Well, I got into Way Too Cool again this year, even though I had forgotten about it on registration day last December until about 8:15am. When Lori and I logged in, registration was over, but she persisted and got on the waiting list, which I did as well. Turns out we were both high up on the list, and within a week or so the RD had contacted us to say that we would get in. Hooray! Unfortunately, Lori would be sidelined this year due to injury, but she did sign up to help out and was going to make the trip with me. Which is always nice, cause it's great to have her there to share the experience and day - she makes it that much better a day!
As I mentioned in a previous post my spring race schedule got full pretty quick. As a result of this, I got to training pretty seriously in January and February. I felt that I had really improved my aerobic endurance quite a bit since I started doing low heart rate training last summer, and took the opportunity of a number of Fat Ass races early this year to test out my fitness and do a little "speed work." My results from those were encouraging, and I felt that a new 50K PR was very much a possibility.
Then the Way Too Cool participant guide arrived in my email box. Turns out the new race director measured the course and found it to be a little over a mile short of 50K! She reworked the course to add the extra distance and make it a true 50K, and I began to wonder if the new 50K PR would be attainable. As it would happen, I went for a run with a few guys that I am running on a team with for a year-long race series, and that run gave me some new confidence in the possibility of a PR.
So, dawn broke on race day...well, not really dawn. The alarm clock went off at 2:55am and Lori and I pried ourselves out of bed. We had decided to skip the motel stay in Auburn this year (damn crappy economy) and drive up the morning of, which meant leaving by 3:30am to get there by 6:30am since Lori was volunteering at runner check-in. I had put all my stuff together the night before, so all I had to do was take a quick shower, get my breakfast together, and put the dogs out back to be ready to go.
The nice thing about getting there early is good parking near the start/finish - last year I had to hobble about a quarter mile to the car after I finished so I could get some warm clothes on and some food. I checked in while Lori went to help out. I still had plenty of time, so I leisurely got ready, made a mandatory "pit stop," then headed out to do a little warm up walking and jogging. On my way out of the parking lot Will Gotthardt spotted my and rolled down the window of this truck to say hi. He introduced me to Caitlin Smith, a friend of his who recently started running ultras. She won her debut 50K a few weeks earlier at PCTR's Sequoia event in a blistering 4:22, coming in 2nd overall! Will had been coaching her leading up to her entry into ultras, and I'd say he did a pretty good job. She beat him at Sequoia, and at WTC too! She is gonna be quite a force to contend with in any race she enters, that is for sure.
Just before 8am I went to find Lori by the check-in tent to get one last "good luck" kiss, then made my way to the middle of the pack. Right at 8am we were off! My goal was to keep it easy for the first couple miles, which were on a road, and at the turn-off to dirt trail I would pick up the pace. I kept to my strategy, but noticed right off that my heart rate was running a little high. Most likely adrenaline from race day excitement. Other than that, I was feeling good and enjoying the scenery and watching other runners.
Looking around I couldn't believe that a couple people were running with no shirts! Now this is California, so our cold temps are not what they get in, say, Minnesota or North Dakota but still - 38 degrees is 38 degrees! That is cold enough to warrant wearing a damn shirt, if you ask me! I had two on, and my hands were freezing for the first couple miles.
I hit the first aid station (Hwy. 49) - 7 miles in - in one hour exactly and grabbed a pb&j square and kept on moving. I had brought two water bottles with me, and had only drank about half of one of them so far. Once across the highway, I pulled out an S-cap and took that right after eating the pb&j. I was feeling great and moving well. Not too many people to deal with on the trail, and most of the trail sections in this area were wide enough to easily pass when I did come across others.
The section between Hwy. 49 and the ALT1 aid station is a great section of trail. There is one good hill that I can remember, but the rest is really runnable, and it takes you along the American River which was really nice. I maintained a nice steady pace, and hit the ALT1 aid station, which pretty much marks the half-way point, in 2:13 - a little faster than I thought I would, but no complaints as I was feeling good. I got my water bottles filled, grabbed another pb&j square, a rice crispy treat and brownie square (I'm a sucker for the sweet treats at aid stations, it seems) and hit the trail.
The next section started out with an uphill right out of the aid station, so I walked and ate my food. Basically we were doing a loop which would bring us right back to the ALT aid station again, which was called...wait for it...ALT2! Makes sense, doesn't it? I topped out on the first hill by the time I was done with my food, and picked up the pace again. I soon fell in behind a couple of people who were running a nice, even pace and I stayed with them for awhile. I overheard them talking about a friend of theirs who was running with a broken toe, and he was ahead of us! Within about 15 minutes we caught up to their friend, and when I heard one of them use his full name - Steve Itano - I couldn't believe it - I knew him from when I used to work in a fly fishing store in San Jose! It also turns out that one of the people pacing me in the group is the owner of the Fleet Feet store in Vacaville - Carol Rewick. She was very nice and really set a good pace through this section.
After awhile, though, I pulled ahead and kept pushing my pace - still feeling strong. The steepest climb of the course lay ahead and when I got there I powered up, passing at least 5 people. The ALT2 aid station awaited at the top of Ball Bearing, and again I refilled my water bottles and grabbed some food and hit the trail. This next section I encountered numerous runners on their way to the ALT1 aid station and the half-way point. I like courses where you see other runners, as it's always motivating and I like to encourage others as it feels good to see their smiles and hear their words of encouragement too. The distance from ALT2 to the Goat Hill aid station wasn't too far, but I knew that Goat Hill would present some difficulty, as it's a tough hill coming fairly late in the race. I wasn't disappointed.
As I hit Goat Hill I started to feel a bit fatigued. I still managed to maintain a pretty good pace, even passing some people, but I was feeling it. My breathing was heavier, my heart rate higher and didn't recover as much in flatter sections. From here on out it was time to dig and push. When I hit the aid station I quickly refilled one of my bottles and grabbed a pb&j square and ate it on the run out of the aid station.
Last year between Goat Hill and Hwy. 49 I really died and had to walk a little bit, but this year, though feeling fatigued, I did my best to maintain my pace and ran the whole way. At one of the little stream crossings I almost had an accident, as I stepped up on a log mid-stride with my left foot and it slipped out a bit. I managed to recover with my right foot quickly enough, but felt a strain on the upper inside part of my left thigh. At first I thought I may have really pulled something, but within a couple minutes I felt fine and didn't really think about it the rest of the run.
Before long I could hear the music wafting up from the Hwy. 49 aid station and it was a wondrous sound to behold. The problem was, it seemed like forever to get to the aid station from the time you could hear the music! No matter though, as it made it that much better when I did get there. The traffic guards held traffic for me so I was able to blaze right through, and didn't stop at the aid station as I had plenty of water. The aid station folks were great and cheered me on with vigor, happily telling me "just 1.3 miles to the finish!" Hooray!!!
I hoped to run the entire section between Hwy. 49 and the finish this year, but had forgotten just how steep the uphill section was. And by that point in the race I was definitely fatigued. I couldn't do it, I had to walk the steeper section of uphill, though I was able to maintain a pretty good pace, eventually passing about 3 people on the uphill. Once it flattened out a bit I resumed running and once I saw the finish area I really picked it up. I passed a couple more people and crossed the finish line in 4:47:58. I was tired, but very happy, and Lori was there to see me finish! My time was my best 50K time by a little over 10 minutes, and I ran faster than last year by just over 11 minutes, and on a course that was 1.3 miles longer!
I was pretty tired, but cold too as the wind had picked up and really cut through wet running clothes. Lori and I made our way back to the car so I could change. While changing I overheard a couple other people talking and picked up the guy's name - Jesse. I asked if he was Jesse Barrigan, to which he said yes. I had just "met" Jesse through Facebook, and had seen him post quite a bit on the Runners World forums, particularly the trail and ultra forums. We chatted for a little while, sharing the events of our day. This was Jesse's first ultra, and he rocked it finishing in 4:54. And, he is signed up for the American River 50 mile in early April, so I'll probably see him there, too. I'm sure you'll do great there too, Jesse.
Unfortunately I was a bit out of it and forgot to introduce Lori and Jesse, something I've done before at races and I need to think about more consciously. I also managed to somehow wipe my heart rate data from my monitor, which I'm kinda pissed about because I really wanted to see that data, since I pushed the pace for the whole run. Oh well, there will be other runs to get data from.
AFter changing Lori and I headed back to the finish area and grabbed some food. We ran into Will and Caitlin again (and this time I remembered to introduce Lori and Caitlin - getting better already!) and we chatted for a couple minutes. A little while later Lori and I decided to head home after a long, fun day. My final stats:
Time - 4:47:58
Pace - 9:16/M
Overall Place - 91/459
Age Group - M 40-44
Age Group Position - 18/66
Hwy 49 Out (7.1 miles):
Rnk - 140
Time - 1:00:02
Pace - 8:27/M
Hwy 49 In (22.6 miles):
Rnk - 78
Time - 3:34:44
Pace - 9:28/M
Finish (1.3 miles):
Rnk - 69
Time - 13:11
Pace - 10:08/M
I'm pretty pleased with my times from section to section, especially when I compare them to others up in the front of the pack. Now I'm not as fast as them, obviously, but in terms of pace drop off, mine holds up comparatively to many of theirs.
The race was really run well, kudos to Julie Fingar the new RD, and all the great volunteers. They made getting in and out of the aid stations quick and easy, and provided a lot of encouragement along the way. Congrats to Leor Pantilat and Caitlin Smith, the winners, who both ran fabulous races and are very talented runners. We'll all be hearing a lot more about them in the coming days.