Just when I was starting to think of 50Ks as comfortable & kind of routine, the SweetH2O 50K outside Atlanta kicked my rump. I had heard it was pretty hard & went into it a little more nervous than usual. I ran a 34 miler in SC earlier this month & people told me the time from that race- 6:49 should be about the same time at SweetH2O for 31. The 34 miler was no problem & I was confident going into it.
There was a large crowd & some speedy looking folks. Race was capped at 250 & 212 finished. We ran most of the first 2 miles on roads, which wasn't to my liking, but necessary to spread out the field. I felt like I was being pushed to go faster than I wanted to, even though I was right about in the middle of the pack. The legendary David Horton was there & he fell right after entering the woods. Both hands were all bloody. I ran right behind him for a couple of miles. There was a steep concrete spillway you go down, through some water & then back up. Had to use the rope to climb up. After that, the trail got very rooty & rocky for a couple of miles- the kind of stuff I like, but with a large group, it slowed things down a lot.
I didn't know when to expect the infamous waist-deep river crossing, so every time we
came down to the river, I thought we'd hit it. I'd be waiting until mile 19. There were a good number of ups & downs in the woods, but then you hit something called Top of the World. The first time, this was 4 huge 300 meter hills- one bigger than the next. Then you go through the woods for a mile or so & come back out to power lines for some more huge up & downs, but those were mostly downs. The second time around, it was a little different & I think there were 6-7 hills on the first section & then you immediately cross over to the power lines. The first time through, I told some locals I was running with, "Ah, this isn't terrible. It'll probably be worse next time around though." So true! ...but I was feelin' pretty good for the first 3 hours.
At mile 19, I was feeling OK & running with Mark Elson, who I've run with before. I've finished within a couple of minutes of him twice. Not today. It was here that we hit the river crossing- or I should say the line for the river crossing. There were about 40 people in line & you had to go one at a time. I waited 22 minutes to cross. I'd passed David Horton at around 4 miles & he passed us right at the river crossing. He'd cleaned his hands up a little & showed us the black eye he'd gotten from a fall a couple of weeks before! 22 minutes later, I was walking waist-deep in the Sweetwater River holding onto a rope. At one point, my feet shot out from under me & I was just holding onto the rope until I could get them back. The current was strong. I'm not too competitive & I would've welcomed the wait in a training run, but the wait here was a little aggravating. It was hard for me to get back into the race mentally after this. I ran with Mark for another mile until he took off. He waited for me for a second, but he looked too fresh & I told him to go ahead. It would've been wise to stick with him for a few miles. He ended up finishing something like 45 minutes ahead of me! Because the river crossing spaced the race out so much, the last 12 miles were kind of lonely.
Hitting Top of the World the second time was the worst! It was 86 degrees & that section was totally exposed with no shade. I had my hands on my knees, literally thinking about each step. I started getting dizzy & lightheaded- something I've never experienced while running. Thought I was in trouble & considered crawling off into the shade of the woods to cool off for 20 minutes, but kept trudging. It was ugly. This was the most "out of it" I've ever been in a race. An aid station worker asked me if I was OK. I stayed there talking to him for 2-3 minutes & really, after that, I felt a lot better. Guess I needed the break. The thing about these hills is- see, they weren't mountains that you can expect to climb for 30+ minutes with switchbacks & more moderate grades. These were super-steep cliffs practically (OK, I'm exaggerating) that only took 1-2 minutes to get up. Brutal though. Click on the picture to the left and look at the ant-like people flying down the cliff!
Rest of the race was relatively uneventful except for the end. Jennifer (wife) & Wren (5 year old daughter) came with me to Atlanta & went to a museum & festival all day. They were waiting for me 1/4 mile from the finish line & Wren ran in with me. As we were running, she said, "Is this special for you? It's special to me to finish your long run with you. You can leave if you need to go faster. I'll just follow you (of course her speed was my top end at that point!)." Broke my heart. I've always thought it was a little cheesy when kids finish with parents, but not this time! After we crossed the line & she gave me 5, she said, "UGH, Dad, you stink so bad!" That got a chuckle from the finish line crew.
So, the guy who told me my Buncombe 34 Miler time of 6:49 would be about the same as my SweetH2O 50K time couldn't have been more right on, even though I broke down in the last 10 miles. I finished in 7:10, but taking out the 22 minutes of standing around, that's 6:48. Pretty close, huh? Finished 120th out of 250 registered & 212 finishers. Keeping in mind my 50K PR is 4:41 on a flat course... it's just kind of amazing how much conditions & terrain make a difference in this sport. Over two hours difference. Wow.
Next up is 109 miles on the Appalachian Trail in 4 days. Solo. Taking all of my gear with me. I'm very nervous about it. 2 weeks from today will be my first night out.