Wednesday, March 13, 2013

My journey to and through the Way Too Cool 50k

Way Too Cool 50k 2013
 The Way Too Cool 50k was held on March 9 in Auburn, CA, "The Endurance Capital of the World". To get into this very popular race you need to register for the lottery in December and within a few weeks they draw the names and if chosen your credit card will be charged and you're in. Apparently this race is so popular that the current race director, Julie Fingar, had to implement the lottery system because the race was selling out within minutes of opening the registration. I signed up to run the Napa Valley Marathon earlier in the year and when this came around I threw my hat in the ring figuring I wouldn't get chosen anyway. Well I did get chosen and my excitement to be running with some of the sports best quickly subsided when I remembered that Napa was a week prior! I flip flopped back & forth on which one to train for? Which one to race for a PR and which one to "just enjoy the atmosphere"?



 I'm not excited about logging huge miles on roads but everyone knows Napa is good choice around here for a fast time. Most others are too curvy & hilly to post a PR. When analyzing the WTC 50K I see that it has less elevation gain than my PR 50k and the average times seem to be faster than usual so it looked like a possible PR course too. I decided the NVM was the sure bet for a PR because my only other road marathon was San Francisco and ANY course is faster than that beast. I choose Napa and started pounding asphalt miles to prep the legs. I ran a pretty good race although I could have fueled a little better and could have slowed my first half pace a bit to stay stronger at the finish but overall I crushed my 4:12 PR with a 3:46. That's almost exactly 1 min per mile faster!!!

 I came off that race really happy about the results but my legs were shot so I was terrified of the upcoming ultra. The NVM was on a Sunday and WTC was Saturday. I did a 2 mile jog on Monday just to get the blood pumping through my legs and maybe speed the recovery I needed. Tuesday I did the Mid Peninsula Runners group run and honestly that got a little out of hand. Jesse the manager of The Dethrone Base Camp in Burlingame lit out at a fast paced and then challenged us to some burpees, box jumps and push ups along the way. We all had a really good time pushing it but at the end of the day I might have gone a bit overboard here. The next day a cold set in on me and by Thursday I was basically laid out. Friday wasn't much better but when Mary got off work we headed up to Auburn in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I figured the race was paid for and so was the hotel. The least we could do was drive up and if nothing else watch the race. If I felt up to it I would run the first 8 mile loop and re-evaluate after that.

 The alarm went off at 6 am and we were on our way 45 minutes later. I took an Alka Seltzer cold & flu tablet shortly after waking up and downed a McDonald's oatmeal on the way there. We arrived at 7:20 and waited in a long line to get a parking spot about a half mile from the start. We walked the half mile, signed the waiver and picked up my race bib and had just a few spare moments before the 2nd and final wave (luckily my wave) went out.

 The race started at 8:10 and I took up residence in the mid pack. The 8 mile loop basically dips down for 4 miles and climbs back out for 4 more to bring you back to where you started. I ran in the 10 minute pace pack for the first two miles until the trail turned sharply downhill. I let my legs go and flew down the hill. I must have hit 6 minute pace and passed 50 people within minutes. I was going so fast that when the trail bottomed out at the river and you had to make a hard right to cross the river I crashed into the ever growing group of people waiting to tip toe through the shallowest part of the river. I hit that river and stomped through shin deep water in 2 giant leaps. I exploded onto the other side and finally reigned in all that downhill momentum. I learned right then that my legs were gonna be good on the downhills today. That must be the benefit of 2 days with no miles underfoot. I started in on Shot Bloks and Cytomax in these first few miles. The plan was to eat & drink early & often. Literally try to empty the litre of water I carried between my hand held and my waist pack between each aid station. I carried a pack of sports beans, a GU, a shot blok and a cliff shot. The plan is to eat one between each aid station and then eat more at the aid stations. I tried to keep the pace slow & easy. Anything between 11 or 12 minute would be good. The downhills came easy to me and the rest of the time I was running 10:45 so the average was 10 minute pace. Faster than I wanted but it felt really easy. The first 8 miles flew by quickly. I didn't find the ups or downs to be too dramatic in this first loop. The river crossings soaked my feet. Drymax socks were a wise choice.

I came into the start area and handed my bottles to the volunteer for filling. I found my wife a few feet away and told her I needed to switch socks. I grabbed the double layer wright socks and began the swapping while eating a MetRx bar I had in the backpack. I really wanted to switch shoes too but I was afraid the D Tag would somehow be screwed up. Once I got the socks swapped and my shoes laced up I popped a salt cap and was off and running. This was one of the longest aid station stops I have ever had. I was stopped for probably 5 minutes while normally it would be maybe 1 or 2 minutes. I felt great after the first 8 and there was no question I was going out for the 23 mile loop. I don't know where that cold I had the days before went but I was feeling strong and healthy. I kept having good legs on the downhills and tried to go slow on the flats. The course dives down for roughly 3 miles where you hit the next aid station. I sampled the coke and salt dipped potatoes while refilling the bottles. I cruised along next to the American River blasting through the rolling hills. These miles flew by almost as easily as the first 8 mile loop did. I think 1 or 2 of the hills were notable but for the most part this entire stretch is very runnable. Around 16 miles you hit the 3rd aid station. This marks the start of the climb out of the canyon. Its a long slow climb but still mostly
runnable.
 By looking at the elevation profile you can see the climb out of the canyon and it really looks much tougher than it was. The climb isn't steep so your pace doesn't suffer that much but it does seem to go on and on so that by the end of the climb your totally sick of it. The hardest part of the run came around mile 26 with a monster climb called Goat Hill. I have read others blogs where they claim to have run up this hill but I can tell you that nobody I saw even came close to running this. Everyone walked and some were stopping every so often to take a breath and muster some strength. The aid station is at the top of the hill and it is a welcome relief to a weary climber. A little over 3 miles to the next aid station and a total of 5 miles to the finish. Letting that sink in at the aid station got me really excited for the race to be over.
I flew down the hill out of this aid station wanting to get to the next aid station as fast as possible. Not because I planned to stop again but because the finish is only a mile and a half past that aid station. As the miles went by my pace started dropping dramatically. I was now averaging over 11 minutes per mile and getting slower. I was ecstatic to see that last aid station and the crowd that had gathered around it. I blew by as planned and started playing mental countdown games with myself as a means of distraction. I thought a mile & a half is going to be 15 minutes which is about 5 average song lengths so I began counting songs. I got to 2 and lost count going into the 3rd song. I struggled to put out any kind of speed all the way to the last quarter mile. That's where I heard a loud man yelling at the runners around him to "pick up the pace!!" Lets have a strong finish" "Don't let this old man pass you!". The runner next to me was struggling just as much as I was and said with hushed breath "Somebody tell that guy to shut the hell up."  When he came up beside me he yelled something about a "final push to the end" and I looked at him and said with icy coldness "your words are an inspiration" but my eyes said "Piss off man". He got a few strides ahead of me and yelled some other obnoxious encouragement and I snapped. I took off at a dead sprint. I second earlier I could barely lift my feet and the next moment I was a scalded cat flying at 6 minute pace over the last 100 yards. My burst put a monster gap between me and those that were around me but the speed flagged about 50 yds into the burst. I slowed back to a snails pace and crossed the finish line in 6:03:43. A new PR by 1 hour and 37 minutes!!! An unexplained miracle had just been pulled off in my mind. From sick as a dog to a monster PR all from fueling a lot and being super conservative all day.

 I was absolutely spent when I crossed the finish line and even a little "out of it" when a lady came by and spoke to me. I really couldn't think or focus on what she was saying to me and I felt a little loopy. I looked around for Mary and started refueling with a cup of soup I grabbed and a bottle of cold water. I found her and told her we needed to go. I couldn't hang around. I had no interest in the frog cupcakes or the pizza slice I just needed to be clean and prone and both of those could happen back at the hotel. This was a really great race on a beautiful course that was well organized and a ton of fun to run. If you ever get the chance to run these trails I highly recommend it.

See you in the woods,
Jonathan