I’m normally not nervous before a race. But, the 2011 Sweetwater 50K was an exception. I felt like a fish out of water in so many ways…
It started with the short drive to Lithia Springs Friday evening from Atlanta where I was working. The traffic. Yikes! How can people live like this? Then, in search of food I could only find chain restaurants and fast food – neither, of which are especially celiac friendly. Then, a trip to Wal-Mart on paycheck Friday for breakfast items was simply overwhelming and frustrating. How I wished I could be home in the familiar….
Reviewing the race on the Internet only added to the sense of being out of place. Past race reports empathized how tough the course was. My short exploratory run on part of the route suggested this was definitely a 4+ hour course. Then, the thought of a field of 250 runners on a two-loop course with an out-and-back made me panic – I don’t do well in traffic – either on the road or on the trail. I’m so out of my element I thought. I don’t belong here…
But I was here. I knew I would be fine once I got to the starting line. In the meantime I had to decide, what would my race strategy be? Perhaps influenced by a third glass of wine in my pathetic budget chain hotel, I decided that I would go out hard and just see what happened.
A group of about 6 runners immediately broke away from the pack. As the pleasantries in the early miles ensued, I learned that two others had a Utah connection - Speedster Jon Allen, formally of Logan who recently moved to Greenville, South Carolina and Matt Hoffman of McKinney, Texas who interned in Salt Lake City last summer with Jared Campbell. What a small world.
After about 2 miles on pavement we hit the single track. Whew! I just don’t have the speed or turnover to go fast on pavement and knew I couldn’t sustain the pace we were running. Once on the trail I felt great. I was relishing being on dirt and being in a short sleeve shirt. It felt great to not be in snow AND not be cold.
The course is a great mix of flats, technical sections, water crossings, and some pretty steep rollers that surprised me. The terrain was constantly changing which seemed to make the miles fly by.
Our group of six stayed together until mile 10 where Jon made a break and began to pull away. Dennis Bauer hung onto Jon. While Matt and I couldn’t keep up with Jon and Dennis, we were able to pull away from the others in the lead pack.
I completed the first loop in 2:12 and was feeling great. As we jumped on the short section of payment I could see Jon and Dennis together about ¾ of mile ahead of Matt and me. I was encouraged that Jon and Dennis were not father off the front. For the next 10 miles up until mile 25, Matt and I traded places. I’m used to running alone and found having someone either right in front of me, or right behind me annoying. I decided that at the mile 25 turnaround I would see if I could pull away from Matt on the long uphill out of the aid station and rollers that followed. I knew my best chance to loose him would be on the hills over the next three miles. I had noticed that he was faster than me on the flats and knew that if we were together at mile 28 then I would likely get dropped – big time!
I ran scared the last 7 miles. But, I felt great. No hamstring issues. Legs felt strong. And I was pleased with my speed given that I’m not a particularly good 50K runner.
Jon took first place missing the SweetH2O 50K course record by three minutes. Top five finishers were:
Jon Allen 4:23
Dennis Bauer 4:26
Jay Aldous 4:32
Matt Hoffman 4:46
Jason Hanlin 4:46
Full results can be found at http://www.sweeth20races.com/