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SweetH20 50K Trail Challenge - RunUltra Marathon


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Lithia Springs, Georgia
United States
Douglas County Rogue Runners
65F / 18C
Total Time = 8h 00m 57s
Overall Rank = 162/209
Age Group = 40-44
Age Group Rank = 9/11
Pre-race routine:

From Couch to 5K to 50K! "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone."

I started running from off the couch just two years ago. That very first 5K race in March 2009 started a snowball rolling that went from 5K, to Sprint Tri, 10K, Half Marathon, Oly, Half Iron, then Marathon in two years time. But I am a road runner, not a trail runner, so how did I suddenly end up at the Sweet H2O 50K?

I started 2011 training for my first marathon. But a few members of my Tri Club were passing around a book called, Born to Run. After finishing the book, I was inspired so I browsed around for local ultra trail runs just out of curiosity. I found that the Weymouth Woods 100K was only days away, so I asked Pete if he'd go with me to check it out. We ended up running about 17 miles of the course along with the runners and had a blast! I was hooked. By January 19th, I was signed up for the inaugural Mountains-to-Sea 50K Trail Challenge on April 9 which subsequently got canceled for turkey hunting season! Now that my heart was set on a Ultra, I had to scramble to find another race in the same time frame which lead me to the Sweet H2O 50K in GA. I was totally oblivious as to what I was in for.

Drove to Lithia Springs (west side of Atlanta), GA on Friday, just in time to get into the path of tornado activity! There were tornado warnings all around Atlanta and I could see a HUGE black storm that tapered down to the ground from my 4th floor hotel window. It looked like a tornado forming to me. I can tell you I was scared! At 2:30 a.m. a siren sounded and I could hear a voice on the public address system! I jumped out of the bed to put the TV on to see what was happening, but it was actually sounding the "All Clear" signal. Whew... thank goodness! But what has this storm done to the race course???

Anal Triathletes meet Casual Trail Run

We wandered around the hotel room putting stuff into our special needs bags, then taking it back out. Will we have a place to leave a bin at the start line too, since we will be coming back around for a second loop? I've calculated exactly how many calories I need each hour, but since I don't know what will be at the aid stations, I'm confused how to divide it up. Should I take spare shoes, or not? Will these gaiters stay in place? Can we use an MP3 player, or is it against the rules? BTW - What exactly are the rules?

We had no clue what was going on with this race. The website was vague and there were no race intructions. We found out there was a special needs bag drop off by contacting the race director. There was no pre-race meeting other than us being told we would get wet and tired. We threw spare shoes and nutrition into our special needs bags and tossed them on the pile of others. We were told the the bags would be about mile 12 to 15, but no one seemed to know for sure. (shrug)
Event warmup:

The river crossing got canceled due to flood waters from the storm. I'm not sure if I was glad or disappointed. But I decided to change my shoes and wear my Mizuno Inspires the entire race since we were going to stay dry. This was the first of many mis-assumptions on my part.


Run
  • 8h 00m 57s
  • 32.5 miles
  • 14m 48s  min/mile
Comments:

Where is the Starting Line?

There was no start line. Everyone just kind of stood around while the race director made a few muffled announcements on a bull horn, then said "Ready? Go!"

We're off! Wait.. we don't have timing chips! Are we supposed to have timing chips? Was there one in our swag bag? Is anyone else wearing one? No. I guess we are not using them. Ok. But how will we be timed? (shrug)

Let's Get It Started!

We started off on the road then turned onto the trail head. At about mile 2.75, we reached a concrete spillway bordered by steep cement embankments. Here we had to use a rope to repel down into the freezing water, wade across to the other side in a strong current about 1/2 way up our calves, then use a rope to pull ourselves back up the other side. Ok, so less than 3 miles into the race I'm running in wet shoes and socks! Glad I was wearing Injinji socks.

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About 1/2 mile later... there were our special needs bags! What? We've only gone about 3.5 miles and out bags are there already? (eyeroll)

At some point, Pete and I got separated and he went on ahead. I thought, "That's ok, I know I'll catch him later once he gets fatigued and my after burners kick in."

At the first aid station, they were checking our bib numbers and writing them down. Ah, I see now. Manual chip timing system!

For the next several miles we hurdled roots, rocks, and fallen trees. We splashed through water, balanced over narrow boards to cross ravines, and did a fair share of rock climbing and scary treacherous rocky descents. This is like a 33 mile obstacle course! The trail followed along the beautiful riverbank with crazy back and forth switchbacks. But the trail was so close to the riverbank, that parts of it were underwater because of the flood! Splish splash!!!

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New Manchester Manufacturing Company along race route; a textile mill burned during the Civil War.
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I stopped at the second aid station to see what kinds of foods are offered at Ultras (since nothing was posted on the race site regarding available nutrition). There were PB&J sandwiches, M&Ms, gummy bears, fig newtons, chips, pretzels, oranges, etc. I grabbed a couple of fig newtons and pressed on as they warned me that the next 3 miles known as Powerlines and Top of the World was the hardest part of the race. That was an understatement! The hills approaching Top Of The World were exhausting beyond belief. You can look out to the horizon and see one hill crest after another in your path. This part of the race follows along some power line poles all exposed to the sun and looks like a roller coaster. Up, down, up, down... OMG we're going up again? Going down was just as hard as gong up because it was so steep you had to really hold back to keep from tumbling down the mountain. Don't forget, we had to do this TWICE!

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At the top of the final hill, we got to an area where there was an out and back section, and after that was Jack's hill. Another hill? Really? This is where I saw the bright green snake slithering across the trail.

The first three aid stations had no porta-pots and by mile 12 I had to go. I've never gone in the woods during a race before, but by now I was thinking that's what they must expect us to do. Over 12 miles and no porta-pots? I finally found a secluded enough place to dash into the woods unnoticed. Loe and behold, the very next aid station had a porta-pot.

I finally approached the halfway point which was back at the start of the race (this was 2 loops). My intention was to grab the camera from the truck to take photos during the second loop, but when I got to the road, I was disoriented as to where the truck was parked. The volunteer kept pointing for me to go, so I decided not to stop for anything. The above photo was taken by someone else, and the others I took the following day.

Here We Go Again!

As I ran on the road heading into my second trip, I spotted Pete up ahead. Ah ha! Deja vu from the Tobacco Rd marathon. I set my sights on catching him, and eventually did. But by now I was at a low point and feeling pretty done with this race. So was Pete. So we pulled each other along to the special needs bag drop to take a quick break (which of course was only 3.5 miles into the race route). Just over mile 19, we plopped down and I had my PB&J while Pete dried his feet, applied foot powder, and followed that up with dry socks. He had already stopped for dry shoes at the truck, but of course they were already wet from the spillway we just crossed for the second time. I was thinking "why bother? We're going through more water in a few minutes anyway." There were at least 5+ places where we had to tromp through water crossings, so trying to have dry feet was futile.

Off again. Pete and I made each other run on every flat/decline, but we walked up all of the hills. Eventually we got back around to the Top of the World powerline hills and Pete was slowing down. I decided to get in front thinking he would instinctively keep up, but he was having knee issues and fell farther and farther behind. All I could think about was getting past the marathon distance point. I kept watching my Garmin and saying, "We've not even run a marathon yet!" Pete told me to "quit saying that!" I did not want to leave Pete knowing he was starting to struggle, but at the same time I did not want to be out there any longer than absolutely necessary. The more we ran, the farther we got separated, so I decided to continue on my own.

Up, down, up, down... here we go again. About halfway up the final hill, there was a lady sitting on a rock looking totally defeated. I told her to "Come on! You only have to do two things today; smile and keep moving forward!" She said "Ok. Smile and keep moving forward" as she got up to continue on. Then I noticed that my Garmin had FINALLY gone over 26.2, so I told her that we've already done a marathon!

Woo hoo! Into new territory now! I felt a new burst of energy as I entered into my running "happy place." This is when I start running on auto pilot with a HUGE smile spread across my face and I'm just happy I CAN RUN! I love that feeling. This lasted until about mile 30 when I realized I still had three miles to go. What? Isn't a 50K supposed to be 31 miles? Oh, this is a trail run and not measured perfectly. I was told at the final aid station that the course is actually 33 miles. Deflated. But.. just keep smiling and moving forward. There is a finish line out here someplace!

Where is That Finish Line!?!

I finally started approaching the finish area where a volunteer told me the finish line is about 1/2 mile ahead. Cool. I get to the next volunteer who tells me that the finish line is 1/2 mile ahead. (sigh) Is there really a finish line out here or is this all a big joke on us? FINALLY I'm heading up a hill and the volunteer says, just go up those steps and up that hill to the finish line! What? This really is a joke. Run 33 miles, then have to go UP steps and UP a hill to the finish. So much for sprinting in! But there it was! I could see it through the trees!

At the finish line, the lady wrote down my bib number, then I was asked what color ball cap I want, blue or grey? All of THAT for a ball cap? Ok... a ball cap and bragging rights! I guess that makes it worth it.

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What would you do differently?:

OMG - This is an easy one. TRAIN FOR TRAILS! Since we were so focused on our first marathon, we did all road running up until that point. We ran Weymouth Woods the one time in January, then went to Raven Rock two weeks after the marathon. So, only two trail runs prior to this race. And those trails were NOTHING compared to what we endured at Sweetwater! I'm quite sure we were among the least experienced trail/ultra runners out there.
Post race
Warm down:

I actually felt worse immediately after the Tobacco Road marathon than I did today. But that was a deceiving thought. Because the pain I was going to feel later was FAR WORSE than how I felt after Tobacco Road!

I waited for awhile for Pete to come in, then decided to go to the truck for my phone and camera. As I got to the truck, my phone was alerting me to a text. It was my son in Raleigh, NC. He was in the path of a tornado that had touched down in downtown Raleigh and was heading towards his apartment complex at NC State University! I called him and it seemed everything was ok, they had been spared. But downtown took a good hit.

I went back to the finish line to watch for Pete and he finally came in 30+ min behind me. His knee had given out and he had to walk the last miles of the race. But he finished. WE FINISHED! We are Ultra Marathoners now and no one can ever take that away!

I later found out that tornadoes had also touched down about 5 miles from my home in Fayetteville, NC, and many homes and businesses were destroyed!

Wow... triple wammy on me! I was in the path of tornadoes in Atlanta, GA; my son was in the path in Raleigh, NC; AND my home (with pets inside) was in the path in Fayetteville, NC! But all's well that ends well.

We went back to the park the following morning in hopes of getting a few photos. OMG - we were in pain! We walked ever so gingerly along the red trail to at least get a photo of the ruins of the New Manchester Manufacturing Company. We got a few photos of the river, but were unable to access the toughest parts of the course which were outside of the park boundaries. So hopefully I can find a few photos from other people to show just how treacherous this race course truly was! (Wearing my new Huarache Luna sandals).

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What limited your ability to perform faster:

TOTALLY UNDERESTIMATING THE DIFFICULTY LEVEL OF THE COURSE!

This quote sums it up:

"Life is hard; it's harder when you are stupid." John Wayne




Last updated: 2011-03-05 12:00 AM
Running
08:00:57 | 32.5 miles | 14m 48s  min/mile
Age Group: 9/11
Overall: 162/209
Performance:
Course: Treacherous!
Keeping cool Average Drinking Just right
Post race
Weight change: %
Overall:
Mental exertion [1-5]
Physical exertion [1-5]
Good race?
Evaluation
Course challenge
Organized?
Events on-time?
Lots of volunteers?
Plenty of drinks?
Post race activities:
Race evaluation [1-5]

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2011-04-18 6:35 PM

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Expert
1118
1000100
, North Carolina
Subject: SweetH20 50K Trail Challenge


2011-04-18 7:06 PM
in reply to: #3453595

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Expert
1168
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Vancouver (not Canada) Washington (not D.C.)
Subject: RE: SweetH20 50K
Awesome report - great job finding that happy running place. That is one steep hill!
2011-04-19 7:42 AM
in reply to: #3453595

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Concord, NC
Gold member
Subject: RE: SweetH20 50K
Great detailed report, pictures and lessons learned!  Congrats on reaching a new level in your lifestyle! 
2011-04-19 7:48 AM
in reply to: #3453595

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Expert
1394
1000100100100252525
Wilmington, NC
Subject: RE: SweetH20 50K
Your a crazy women Maria, but great job getting that 1st Trail ultra under your belt.
2011-04-19 8:09 AM
in reply to: #3453595

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Champion
5312
5000100100100
Calgary
Subject: RE: SweetH20 50K
Ha, great rr. Congrats. I love how disorganized it was. Ha. Crazy. Just a bunch of nuts out for a little run. Ha. Too awesome.
2011-04-19 8:55 AM
in reply to: #3453595

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Expert
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Subject: RE: SweetH20 50K
Great report and congrats on your finish.  Trail runners are a different breed, huh.  Certainly not your Type A triathlete's your used to.


2011-04-19 9:02 AM
in reply to: #3453595

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Champion
7454
500020001001001001002525
Placitas, New Mexico
Subject: RE: SweetH20 50K
Awesome run!  (When's the next one??
2011-04-19 9:04 AM
in reply to: #3453595

Veteran
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100100252525
Subject: RE: SweetH20 50K
Nice first ultra and great RR!
2011-04-19 9:11 AM
in reply to: #3453595

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Expert
1118
1000100
, North Carolina
Subject: RE: SweetH20 50K

Yeah... trail runners are pretty laid back; that is certain!

Next one will have to wait until next spring.  IMFL training takes priority for the rest of this year!

But I am indeed eyeballing which Ultra to set my sights on for Spring 2012.  (Now that I know what to expect!)

2011-04-19 1:20 PM
in reply to: #3453595

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Extreme Veteran
423
100100100100
Frederick, Maryland
Subject: RE: SweetH20 50K
Nice report as always and welcome to the world of ultrarunning! Nice pics too as usual! Yeah, after my first ultra (a 50K too that turned into 35 miles), I swore I'd never to another. Several mountain climbs, getting rained on, feet blistering, etc. But, then, like you, I got inspired by the same book and did the JFK 50 as you know. I'm actually looking at a Fall 50K that I would've done last year had I not gotten injured. Training for trails - yup, has to be done as it's very different from road running as you found out.

BTW, all I got for my 50K was a patch that showed the race and then a subpatch that said I finished. I had to buy the T-shirt.

T-shirt at our local running store - "Ultrarunning - a different kind of stupid" ;-)

Anyway, glad to see you survived, did so in style, and will try again another time. Onward to IMFL!
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