Time: 4:14:43 Place: 1/44
With my better half back in the UK this was the perfect opportunity for a back to back weekend. My original plan was a local race on Saturday and Pittsburgh marathon on Sunday but the lack of race day packet pick up for Pittsburgh would have made it stressful (maybe Pittsburgh next year). Searching the Marathon Maniacs race calendar I came across a couple of races in South Carolina that looked interesting, one a road marathon, the other the Wambaw Swamp Stomp 50 (50 miler or 50k options). The trails looked interesting and it started earlier so I decided to head South, and race locally on the Sunday.
I ran 25 miles during the week (relatively low mileage for this training block) and an easy couple on Friday to keep the legs ticking over. The runs later in the week had felt good so I knew I’d recovered after the 50 miler the previous weekend.
I drove down to South Carolina on Friday afternoon / evening. Arriving at my motel about 10:30. Time to sort my gear for the morning and then sleep. I had looked at motels that would have split the trip up but decided that pushing on and staying 30 mins from the start was preferable to getting up earlier and having a two hour drive. The motel in Saint Stephen was relatively cheap and perfect for my requirements – a bed!!
I was glad of the short drive to start after the long drive the day before as it meant the morning was a bit more relaxed.
It was my usual race morning – a cinnamon raisin PB&J bagel, followed by coconut water and a banana at packet pick up. I arrived at 6:30 and there was plenty of time for final preparations.
The pre-race emails had suggested a dry course so I opted for Lone Peak 3.0s and gaiters as I prefer the grips on gnarly sections to the Hoka Challengers that I was planning to wear the next day.
Given the forecast temperatures (and the race tomorrow) I decided on my Nathan pack, with two 10oz bottles of tailwind and a bladder of nuun electrolyte which should make me self sufficient for the first 15 miles where I’d top up my tailwind bottles for the return.
The 50 mile and 50k and relay started at the same time. I started near the front and was quickly running in a group of 3 near the front. Within a couple of miles the group had thinned and I was running with another 50k runner and a 50k relay runner. The pace felt comfortable and I was able to enjoy the beautiful morning trails (and stop for the occasional photo). The three of us ran together to the turnaround, passing the aid stations at mile 5 and mile 10, (and a snake at mile 9). The trails made for great running, mostly single track through mixed forests and swamps with the occasional bridge and boardwalk. It’s mostly easy running with little elevation gain or loss, and only one gnarly rooty section around mile 13.
I had stuck to my nutrition plan (one mushroom frittata and one slice of Fitter Food banana loaf on the way out, as well as the Tailwind, and the same for the way back). I stopped at the turn around to fill my bottles and the left the aid station with the same two runners ahead of me and passing runners coming the other way. I caught the 50k runner within half a mile and passed him, quickly followed by the relay runner meaning I was in the lead. The pace felt good and all I had to do was retrace my steps to the start and it felt like a sub 4 hour time was in my grasp.
I went through the 10 mile aid station (mile 20) still feeling good, and started the road leg (part of the trail is currently closed), and then onto the track back to the trail. Unfortunately I’d been too busy talking to the other runners on the way out and hadn’t noted which way to go at the fork in the track. I started straight then decided right was probably where we came from and off I went. After half a mile I started to wonder, though there was some orange tape…. Then I came to a house, that definitely wasn’t there before. Oh crap. I turned round and retraced my steps to the junction and took the other track, quickly seeing a race marker and the trail sign!
I guessed I’d done about 1.6 miles extra so had lost around 13 minutes of time which meant the sub-4 wouldn’t happen and I didn’t know how many people had passed me. It didn’t matter though as I was here to enjoy the trails and get some training miles in. The 1.6 were bonus mile!!
After a mile or so I spotted a runner in the distance who I recognized as the leader in the 50 mile race. As I passed him he told me there were maybe a couple of 50k runners ahead of me. I continued to run at a comfortable pace, knowing that I had been running quicker than those ahead of me. It was just a question of whether I’d run out of trail before I caught them. Even so it sounded like I had a podium place.
It was starting to get warm and it would have been easy to slow the pace, especially with the excuse of a long drive and a race the next day. As I passed through the 5 mile aid station (mile 25) I was told I was less than 5 minutes behind the person ahead. This gave me motivation to keep the pace up – If I was running a minute a mile quicker I might still catch up.
At mile 27 I caught and passed him, putting me back into first place (as the other runner was the relay runner). I continued to push on the trails which were great fun to run on, and mostly shaded. At mile 30 (31.6 on my watch) you get back to the start area and have to run half a mile up a track to a turn-around and then back to the finish. This was probably the toughest part of the course as there was no shade and it was now very hot.
A last push at the end brought me home in 4 hours 14 minutes and first place. Without the detour, I would definitely have been knocking on 4 hours (I found out afterwards that the course record is 4 hours 9 minutes.
I drank fluids and ate salty snacks at the finish while I waited for the awards ceremony, then headed for the road. I stopped several times on the drive back and snacked and drank most of the way home in preparation for the next race.
Study the course map, and pay attention on the way out on out and back courses!!
Nutrition and hydration worked well (as borne out by my result the next day)
The swamp (L) and the 50k podium (R)