2008 SweetH20 Race Report v.2

Preparing for the Sweetwater Creek SweetH20 50K Trail Race

“Steve, are the half-marathon runners starting at 7:30 too? with us?”

“There’s like 200 of ’em this year, how will we all squeeze into the single-track together at the same ti…”


The gun went off, and two hundred half-marathon trail runners, along with about seventy-five of us 50K runners, took off, headed for the beautiful trails of Sweetwater Creek.

The 2008 SweetH20 50K and Half-Marathon had begun.

I guess I am officially a 50K veteran now. This is the first 50K ultramarathon that I have run for a second time, and it was pretty cool knowing what to expect as opposed to just running off into the woods clueless around every corner.

Last year, the SweetH20 was one of my first 50K races, and I was just to happy to finish, although as more time went by, not necessarily proud of the eight hours, fifteen minutes it took me to do so.

This year, my goal was to shave a full hour off my time.

Might as Well Get Your Run On Early

Everyone likes to say this-race-and-that-race is hard, but the SweetH20 is legitimately hard. All you have to do is look at the 50K race results.

I don’t think anyone has finished the SweetH20 race in under five hours – a long time out on the course for 50K elite runners.

Other than the typical, early traffic jams, the first seven miles of the race is the easiest section of trail to negotiate. This year, being local, and well aware of that fact, I took advantage and passed a few more cautious runners early-on.

Buh-Bye Half-Marathoners


No Top of the World for the half-marathoners???

No fair.

At the 6.8 mile aid station, the half-marathoners split from us and headed towards Jack’s Hill; while the 50K runners, crossed the bridge for the approach to Top of the World, arguably one of the toughest, steepest, and nastiest dirt stretches of any 50K in the Southeast – Depending on when in the race you tackle it, the Top of the World section consists of a series of 4-7 very steep climbs and descents, looking much like a giant dirt roller coaster widely exposed to all the elements.

This year, Top of the World was an absolute thermal beat-down ::: hot as hell with scorching 80+ degree heat, a big ol’ sun shining brightly in the sky, and heaping helping of humidity just for the fun of it.

And like last year, we got to do it twice, with the second time presenting itself at about twenty-six miles with an alternative approach that makes it longer, tougher, hotter and as a result, more difficult.

Lastly, to get out of TOTW, runners are forced to negotiate some treacherous downhill, amongst buzzing power lines. I saw a lot of people slip, fall, stop, cuss, and frustrate themselves into a snail’s pace here …but for once, this is where I excelled due to the fact that I simply love a thrill.

I busted down the steep, scary stuff, just’a rock-hoppin’, slippin’ and slidin’, bobbin’ and weavin’ with a sort of smile that only the Joker himself could fully appreciate.

Consequences be damned, I love me some gnarly downhill.

Thank you Johnny B. – You are one masochistic RD. I love it {wink}

Running on the Positive Vibe

I’d like to take a break from the play-by-play for a split second to share a unique and positive stoke from this year’s race. I think it says a lot about the experience of ultrarunning.

Remember when you were a kid and you’d call someone a name or say something sorta’ mean, and the snappy kid would shoot back with, “I’m rubber and you’re glue…”, “whatever you say, bounces off me and sticks back on you.”

Remember that goofy stuff?

Well, I experienced some truth to that during this race. First in little bits, then as a complete, noticeable race enhancement.

See, I’ve never really been comfortable with the obligatory comments to passing runners, or runners passing me, but I’ve heard them all.

“nice job.”

“looking great.”

“you’re doing awesome!”

“way to go!”

If you run ultras, you know what I’m talking about. It’s not that I didn’t want to be nice or positive to other runners; instead, oddly enough, I was sort of shy. Sorta’ like “who am I to be giving support?”, “I’m just a sloth rookie.”

But, this time, I chose to be different. No matter who I passed, or who passed me, I started blurting out props. All those same quotes you see and hear up above. Even if some runners didn’t respond back, I didn’t care, because a weird thing was happening – almost like a Celestine Prophecy, I was getting productive energy from the positive vibe I was putting out.

Go ahead, roll your eyes – I probably would too – but I was there and I felt it. I would get these surges of power and it was evident enough to cause me to look for people to reach out to both to offer support …and for my own race experience.

Cool stuff.

There is always, always something to learn in an ultra.

Hunting the Water Like a Hippopotamus

From the bottom of TOTW, all the way to the halfway point aid station at the metal bridge, I pretty much ran alone. I was already fatigued, trying hard to recover from the brutality on those dirty hills. Although I was alone, I was in awe with the beauty around me. The rushing river, the explosion of spring color, the thick, green southern foliage, …it’s all just so beautiful and twice as much so in Sweetwater Creek State Park.

Running long the blue-blazed trail, around mile 10-ish I suppose, I came upon a lone box turtle, just chillin’ on the trail. Not wanting him to get crushed, I picked him up, set him deeper in the woods, and verbally scolded him for his metaphoric appearance, …I was NOT going too slow, dammit. {wink}

Interestingly, that’s the only wildlife I saw today – turtles – and lots of ’em

I had no idea what time it was, but it was getting hot. Really hot. Went from kinda warm to deliriously hot in a very short time. I wondered about all the people who may not be prepared with proper fluids or electrolytes, because without proper attention today, you were most surely going to blow up.

After the brutal yellow loop ascent, where incidentally I came upon two half-marathoners, one puking her guts out, I couldn’t think of anything else but the water crossing and a refreshing plunge into the cold river.

I sorta’ checked out on the hills approaching the water crossing, insanely chanting to myself, “gotta get to the water, gotta get to the water…”

“Hold on the rope with two hands”

That was the last thing I remember hearing as I dunked myself into the water over and over and over again. Sadly, full of arrogance, I did not take the race volunteer’s advice, and found myself caught in a rapid and heading down river.

Luckily, at the last second, and literally by my fingernails, I caught a rock, and with all the upper body strength I could muster, pulled myself against the current and into a calm crevice to catch my breath, take a sigh of relief …and dunk myself again.

“I thought we were gonna have to come get you down river”, said the RD.

“me too”, I responded about as embarrassed as I could possibly be.

I heard they have video of my mishap. Joy Joy.

Man, Where’s the Aid Station and Where Am I

At about twenty miles into the race, I was really fatigued and fighting one of the famous low points that most people experience in ultras. I was hot, sweating like crazy, and a little sore due to my river debacle. I was running low on fluids …like one-sip-left low, and the next aid station wasn’t coming for another couple of miles.

I knew I was on the white blazed trail, but the trail was not marked as well in this section – that, or I was becoming delirious – and I stopped a couple o’ times to gather myself, almost turning back to see if I missed a fork in the trail.

Luckily, I happened upon a couple with a camera, and said, “am I on the right trail?”

“Yes, good luck – don’t worry, lots of people have asked us that…”


I ran for about two miles with no fluids, and late into the race like that, I was a little worried. “What if those teenage girls aren’t there anymore?, or what if they ran out of water?…”

Luckily, when I got to the aid station, although the teenagers were no longer there, the station still was and it was now being run by two quality DCRR runners. These guys were very attentive and took great care of me. While I’m at it, much thanks to all the great volunteers.

Top of the World Revisted

I’ve already told you about TOTW, so I won’t say much more other than it absolutely SUCKS to have to do it again – in a more difficult route – after you’ve already run a full marathon. Of course, in retrospect I wouldn’t change one single thing about the SweetH20 course and difficulty, but at the time, when you get to TOTW for the second time and look up, …well, you just want to sit down and cry.

Put it this way: I would love to run with Rob Apple, a well known ultrarunner in the Southeast, who after completing the SweetH20, has racked up 519 ultramarathon finishes. I have always looked up to him both for his running talent and perseverance, but also for his quality character. No one pours more praise and appreciation on the aid station volunteers than Rob; and even though I saw him behind me at Top of the World, I could not force myself to take the opportunity to slow down and wait for my chance to clip off some steps with a legend.

I just wanted out of that scorching section of trail.

Finally, as I was passing a runner on the crazy downhill exit of TOTW, I asked, “how long have we been out here?”

“six hours”, he said.

“Really?”, I said, “Wow, if we hurry and finish the last 5 miles in under an hour, we can get a sub-seven hour finish.”

Something I never considered possible for myself at this stage in my ultra existence.

I took off – hell bent on at least getting 7:15 and completing my goal of shaving one hour off of my time from last year’s race.

“You’re Not Home Yet, Get Moving”

I got to the 30 mile aid station at about six hours, forty-five minutes into the race. If I could finish the last mile and a half in under 15 minutes, I’d break seven hours – sounds easy when you’re fresh – not so easy after 30 miles.

I got caught up talking a little bit too long to the aid station volunteers until one of them said, “Christian, you aren’t home yet, get moving”

and, after grabbing a handful of Skittles, I did just that.

Six Hours, Fifty-Six Minutes Never Looked So Good

The last stretch took forever and I almost fell into the water dodging some fishing equipment, but I made that final hill climb, up to the last volunteers, who clapped and cheered and steered me towards the finish.

I could see the clock, 6:56:11

Oh my God, I’m gonna break seven hours on this crazy course, and I ran as hard as I could to the finish line.

Final time, 6:56:52, putting me smack dab in the middle of the finishing pack, and shaving a whopping one hour, twenty minutes from my time in last year’s SweetH20.

I am so proud, so happy, and surprisingly, not too beat up.


Much respect and a hearty thanks to all the volunteers. Everyone was so helpful and supportive and the stations well-stocked and varied.

Special thanks to DCRR Cindy for literally saving my life after the river crossing and filling my bottle with life-saving Gatorade. Without that extra support, I don’t know what would have happened to my race.

If you haven’t run this race, and you enjoy a quality challenge, with varied terrain and a great group of runners and volunteers, the SweetH20 needs to be on your calendar next year.

See ya there.

Crossfit Level 1 Certification

Sonz Decatur CrossFit Certification Class

{click on the picture – see if you can find your’s truly in the mix…}

So, I thought I knew what intensity was…

…then, I went to Crossfit Certification class.

Why CrossFit?

CrossFit works where it counts…in the real world.

One of the best definitions of CrossFit that I have heard thus far is:

“Crossfit is a strength and conditioning program built on constantly varied, if not randomized, functional movements executed at high intensity.”

In my Introduction to CrossFit post, I briefly touch on CrossFit from the perspective of someone who has been training within his own knowledge and understanding of the program.

Now, after attending CrossFit Level I Certification class, I feel I have a much stronger, more complete understanding of the program, it’s advantages, and most importantly, why it works.

“We have taken high intensity, constantly varied, functional workouts and distilled load, range of motion, exercise, power, work, line of action, flexibility, speed and all pertinent metabolics to a single measure…usually time.”

Crossfit Certification | Day 1

After the obligatory lecture period regarding the basis for the CrossFit style of training, we went straight into squat mechanics. My main reason for coming to certification class was not necessarily to become certified as a CrossFit Trainer, but instead, to learn proper, safe and effective technique for the Olympic lifts such as the deadlift, clean, squat, and snatch, arguably the very most productive exercises one can do to build full body, functional strength.

After about thirty minutes of solid technique instruction, we busted into the first workout of the session: bottom-to-bottom tabata squats.

Tabata squats are completed in 30 second intervals, for four minutes.

Sound easy? Guess again…

For the first 20 seconds of the interval, trainees are hammering through as many air squats as possible. Jelli, a CrossFit trainer from Jupiter, Florida, led the group and ripped perfect-form air squats at a blistering pace, while the rest of us did our very best to attempt to keep up.

At the end of the 20 seconds of explosive squats, which usually equates to about 12-25 reps, depending on your fitness level, there is a 10 second “rest” — however, the “rest” consists of staying in the bottom of the squat movement, just a’burning up those quadriceps – lighting them on fire.

That’s one interval.

Immediately after the 10 second burn-fest, er, I mean “rest”, trainees immediately begin the explosive sequence all over again.

Only seven more intervals to go…

This crushed some people and put many people on the floor.

The rest of day pretty much consisted of hour long lecture periods, followed by solid technique training, this time in the deadlift, clean, jerk, sumo deadlift, and push press. You could read mountains of material regarding execution of these movements, and watch video after video of people executing them, but nothing compares to real world instruction where trainers can correct you on the spot. This is so important with the Olympic lifts because they are incredibly demanding and carry a potential for danger if executed incorrectly and/or haphazardly.

The day ended with large class breaking into groups of seven. As a group, the following routine had to be completed for time:

  • Run 400 meters
  • 500 thrusters*
  • Run 400 meters
  • 300 pull-ups
  • Run 400 meters

All as fast as possible while maintaining good form.

* Thrusters can be described as a barbell front squat with 95lbs + an overhead press all in one movement. The bar begins racked in front of your shoulders, you squat, and then at the top of the squat movement, you press the weight up over your head. (and yes, you read it right, 500 of ’em)

I went home very torn down physically and with an entirely new appreciation of what is meant by intensity.

Crossfit Certification | Day 2

We spent this day participating in more technique lecture, as well as a very in depth discussion regarding nutrition. CrossFitters seem to lean towards the Zone Diet as a way of managing their food intake and while it’s hard to argue with athletes as fit as this, I find the strict diet style to be limiting for those with families and those forced into more spontaneous eating schedules.

Technique training was geared around Day One’s lifts as well as the introduction of the Kipping pull-ups, muscle-ups, ham/glute sit-ups, and the grandaddy of strength training – the snatch.

Day two’s nasty workout was just that – nasty. This one had a few folks tossing their breakfast and kissing the mat in complete exhaustion.

Trainee’s broke into pairs and the first member of the pair lined up in front of a medicine ball ranging from 8lbs, to 20 lbs.

Ours was 16 lbs.

The routine was seven rounds of:

  • 10 medicine ball cleans
  • 10 burpees

Again, this routine was done for time – and again – this one left people in various states of shock, sickness and exhaustion.

A true neuroendocrine blaster. 

When I look at the routine in typed words on the screen, it sounds so easy. This is where CrossFit gets people and where other athletes, from other disciplines, will erroneously make the assumption that they could easily complete this workout.

It’s these people that usually pay the biggest price during a workout like this. They simply never expect the overwhelming intensity.

The class wrapped up with more lecture centered around the business of CrossFit. Since most of the people in the certification class were interested in training people, and opening their own Crossfit facilities, this lecture was very popular with attendees and a lot of questions were fielded by the HQ Trainers.

The Day After the CrossFit Certification Training Weekend

Oh my God, I can barely walk.

I am so sore, from head-to-toe, that I feel like I have just been introduced to exercise for the first time in my life.

In a way, that’s exactly what’s going on. When I look back at all the isolation training I have done in the past, I realize that while it can create hypertrophy, or increased muscle cells for a particular body part, it does not make me functionally stronger.

I wasted a lot of time. …but we all do it.

Functional training is adequately applying attention to the 10 general physical skills:

  1. Cardiovascular and cardio respiratory endurance
  2. Stamina
  3. Strength
  4. Flexibility
    (these first four are organic and are developed through training)
  5. Power
  6. Speed
    (these middle two are developed both with training as the four above and with practice as the next 4)
  7. Coordination
  8. Accuracy
  9. Agility
  10. Balance
    (these last four being neuromuscular and developed through practice)

If my training regime does not include attention to each of these areas, then there are holes in my training from a generalist perspective.

I am striving to be a generalist, not a specialist.

Specialists can be strong in one area, like an elite runner for example, who is a strong runner, but usually weak in other areas, such as strength and power. Conversely, a bodybuilder can appear healthy with a heaping helping of muscle, but if forced to run up a flight of stairs, would be huffing-n-puffing like a fat man.

Generalists are prepared for anything – from sport, to physical combat, to general daily needs such as lifting and moving heavy things around the house.

I want to be prepared for anything that life throws at me with the ability to take on incredible challenges and complete them all.

Crossfit is NOT for every athlete, especially the specialist athelete who strives to excel in one particular sport or movement; but, trust me – you will hear more and more about Crossfit as the years go by – it’s definitely worth investigation and learning if it’s right for you and your individual goals.

CrossFit Resources | Learn More – It’s Worth It