2010 RUNNING & TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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   THE SWEET H2O 50K TRAIL RACE

SUNDAY, APRIL 4

 
"Sweetwater Creek State Park offers winding, moderately difficult trails
with creek crossings in and around the park, following the lovely rapids of
Sweetwater Creek and venturing past Civil War-era textile mill ruins . . .
The 50K crosses Sweetwater Creek twice -- you WILL get wet."
 
~ from the Sweet H2O 50K website
 
 
Some races are pretty much defined by a certain section of the course that is memorable in some way. Think Hope Pass at Leadville, or Rucky Chuck at Western States.

Mention either one of those features and most ultra runners immediately know the race you're talking about.

The same thing happens at shorter races that have a distinctive feature. At this interesting 50K, the signature location is Sweetwater Creek. New entrants approach it with some dread after seeing photos and hearing runners' stories about their adventure. Veteran Sweet H2O runners come back year after year for more:

Runners forded the creek with ropes twice this year as they went over to a hilly section of the park at 17.3 miles to run a 2-mile loop on the Yellow Trail, and then they crossed it again on their way back at 19.8 miles.

Sweetwater Creek, which looked more like a river to me, wasn't real high (thigh to waist deep at the deepest point) but it was very wide and the strong current dictated two ropes for safety -- one for outbound runners and one for the return trip.

It was a great spot to spectate, crew, and take photos:


Volunteers and crews keep tabs on outgoing runners on the left and inbound ones on the right.


Sometimes there were half a dozen or more runners on each rope at once.


Jim (in dark shorts) had a little more space when he crossed outbound.  Note the strong current.

Some folks approached the crossing very tentatively, backing up runners behind them. Others ran right into the water and crossed as quickly as they could, letting go of the rope to pass people who were going slower:

Jim was seriously under trained for this race but he still looked great at the creek crossing in both directions. He mostly had fun and is glad that he ran the race. He did the best he could on the gnarly course and finished in 8:58 hours, just under the official 9-hour finish cut-off.

That's the short story. Keep reading for more information about the race and the scenic park, or just scroll down to enjoy the photos. Because I wanted to include so many pictures (95 in all), I divided them into four pages so they'll load faster.

INTRODUCTION TO SWEETWATER PARK & THE RACE

Although I lived in the Atlanta area from 1974 to 1999 I'd never been to this little state park on the west side of town before yesterday's race. It's a nice venue for a trail race.

Sweetwater Creek State Park is relatively small (about 2,500 acres) but it has nine miles of scenic, hilly trails, a pretty reservoir for fishing and boating, historic ruins, and a wide creek full of turns and rapids and shoals. Jim got to see the whole park during the race; while he was running, Cody and I got to do some exploring on our own.


Ruins of the New Manchester Manufacturing Company, a textile mill
that was burned during the Civil War.  Sweetwater Creek flows in the back ground.

Jim found this race while doing a web search. We remembered reading positive reports written by runners who enjoyed the first three years of the race. The timing and location were good for us as we wound down our winter trip, and it made a good training buildup for the races Jim plans to run the rest of this year.

It helped that we'd know several of the runners, too -- Steve Michael, Rob Apple, Abi Meadows, Rich Schick, Jim Emig, Sally Brooking, Christian Griffith, and Francesca Conte are southern ultra runners I've known for several to many years. The majority of the runners in the race were from Georgia. It was also fun to meet some other runners like Spurgeon Hendrick, who we "know" from the ultra list.

THE COURSE

Here is a little map of the park; you can find directions to the park here and a larger pdf. map here.

The course map and elevation profile are on the race website.

This small version of the course gives you an idea of the configuration of the two loops used in the race:

The course uses almost all of the park's red, white, yellow, and blue-blazed trails, some roads, and some gnarly trails outside the southern park boundary, including the challenging Powerline and Top of the World (TOTW) areas.


Rough trail heading toward the TOTW loop

Much of the terrain is hilly. There are some flatter, sandy trails along the creek . . .

. . . but most of the time runners are either going up or down, as evidenced by the course profile.


Rooty, hilly section of the blue trail

Trail surfaces range from smooth to rocky and rooty. Some of the streams and ravines have wooden bridges.

The large trail map shows a bridge where the runners ford Sweetwater Creek; this is all that is left of the bridge after a flood destroyed it:

That was also the location of one of the aid stations:

There were three other aid stations along the course but I didn't go to them.

PRE-RACE

Race start was at 7:30 AM. Since we were camped about 50 miles away at Lake Allatoona and had not been to the park before, we got up at 4:45 on race morning to be sure we got to Sweetwater Park on time to get a decent parking place.

We did. In fact, it was still dark when we got there at 6:25 AM. Most of the miles were on I-75, I-285, and I-20, with a few miles of county roads at either end. Directions on the race website are good and we had no trouble finding where to go. We were early enough to snag a parking space pretty close to the group shelter where the race started and finished.

Note that Sweetwater Creek State Park doesn't have overnight accommodations or a campground. It is a day-use park. It does have nice picnic shelters and the large group shelter, which makes a great place for race HQ. I took these pictures after the race began:

 

We mingled with friends after Jim checked in and got his number and blue short-sleeved race participant shirt. He and Spurgeon Hendrick both have them draped over their shoulders in the photo below:

The starting line was about a quarter mile back down the road so we headed that way about 15 minutes before the race.


Jim (in white shirt and hat) checks his GPS before lining up at the start.


There were about 175 runners who started the race.

We were in for a surprise when we realized there would be a Civil War-themed start with re-enactors setting off a VERY LOUD cannon:

I wanted to get closer for better pictures but the park rangers made sure everyone stayed a safe distance from the cannon:

You can still see the smoke in the air as the runners take off down the road (cough, cough):

The day was already warm (about 60 F.) and would get up to about 80 in the afternoon. Jim was probably more prepared for the heat than many of the other runners, but he wasn't as well trained for all the elevation gain and loss after a winter in southern Texas and Arizona.

Continued on the next page (so photos will load more easily) . . .

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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