Field: ~160 total finishers for both races, ~200 registered
Spectators: No, but what trail race does
Start/Finish: The group shelter in Sweetwater Creek State Park
Course: Three laps of a figure 8 loop through the park with only one bridge of overlap. A different figure 8 than last year, but the first half of the figure 8 was all in last year's course in someway.
Schwag: Super soft shirt. 20oz Finishers beer and coaster to all that finish. Prizes for first and second in each race, and overall DFL.
Other: This was my first ultra last year and I was more than a little excited to return this year!
Entering the final mile. (Source)Sit back, relax, and pop open your favorite craft brew. This one's going to take a minute.
I would be lying if I said I wasn't a bit nervous going into this race. I felt good about my training through the end of July, but with the onset of bronchitis at the start of August followed by 12 days of not running and two weeks of easing back into it, I wasn't sure how my fitness would be come race day. I decided to focus on the all the hard work and miles pre-bronchitis, keep a comfortable pace early on, and try to stay mentally calm throughout the race.
Pre-race with the Yeti.We arrived early on race morning (the Jayhawk was volunteering), giving me plenty of time to pull together my last minute race prep and wake up. I got my bib and t-shirt, scoped out the winner's prizes and before I knew it, Race Director Jason was calling the prerace meeting, making fun of road runners, and sending us along our way!
Some of the winner's swag: skate boards for second place, medal hanger for DFL, beer for all.
Lap 1The opening 2ish miles were the same as last year's course. My main goal for the opening miles was to not succumb to my clumsiness and trip and get hurt in the low light. For some reason I forget to consider how dark it is in the forest before sunrise and end up gingerly running the first few miles in fear of a face plant. It was a rather humid morning and things were going well, but by mile 3 I was starting to worry that I was sweating too much and perhaps going out to fast (assured death in an ultra). After listening to a few fellow racers curse about the humidity, I figured my pace was fine and made a note to keep an eye on my hydration.
It's all smiles when you are 10% done with the race. (Source)
The next one to two miles were the most runnable on the course. It was a flat, wide sand trail leading into the aid station. It was nice to have a section of the course where you could really move, even if it was only for a few miles. I made sure to stop at the aid station every single time I passed it (twice per loop) and eat something. Some stops it was just an orange slice or two, and others I put the feed bag on and really fueled up. It was my attempt to keep on top of my fueling early and attempt to space it out.
Overall winner's beer. It was a few ounces bigger than the rest.
The back half of the loop was an area of the park I had never been to. It was a mix of less used hiking trails, old access roads, and a section I like to think of as 'the trail of make believe'. I'm not sure this section was a real trail at all, but rather something Jason had invented to bridge us between two sections of the park. It consisted of heavy pine needle and leaf cover on the ground, and frequent flags (as there was no real trail to follow) as we dodged between trees and a fantastically odd 'balloon graveyard' (released balloons often get trapped in the forest and end up tucked in the trees and leaves when they deflate). It honestly felt like I was a little kid again when my mom would kick us out of the house for being too hyper and we would go out in the woods and run around: no real trail to follow, no real idea of where I was, but never really lost. It was a silly zig-zag around trees in the woods with a smile on my face.
My bib in all it's glory.
It was in this area when I heard a huge rustle in the trees to my right. I assumed it was someone having a nature break and didn't bother to look, but then it got louder, faster, and more frantic. Out of nowhere popped a Doe, who bolted across the trail definitely running sub-6s. While her speed was impressive, she probably was running 30+ miles less than me and didn't have to worry about pace, or at least that is what I told myself.
The small print reads "Our races are magical". Indeed.
I finished up that part of the loop realizing the course had far more than '500 or so of elevation total' Jason had promised, passed over the bridge and through the aid station once more, and then started the climb up to the group shelter (same finishing mile-ish as last year complete with stairs) to check in with the Jayhawk who was helping with timing.
Pretty much as soon as I left the group shelter, it began to rain and I don’t mean sprinkle. I mean like sideways, Forrest Gump, Monsoon season, localized flooding kind of rain. From the Jayhawk’s pre-race pep talk (‘Hey honey, check out the radar. Look how big and red it is.’), I knew the rain wasn’t going to be letting up anytime soon and any attempts to stay dry (shoes included!) were futile at best. The rain did finally help the humidity break (yay), so I set off at a solid pace, not really contemplating what this might do to the trail.
Scene at the aid station during the rain. It rained like this for about 2 hours. (Source)
To put it nicely, it flooded the hell out of it. Entire sections were washed out, downhills were like streams, and rock crossings were a true test to my already clumsy nature. But more importantly, it made it fun as hell! As soon as you gave into the wetness (that only took about 10 seconds) and drowned your sneakers in a puddle, there was no reason to hold back on stomping through each and every one, and to be honest, there was no way to get around a lot of them. I spent most of the first half of the lap in the woods cruising through puddles, trying not to fall off the creek banks and truly make it a swim, and wondering how much snakes really liked the water. There were puddles mid-calf deep and moments where the visibility was less than 10 feet. I’ve honestly taken showers when I’ve been less wet. But it was awesome.
Another view of the rainy aid station. (Source)
Upon arriving at the aid station (~15 miles in), I really started to focus on nutrition. The absolutely amazing volunteers (remember, they are standing in this weather for many hours making sure nutty people like me get their shots of coke and salty snacks) had everything I wanted and were more than helpful.
Our fearless race director waiting for our return. (source)
The back half of the course was less flooded, but equally wet. The layers of leaves and pine needles now felt like running on a wet mattress: cushioned, yet slow. I plodded along, and stayed tucked into a pack with 4 guys as we navigated our way through the water. I made another stop at aid station on the way through and had a mini-picnic (I guess I was hungry). Lucky for me, the volunteers were more than polite and didn't seem to mind when I asked for seconds and plowed through several potatoes, some skittles, chips, and even tried a pickle for the first time mid-run after the volunteer mentioned they were really popular. #EverybodysDoingIt
Jason greeting me as I came up the hill on lap 2.
I came through my second lap in almost the same time as my first. I did stop to take my inhaler once more and chat quickly with the Jayhawk, who asked "Ya got one more in you?". He was polite enough this year to wait to start drinking a beer until I was out on my third lap. And they say chivalry is dead.
Leaving the group shelter my IT band was really hurting. I tweaked it on some uneven footing/slip n' slide moment during my second lap, but I was able to run with no major issue the rest of that lap. I'm not sure if it tightened up in the 2 minutes I chatted with the Jayhawk or what, but the pain was shooting from my hip to my knee. I slowed down the pace a bit to make my gait more comfortable and (hopefully) give my legs a chance to warm back up. There was a spilt second when I was worried that I would have to walk a significant amount of the lap giving the Jayhawk more time to drink all of the beer (stopping was never considered, my leg wasn't falling off), but after a few minutes of slower running on even terrain, things seemed to be functional again. This moment of worry about the beer was the most stressful part of the race and that should tell you how much fun I was having.
Yes, 22 ounces of pure magic.
For the most part the third lap was uneventful in a good way. The flood waters had subsided, though there were still a few sections where the creek was almost cresting it's banks, I was in good spirits, and my energy levels felt good. I did walk the uphills a little more on the third lap and tried to be calculated about how I used my energy. I never got in a bad mental place the entire race. I had fun, stayed calm, and just enjoyed what the course had to offer that day. Upon crossing the bridge the last time (~1.5 miles from the finish), I knew I would finish (suck it bronchitis) and to my surprise in a much faster time than last year. I trimmed about 1 hour off my time (finished in 6:25) and much of that was due to the 20 degree temperature difference because I definitely was not in better shape this year.
The finisher's reward. Lagunitas Equinox.I smiled my biggest smile, trudged up that hill, and got my congratulatory hug and beer from Race director Jason. Safe to say I've got the ultra bug.
Done and still smiling.
- The ladies winner of the 50k and second overall was Traci Falbo who is the American Record holder for running 48 hours on a track, held the American 100 mile record for a while, and is on the US 24 hour team. Her story of how and why she got into running is really inspirational. I highly recommend checking it out.
- The guy who won the 50k ran it in an insane 4:15.
- I was 11th female again this year. Oddly enough 11 is my lucky number.
- The race signs marking major turns were quotes from Atlanta's finest.
Luda, Jermaine, and Outkast all helped us along the way.
What is the last race that made you smile? Have you ever raced in the rain?