After months and months of preparation race day had finally approached. "What will this day hold? Will I struggle? Will I finish? Has my training been enough?" All of these negative thoughts were running through my head leading up to SweetH20. I had to push them out of mind and trust my training. What I experienced at this race will stay with me for the rest of my life. In my entire life I cannot recall suffering and pain that can compare to what I went through between miles 26 and 28. It was a test of my mental fortitude that I continued to move forward. There were lows and there were highs. Settle in race fans, grab your favorite beverage and join me as we go back through this 8 hour heavyweight fight.
The course layout was simple, a 15 mile loop that we traveled twice. After uploading the race information from my Garmin I was not shocked in the least to see there was over 3000 feet worth of elevation gain. We learned about halfway through the day that "the course is a little long". WTF??? 32.67 miles, 1.6 miles long to be more exact. Before I go any further, the most important thing I will write today is that the course volunteers were in a word, AMAZING!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you Douglas County Rogue Runners, Johnny Buice(RD) and every single volunteer that was out on the course for this event. Without you this day would not have been possible.
There were about 175 runners casually standing around at the start of the race. We were to begin at 7:30am. A unit from the Sons of Confederate Soldiers were on hand to fire their cannon to start the race. A quick aside, I am always tickled when I hear the Civil War referred to as "The War of Northern Aggression" We began the race heading down the road, out of the state park, going around the lake. I purposely started at the very back of the pack, I did not want to go out fast. I did cover the first mile in 10:29, I wondered if this would haunt me later, the second mile came through a little slower as I was trying to hold off.
The first "water" crossing came up quickly, there is a concrete overflow canal that was about 50 yards across. They attached a couple of ten foot ropes that we used to sort of rappel down the wall, run through the six inch deep water and pull ourselves up the same set up on the other side. Pretty cool. Continuing on we were now running along the banks of Sweetwater Creek. We saw the area where we would later be crossing the creek, a little preview to think about for the next 15 miles.
We soon began the gradual ascent up the bluff, single-track switchbacks. I was running with a group of about 10 runners, the mood was light, people were joking and enjoying the camaraderie. Reflecting back on all of the races I have run, only the Equinox Marathon & 50k(which also was a trail race) had this sort of "vibe". There is something about the Ultra/Trail community that I really love. Everyone is laid back and friendly, always quick to share a story and offer simple "Good Job" which goes a long way during a tough run. The first few miles were passing effortlessly and the blog report that was shaping up in my head had this for a title.
"I have a new love in my life and her name is Ultra!"
The title to this report will change several times throughout the day. The course was in pretty good condition, there were several areas near the banks of the creek that were really wet and muddy, but that was to be expected. Around mile 5, we began to leave the creek behind and worked our way to the power lines and the entrance to the "Top of The World".
Training in Savannah I was not ready for the power lines, surprisingly, my first trip through this five mile section was not that bad. I later discovered I may have gone a little too hard on this first pass. There were five(I think) major climbs in this section, each becoming more difficult. We were ascending a couple hundred feet in each 1/4 mile. Going through this section with my new found friends made the time pass quickly and before I knew it we were on Top of the World and the view was spectacular. There is a 360 panoramic view that pictures cannot do justice, it was worth the effort. We arriving at the 2nd aid station, I popped a S-cap and refilled the hand held bottle and continued on. preparing for the descent. I should also mention that over the entire day I consumed 7 GU, many of which I had received in the mail from Psyche for entering her "Boys on the Run" contest. Thanks!!!!
The descents were tough, my quads were burning and my toes were throbbing from being jammed into the front of the toebox of my trail shoes. Due to the angles I had to carefully walk down most of the hills, only allowing gravity to take full effect on me when the hills began to level a little. I threw caution to the wind more frequently than most of the runners around me and managed to get down a lot quicker than most. I like to think of myself as a fast descender, mostly due to my 200 pound frame!
Miles 14-16 found us rolling through the flattest portion of the course, it is in this section I recorded my best mile splits, hitting 15 in 10:28 and 16 in 10:29. For those keeping score at home, total time on the course at the completion of mile 16 - 3 hours and 10 minutes. I was well on pace to come in around my goal time of 6:30.
Creek crossings rock!
Yet another short lived blog post title... Mile 17 brought about the first creek crossing. There were two guide ropes set up, one for those going across, the other for the returning runners. The creek was waist deep and the water was cold and rushing. IT. WAS. AWESOME! Refreshing and exhilarating, just what I needed. This joy was short lived. As we exited the creek the returning runners looked at us with a wry smile and said, "Just a little hill and then some roller coasters before you come back down."
A 1/4 mile out of the creek and I was staring down(up) a trail that would almost bring me to my knees. In 3/4 of a mile we climbed 400 ft, only to descend 400 feet in the same breath. I look at the elevation graph on my Garmin and still am in shock as to the numbers of that section. During the first half of the race I managed to keep my heart rate in the mid 150's while running. While walking up this hill, my HR skyrocketed into the 170's and I thought my heart was going to explode. I had to stop to catch my breath and allow my HR to go down. I have never felt suffering like this in my life, each single step was a chore, my mantra was simple, "Keep moving forward". I was grateful that I would not see this hill again. It's all cake from here, right? I enjoyed the decent back to the creek bed. The return creek crossing was fun and I pulled into the aid station to refuel at mile 20.
The best rice crispy treat I have ever eaten. EVER!
While at the aid station I grabbed another S-cap and more water and Gatorade. Just before I left the tent, I spotted a container full of rice crispy treats. "Dude, I lurve those things, let me grab one for the road." The saint who labored in the kitchen to produce this majestic treat will forever hold a place in my heart. They managed to combine regular crispy's and cocoa crispy's with just the right amount of salt. As soon as I took the first bite, my taste buds exploded with joy. I literally considered turning around to get another. It is a good thing I had already left the tent before I took my first bite of this slice of heaven. Otherwise, I would not have left the aid station. Thank you to the person who brought these to the race, you are an artist and will hold a memory in my heart forever.
We traveled along the creek bed for the next few miles and worked our way back to the entrance to Top of the World. This second pass separated the men from the boys. At this point I cannot tell you in which column my name was entered. From mile 21 to mile 27 I saw four runners. My pack of friends from earlier had broken up, some were far ahead and some lagged behind. It was lonely, but I was in great spirit. Until I began the climb up the power lines.
Running Is Stupid Committee burns the midnight oil
The pain I felt at the climb back in mile 18 was nothing compared to the battle of wills I encountered between miles 25 - 27. I fear I will not be able ot adequately convey these feelings in written word. Endless hills, each step bringing about greater pain. My sanity was questioned over and over again. I "quit" running for the rest of my life 5 or 6 times during this stretch. I decided marathons and trail races were not for me. I was going to stick to 5k's back in flat Savannah. I had to frequently flush these negative thoughts out of my head. "Keep moving forward!" I repeated that mantra over and over again. "Just make it to that rock." "We will rest at the top." I could see the remaining hills at the top of each climb, taunting me. There were runners on those hills, I knew if they could do it, I could do it. Looking back on this, I learned a lot about myself. Never did I consider quitting that race. I considered quitting running in the future, but not that on that race. My question was always, "How am I going to finish this?" I can freely admit that I have never suffered as much pain in my life as I did during the second pass through the power lines. I at one point I found myself wondering if this was equal to the pain women feel during child birth...too bad there wasn't a woman nearby to ask.
Four more miles!
Arriving at the Top of the World, I was greeted with those words by a course volunteer. I could not fully comprehend that statement. My mind was mush and I could only focus on the idea of getting off of that mountain. Pulling into the aid station I gassed up and I think I was a little delirious. The nice lady gave me water and Gatorade and tried to get me in out of the sun. Right before I pulled into the aid station, a runner exiting said, "Four miles. That's it. They are offering rides down to the finish, don't take it" When the lady tried to get me to sit down in the shade I knew she was going to try and put me in a car and take me off of the mountain. I wanted nothing of that and quickly left the aid station to begin my trek back down the mountain.(Just to clarify, I don't think she was going to kidnap me and take me off the mountain, my thinking was just really screwy at that point."
The return trip down was a chore, I spent a large portion of the time with two separate discussions taking place in the RISC. First and foremost, running is stupid, let's pass legislation to outlaw it. Secondly, I dissected my training and decided I was completely under trained for this event. In hindsight, I was strong through the first 22-23 miles, the wheels fell off on the second pass. There was really no way I could have trained for the elevation. I was revamping my training plan for next years race before I had even finished the current race. Good sign? Well, I did have a score to settle with the power lines.
The last few miles were difficult, I walked most of them, running for short spurts on the downhills. I found myself back at the creek bed mile 29 and a water station. There was a young lady in her teens filling up water bottles and I looked at her directly in the eye and asked, "Are there anymore hills?" She paused for a second, knowing she could not lie to me and quietly said, "Yes". The expression on her face was priceless, it said, "I am so sorry, but there is still two miles of ass kicking climbs ahead" Off I went, encountering race volunteers every half mile or so. Their presence was uplifting and helped me to "stay focused, finish strong"
I mentally checked out when my Garmin hit 31 miles. I knew the finish would be ahead but I didn't know where. The path went on and on. When. will. this. end? Why am I here? I can't wait to give the RD a piece of my mind. Where is the finish? I made it back to the starting line and the volunteer told me to go the other way. Wait? What? I can hear the music, I can see the people! My watch says I am finished! Finally I rounded the corner and everyone started cheering! I crossed the finish line and was immediately greeted by the race director who shook my hand and thanked me for coming out. I was given a sweetH20 hat, a bottle of water and directed to the food table. Finally, I could stop.
Finishing time 8:12:25
I spent an entire work day running.
A final recap...
I loved it, I hated it. I want the movie....
I vetoed the legislation the RISC passed, I will not quit running, I will probably run sometime this week. I will however change a few things in my running philosophy. I had no business being on this course at 205 pounds. I need to lose 20+ pounds before I attempt another marathon or ultra. I am not in this to win the the race but I do want to have a good showing and not fade in the end. To answer the ultimate question, "I loved it" It was an experience I will never forget. In one word?
I do have score to settle...
Who's with me?
Thank you again to DCRR and all of the volunteers.
Photo courtousy of Perry SebastianPhoto courtesy of Perry Sebastian
That is me in the blue shirt, we were climbing out of the ravine on the way up to TOTW.
Photo courtesy of Beth Blackwell