4th Annual Wambaw Swamp Stomp
The 2016 Wambaw Swamp Stomp 50-Mile Trail Run took place on May 7th and represented the last trail running race I would participate in, in South Carolina, for some time to come. In just one month from the Wambaw Swamp Stomp, I will be jumping into a moving truck to cross country to Modesto, CA. With this excitement of moving at hand, also comes a fair amount of stress. Thus, I decided to take it pretty easy with training the week leading into the race. About midweek, I became very thankful for that decision as Nicole, and I decided to neutralize the colors in two rooms in the house in hopes of helping it to sell. So on Thursday and Friday, I found myself repainting our entire dining room and one wall in our master bathroom…not so much of a resting state leading into a 50-mile trail run.
At last race day was here, but before we could even leave the house, we had to do a quick run-through to prep for showings on the day. Nothing like turning on every light in the house and running the vacuum cleaner at five o’clock in the morning on a Saturday. Our neighbors must think we’re crazy! Before arriving at Witherbee Ranger Station, I also had to drop off a cooler full of Tailwind Nutrition and The Foot Store tent to be used at the mile 15 aid station. Just another case of me helping others even when I’m about to take on a significant running challenge for myself. After all, that’s what the running community is all about!
Finally arriving at the start line of Wambaw Swamp Stomp, I grabbed my race bib, made a stop in the bathroom, then began to mingle with the other participants that had gathered for the day. For early May, the temperatures were surprisingly low. I didn’t think the lower temperatures would last throughout the day. However, my legs were not rested, so I was hoping for any advantage I could find to help me through the distance. I spoke a couple of times about goals for the day with other runners. Each time, I reminded them that it all depended on how I felt once I got going (15-20 miles into the race). My primary goal out here was to complete a solid training day for the Western States 100.
Start to Cane Gully Road
The race got going at 7:30 AM and I entered the woods in the lead position. While there was a 50K option today as well, those runners took an immediate right turn at the start line. They had to run a half-mile down a dirt road and back before starting down the Swamp Fox Passage Trail. The 50-mile course on another hand would consist of running 15 miles out-n-back on the Swamp Fox Passage, then running another 10.9 miles out and back section to finish off the day. Yes, your math would be correct. This 50-mile trail race would be closer to 52 miles, but what’s a couple of extra miles?
As I ran down the trail in the first position, I tried to keep focused on moving efficiently. However, I found my legs kept pushing forward at that pace. The 50-degree weather at the start was throwing me off. I thought about just walking for a few minutes to reset my effort. Instead, I elected to keep going to see how things would play out. The first aid station was at mile 5, which I reached in just about 45 minutes. I had no need for anything this early, so I said a quick hello to Nathan and Karen and moved on through.
The second aid station was at mile 10.9, just a little under 6 miles away. Between these two aid stations, the trail featured some long vistas of tall grasses and open meadows. As I ran, I thought about how beautiful this area was. I was surely going to miss parts of this trail after we moved. I have been through this section of trail several times since early February and experienced some pretty wet and muddy conditions. Today, however, the trail was practically bone dry, and for that I was thankful.
Cane Gully to Hwy 17A
Around mile 9, I came off the trail and onto Cane Gully Road. The next two miles were a combination of dirt and paved roads. The harder surface was a necessary detour around a section of trail that had been washed out in last October’s floods. It was shortly after stepping onto the dirt road that the first two 50k runners caught and passed me. In 9 miles, they had made up a mile on me, and I was moving at about an 8:30 min/mile pace. Judging by how quickly they moved around me, these two guys had to have been clocking close to sub 7:30 miles.
About a mile later I entered the Cane Gully aid station. Nicole was waiting for me there with Samuel and our dog Denali. It was just over 90 minutes into the race, 10.9 miles. By now I could tell that the cool temperatures were all but a thing of the past. I soaked my buff and arm coolers in ice water, refilled on water and Tailwind, pulled my Picky Bar out of my pack, and started back down the trail.
The course would proceed on down the trail for another 4 miles, then come back to this point. Thus, Nicole was instructed to stay put at the Cane Gully aid station. I was confident that I would not need anything more than water at the mile 15 station to complete this 8-mile round trip. Over the next two miles, I ate my Picky Bar and put down 16 ounces of water.
Somewhere along this stretch I also took my first bathroom break on the day. Making a note of this bathroom break might seem kind of silly. However, in running distances longer than a marathon, being able and needing to go is a welcome sign. It is a sign that everything you are doing related to hydration is correct. The next two miles into the Hwy 17A aid station featured a more technical single-track portion of the trail. I was running along a dike system and old rice fields that were full of tree roots. Just like the vistas earlier in the course, it is a breathtaking and different portion of the trail from other sections along the Swamp Fox Passage.
About a half mile before the Hwy 17A aid station, the lead 50K runner came back past me. For whatever reason, though, I never saw the second-place runner before reaching the turnaround. As I came into the station, I asked the volunteers which cooler was water and preceded to soak my buff and arm coolers. Placing my buff back around my neck, I realized that I had been steered to the wrong cooler. I had just soaked my items in a mixture of NUUN! Thankfully NUUN is not a sugary solution, so I did not end up all sticky from this mistake.
Hwy 17A back to Cane Gully
Coming back out of the aid station, I rolled my left ankle slightly on a hole in the center of the trail. This awkward step sent pain radiating up my leg and caused a small cramp in my left quad. This pain in my quad would persist for the next 6 miles of running. I tried to shut out the discomfort and focus on putting down all the remaining fluids that I was carrying before the next aid station.
I reached the Cane Gully aid station in just over 2 hours and 40 minutes. Just under 8:30 per mile pace to this point in the race. The pace was quick enough to keep a sub-7-hour goal within reach, but I knew that my legs just did not have enough in them today. I had trimmed the weekly mileage back a bit over the last couple of weeks. This period of recovery, however, was more for a physical and mental lift for the final push towards Western States 100. Nicole reminded me of that focus before leaving the mile 19 aid station. This reminder helped to lighten the mood. Over the next few miles, I found myself able to relax my effort on the day.
Cane Gully to Threemile Head Road
Over the next six miles back to the first aid station, I realized how little shade was on the race course. It was getting warmer, and my thoughts started to focus on how much the last 20 miles were going to hurt. However, when these types of negative thoughts start to creep in, I concentrate on two things. First, my hydration, and second, the beauty of the forest. Even in sections of trail that have been through controlled burns, there is a beauty. I focused on the tall grasses swaying in the slight breeze.
I also made it my goal to finish all 16 fluid ounces of water and 16 fluid ounces of Tailwind before the next aid station. About a mile out from the station, I caught up to the second-place 50K runner. The runner that I never saw pass me back around Hwy 17A. It turned out that he had taken a wrong turn. The expression on his face was one of discomfort. I am sure he was elated almost to be finished with the 50K for the day.
I made another quick stop at the next aid station, mile 25. Just long enough to top off my bottles and eat some oranges. From here to the start/finish area was five miles of trail that I knew very well. I decided to throw in some walking breaks over this section. These breaks consisted of running about 2 miles before taking a 2-minute recovery walk and repeating. When I reached the next aid station, mile 30, I had been going for 4 hours and 28 minutes.
My pace had now fallen back to about a 9:00-per-mile average. However, I was more comfortable with the amount of energy I was exerting under the warm and sun-exposed course. My left quad had also continued to give me on-and-off trouble. Thus, I knew my pace was probably going to fall back more before the end of the day. To drown out my thoughts, I put my headphones on for the first time and cranked up the music.
Time for One More Lap
Leaving the mile 30 aid station to repeat the same section of trail once more, other runners were coming in. As each one passed, I paid no mind to who was 50K or 50 miles at this point. I hummed along to some Red Hot Chili Peppers and continued with my strategy of running and walking. With the next 10.9 miles of trail being the same as what I had just completed, I honestly don’t remember too many thoughts or happenings during this time. I kept up with hydration, zoned out to my music, and acknowledged each oncoming runner. It wasn’t until my feet hit the dirt road detour around mile 39 that I can remember a serious thought. Unfortunately, this thought was not a good one; I was ready to be done with the day.
Up until this point, I had run with my cell phone in my back waist pocket and no Garmin on my wrist. I had run 39 miles not thinking about time or pace. I had run 39 miles by feel and this in itself was a great achievement for me! However, after 39 miles it was like a switch was turned on in my head. I was now more conscious of the time than ever before. Six hours had now gone by since the start. I quickly did the math to realize that I had given up roughly another 30 seconds per mile in the last 9 miles. I thought to myself, less than 11 miles to go, but then remembered the race was almost 52 miles. Dang it, 13 miles to go!
I sputtered along the dirt and the paved road for the next two miles and plopped down in the chair that Nicole had set up once I reach the aid station. I was hot, running low on energy, and beginning to kick myself for running so hard early on. A few moments after taking a seat, the next 50-mile runner entered the aid station. I did not personally know the individual, but he had heard that I was running Western States 100 this year.
In a few short words, that I cannot remember, he reminded me just to have fun and enjoy the run. He left the aid station, and I hung on his words for a few minutes longer before popping up out of the chair and beginning to jog down the road. These last 10.9 miles would take a while, but it was a necessary amount of time to mentally prepare myself for the pain that I was going to have to endure at the Western States 100.
Grind to the Finish
I had lost the lead for good and was holding onto a close second place. Had my legs had a little bit more energy on the day, I feel the eventual winner would never have even come close to passing me. At the same time, though, being caught, helped me to move past the fact that I was going to run slower than the 2015 Wambaw Swamp Stomp, and onto the fact that I was going to enter my ‘’A’’ race stronger than ever. Something that did not happen in my ‘’A’’ race in 2015 (see TRT100).
I ended up in a routine of running two songs, walking one song for the next six miles back to the last aid station. Nicole had moved onto this aid station, and when I arrived, I sat down in the shade for a few moments and soaked myself in ice. My body was burning up from the sun exposure, but I was still laughing and smiling through it all. I hung out at this aid station for probably close to five minutes before picking up and covering the last 5 miles of the race course.
I finished the day in second place, holding off third by just a couple of minutes. My official finish time was 9:19:04 for 51.5 miles (sub 9 hours for 50 miles). Once I got out of the sun, and my body temperature started to come down, I didn’t feel so bad. My legs were tired, but in the back of my mind, I knew I could have kept going. I accomplished running 39 miles by feeling and not focusing on time. Sure, I started out too quickly, but it was a lesson learned. My hydration and nutrition plan was solid all day. The heat training was a point of concern, considering how hot the Western States 100 can get in the canyons. After at least one mile every day for 113 days straight, I decided that my run streak was ready to be over, and a rest day was in order.