Last weekend I had the pleasure of running the Swamp Stomp 50 miler in the Charleston, SC area. This was my second 50 miler for 2013, I ran the Land Between the Lakes 50 in March of this year. The Swamp Stomp was the first flat ultra I have ever entered and also the most unique.
I arrived at the starting area, a ranger station in Cordesville, SC with my wife and son about 30 minutes before the start of the race. They didn’t get out of the car much because of the mosquitos :). I put a dry pair of socks, dry shoes, and other supplies in a drop bag and sent it with the race crew to the half way point. The race director warned that it was pretty wet along the way. Let me say that I am used to wet runs, I rather enjoy them, but this was not what I am used to!
I was not paying attention very well when the race started so I started off at the rear of the pack. Honestly, I didn’t care…I had 50 miles to make it up. The pace was fairly slow in the beginning, the group I was running with was at around the 12:00 min/mile speed. I was not feeling well all morning and I figured it was not going to get better any time soon. After a nice slow mile to get warmed up, I moved around the group and heading for a faster pace group.
The first couple of miles had some “puddles” here and there but was mostly flat and dry with a great base of pine needles. The section of trails was like running on a cloud, it was great and I was sure I could hang onto the 8:00min/mile pace for ever. The harder I would push the more my stomach was cramping and it was seriously making me mad! I didn’t get to see how many people were ahead of me but I knew I had to be just beyond the middle of the pack. I maintained the pace on the good sections of trail and then I came up to the first section of “swamp”. I thought I was pushing plenty hard when I heard some soft footsteps come up on my left. Evan Fisher cruised by me with a “Can I ease past on your left?” as he flew by. I kept him in sight for a couple miles but I backed off never dreaming he would keep that up for the whole race!
On some of the really deep sections they had some planks laid down (thank you to the US Forestry Service!). The planks helped keep you dry but really slowed you down. It is fairly hard to run on a narrow, bouncing plank 🙂 . On other sections of the trail there were no planks and you were going to get wet and muddy….I promise! I quickly decided that I would not try to plow through the thick brush or jump over these sections. It takes me far less energy to just run right down the center of the muck. I was able to keep a pace of around 8:30 per mile in these sections. It was absolutely beautiful in the swamp but I am not sure running in the black water is the way to see the swamp.
At about the 10 mile mark, I was feeling very strong and ready for 40 more miles of trail awesomeness! I was cruising at a great pace and felt strong with plenty of beverage in my Nathan bottle so there was not much reason to stop here! Keeping the pace pushing and hoping to catch up with Evan soon (that dude is a machine!) I moved on past the aid station, thanking the volunteers for being there as I ran past.
I had been running with some very strong runners up to this point, some much younger and leaner and others not so much. None the less they were all very strong, a glance over my shoulder showed I had left them back at the aid station. I was alone on the trail again for a bit.
I made it to the bridge in the picture above at mile 15 or 20 and it is absolutely awesome! I wish you could see the black water swamp all around the bridge! If you are in the Charleston SC area you have to visit this swamp! My stomach was killing me at this point and I was finding it extremely difficult to push now. The more I pushed the more my gut cramped up and I could feel last nights dinner wanting revenge! I knew there would be restrooms at the 25 mile mark so I just kept pushing to that aid station. When I was nearing the 1/2 way point I was met by the soon to be winner and he said you only have about 2 miles to go. I knew I was only 4 miles back from 1st place! Since this was an out and back course, I just needed to count the runners on the way back to see what place I was in.
Approaching the 1/2 mark I was pretty excited for two reasons. 1: I was in 3rd place! 2: I saw a Porta-Potty! A quick pit stop and I was “passed” by a runner but nature called and I couldn’t have kept going had I not stopped. That said, it was time to push hard and see how long I could hang on to 4th place. As I chugged along for the next 5 miles or so the dehydration started to get to me some and my stomach was hurting again. I honestly wanted to just drop out of the race and get something to settle my stomach down a bit. Fighting back the urge to puke, I figured it was time to switch to straight water and peel off the shirt to cool down. I started catching up with the runner that passed me. He had stopped to puke a time or two and was having a rough time. He managed to keep just ahead of me to the next aid station.
As I approached the 35 mile mark I saw a couple people staring down the trail. They were dressed just like my wife and son. And much to my surprise, it was them! My wife told me that they tried to meet me at the 1/2 way mark but I had gotten there to quickly so they came to the 35 mile point. Let me tell you, it was the perfect point to meet up with them! I got some of my homemade Chia Seed, Banana, Strawberry smoothie gel and XXX Vitamin water and started to regain composure. Cyndi then said “get moving you can place! You are not far from the front runners!”. With some encouragement and hydration, I ran out of the aid station. As I ran out I asked the “puking” runner if he was ok, with a discouraging look he said “yeah, Im good”.
I pushed hard for the next couple of miles trying to keep ahead of another runner that would eventually push me back to 4th place again at about mile 40 or so. I was okay with 4th at this point, I felt so bad that 4th felt like a great place to be. When I got to mile marker 45 I was starting to slow down some but felt good for the next 5. This was where I decided 50 miles would not be enough, I needed to miss my turn and run an extra 2 miles today! In the extra couple miles I had a couple runners pass me and I slipped a couple places at least. I was SO mad at myself. In all the years of hiking, camping, and the trail running over the last year, I had NEVER missed a turn on a trail. Today was the day for my first missed turn.
It sucked the life out of me, I was sure that I would not even finish in the top 10 now. I just kept jogging along and sometimes I would just stop and walk some to let my stomach settle down. Then I could hear people talking, I was close to the finish! Time to pick up the pace and look good crossing the line! My son was on the trail watching for me! I said “I will race you to the finish!”…
I managed a 9:16:55 finish for 52+ miles. I know I can do better but I am very proud of the finish time. This was the first race my family has come to, so it was more than special to me! What an honor to get to cross the finish line with your son, to have your wife “crew” you at an aid station, and to share the entire experience with your family! It was a great experience! After the race, it was time to change and get a massage while cheering on the other runners as they finished!
Oh, and of course, the finishers metal!