Monday, March 10, 2014

25th Way Too Cool 50K (2014) - Race Report



When I saw the "1/2" mile marker, I decided to give it all I had and run for the finish. I knew there three more small uphill climbs (at least relative to the infamous "Goat Hill"), but it didn't matter... the end was in sight!

When I signed up for Way Too Cool (WTC) 50K, I signed up for it as a recommended "training race" for my goal race for the year, the American River 50 Mile Endurance Run. I have run the 23 mile loop of the course several times already with the Fleet Feet Ultra Team from Fair Oaks and Roseville, so race day approached with not much nervousness on my part. It will be my fourth 50K after all, having completed the North Face Endurance Challenge (NFEC) 50K back in December 2012, and the Stinson Beach 50K from Pacific Coast Trails and Mount Tam 50K from Inside Trail for 2013. I thought WTC would be a cinch given it has less elevation. I was dead wrong.

I arrived slightly before the crack of dawn at Cool, California on Saturday, March 8th. While I stayed at a nearby motel in Auburn to make my drive to the start line faster and easier, I decided to not any chances with race day parking, as 1200 runners signed up for the event, so I imagined a big line of cars from as far as the Highway 80 exit if I didn't get there early enough. So I left my motel in Auburn at 5:45 AM, and arrived shortly and without fuss around 6:00 AM. There were a few cars already arriving at the scene. The tents for the expo and the starting line were already up. As they instructed the cars to drive past the start line, I started to worry that the actual parking would be miles away from the course as I drove past the "Mile 1" sign. I breathed a sigh of relief as they had signs for us to circle back and then instructed us to park on either side of the road where the white lines were (the middle being the eventual space for the runners to run along from the start line).

I was officially training with the Fleet Feet Ultra Team from Fair Oaks and Roseville, but my roots still belong to Run 365 (and the oldest root being Team In Training - Central California). I was looking for my coaches at Fleet Feet, but I saw Coach Karen Peterson from Run 365 first, so I took a nice picture of her with her green puffy jacket and her green and froggy calf compression sleeves. She was into the green and frog theme more than I was. I was dressed in all red with my red NFEC shirt, red Adidas shorts, red Brooks trail shoes and red Nathan's Hydration Pack. We did some catching up for several minutes, but then I had to start looking for my packet pickup which was nicely picked up by Coach Kirk Edgerton for our team. They weren't still there at that point, but I did notice several green WTC bags and two other runners looking through them, so I figured those were ours. I got my bag and walked back to the car as it was still cold and I had still an hour and a half left to the start. I met fellow ultra runner and friend Pen Perez on my way back to my car. She was also early like me, having worried about parking and arrival when she did last year's race. We also caught up, but I had to head back at my car after several minutes as it was still quite chilly.

Thirty minutes prior to the start, I decided to start walking to the start line, to allow time for one last visit to the porta potty and to also see friends who are probably already near the start line. As I walked to the start line, a small group of runners had started at 7:30 AM, 30 minutes before the official start. These were runners allowed an extra start time if they knew they would need more than the 8 hours and 30 minutes course limit.

I started seeing a lot of Run 365 and Wolf Pack Racing friends near the start line (Wolf Pack is a Team In Training group for ultra runners, anywhere from those running 50Ks to 100 Milers). I took some customary pictures, posed for a couple of ones as well. I watched as several of them started with the Wave 1 group at 8:00 AM. I consciously chose to be at the back of the pack for Wave 2, knowing I don't want to start off too fast for this ultra marathon.

It was nice running and chatting with friends at the start, including Jennifer, Emily, Jake, Phil, Rebecca, and Karen. A lot of other friends had already started or started behind me including Sean, Vicki, Char, Shannon, Josh, Patrick, Michael, Luba, and Brian. Disclaimer: Tons of my friends ran this very cool race, so if I didn't mention you by name, it doesn't mean I don't love you, it means my memory storage was full at the time of writing!

The start was a wide road, but after a mile, it started to go to a single track. This is where it became one very long conga line of ultra runners. Some people were chatty and energetic. Some were in quiet serious race mode (me at that time). Some were quietly (or not so quietly) impatient, waiting for a good time to leap frog other runners and gain more speed. The first stream crossing was a serious stream. Several runners crossed it cautiously, putting foot by foot over rocks so they didn't get too wet. I just started wading into the waters, as I knew that more wet and wild stuff was to come! My socks and shoes were wet, but I didn't care. It actually felt good and invigorating. Now THIS was trail running!

I was totally unfamiliar with the 8 mile loop that we started with, as I had never trained on that part of the WTC course. I'm sure the Fleet Feet Team has, but I wasn't consistent enough on joining all training runs due to the two hour one way drive it takes to get to the training runs every weekend. At any rate, it wasn't a tough 8 mile loop. It felt actually short. I completed it in about one hour and 45 minutes, a little bit faster than the 15 minute mile pace I was expecting. After finishing that loop and entering the start of the 23 mile loop, I knew I had to start holding back a little, so I started walking whenever there was a slight uphill to break my runs into run/walks.

It started getting interesting for the 23 mile loop when we ran downhill. I overheard a comment from a runner saying he doesn't even remember running uphill that high, to which his fellow runner answered "Cool starts from an altitude of 1000+ feet", which would have been the answer I would have voiced out as well. Running downhill wouldn't have been an issue if it weren't for the fact that it was now a very muddied trail, given that it had been raining the past few days at Cool. This was a harbinger of things to come, I thought. This will make both uphill AND downhill interesting. Even running the single track will be challenging as you don't want to slip and hit rocks, roots, or slip down the slopes. Truth came to bear actually half way on the previous 8 mile loop when a runner was seen nursing her legs halfway down the trail, while her runner friend shouted for other runners to be careful with rocks. Trail running can indeed be dangerous if one isn't careful (or if one isn't lucky either).

As we finished our descent, we had to cross the road briefly (with race support, thank goodness), and we hit a flat patch of road for several miles. This is where I met Angela and Trina (this is also where I believe I saw Deirdre, but my memory now corrects that to the time I started the 8 mile loop conga line, or shortly after). Angela and Trina were with the Wolf Pack/TNT team, and knew about me before I knew about them. Trail runners know about each other almost by the second degree of separation, which makes it a close knit group. I was amazed how they knew about me before I knew them, but I think my social media postings on a daily basis also helped them know me from friends of friends. They introduced themselves and we chatted for a while, but as I was on race mode, I would go fast, slow, fast and slow. Angela, Trina and I leapfrogged each other constantly for several miles and I believed it would last through the whole race, but for some reason I lost them around mile 15-17, if memory serves me right.

I started getting some steam around the half way point, around miles 15-17, as the course went back to a single track hugging the mountains. It was nice and flat, but I have to say that I missed seeing hills to break my momentum of running as I did with the Marin Headlands. WTC makes it easier to PR with a 50K given the lower total elevation gain, but it does have quite a bit of rolling hills added to just make it a little challenging. I decided to use those rollers again to break up my runs into run/walks, but that also meant runners who ran it consistently would overtake me, only to be overtaken again at some points.

The views were spectacular all along the single track trail, and it was very tempting to stop at a lot of areas to take pictures, but I was in race mode that day and I have learned to not take any photos, especially since I was aiming for a PR. I also passed through almost aid stations as fast as I can. I made sure to always top off my 1.5 liter hydration pack, and I also would grab one or two items served by the aid stations and eat them as I run. I still have a lot to improve on nutrition wise. I am eating more consistently now on my runs and races, eating 100 calories approximately every 30 minutes and a salt stick capsule every hour. For WTC, I started consuming V-Fuel for the first few hours, but I would also mix it in with the aid station food, some of which included clif bars, chews, peanut butter/jelly sandwiches, and rocktane gels. I also had some oreos towards the latter 3/4s of the race, but at that point my stomach wasn't beginning to feel good. I still ate them as I knew I had to keep on fueling despite not feeling well. I also consumed more salt sticks than I thought I would (around 10, I think) given the heat and how much I was sweating.

My fueling for the race was far from perfect, but I think I did well compared to some runners along the way. I met a woman who seemed very strong but complained her legs were locking up and tightening. I gave her two salt stick pills and I assumed she did well because I saw her on the last few miles of the race, still not as well as she was at the onset, but strong enough to keep up with me who didn't have any major issues. I also met two older guys who overtook me at one point, but immediately cramped and had to sit down just a few feet after they overtook me. I also gave them some salt stick pills. I really learned this lesson well on last year's NFEC, and I have to thank Yvonne Gallegos for it. I wasn't a fan of taking in anything, vitamins, pain relievers, or anything. But the salt sticks have really helped me not have any cramps which I tend to have when doing a lot of hills and when heat is involved.

I was wishing a hill would break up the constant single track that was flat (plus some rollers), and I soon got my wish when I saw Goat Hill again for the second time at least (if not the third or fourth, my memory is hazy as of right now). Goat Hill was nothing compared to the hills and mountains I've climbed in the past, but a hill is still a hill and I ended up respecting it. I might have power hiked it, but it was still a considerable effort, since it was around mile 23 at that point and my energy was getting depleted. As I conquered Goat Hill, I saw the next aid station saying "26.3". I jokingly told a volunteer if I could stop and get my medal now while he topped off my hydration pack. I was kidding of course, but he said no as if I wasn't serious. I was surprised to hear later on that some runners had dropped just after Goat Hill. It was still 5 miles from that point, and a still tough 5 miles, but I wouldn't have dropped, unless of course it was sharp pain (but then again, it would have to be REALLY sharp pain, and I'd have to weigh it against my ego and the prospect of a DNF).

The last 5 miles were still some rollers, and some open spaces were it felt like you were getting roasted on an oven. Thankfully those moments were only a few minutes in between. If the whole race would've been out in the open, it would've been an even tougher race (but then it would be less muddy too). I was familiar with the last 5 miles. That was an advantage, but also a disadvantage because I knew what was still left in front of me, and it wasn't easy. I still ran when I can and hiked when a decent hill came along.

The last aid station was across a road. I downed one small potato cube dipped with salt, topped off my hydration pack again despite being only one mile left (half of which is all uphill). I was offered a chance to have cold water doused on my head and I obligingly said yes. I almost opted for seconds, but it might have been too tempting to just grab the volunteer's water bottle and empty it on myself. The last big uphill might have been just another Goat Hill if you ask my opinion. I took the last of my salt sticks at that point and hoped that it was enough to last me the whole race. I saw Lisa from Wolf Pack Racing with her signature bell. I thanked her for being there, and did another descent downhill.

As I saw the last "1/2" mile sign, I knew it was in the bag. I can see the finish line from the distance. It seemed I had more energy than the runners who were coursing through the finish. I tried to motivate them without being too pretentious about it either. I have had some races too where I had to limp to the finish, but this was not one of them.

I crossed the finish line strong. I'm glad to see Coach Karen Tancuan and Coach Karen Peterson at the finish line. I then looked at my GPS watch. 7:23. It was a 50K PR for me. Not as whopping as I thought, but 40 minutes is a pretty whopping enough PR for me, and I savored it as well as all the good finish line race food, including the infamous frog cupcake.

Way Too Cool 50K, 50K #4 was in the books.


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