On August 30th, I ran the Yeti Snakebite 50K in Lithia Springs, GA. This was a trail race in Sweetwater Creek State Park. I did a trail marathon on some of the same trails last February. Those trails challenged me. I was intrigued by the idea of stepping up to an ultra over the same terrain. I also got the impression that the Yeti Trail Runners were a fun group. I’m more comfortable on roads, but I’m scheduling more trail races to get out of my comfort zone.
They have a 50K race and a 50 mile race. I originally signed up for the 50 mile race. That was before my groin injuries. When I realized I wouldn’t be healthy for this race, I contacted the race director and switched to the 50K. Even running 50K on these trails wasn’t going to be easy.
August in Georgia can be hot. When I signed up, I expected late summer heat and humidity to be the biggest challenge. Imagine my surprise when I saw a forecast for 70s throughout the race. It wasn’t all good news, though. We were on the fringe of tropical storm Erika, which was pumping a lot of moisture into the air. Some forecasts said, “afternoon thunderstorm.” Others said “a few showers.” Light rain wouldn’t feel so bad, but I worried about the trails becoming treacherous if they got too wet.
This was my first race wearing KT tape. I still didn’t know if it would protect my right leg as well as the elastic bandage did, but it allows me to run more comfortably. It had to be better for my left leg, since I previously didn’t have anything supporting that leg. The race started at 7:00, but I got up early, so I would have plenty of extra to apply the KT tape. I left the hotel at 6:00. That ensured I wouldn’t start running until an hour after I applied the tape.
Packet pickup was in the park, at the Group Shelter. I got there a few minutes early, but they were already handing out race packets. I got in the line for the 50K, but they didn’t have my race bib. Because I was originally registered for the 50 mile, I checked to see if my name was on their list. It was. They didn’t know I switched to the 50K. After a few minutes, everything was straightened out, and I got my race number and T-shirt.
The course was a loop that we ran three times. It strung together different parts of the various park trails (denoted by different colors), plus a section described as “unknown trail.” (That means it’s not really a trail.)
Here’s the description of the loop that was in our pre-race instructions:
You will pass by the Start/Finish area on each loop. Bring a cooler packed with your favorite things or a chair if you would like. This is also a great place for spectators and ex husbands/wives. We suggest your loved ones take a short walk down the gravel road and hang out by the metal bridge that crosses Sweetwater Creek.
You will be off trail for less than a 1/2 mile. Slow down here, go flag to flag. It will be obvious and runnable on where to go.
The course will be marked with pink/white polka dot flagging. Follow these flags only. Most major turns will have arrow signs. For you first timers, let the flags lead you into turns and realize when you see 2 or more flags next to each other, something is about to happen (like a turn) (or a split in the trail). On areas where there is no place to go, markers will be further away but still no longer than .25.
Start - Group Shelter (Paved)
.12 mile - hard Right off paved road onto White trail
.79 mile - slight left turn onto FS road (remain on white trail )
1.38 miles - slight right on white trail into grass field
1.52 miles - slight right remain on white into long jeep road downhill
3.03 miles - climb wooden stairs at the "falls" (keep climbing on white trail- DONT TAKE RED TRAIL, YOU WILL DIE OR GET YOUR FEELINGS HURT)
3.81 miles at the ruins - Stay Straight onto RED - DONT FOLLOW WHITE
3.99 - keep running along the river
4.8 - Aid Station
4.8 - make hard Right onto bridge
4.9 - make hard left 20 yds after crossing bridge onto unknown trail
5.99 miles - Make hard Right at metal farm gate
6.22 miles - make hard left onto forgotten logging road and a shitty little climb
6.73 at the top of shitty little climb - make a right turn onto FS road
follow FS road until the end
7.37 miles - enter Orange Trail
7.76 miles - make hard right to continue onto orange trail
8.60 - make right onto yellow
8.61 - enjoy a long smooth downhill back to the metal bridge
9.70 - make a left U turn back onto bridge
9.79 - Back at Aid Station 1
9.79 - Continue straight past the aid station onto FS road that turns into paved- keep straight onto paved road
10.3 or 4 or 5 or 6 (whatever your GPS tells you) - turn left up stairs to Group Shelter (start/finish)
It might not be obvious from that description, but the course is a figure eight. We ran a loop on the west side of the creek, crossed a bridge, ran a loop on the east side, and then crossed the bridge again. There was an aid station at the west end of the bridge. That was efficient. We went by the same aid station twice per lap, or roughly every five miles. The aid station was accessible by road, and it was only a mile from the Group Shelter. That made it easy for the volunteers.
Having run another race that used some of the same trails, I expected parts of this to look familiar. Looking through a map of the park, I realized where we were supposed to avoid taking the red trail, lest we die or get our feelings hurt. In the race I did last February, we ran that section of the red trail. I didn’t die, but was technical enough to make me walk most of it. I was relieved to see that this course avoided it.
Runners were able to store their gear inside the Group Shelter. We could also bring coolers with food or beverages. I had a duffle bag with gear I might need, but the only food or beverage I brought was 20 oz. of Gatorade to fill my bottle before the first loop.
I only carried one water bottle. Because it wasn’t particularly hot, I was optimistic that that would be enough for five miles. I had another bottle in my bag at the group shelter, just in case one bottle wasn’t enough.
After walking outside, a few of us posed for a Marathon Maniacs group photo. This is my “before” picture.
A few minutes before the start, we had a pre-race briefing. Aside from the usual, the RD told us there would by whiskey at the aid station. They did that at the race in February too.
The 50 mile race had a time limit of 13 hours, which would have been challenging if my legs were bothering me. The 50K race had an 11 hour limit, which is much more generous. I wasn’t going for a fast time. I just wanted to finish. The chance of rain was supposed to increase in the afternoon, so I also wanted to finish before the rain started.
I went out at an easy pace. After a couple minutes on roads, we turned onto the “white” trail. This part of the trail was familiar, and I knew there were a few roots. It was early, and there wasn’t much light yet, so I had to watch carefully for the roots. That forced me to go even slower.
After crossing a road, we got onto another section of the “white” trail that was more like a gravel road. It was wide enough for runners to pass each other, and there weren’t many roots. There was a gentle downhill trend, as we worked our way closer to the creek.
Next we turned left and went down a set of wooden steps that led us onto a narrow single track trail. I walked down the steps and then resumed running. This section was runnable at first, but eventually led to some rocky sections. Each time we encountered rocks or large roots, I slowed to a walk and stepped over them carefully.
Eventually, we came out to the edge of Sweetwater Creek. I took a picture of the falls, but it didn’t turn out. Then we climbed a long series of stairs.
I ran the first few flights of stairs. Then I got tired and walked the rest. After the stairs, we got back onto trail, but still had a long steep climb. Everybody walked this.
This was the most technical section of the course. It ended when we reached the “ruins.”
Next, we followed the “red” trail. We were right alongside the creek now, and this section of trail was fairly runnable. Having run this section before, I knew it was taking us to the bridge where we would cross Sweetwater Creek.
After that, I stopped taking pictures. We were still packed together, so I had to step off the trail to take pictures. I was going to see everything two more times, so I decided to wait until the second loop, when we would be more spread out.
Before getting onto the bridge, I stopped at the aid station to refill my bottle with Gatorade. So far, it seemed like one bottle was enough to get me from one aid station to the next. Before leaving, I also had a PBJ.
After crossing the bridge, I was in unfamiliar territory. I had never run the trails on this side of the creek. At first, we were on a nice wide runnable trail. We weren’t on it very long before making a hard left onto the section described as “unknown trail.”
The official park trails are all marked with splotches of paint on the trees. The color of paint tells you which trail you’re on. Here, the only markers were the pink flags tied to tree branches. Thankfully, they were plentiful. We were on a single track trail that wasn’t always well-defined. If not for the pink flagging, it wouldn’t always be obvious where the trail was. For now, I was following the other runners. In the second and third laps, I would have to pay attention to the trail markings.
This side of the park had some long gradual hills. They weren’t steep, but they were long enough to wear you down. On the first such hill, I saw people ahead of me walking, but I continued to run. I didn’t realize how long the hill was. It was here that I tripped on a root and fell for the first time.
Because I was running uphill, I wasn’t going very fast. Even my fall seemed to happen in slow motion. I had time to look at the ground and see it was soft dirt and pine straw. I had time to tuck my shoulder and roll as I fell. As I rolled onto my back, I made an effort to keep rolling until my feet were under me again. Then I stood up and resumed running. My hands, arms and back were dirty, but I was unhurt. The next runner asked me if I was OK. I told him I was just practicing my roll. After that, I walked the rest of the hill. After that, I walked whenever I saw people ahead of me walking.
I heard what sounded like rain. We were under a canopy of trees, so it took a while for the rain to filter through. When we came to an opening, I could feel the rain. For now, it was just sprinkling.
So far, my legs were feeling OK, but then I started catching my feet on roots and rocks. When I had an awkward landing on my left foot, I could feel a momentary twinge in my left groin. When I had an awkward landing on my right foot, I could feel a twinge in my right groin. Neither leg had any lasting pain.
Since crossing the river, we had run uphill much more then downhill. Eventually, that had to change. It seemed like the downhill came all at once. Parts of it were uncomfortably steep. Naturally, those were the parts with rocks. I slowed to a walk in a few places, to make sure I didn’t trip on a rock.
After crossing the bridge and visiting the aid station again, I had one more mile to finish my first loop. About half of it was on a gravel road with a slight uphill trend. The rest was on paved road. The paved road was also uphill. It helped, though, that this was all familiar. This was the same way the race in February ended. At the end, we left the road to ran up a hill to reach the back of the Group Shelter.
I finished the first loop in 2:05. That was roughly in line with my expectations. Now it was time to rinse and repeat. I didn’t know it yet, but lap two would be all about rinsing.
It was still raining lightly, so I went into the building to put my camera back in my bag. I didn’t want to it get wet. I was still optimistic that this was a passing shower and I could take pictures on my third loop.
Leaving my camera behind was a good call. As soon as I left the Group Shelter, it started raining harder. Because we started on road, I was out in the open, and I was getting soaked.
As I turned onto the “white” trail for the second time, I once again had trouble seeing the trail clearly. This time, it was because of my sunglasses. I was using untinted lenses, but the outside was covered with small drops, and the inside was fogging up. I had to go slow to watch for the roots.
By the time I reached the wider part of the trail, the sky had opened up. Running water was cutting channels through the trail, making narrow rivers. I heard thunder. Our “afternoon” thunderstorm arrived at 9 AM.
My shoes were sopping wet, and I felt a shoelace come untied. I stepped up onto a small mound to kneel down and tie my shoe. While I was at it, I also retied the other shoe.
As I started running again, I immediately felt the insoles slipping forward in both shoes. This had always been a problem when my shoes get wet. I wonder if tightening the laces somehow made it worse. In my left shoe, the insole went all the way to the front of my shoe and bunched up under my toes. It was painful, but there wasn’t much I could do about it until I got back to the shelter. For the rest of the lap, my feet were in pain.
Visibility was worse, so I had to take off my glasses. At first I carried them. Then I realized I had room in my fanny pack, so I put them in there.
When I got onto the single track section, I slowed down more. Here, the trail was undulating, and the soil wasn’t as sandy. Deep puddles formed in the low spots, and there wasn’t any way around them. There were also a few slick spots. In my first lap, I was mostly keeping up with the runners around me. Now everybody was passing me.
On the rocky part of the trail, there was a section where the trail briefly split. The trail markers seemed closer to the “high road,” so I went that way on my first lap. I saw other runners taking the “low road,” and it seemed like their route might be easier. This time, I took the “low road.” It was easier ... at first. Then we had to run uphill over a wide patch of rock to rejoin the other trail. Dry, it would have been OK. Wet, it was slick.
At times, I wondered how much longer this heavy rain would keep up. Each time, my unspoken question was answered with thunder. The rain kept getting heavier.
Although it wasn’t a cold day, the heavy rain was making the muscles in my legs get cold and stiff. Stepping up onto rocks got more difficult. On one particularly big step with my left leg, I felt pain in my left groin. Fortunately, it was only momentary. Neither leg was having any lasting soreness.
With the rain, I wasn’t sweating as much. I drank less frequently, and I reached the aid station before emptying my bottle. As I started across the bridge, it occurred to be that I was roughly half done. The second half, however, would be much slower.
As I crossed the bridge, I saw a runner already coming back. He must have been one of the leaders. The trail on the other side is initially uphill. The rainwater formed narrow rivers that were running toward me. I did my best to run between them, so I wouldn’t have to run upstream.
As I turned the corner onto the “unknown trail,” I saw a runner behind me who had just crossed the bridge. When he caught me, he passed me like I was standing still. I think he was already on his third lap. After that, it was about three miles before I saw another runner. I felt like I was all alone on this side of the creek. Eventually, I began to wonder if all the other runners had passed me, and I was now alone in last place.
I had no difficulty finding my way on the “unknown trail.” Because of the mud, it was easy to see the footprints from dozens of other runners who had already run through here in the rain.
Over the next two or three miles, the rain seemed to be letting up. Eventually it stopped, but I didn’t know if it would start up again. Wind gusts caused water to drop from the trees, making it hard to tell if it was still raining.
I didn’t have any falls on my second lap, but I occasionally tripped and had awkward landings. On one particularly hard landing, I not only felt pain in my left groin, but also in my butt. At first I thought it was in my glutes. Then I wondered if it was the attachment point of a tendon connecting to a muscle in my left thigh. It didn’t seem like I tore anything. After that, I noticed it on every hard landing. The pain wasn’t persistent, but I had to wonder if I now had three injuries. Our race bibs said, “Snake Bite On Yo’ Ass.” Yeah. That’s how it felt.
Eventually, another runner caught up to me. I commented that I didn’t think anyone else was still behind me. She said there were lots of others behind us. “Us” quickly became “me” as she quickly moved down the trail and out of sight. In time, other runners passed me too.
The long downhill section before returning to the bridge was tougher after the rain. Some of the soil washed away, exposing more rock.
I could always tell when I was getting close to the bridge. I could hear hooting and hollering from the aid station before I could actually see the bridge. From this direction,
we ran alongside part of the bridge and then made a U turn to get onto the bridge. I stumbled just as I was starting the U turn. Between the turning and the awkward landing, my left leg hurt.
When I finished my second lap, I went into the shelter and sat in a chair to fix the insole in my left shoe. My big toe was in constant pain, and I couldn’t stand it for another lap. I considered just taking it out, but I didn’t know how that would feel. I didn’t take the time to fix my right shoe. That one didn’t hurt as much, so I decided to leave it alone.
I considered getting my camera for the third loop, so I could take more pictures of the course. My legs were already stiff, and I knew they’d get worse if I was stopping to take pictures. I left without my camera, intent to maintain constant forward motion. I was done with the rinse. Now I just had to repeat.
As I left the shelter, I looked at my watch. Including the stop, my first two laps took 4:42. I knew I was slowing down, but I was still surprised to be that slow. As I started running, I still had pain in the toes of my left foot. That subsided after a few minutes. I was also too stiff to run very fast. That didn’t subside.
While I was on pavement, I tried to pick up my pace. I couldn’t move my legs any faster, so I tried to lengthen my stride. That just felt awkward, and I had to return to a shorter stride as I got back onto the trails. It was really slow going on my third lap, but I got a psychological lift from knowing that I was running everything for the last time.
The trails looked different each time. The rain had stopped, and the sun was peeking through the trees. For the first time, I could see the roots clearly on the first section of trail. That’s good, because I couldn’t afford to trip. My hamstrings were so tight that they felt like they were made of glass. One hard landing and they might shatter.
On the wider part of the trail, I could see the damage from the rain. A few inches of topsoil had eroded away, exposing colorful rock underneath. It was red with colorful striations. I regret that I didn’t bring my camera.
As more runners passed me, I asked which race they were doing. They were all doing the 50 mile race. I still wondered if there were any more 50K runners behind me. I was really glad I wasn’t doing the 50 mile race. I was going to struggle to get through my third lap. I couldn’t imagine doing 19 more miles after that.
I was surprised by how quickly the trails drained after the rain stopped. There were still a few puddles, but the trail wasn’t as muddy. As I worked my way down the trail, I saw a large field of gold to my right. That was no field. It was one of the creeks. It was a solid butterscotch color from all the mud that ran off into the creek.
Working my way through the rocky part of the trail, I learned two lessons from my previous lap. First, whenever I had to make a big step up, I used my right leg. It was still uncomfortable, but in a different way. In my right leg, I felt soreness in my quad and hip flexor. That was less worrisome. I also remembered to take the “high road” where the trail briefly split.
After running for what seemed like forever, I finally got to the “ruins.” I couldn’t believe how slowly I was progressing. It was still a long way to the aid station. When I finally got close enough to see the bridge, another runner caught up to me. She was also doing the 50K. I wasn’t in last place after all.
As I left the aid station, I realized I had finished roughly a marathon, but I still had five miles to go. I checked my watch as I crossed the bridge. It was already 6:03, and the last five miles were going to be really slow.
On my last time on the “unknown trail,” I tripped and fell again. This one didn’t happen in slow motion. Fortunately, the ground was soft after the rain. I did another tuck and roll. My shoulder hit the ground hard, but I managed to keep rolling until I was right side up. I was slow getting up. I hit the ground hard enough to knock the wind out of me. I didn’t have any cuts or scrapes, but I had to walk a bit before I could resume running.
A few other runners caught up to me. Seeing the mud across my back, one asked me if I fell. After assuring them I was OK, another asked me if I needed anything. I said I was OK. Then she said she had ibuprofen. I must have looked awful. I told her the fall was the least of my problems. That was true.
Later in the loop, each runner who passed me asked if I was OK. My answer was always the same. I was just going to maintain forward progress and eventually I’d get it done.
In this lap, it was warmer. I felt thirsty, but I was still carrying only one bottle. Because of my slow place, I drank less frequently to ensure I wouldn’t run out of fluid too soon.
Without knowing how slow I was going, it was hard to estimate how much farther it was to get back to the bridge. I asked one runner who said it was about a mile. That seemed plausible, but that mile took forever. As two other runners approached, I asked them if they were Led Zeppelin fans. They said yes, and asked me if I wanted to sing something. I said, “Where’s that confounded bridge?” They were thinking the same thing.
I suddenly remembered that the aid station had whiskey. Somehow, I forgot about it until now. I should drink a shot at least once to get into the spirit of things.
When I finally reached the bridge, I took the U turn carefully. It was still uncomfortable, but not as bad. I checked my watch, and it read 7:26. At least I would break eight hours.
I still had a couple ounces of Gatorade in my bottle. With only a mile to go, I didn’t bother to refill my bottle. I used what was left to wash down a PBJ. That was an excuse to take a short walking break as I started up the dirt road.
When I was done eating, I started running again. It was uphill all the way, but I was determined to run it. I still held out hopes of keeping my last lap under three hours. I was well past the aid station when I realized I forgot the whiskey again. D’oh!
I ran up the hill and into the Group Center. I finished in 7:38:11. I wasn’t happy to take so long for 50K, but at least I broke three hours in the last lap. I haven’t figured out my average pace. I don’t want to know. Next, I was handed a beer. The label said “finisher.” Forget medals or buckles. These guys have finisher beers. They also had finisher coasters.
Knowing I looked like crap, I asked another runner to take my picture. These are the “after” pictures.
They had sub sandwiches for post-race snacks. I sat down to eat and chat with other runners. More 50K runners were finishing. A lot more! Apparently, I was nowhere close to last place.
When I got back to the hotel, I put my finisher beer in the fridge. I needed to drink it that night, because I could only bring it on the airplane if it was empty. 22 ounces is slightly over TSA’s limit for liquids. It took a long time in the shower to rinse off all the mud. Then I had a soak in the whirlpool. I went out for post-race pizza, but saved room for the beer.
After climbing in bed, I realized that getting into bed wasn’t a painful ordeal. I still felt a little discomfort when I rolled over during the night, but I didn’t feel the way I’ve become accustomed to feel after a race. The KT tape helped. I don’t know how much I can heal while continuing to race, but I’m cautiously optimistic that I can keep from getting much worse.
Only time will tell if I have a new injury. Certain motions are literally a pain in the butt, but I don’t have constant soreness. I probably won’t know for sure until I try to run again. That’ll be at least a few days.
This was my 285th lifetime marathon or ultra. My countdown to 300 is now 15. They’re not getting easier.