Sunday, April 27, 2008

The 2008 SweetH2O 50k

"Sweeet H-2-0...dah, dah, daaaah...good times never felt so good (so good, so good, so good!)"

Yes, I managed to approach an all-time record in dorkiness. No, I wasn't drunk nor was I attending some sort of Boston-based event. It was around mile 19 of the Sweetwater 50k, and I was belting my "new tune" as loud as I could. Lucky for you, you weren't there nor was anyone else. But let's start at the beginning.

The SweetH20 50k is a local race held at beautiful Sweetwater Creek State Park right outside Atlanta. An easy 20 minute drive put me right at the start of this fun race. There were lots of familiar faces, but also plenty of new ones. From some conversations I was overhearing, the half-marathon that was being held at the same time as the 50k was the first trail race for quite a few people.
Right on time Race Director Johnny Buice gave us some pre-race instructions and we were off. The first mile or so was on pavement (bleh), most of which I was able to run with my buddy David (I like for my friends to have the same name as me. It just makes it easier for all of us.). He always has to hear about my trailrunning adventures, and I think he is starting to feel the bug...
It was pretty despite the asphalt at the beginning

Once we hit the trail, things got congested fairly quickly, especially at a couple of points about 3 miles or so in. No worries for me. I like to start out conservative. That worked out well for me at Oak Mountain and it would again prove to be the right strategy on this day.
I'm taking pictures, too, dude!

We soon hit a section of the red trail that runs right by Sweetwater Creek. It is covered in rocks and bolders easily making this one of the most technical sections of trail in all of Metro Atlanta. Dancing around all those obstacles is really a ton of fun! Once we were done with that, it was time to say good-bye to the half-marathoners and we were off to an area known as simply The Powerlines.

When local runners utter the name of this trail it is usually mixed in with an undertone of dread, awe, disgust. The Powerlines are a collection of hills that rise between 100 to 200+ feet over maybe a 100 yards distance at a time. In other words, they are incredibly steep. And they keep coming at you one after another. Eight or nine times depending on how you approach them. It all culminates at a place called Top of the World. Not because the view is so great (even though you can see the entire Atlanta skyline), but because when you get there you feel like you have climbed to, well, the top of the world. If you're not ready for The Powerlines, they will chew you up, spit you out and leave your confidence level like that of a high school basketball team taking on the LA Lakers.

Good thing this section is part of the 50k. Twice.

But I was ready. As a matter of fact, I felt strong taking on the hills and made it out of this section unscathed. After a beautiful run along Sweetwater Creek and past the Civil War-era ruins, I was approaching the aid station around mile 15. To my surprise, only 2.5 hrs had elapsed so far. To my even bigger surprise, my lady was waiting there for me. Instead of sleeping in, as we had discussed the day before, she got up a little after I had left on race morning and headed to the Park to do some volunteering and meet me out on the course. This was a great boost! (Thanks, Honey!!!)

So, I decided to push and go for a PR despite the heat that was decending down on the course. The temperature was nearing 80, but it was really the humidity that was bearing down on all of us. It was key to drink as much as possible while keeping up the electrolyte levels. And since you have got to keep your spirits up, too, I started singing. (I did carry an ipod but never used it).

Next up was the section I had looked foward to the most: the river crossing. A rope was spanned across the creek, which at this point was about 150 or so feet wide (I'm not good with distances, so please correct me if I'm wrong). I was told to hold on with both hands right before being swept off my feet by the strong current. Here I was, holding on to a small rope, submerged in water up to my shoulders. Welcome to trail running!

The water was very refreshing, which was exactly what the doctor had ordered. The next few miles were uneventful. I had been running by myself for a long time now and was looking for someone to pace with. That someone would never show up. The aid stations were always a welcome change of pace (bad pun, I know) as I was yearning to crack bad jokes and to decide whether I would prefer trail mix or straight up M&M's.

I was now headed towards The Powerlines Part II. This wasn't a good time to hit a little funk, but I did. Oh well, time to tough it out. It was hard to climb up those hills yet again and it seemed like I was not moving at all. All of the sudden my buddy Jon Obst was running towards me. He had been running in 2nd place when I saw him earlier and all I thought was "Please don't let this be an out-and-back section." "No," he said,"I was told to go the wrong way earlier. Now I am making up mileage." Gosh, did I feel bad for him. Extra credit miles are never fun, especially when you have a chance to win the race.

Somehow I got through Part II and found myself on the home stretch. Only four miles to go! With a mix of shuffling, running and hiking, I made my way to the finish. My stomach had been giving me problems and I started getting very nauseous. Eventually, I stumbled across the finish line in 5:46. That was good enough for a 23 minute PR and 14th place overall!! I had given it my all, pushed as hard as I could and was simply spent. And to get a result like that on this course in those weather conditions...I was elated! (Still am, actually).

I cannot thank the volunteers enough for all their help and support on this hot and muggy day. A special thanks, of course, goes to RD Johnny Buice and his support staff. Thank you for one heck of a memorable day!

P.s. My camera died around mile 4 (I think due to excessive sweat), so no pictures after that. Sorry!


christian said...


Great report. 5:46 is awesome bro.

When I think back on the race, I just can't imagine how people can go so fast.

But dammit, I'm shootin' for a sub six next year.

Also, thanks for introducing yourself on the bridge on your way back in form TOTW part deux --- it's so cool to meet the people of the GUTS forums and Ultralist.



David Ray said...

Way to get your Neil on!

Congrats on a great run under difficult conditions. Nice writeup too.

Definitely some trail rookies in the Half. I saw several running in the back with no water. Not a good day for that.

Mike Hudson said...

Great race, David! The river crossing sounds awesome!!

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

great job! PR and I guess you felt that doing a 2nd made it official (becoming an ultrarunner)

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