Monday, April 5, 2010

Sweet H2O 50K

This year, I have been looking for races that were closer to home that wouldn’t require an overnight stay. In years past, I have not really looked at Georgia and South Carolina races because, well, it’s flatter and hotter... isn’t it? But I took a look at the Sweet H20 50K in Lithia Springs, Georgia and was pleased to find that it was just on the other side of Atlanta, under three hours away. So at 3:30 a.m. Saturday morning, Alan and I left Tony sleeping and resting up for the first day of trout season and headed south.

Atlanta traffic on Saturday morning was light and we arrived at Sweetwater State Park in plenty of time to pick up the cool tech t-shirt and a number, get ready and head to the start line. I was pretty relaxed, as this was really a training run for the 24 hour run in a couple of weeks.

Lithia Springs was one of the areas Sherman visited and to connect the race to the area’s history, the starting gun was actually a cannon fired by a group of Confederate reenactors. The large crowd recovered from the shock and headed down a paved road out the park’s entrance and onto a highway. We passed by a couple of lakes (where the fishermen were asked dozens of times, “Have you caught anything, yet?) and finally onto the trail.

The couple mile paved run did allow everyone to spread out a little so there was not a big traffic jam as the crowd hit the single track. The trail was nice and rolling, padded with pine needles and running was easy, until the rappel down the sides of the spillway. Okay, it wasn’t really a rappel, but you did have to lower yourself down a rope down the concrete side of a spillway, run across the shallow water, and pull yourself back up the other side. Then it was back to the nice, soft, rolly stuff, interrupted by a couple of short, steep rocky and rooty descents.

The trail then followed the river, which had some serious flooding earlier and there was a lot of loose sand and debris in places. There were a lot of very rocky and rooty areas, some hills, but it was all runnable. The course finally veered away from the river on a flat, runnable trail. (I almost gained twenty places here as a crowd has missed a turn-off and was back-tracking to get on the correct route.)

After a run through a grassy area punctuated with very short, very steep drops to little creeks and back up, the difficult part starts. After a steep climb up a gravel road, you are treated to a view of hill after hill with little tiny people going up each one. If you are from the mountains, picture the power line cuts minus the power lines. It is clear-cut with a rocky clay trail that follows the very steep hills and very steep descents. It is as steep as anything I have run, but thankfully, much shorter. The longest ascent probably only took five minutes or so, but it was in the full sun and the repeated climbs wore you down.

Finally, you reached the top, ran through a pleasant area with shade and a breeze, crossing over “the top of the world”, which afforded a nice view of the Atlanta skyline to the next aid station. This area included a mile of out and back so you had an opportunity to see some of the people ahead of and behind you.

Then it was back to an area where there actually were powerlines with a couple of steep hills, and then down to river again, up a trail to the next aid station and back to the start/finish area on mainly single-track with a little gravel road mixed in. You then repeated that 15 mile loop, with the exception of a detour across the river and back. The race crew had long ropes stretched across the river, probably a hundred yards or so wide. This was an area of some almost waist-deep, cold whitewater, and you pulled yourself across the river, to where a rescuer was waiting on the other side. Then it was up another hill, and back down, and once more across the river.

The powerline cuts were even more fun the second time around, as you are around mile 25 or so. Once more, over the “top of the world” and back, down to the river and eventually finishing at somewhere over 33 miles, I was told. A barbeque dinner was waiting, along with a large group of people cheering the runners on.

This was one of those rare races where everything went right for me, except for leaving my water bottle at home. Despite the heat, my electrolytes stayed in balance and I remained hydrated (thanks to my high-tech Sam's Purified Drinking Water bottle). I used gels the whole time with the exception of some oranges, bananas and pretzels at aid stations. I had no stomach distress, either during or after the race, my asthma gave me no problems, and my energy level remained high. I probably passed 15-20 people on the powerline cuts on the last loop. Even though all the snow running didn’t help my speed this winter, it certainly made me stronger. I wore my Brooks Ravennas (road shoes) which happily worked very well on the rough and rocky terrain. Despite all that, I still felt like I was moving pretty slow, but steadily. I was happy with a 7:03 for a 33 or 34 miler and I was surprised to find that I had finished 51 out of 155 finishers, 9th in the women, and first in my age group. Not too bad for a training run!

The race well very well organized, all the aid stations had lots of goodies, everyone was friendly and helpful, and you ended up with a nice tech shirt and a tech hat. It was a challenging course, hot, yes, but not flat!

And Tony caught a 4-pounder, along with several other trout. A good day all around.


Aaron W. Ligon said...

Denise - it was a bright spot in my otherwise LONG day at SweetH2O. I tried to chase the Schick all morning, and completely imploded at around mile 20. You are awesome, look forward to seeing you again soon!

Rick Gray said...

Sounds like a great place to run and you were right on top of your game. Congratulations on an excellent race/training run. Nice to have a day when everything seems to fall in place.