April 29, 2013 by trailcats
Happy birthday Harley! What a great way to celebrate turning XX! Run ~32.5 miles and then you have the perfect excuse to eat like it’s your job for the next 72 hours. I’m just glad I got to tag along. Ok, as always – by the numbers first. I finished in 5:30 – was 3rd female and 10th overall (out of 197 finishers). Harley ran solid and came in at 6:30 and was in the top third finishers. The course was reportedly somewhere between 32 and 33 miles depending whose Garmin you went by. Mine read about 32 miles (I forgot to turn it on for the first 3 min) and 3,000 ft of elevation gain.
Usually I do a much better job preparing for a race – like reading all previous race reports such as Jason’s here. And calculating how far apart the aid stations are and staring at the elevation profile until I see a cardiac arrhythmia on an EKG instead of horrendous climbs and descents. But since I’ve started working again, I just didn’t have the time to totally geek out in preparation. So I was a little nervous about that and that there would be more runners here than any other race we’ve done notwithstanding the R2B marathon.
Because of all of that, I had meager goals. Mt. Cheaha was the hardest ultra I’ve done to date and Jim B. got me all freaked out about SweetH20 as he said he thought it was harder. I am here to tell you…Cheaha was much harder.
The SweetH20 course is a mostly flat and runnable two-loop course. There is that one climb on the yellow loop and one kinda long mild climb on the white loop (known as Jack’s Hill) and then other than that – it’s really JUST the TOTW (Top of the World) bullshit to deal with. Now those climbs are no joke. So unlike other ultras where you are climbing from beginning to end – SweetH20 clusters its butt burners. TOTW is a series of something like 5 climbs. I lost count. Both times. I truly thought the muscles in my butt were going to burst. My glutes were en fuego. I also had the chance to catch up with John C. here and some guy that ran Lake Martin. I think I made good time up these climbs – not because I’m good at it – but because I wanted that to be part to be over with. So bad. I wanted to put it behind me and move on to flatter ground. I swear I never breathe so hard as when I’m hiking up hills – and I’ve never breathed as hard as I did last Saturday – in my life!
The steep downhills were not much easier. People were flying by me as I gingerly tiptoed down them. Now I would’ve taken them slow regardless, but three days before SweetH20 I busted my butt on a flat portion of trail out at Kennesaw Mountain. So I was really tiptoeing.
One advantage Harley and I had this race compared to others was that we were actually familiar with much of the course. Sure I’ve run out at Sweetwater a couple of times – but what was really nice – was all the exposure we’ve had to the Tributary trails thanks to the likes of Jason Green and the Yetis. Jason embodies what trailrunning is all about. He heads up most of the Yeti runs – many of which are on the very trails he built around his neighborhood – with his very own hands. Kinda like – if you build it they will come. He spent about four years building miles of trails and now hosts the end of the year Yeti Spaghetti Marathon out there plus several new runs he and some other trailrunners have come up with – including the inaugural Snake Bite 50/50 that will take place this Labor Day. He’s an all around cool guy and happens to be a beer aficionado as well!
But back to the course. It’s really nice and there is something for everyone. You have a lot of single-track, some of which is actually pretty technical as you have maneuver around a lot of rocks – including some sneaky downhills near the beginning. A good portion of the race is along the Sweetwater Creek which provides for some awesome scenery. There’s also the part where you get to cross the river…twice. Owing to the fact that it rained the day before, the river was HIGH and FAST. Thank god there was the rope and the swift water guys standing guard at the ready to save any ultrarunners from being carried downstream.
So this a good time for me to talk about how wet my feet were. Again. There was an ongoing joke within my GUTS Tuesday night running club that went: “It must be Tuesday (because it’s raining).” Well that sentiment persists in Harley’s and my racing schedule. “It must be an ultra (it rained the day before).” I mean. It has rained the day before the last four ultras we have done.
There are four aid stations that you hit twice – once each loop. They were well stocked with good refreshments and food and super enthusiastic and supportive volunteers. The Tribuatary aid station reportedly had a lemonade stand “girled” by Jason G’s two daughters. I didn’t spend much time at that aid station and failed to pay attention. In my defense, I think they were there on my second loop – and that’s where I was starting to fall apart.
Yep, after the river crossing – around mile 20 – I just wanted to pop a squat and call it a day. I was running along part of the most beautiful section of the course and was a little spent from running the first half in like 2:40ish. I had about 12 more miles to go and was really starting to respect the distance. I kept telling myself – “This race ain’t gonna run itself!” I kept saying it over and over again and managed to power through. Then I started thinking I’d like to see that on a t-shirt. That, and maybe “I eat miles for breakfast.” That got me through a rough patch – coming up with running quotes and brainstorming logos and t-shirt designs in my head.
I made it past the hellish TOTW for the second time and thought I’d be home free afterwards. There is one out-back portion that takes you from the TOTW to the school aid station. Out-backs are always a little mind-gamey to me as I know I’m not really going anywhere. I saw Sally and Jim coming towards me on their way back (read: they are FAST) and it put a little spring in my step to see some familiar friendly faces. Sally also told me I was “in the hardware” at that point. Apparently the mere sight of me put “It’s a Holly Jolly Christmas” in her head for the rest of her race. Luckily she’s a fast runner and there wasn’t much left, as that jingle gets old quick!
After the last set of power lines, I just had Jack’s Hill to deal with. It’s the type of grade that you can run when you’re fresh and you hate yourself for walking it when you aren’t so fresh. I decided to walk most of it on the second loop. And I didn’t hate myself for it. At the last aid station I enjoyed some coca cola and was smelling the barn. They said I had three more miles left and I was a little chagrined as I was hoping it was less but motored on with my tail up.
When I came up on the finish I was a little taken aback. It was closer to two miles from the last aid station, but far be it from me to split hairs! I saw the time clock read 5:30:XX and I powered up the steps leading to the finish line hoping to make it in 5:30…and I did! What a day! That race wasn’t gonna run itself…I needed to do it for myself…and I did!
I caught sight of Patti at the finish and that was a thrill in it of itself. We went to the car to grab some clean clothes, chairs and the cooler and returned to the finish line ready to cheer for everyone coming in. I love this part of all the races. There is so much comraderie and genuine support in the ultrarunning community – and it is so apparent at the finish line. In a lot of other races, those that finish first, go home. It is not the same on the trails.
Harley came in strong at 6:30 despite some aches and pains from mile 10-15. The whole crowd sang happy birthday as he ran up to the finish. It was Katie’s birthday as well. Her husband was the better birthday spouse and brought a super yummy carrot cake to the finish line. I took notes.
While Sally was singing “It’s a Holly Jolly Christmas” and I was making up t-shirt slogans – Harley had his own soundtrack going on. He was stuck on “Hot Fun in the Summer Time” for nearly 6.5 hours and oddly enough…the word “alacrity.” I will say this – he ran the SweetH20 with great alacrity!