Monday, May 5, 2008

2008 Way Too Cool 50k Race Report

This race report is long overdue, obviously, since the race was early this past March. But better late than never. I'll add a couple photos soon, once I have a chance to resize them.

It all began early last December, on a Sunday morning, as people across the land were frantically trying to log in to their accounts, hoping to be one of the few, the proud, the randomly lucky who were able to gain entry to the Way Too Cool 50K trail race. Having filled the previous year in just over 7 minutes, my wife and I were at the ready. I was logged in, and she was futzing with her account when she told me, more than 5 minutes before 8am (registration was supposed to open at 8am PST), that she had just registered for the race and received an email confirmation. I was on it, and within a minute was checking my email for the confirmation. We were both in! Unfortunately, for those who waited until 8am to log in to, the 450 available slots filled quickly (just over 11 minutes this year) and many were left out. was actively thrashed on many online discussion forums for having opened up the registration "early." And rightfully so.

WTC is in the Sierra foothills east of Auburn and follows trails along and near the American River. There is about 3,600' of elevation gain (and equal amount of elevation loss), and a couple of pretty killer hills - both fairly late in the course. Nothing like a nice steep climb at mile 25 to keep things interesting! The hills were green, and fortunately the streams were low so crossing wasn't much of a problem. I did manage to get one foot wet twice, but with the nice temps my shoes dried quickly.

Way Too Cool was my second 50K race, and my wife's first. We drove up Friday afternoon to pick up our race packets at the Auburn Running Company, and had dinner before retiring early for the night at a local motel. I was glad to not have to drive up the morning of the race, only to run then drive back home. It was enough just to have to drive home!

The weather really held out, as the day dawned clear and bright. Not too cold, either. We arrived in Cool around 45 minutes before start time, what we thought would be on the early side. Wrong about that one. We ended up parking along a road about 1/3 - 1/2 mile from the starting area. No problem, this should be a good way to stretch the legs out both before and after. We did the ritualistic porta-potty line thing, then milled around until the start. Way Too Cool is a popular race, and with Montrail sponsoring it, and the top 3 men and women getting a free pass to the Western States 100, it was bound to bring out some pretty fast runners. And did it ever. Last year's Ultrarunners of the Year - Nikki Kimbal and Scott Jurek - were on hand with a whole host of folks who have won a wide variety of races. Over 450 people toed the line, and we were off at 8 am.

It didn't take long for runners to stretch out over a pretty long area, and after a short time on pavement, we turned onto a trail and I felt the trail mojo. I really do love running on dirt, and enjoy the race atmosphere, though it tends to cause me to start a little too fast. And it seems the chatting that goes on during trail races is not only more common, but friendly and often helpful, too.

The first aid station came up pretty quickly, and since I was doing well supply-wise I blew right through. Two things I was careful about for this race was to make sure I drank more water, and also take electrolyte replacements regularly. My first 50K - last December - and some of my long training runs leading up to the race, had not gone well, and after some research and consideration felt pretty confident I just wasn't replacing my electrolytes or hydrating properly. This time, I was determined to double the electrolyte intake, and keep drinking.

And it seemed to be working, by the second aid station, about 14 miles in, my hydration pack was ready for a refill and I was feeling good. I scarfed down a few brownies and a PB&J square, and off I went. This was a killer section - a six mile loop that brings you back to the same aid station. And also the steepest decent, followed, naturally, by the steepest (and longest) ascent. So basically, you thrash your quads running down the steep downhill, then peg your heart rate going up the ascent. Nothing like hitting mile 20 after that combo.

I again refilled my water (hooray for no dehydration!), and ate some more brownies and a PB&J square. One of the things I love about trail races and ultras, they have some good vittles at aid stations. I was still feeling good, too. No stomach problems like on recent training runs, and the legs and abdomen were, so far, cramp free unlike my first 50K. I was happy, looking at the last third of the race, and pleased with my time. Even with a pretty big slowdown, I could still crush my previous 50k time, though realistically, it shouldn't be hard as the first one was a disaster - with hydration and electrolyte problems alluded to previously.

Now, looking at a map of the course or an elevation profile on the website is one thing. Actually being out on the course, especially a "hill" at about mile 25, is another. I have come to believe that previous course knowledge is a good thing. Helps you plan your run a little better. Funny what a hill at 25 miles can teach you.

I think I just may have been pushing it a bit too hard, to try to finish in a time that I soon came to realize wasn't possible. Unfortunately, I realized that just after hitting the top of the hill and I just didn't have a whole lot left in the tank. I tried to eat a bit at the second to last aid station, but couldn't eat much then. I just refilled my water and hit the trail. I managed to run alright for a while, but definitely noticed a slow down, and by the time I hit the last aid station I just wanted to get to the finish line so I blew through that one again.

The last section has a nice little climb as well, and I found myself walking a good portion of it. Whenever the trail would level out, or go downhill I would run; whenever it was even hinting at an uphill, I was walking. Luckily, the finish area was all flat. And it was a good thing that I had decided to not stop at the last aid station. Coming in to the final stretch before the finish line, I could see the clock just about to turn over to 4:59. I managed to finish in less than 5 hours, and take more than an hour off my previous time! I was very happy, and not just because of my time...I could take a seat and rest. I hung out at the finish area for a few minutes, and then made my way to the car. As for the stretching the legs walking the 1/3 mile to the car after the race...I would have much rather the car been closer and did some standard stretching.

I changed clothes and rested for a bit before heading back to the finish area to wait for my wife. While waiting, I noticed a gentleman who had set up a chiropractor’s table, and was offering to make you a "well adjusted human being" for $1! That was a deal I couldn't pass up, as I had a bit of pain in my neck/upper back area. As I as watching him finish up with another person, I thought he looked familiar. When it was my turn I told him he looked a lot like Gordy Ainsleigh, to which he replied "That's because I am." I had a great back adjustment, and a nice conversation with the man who started the Western States 100 Mile Run. So far it's been a great day!

I meandered over to the finish area a little before the 7 hour mark. My wife always downplays her running, and had predicted an 8 hour-ish finish. Her work had been pretty busy lately, and she had not been feeling well with a sore throat, so she was a bit concerned about running up against the cut-off times. Well, I'm glad I decided to get there early, because she managed to run a fantastic 7:11 in her first ultramarathon, or for that matter, her first race distance longer than a half-marathon! Well, what a day indeed - we had both run well and had a great time. The race was well organized, the volunteers were magnificent, and the atmosphere was fun.

I try to take away a few lessons from each race, as there is always something to learn from each one. I know I could have done a better job hydrating and fueling during this race, even though I felt pretty good throughout, and managed to do a much better job than my first ultra and a number of my recent training runs. I also better understand the value of course experience and how it can help in planning a better strategy. Overall, Way Too Cool turned out to be a great day all the way around. I hope to run it again, and can highly recommend it to anyone thinking about trying to get in.

Good luck, and happy running!

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