Wednesday, June 3, 2009

SweetWater 50K

This past Saturday I ran the SweetWater 50K in Lithia Springs, GA. I signed up for this with the mindset of it being a training run for the AC100. It was local, 25 minutes from my house, and I needed to get a more little race experience. With all the running that I have been doing, I still have only participated in only two other actual ultras events before this one.

As the time got closer I started thinking about how much I could improve on my 50K PR. My first 50K was my first ultra ever and man what it was it a slog fest of 7:40. I had never done a physical activity for that long in my life! I just knew that with a few years of running under my belt that Sweet H2O would be much better.

I started reading other’s thoughts and blogs on the race and knew this was something that I would really enjoy doing. Call me crazy, (I know some of you do already) but since the SCARs adventure the harder a race is described, the more I am interested in it. I started reading about the “Powerlines” and “TOTW” (Top of the World) sections of the race. And then the website has a great picture of the “creek crossing” that is high enough to be over most people waist! The other thing to know is that the SweetWater Park is not that big at all. The park website states that is has 9 miles of trails, so obviously to run a 31 mile race there is going to be some loops involved.

Another aspect to this event, with it being so close to the house, I was able to assist in getting the race setup with trail marking and aid station supplies. One requirement that the AC100 has is to volunteer for an ultra event for runners to give back to the ultra community. I agree with this requirement and really enjoyed myself. All of the folks from the DCRR, Douglas County Rogue Runners were just fantastic to work with. I felt instantly welcomed into the group. Thank you! I helped mark the course and still don’t know how Johnny and Scotty, the RD’s came up with the 31 miles, but I know they did because I know I covered that distance!

We start off the race on the road and within the first 3 or so miles get to the first major creek crossings. There were discussions between runners about the creek crossings. Should you take a change of shoes? Should you just take your shoes off? I remember seeing a guy the first year the race was run carrying a pair of flip-flops! Maybe I have had good luck, but since running in the rain for 8+ hours at Delano, I don’t worry about my feet getting wet especially if you are wearing the right socks. Thin and light synthetic socks seem to work well for me.

After a number of miles we get to our first time through the TOTW and Powerline section. TOTW section looks like a dirt roller coaster, just climbing then a descent. Someone had taken orange spray paint and painted the phrase “Just think what the second time will be like!” One of runners was asking if that was just a cruel joke or was it for real? The Powerline section is just raw. It didn’t seem like it was a trail, but more like running down a very steep section that was caused by serious erosion.

This is the 3rd year for Sweetwater, but the first year that they have cut out the half-marathon. In years pass most of the entrants signed up for the half. This year there was 250+ runners all doing the 50K. With a race being new there are always trouble spots to work through. This year was the major creek crossing at mile 20. As I showed up at this section there were 20+ runners waiting to cross. This water crossing is so serious that they have a rope that you have to hold on and multiple lifeguards waiting to make sure no one gets taken down stream. It was a little disappointing figuring that I lost about 25-30 minutes of time waiting for my turn. I am sure the RD’s got an ear full about it and know they are already working out a solution for next year.

I slog through the second time over TOTW and Powerline doing the best I can, but the sun was out and heating things up pretty good. Now I had been told that if you get through that section the second time you are home free. The last 4 miles as relatively flat and smooth. Mile 28 turned out to be pretty big shock to all of us. The RD’s had not told anyone about the change in the course at mile 28. I see a sign for Mile 28 and pointing nearly straight up a hill where there is no trail besides the one that all the runners had made during the race. Wow, I didn’t know what to do but take it a step at the time. I come up on another runner hugging a small tree desperately trying to catch his breath and made the statement to me as I passed “This is absolutely ridiculous!” Scotty & Johnny, you guys are sick for that, but I did enjoy it after I got up it!

I had a humbling experience that happened on mile 29. I was getting down through the trail as best I could run/walking. At one point that I was running and hear these footsteps come up on me pretty quickly and feel and tap on the shoulder and hear “Good job, buddy.” David Horton and his running partner pass by me looking like they just started the race. Before I know it they are gone an out of site. For some of you don’t know, David Horton is one of the top elite ultra runners in world. He accomplished things in the ultra world that only a handful of runners have ever done and still holds a number of records in the ultra worlds. Why was this humbling? Well, for one, as David told us all at the dinner the night before the race, “I’m old!” He will be 60 years old next year. Even being 20+ years younger and also calculating that I had about a 30 minute lead on him at the creek crossing at mile 20 he still passed me! There is something to be said about experience in ultras and knowing how to gauge yourself. I am sure that I was one of many the he passed in the last few miles. I just hope that I will be able to still be running when I am 60 and passing younger guys!

I have to give out some more props to some of my fellow ultra guys:

Matt, you are a beast! Outstanding time. I know that it is just a matter of time before you are taking 1st place in anything you run. You were so fast I didn't get a picture of you!

Colt, welcome to the ultra world! Dude, not running a marathon and coming out and pulling the time you did. You are solid! Thanks for helping me get a better time. You didn’t know it, but the last 10 miles I was trying to catch you the whole time! It made the run much better.

Dave, I am glad I finally talked you over to the dark side of running! I know you are just going to continue to enjoy this and get better and better. You did very well for you first ultra!


  1. Nice one! Looking forward to hearing about White River.

  2. Great report, Phil! It was great meeting you Friday night too. I'm not sure if you were able to get the Rogue website before you left on Saturday, but here it is:

    I'm getting a kick, as well as getting inspired, by reading all of the different race reports out there.

  3. Phil, I'm glad we met.. We did the training run @ Sweetwater the Sat.before the race..Great meeting you & Colt! Also running some (not much) @ SweetH20 Race...You did awsome & Colt just killed it for a First Ultra!
    You guys are great !!I know you will complete the AC100 strong!!
    Lil' Wayne

  4. Phil,
    Excellent race review dude. Thanks for coming out on Friday to help out with the trail markings. Sorry about mile 28, we had marked that little section on Thursday and had meant to mention it pre-race. Worked out great as being a surprise, I've enjoyed reading all the reports with the "Mile 28" mentions. Good luck at the AC100 and hope to see ya next year at the SH20.

  5. Kristen, Wayne, and Scotty,

    Thank you all for the positive comments. I am sorry that I have not responded back sooner, but I am in CA this weekend for AC100 training.

    It was great meeting all of you! I really enjoyed helping setup for the race. I think that all runners should help out to see what all goes into making an event come together.

    I will plan on looking at the DCRR site and joining a group run this summer.

    Thank you,