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…”

BANG!

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

What?

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…”

“Phew.”

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.

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Comments

[...] eight hours and fifteen minutes (8:15), and last year, I shaved off an hour and twenty minutes, to finish in 6:56 — so this year, I set another lofty goal, hoping to shave off another hour and some change, [...]

Christian, this is Dale from church. I was excited about this since it is my first race longer than a marathon as well as my first trial run. I should have never read your post. Now I have to reconsider!

Hi Rick – nope…

The “lost my shorts”-report was at the Chattooga 50K. The report is here:

http://run100miles.com/race-reports/chattooga-50k-race-report/

Good report. I’m running this one this year & wanted to read up on it. Didn’t you have a report where you lost your shorts during a race? I thought this was the one. Ha!

So I just read your “I lost my britches” race report, and in an effort to distract myself from doing actual work, I read this one too. You seem to have a predilection for interesting mid-race moments. Good that you didn’t get swept away by the current and all… but again, it made for a really good read. Can’t wait for your NEXT race report…

Dude, great race and an awesome report. Sounds like a great race. If I can cure my “Massanutten addiction”, I will definitely be there next year. Alas, at the beginning of my taper, 50K on trails likely wouldn’t play well. See you soon and congrats on the huge PR.

UPDATE:

Lots of people have asked me to what part of my training I attribute my race time improvement.

Answer: Crossfit.

Without question, Crossfit is making my body strong by providing me very intense workouts, using functional, compound movements that are designed to improve your overall athletic mobility.

I want to continue to improve with regards to running, but I never what to look like a runner. Does that make sense?

…and some might say, “don’t worry, you never will” {wink}

I like carrying lots of muscle. Sure, I’d like to lose some fat just like about everyone else approaching their 40′s, but I am looking for balance.

I want to look, feel, and “be” healthy, strong, and well-adjusted.

If you have any questions about Crossfit, you can read my blog post about it – then check it out for yourself.

I’ll tell you this, unlike any other methodology, there’s never been a Crossfitter that said, “this isn’t working for me”

it’s “proof” training.

Christian -
Way to go on your second SW H20 finish, and beating last year’s time by far!
Another good post as well, feel like I ran it myself…

Sherpa …either I am moving up, or folks are moving down {grins}

thanks man – what’s next for you? Vermont 100?

Will: thanks …and yea, I am baffled at all the improvement with such eat too. Maybe we were hungry for some warmth ‘roun here.

Cheers!

Nice work C… you’re moving up in the world!

Christian – congratulations on completing your second SweetH20 – and the great improvement on your time. While it seemed much hotter than last year, many of the times were faster! An excellent report – keep writing ‘em. Thanks…

Dave – of course, I remember…

Although I also remember being so jealous that you were already coming back from TOTW on that second trip through, …and, I was just headed on my way back to Hell.

I was so tired and still trying to recover from that long stretch with no aid.

Looking back though, it’s facing those challenges that keeps me coming back for more.

Makes office work feel like — no work at all.

Christian,

Congratulations on a GREAT race. It was tough out there, man. 80 mins off last year’s time is very impressive. You must feel really good about that.

Also well-written report.

It was nice to meet you briefly on the bridge right before you hit the powerlines for the second time. Not sure if you remember. Some of my memories from this race are kinda fuzzy actually…

Rock on,

Dave

Dirk – good point – I’ve been there. I can think of more than once where I wanted to snap back at “gleeful” runner with something not quite so…, well, “glee-filled”

But, it’s part of the game, right? You never know for sure how someone else will react when you through some love their way …but, to me, it seems like the right thing to do.

Cindy – Thank you, and thanks to Jennifer as well. Unfortunately, I didn’t know her name so I sorta lumped the situation together…

…can I blame it on my heat exhausted state?

You have to admit I was looking a little loosy-eyed at that point. I could tell by the concern on your face.

Both you really helped me though and I appreciate it – it’s that ultra vibe we love so much.

Cheers!

Jason – yea man, the heat was really rough.

I wondered if it was just me, or if others were getting rocked too. Then, I came home and pulled up the weather channel web site to see what the temps were at 1:00 p.m. and sure enough, 80 degrees and 50% humidity.

…but earlier, the humidity was in the 70% range with temps also in the 70′s

flat-out a hot day for running — especially when here I was expecting rain.

Pain, heat, hills – oh what a glorious day. I loved every second of the suffering.

Another great race report. Positive vibe so true when you’re the one giving, but sometimes hard to take on a bad day.

This is a great report, except I would personally like to forget some of the pain. The fact that you can actually remember your mental state at TOTW on the second time around is mind boggling to me.

Great job on the huge improvement over last year, especially in such heat.

Christian, you are CRAZY! Please take that as a sincere compliment. :^) Can’t imagine going back to the TOTW for “seconds”. I was truly in awe of you & all the runners yesterday!

CONGRATULATIONS for shaving 1 HOUR & 20 MINUTES off last year’s time. It was awesome seeing you charge up that last hill to the finish, grinning like a cheshire cat!

By the way, there were a few of us at that spot giving you some TLC. I actually think that it was our Jennifer who gave you the Gatorade. (& we’ve already discussed having a mini-aid station there next year with fluids and S-caps.)

Thanks for another entertaining report, Christian. I hope you get to run every SweetH20 for years to come.

I felt the need for more upper body strength yesterday. I can believe the Crossfit is making a big difference.

Hope you can find a 50 miler to do. I’m looking forward to the next report.

Rahn:

I didn’t mention Crossfit in the report, so you must have seen my ‘experiment’ post on the ultralist.

{wink}

Crossfit is thee reason for my overall improvement. Mentally because with Crossfit I am finishing workouts where I would have normally quit, and physically, I am getting stronger by the week with these intense workouts and compound movements.

I feel like I can continue to improve, regardless of the fact that I t’aint no teenager, no mo’

David, we’ll be looking for you in the 50K next year.

My buddy Sean O won the 35-39 Mens, but said the race, even without TOTW, was pretty tough.

Good show and congratulations.

Spurgeon,

Thanks, but I want to let the world know how YOU got 10th place overall at 5:40!

That’s so incredible to me. You were sitting there eating burgers and drinking cold beer for an hour before I even crossed the finish.

Thanks for the props – yea, I can write, but YOU can run. {grins}

Much respect. You rock!

Greg G. ::: what’s up? Great to hear from you waaay out in Park City, Utah.

Hope the new gig at backpacker.com is rocking, bro.

Everybody, go buy sumin’, anything, at backpacker.com so good ol’ Greg can get some “new guy” brownie points at his new job — come on, a new hand-held water bottle, some shorts, whatever…

Support the sport. (and the runner too.)

Thanks for checkin’ in Greg.

As everyone else says, great report. Felt like I was there, just with out the threat of drowning.

You didn’t mention it at all, but I’m curious how much you think your Crossfit training helped with the time improvement?

Another great run and great writeup. After running the half yesterday, I can better appreciate this one.

And I was glad not go to the TOTW. Maybe next year.

Congrats on the improvement over last year. I might have to order the dvd just to see the epic river crossing.

Rock on Christian! Your reports are always a joy to read. Congrats on shaving 80 minutes off last year!

I take it your injury has gotten better? Take it easy,

– Greg

Christian! Great report! (as usual.) Kudos on a great race … and the thing I am most impressed by is that you did the last leg in 12 minutes! You rock dude! It took me 19 minutes to go that last 1+ mile. I was dying. I must say, I am jealous of the intestinal fortitude you have that enabled you to suck it up and bust out a great finish!

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