after about 15 minutes and I was feeling fantastic. I enjoyed the next five miles as they rolled along the river with some incredible scenery. The sun was shining, the wind was blowing, and it had turned into a great run.
I knew that TOTW was coming around for the 2nd time, but it didn't matter because I was on the home stretch. There was some great downhill through this section that helped me cover some trail a little quicker...
I ran into my buddy Wayne at mile 25 and I knew that his day had went south if I had caught up to him. I was feeling much better at this point, but we were both struggling with the heat and just a tough course in general. It was nice to have a good friend to work through TOTW with for the 2nd time. We joked & sweated our way across all of the climbs and were through it before long. It was much tougher the 2nd time and I'm glad that there was not going to be a 3rd!

TOTW drained us both because the final three miles seemed to go on forever. We passed a few runners and a few passed us, but it didn't matter because we were all working towards the finish.

Finally at 8:13 we cross the finish line. Man, did the finish line ever look so good?!
This was a very difficult race for me. I'm blaming it 75% on myself and throwing the other 25% on the heat. I did enjoy the course and appreciate being taken through the toughest & most scenic areas of the park.
The truth is that I raced this course and put every ounce of energy that I had into it. I could not have finished in one second faster. I am a little disappointed in the time, but at the same time I'm just satisfied to cross the finish line.
I'm just not the type of ultra runner who likes to compete against other runners. If 10 runners pass me 1/2 mile from the finish line I could care less. I have tried to get fired up and run faster when it happens, but nothing in me cares. I'm happy to finish & I have to learn how to run the ENTIRE race with that mindset. Every time I have ran that way I finish stronger and end up with a better run.
Woods Ferry 24 Hour Race is coming up in eleven days (GULP). I'm looking forward to some fun Terri Hayes racing.
Sweet H20 will always have my respect.......


  1. Great write up, Jason! Such a tough course and you were definitely determined. I had a blast watching you all at that water crossing. Congratulations on finishing one heckuva tough race!!

  2. Thank you, Jason, for reinforcing the fact that I should NEVER try this race, lol. Congratulations on finishing a very tough course! I loved the report and those pictures are out of this world!

    See you at Woods Ferry!

  3. diesel! good race, tough to finish. thanks for riding down with me. see you in 10 days homey.

  4. Great race report!! Congratulations!

  5. I ran this race last year and it is a tough one! TOTW is just killer. Glad to see they got the river crossing arranged better this year. I had to wait 50 minutes last year to cross, they would only allow one person on the line at a time. It was in a different section of the river tho and much deeper. Chickened out this year when I saw the temps were going to be high again. I didn't do so well last year with the temps reaching upper 80's. One of our group was admitted to the hospital (his kidneys shut down). Congrats on finishing and good luck at Wood's Ferry. Are you planning to run the entire 24 hours?