Still not quite sure what that was…

Around 9:30 Saturday night, after completing my 60th mile, I learned that I was in first place for the men.

…and then I just stopped.

Woods Ferry 24-hour, …or not.

Li’l Weezy talked me into heading to rural, and I mean RURAL, South Carolina for a 24-hour event in the Sumter National Forest between Union and Chester, SC.

Christian Griffith and Wayne Downey at Woods Ferry
photo: Me and Li’l Weezy banking 20 miles.

The goal was for Weezy to get in some good time on his feet for 24-hours in preparation for the Pinhoti 100 – his first 100-miler. And, my goal was simply to stay on my feet with absolutely no mileage goals what-so-ever. So many people have been there to support me, so I thought I could do double-duty here with the “Weasel from Winder.”

I’m not trying to hate, and I’m from SC, so I’m not even going to get started on the little town of Union, the fact that there is not a single quality motel within 50 miles, nor its lack of even one single healthy place to eat, nor the excessive amount of personally irresponsible residents.

I know it sounds like I’m being very critical, but that’s not it – it really saddens me to see 300+ lb people, eating fried chicken and apple turnovers, ankles and wrists swollen from diabetes. It’s very depressing. Makes you want to help. Grab them and say wake up! educate yourself because you are dying. …and worse, your killing your kids.

Is there even gonna be a race?

Just before dark, we ventured to the start/finish at Woods Ferry Recreation Center inside the forest, and upon arrival listened to all the camping runners worry about the possibility of getting shut down.

The pavilion area where runners were to start/finish each loop had already been setup with a Hammer Nutrition banner and all the aid supplies and food, but apparently this was against the rules of the park. The ranger wanted all the food and supplies removed by dark . Plus, if it wasn’t removed by someone, most likely the animals would be “removing it” throughout the night.

I don’t know what the deal was. I heard musings of “no permit” and “canceled race” and “what if this, and what if that”, and it was all making me a bit uncomfortable. My early experiences in Union were already pretty weird, the race scene was looking weird and on top of all that, I was very, very sleepy.

We went to bed feeling very uneasy that night.

Smooth as silk

I don’t know if anyone removed anything, or what ended up happening, but packet pickup was mellow, the RD chipper, and come 7:30 a.m. everyone hit the trails for 24 hours of trail running.

…however, this would be unlike any 24-hour I’ve ever seen.

Aren’t timed events supposed to be flat?

Granted if you know Terri Hayes, the race director, you know she is always one to shake things up a little.

Woods Ferry was no exception.

If you’re not familiar with the 24-hour (timed event) format, this quote from suite 101 sums ’em up well:

Most 24-hour races are “run as you please.” Runners run, walk, rest, or even sleep completely at will. Runners may also stop if they are completely exhausted or have reached their goal. All that counts in the race results is the total distance the runner covers. There is no penalty for stopping in less than 24 hours.

This format is a popular way to give runners the opportunity to experiment with different nutrition, hydration and other race-day strategies as typically, these races are low-key in nature and usually held on a short flat course containing somewhere between less-than-a-mile and 1.5 miles.

Not this race.

Purple to Blue to Yellow, and back

The Woods Ferry 24-hour consisted of a one mile approach trail, blazed purple, that carried runners to a sort of figure 8 loop connecting two interconnecting trail segments of ~4.5 miles each, making the entire loop 10 miles long.

Get all that? Here’s how it broke down:

  • Purple trail: This section of trail was hacked-up, hard-packed dirt that gradually climbed for about a mile. The footing was a challenge because horses had torn it up wet and muddy, and then that mud dried with deep, hard divots.
  • Blue trail: The blue trail starts out very runnable as gradual downhill, leading into a section of very steep downhill, before climbing out again about 500 feet. All the way to the yellow trail, this blue trail roller-coasters up and down constantly with lots of climbing and descending with some sections very steep.
  • Yellow trail (I): This was easily my favorite part of the 10-mile loop. The yellow trail had a bit of everything with the early sections being nice, runnable pine straw covered single-track, some creek crossings, some short steep climbs and an aid station halfway through.
  • Yellow trail (II): After the aid station, runners enter a power-line cut (some wimped out and took a graded gravel road outside the cut, but whatever). This cut section was pretty chewed-up, roller-coasting up and down, but I kinda liked it; and after a series of short hills, we entered some more nice, albeit technical single-track, and again roller-coasted throughout the woods. The final section of the yellow trail was very dry, very hard-packed and very mutilated by horses.

After the yellow loop, we had to redo the up-n-down sections of the blue-blazed trail before returning to the purple loop which took us back to camp.

That was one loop.

I sure would love to know the total elevation change of one loop. I’d guess 2000 feet of climbing and the same descending.

That’s a lot for a 24-hour loop race.

Quick recap

Although the course was much more challenging than I had expected, I really enjoyed running out there. It was a beautiful, sunny day crawling into the 80’s but never really got too hot.

I ran with Li’l Weezy for about 3.5 loops before he started to have a few foot problems and wanted me to push ahead. In a normal ultramarathon, this would be a given, but I was sorta out there for him, so I wasn’t sure what to do.

I pushed ahead, but it didn’t feel right.

I felt really good through 50 miles. I ran well, walked some hills in the later loops, and gained some additional confidence at that distance. In fact, Abi Meadows found me on the last mile of 50 miles, and we ran into the campground together at a strong pace.

But during the sixth loop, I found myself walking a lot.

I just don’t like that anymore. I know there are different camps in ultrarunning and walking is an accepted strategy, but for me and where I’m at with my training, I’m trying to walk less and less. I come to ultras to RUN, and I’m cool with walking severe inclines, but I want to run as much as I can – I believe it is the only way I’m going to continue to improve.

By the time I finished the sixth loop (60 miles), I learned I was in 2nd place overall, and first place male – all I had to do was continue for another 10 hours and I could win my first ultra race.

Around 10:30 p.m., I started the seventh loop, but found myself just walking the entire mile to the start of the blue trail.

Why do that?

  1. My buddy who I came with had already stopped at 50 and was just waiting on me.
  2. I was tired.
  3. I had achieved enough miles for it to be good training.
  4. I have an incredibly challenging race schedule coming up this summer.
  5. I will get absolutely NOTHING out of walking for 10 more hours.

So, I simply turned around and walked back to camp.

Giving up the potential win (who cares anyway?) but putting an official 100K in the training bank.

I was happy with my decision. It felt like the right thing to do.


I ran the entire 62 miles in the Asics Piranha II racing flat. A 4.4 ounce racing flat that has replaced the New Balance 152 in my “flats” arsenal. I truly believe lighter socks and lighter shoes are the key to blister prevention – at least for me. Not one single blister or foot problem at all.

I carried nothing but water and Scaps.

Nutritionally, I took a Vespa every ~2.5 hours, added some BCAAs twice, and ate real food at aid stations. For whatever reason, I did not feel like using gels.

Personal Change in Ultrarunning philosophy

It’s been building all year, but this weekend really solidified for me that my approach to the sport is changing.

I am continuing to get more and more serious with regards to my running performance. I want to be able increase the amount of time I run during races, and this includes hills. I learned that depending on fatigue level, I ran 25 to 45 minutes faster, over the 10 mile course, when I ran hills as opposed to walking them. Over the life of a 50 or 100-mile race, that’s a big chunk of time.

The key is both being able to run more, but also being able to recover from those efforts faster, and continue with a solid pace on easier sections throughout the rest of the race.

I simply want to get faster. Both in ultras and the shorter stuff. No limits.

The training continues with my eyes firmly on a sub-24 hour at the Keys 100-miler.

One month away…

2010 SweetH20 ‘fiddy K

When your having a bad day, the best way to have a better day, is to focus on someone else’s day.


Sweet H20 creek crossing
photo: Coming back for trip #2 across the river.

My fourth SweetH20 50K

The SweetH20 50K is one of my favorite races. Shockingly, I’ve run it four times now – more than any other ultramarathon since I started running back in ’06.

Wow – sittin’ here, I can’t believe I almost – almost – could be considered a non-rookie.

Nah, I’m still a rookie.

A few changes to keep things killer

You probably already know that the park was washed out from the 2009 Georgia floods, so Johnny and the DCRR crew had a bit of a challenge when creating the new course.

The hard parts didn’t change.

“Top of the World” was still “Top of the World” [TOTW]. A series of rollarcoaster climbs and descents ripping through a powerline cut. (minus the powerlines)

“Yellow loop” still had that nasty climb, straight-up a dry creek bed.

And, “Jack’s Hill” is still just a pain in the @ss.

But, to keep things continually changing and improving, the RD threw in a few “surprises” for the runners – just to make sure they knew they were running “rogue-style”. These changes included:

  • Two trips up Jack’s Hill (a deceptively evil climb)
  • Two rope-assisted trips across the river (yummy)
  • A mental mind-bending, sun-infested, never-ending field approach to TOTW
  • A short-n-steep gravel jeep-road
  • And, a few extra miles to keep the runners guessing

Rough day from the get-go

Within in the first 3 miles, I knew I was running on dead legs.

Honestly, I hadn’t really recovered from my Barkley loop, which I did before recovering from the ING Georgia Marathon, which I ran sore from trying to chase 5 and 10K speed goals, which…


I just have a problem with rest; but that didn’t stop me from having fun.

At the start, I spent the early road section running and chatting with Abigail Meadows, stoked to see her at one of our local races, before ducking into the woods to tear through some of the “sweet” single track.

Down and across and up over the rope-assisted spillway, and I was moving pretty well.

Once you hit the blazed trails in Sweetwater State Park, you enter a series of rapidly changing trail sections that forces runners to pay close attention. Lots of blowdown branches, thick stumps, beachy soft sand, …but it’s mostly flat, so if you’ve got some skills, you can move quickly through here.

News to me

After crossing the bridge that leads out of the park, the course takes a different direction than years’ past, along some rolling, well-maintained and tree-covered trail.

I liked this trail, but it’s long. I was told a mile – but its a long mile.

And after that pleasant mile, it dumps you into an exposed single-track trail wedged into field of dry high-grass.

Honestly, I didn’t love the field. It was not my favorite addition to the course, …but remember, I was grumpy and running on dead legs. {wink}



After that long field romp, racers were dumped onto a short climb up a gravel jeep road. It wasn’t so bad, but it was steep, and you knew it was taking you to “Top of the World” – just didn’t know when.


Before I had a chance to recover from the climb, I turned a corner and BAM! – there they are – the roller coasters of “Top of the World”.

Every report ever written about this race drones on about TOTW, so I’ll just agree that, yes, it’s tough and nasty and gnarly and hot and exposed and slow and grueling – but, for some odd reason, it’s my favorite part of the course.

If you read my Barkley report, I suppose TOTW is just another example of me “loving that which sucks the life out of me.”

Water should be part of every ultra

The water crossings rocked! Both of them.

It was peaking into the 80’s by the time I got there, so I was ready for a li’l splish-splashin’… (say that 3 times, fast)

The first trip across was far more wild as I was tripping and falling everywhere trying to get across, but the water was cold and refreshing and it felt awesome on my quads.

There was a beach’s worth of sand on the other side, so I was given the chance to conquer the yellow loop, with it’s gnarly climb and fast descent, with plenty of soaked-shoe sandy goodness.

Clap your hands everybody 

Christian Griffith finishing the Sweet H20 50K
photo: Glad to be finished!

After the water crossing, it was pretty much the same drill.

A second loop.

So, just take what I wrote, multiply by two, and there ya go – not much else happened on the second loop except for finding my good buddy Sean Oh dehydrating on the second crest of Top of the World and stuffing Fig Newtons in his mouth like a starving child.

I was also out of water, and hot as hell, So I figured I’d do pretty much the same.
(Biiiig shout out to Spyder Tynes for saving runners with ice cold water up there)

Sean and I chilled together through the next aid station, but he found a new awakening and dropped me like I never caught him.

Ultrarunning phenom, now injured-kid-swimming his-@ss-off, Matt Kahrs came looking for me about 2 miles from the finish and ran along with me for some much needed bro-catching-up-ing. I sure hope ol’ Matt heals and comes back to the sport. It’s too fun watching him rip it up

And after 33-ish miles and 6:35, I finally rolled up to the finish and put this one in the bank.

34th finisher out of about 175 runners.

I was not at all happy about that finish time, but felt a little better when I was told the race was long; and since I had plenty of ready-made excuses stemming back from all kinds of over-training and zero recovery, I felt well-armed with plenty of come-backs for “what happened?” should someone feel the need to test me.

…and yea, around mile 25 or so, I got “Schicked” …again.

Damn that Schick.
(but thanks Rich, for the Barkley chaps – mighty kind of ya)

Hanging around for the rest of the troops

But the highlight of my day was sitting on the finisher road with various other race finishers and volunteers cheering on all the other runners as they made their ascent up the last hill to the finish. Kate Brun and I spent a lot of time cheering on folks before being joined by Bryce Carlson, Dreama Campbell, Sarah Woerner and others both looking for their friends and cheering on strangers.

That lifted my spirits more than I can express.

I then hung-out to make sure that all but one of my local running group members crossed that finish line.
(Sorry, JR, but now you have a chance to get me back in our “contest.”)

Thanks all around

Thanks to the DCRR runners, Johnny Buice, all the aid station folks and all the positive people who shared the trail with me in the spring’s  first 50K scorcher.

Like I’ve said in all three of the other reports, SweetH20 is a the perfect 50K. Rocks, roots, sand, water, tough climbs, wild descents, gnarly gravel, sopping spillways, crushing concrete, open fields, dense single-track …and some stairs thrown in for completeness.


(and yea, I’m gonna crank up the redesign on the SweetH20 web site next year. It’s due.)