Saturday, March 16, 2013

Way Too Cool 50K 2013, Trail-Vana

Frogs are Way Too Cool!
Where do I begin!? How to approach the experience of being part of the 2013 Way Too Cool 50K, a legendary race, held in Cool CA, with 24 yrs of history. Perfection! Outstanding! Trail Heaven! Highly Addictive! all come to mind. Like running New York or Boston, my first time with WTC will hold a special memory, against which all others will be judged. Race Director Julie Fingar and her legions of volunteers put on a fantastic race, with every detail planned and executed spectacularly. Expectations Exceeded!!!

My excitement started after being selected by the WTC 2013 lottery, a big surprise!  Spent several months reading previous race report blogs and virtual course maps. The company I work for is based in San Jose and I travel there multiple times a year. The WTC race was to be tacked on before one such trip. A last minute change in plans meant I traveled from NJ to CA just for the race, and I felt like an elite runner.

Wanting to take it all in, I arrived at the start at 6:45. The sun was just coming up and not a cloud in the sky. Temps were in the low 40s (warm by NJ standards), heading to the 60s. Amazing weather for a run! The WTC weather committee out did themselves.

Cool sunrise. Crystal clear!
The cars were already backed up and I parked more than a 1/2 mile from the start. This year the race about 1000 runners were accepted, making it the biggest field yet.

Just a mile more, then park off the road.
Feeling like a vacationer at Disney World, I stuffed in all the prerace activities I could. Said hi to some Cool Characters, the mile 8 aid station cheerleaders Ape and Banana Man. Did a quick walk through the Ultra Village and talked to numerous locals about the course. I found Trail Runner Nation podcasters Don Freeman and Scott Warr by the starting line. Both were volunteering at the race. I proudly showed them my  PEK (Performance Enhancing Kokopelli). Don did an outstanding job starting the race and  being an announcer at the finish line. His smooth, familiar voice was going still going strong 8 hrs into the race.

Apeing around with Gimp Chimp and Big Banana
It takes a village to raise a trail runner.
TRN virtual voices Scott & Don
One of my main goals for the race, besides having a blast, was to reach the famed Goat Hill at mile 26, and still have functioning legs.  Wanted to be able to give GH my full respect.  Another hope was to figure out how to take pictures while running. My time goals were  loose, varying between 5:15 and 5:45, with a sub 5 being a spectacular effort. I decided to combine recommendations from Scott Dunlap (A Trail Runners Blog) and Gary Gellin, (2012 WTC winner). Scott suggested to run easy until the river (mi 11) and Gary runs with HR monitor targets. Sounds like a plan.
Just before the start I ran to the car to shed the jacket and back to the line to join the sea of trail trekkers. A good short warm up.

Are your ready for some Cool?
There wasn't much runner tension. Everyone seemed chilled, or should I say Cool. Soon enough Don was doing a countdown and we were off. The first mile or so is on an asphalt road, where cars lined both sided. It allowed us to thin the herd a bit, before hitting the a dirt road that soon narrowed into a beautiful single track of orange-brown dirt through some fields. The name of a neighboring city, Auburn, now made sense. This was some of the most amazing trail I have seen. Back in NJ, our trails have dirt, roots, rocks and sand. Nice, but nothing like this color. The pristine blue sky helped to highlight the dry auburn dirt.

To the trails we go
Picture perfect memories
The next few miles we settled into a single file, long row, at a easy pace, with few opportunities to pass. A creek crossing or two slowed the procession occasionally. Mile 2 - 8 was run on this type of trail, with easy, rolling hills and breathtaking scenery. Felt like we could run this forever. Mile 8 brought us back to the start and past the first aid station.

Hopping on the Trail Train
After another mile of scrumptious trail with open views, we entered the woods and started a two mile decent down to the Rt 49 crossing in a tight single track.The decent was continuous and it quite challenging not to pick up speed. I focused on not braking much and trying to prevent quad trashing. They had to be good for GH. Letting the hill pull me down worked well, until a stream crossing required some brakes. The pace was still casual and extremely enjoyable.

. . . Oh, down to the river we'd ride . . . (Bruce S)
Crossing Rt 49 and heading to the river offered some awesome views before coming upon Aid Station 2, Lower Quarry. There was lots of goodies to have, water for bottles and many smiling faces of the volunteers.

Wabbit twacks! . . Twain twacks! . . Wunner twacks!! (Elmer Fudd) 
AS2 volunteers decorated with smiles and color
The next 6 or so miles followed the American River with lots of easy ups and downs and great views. I enjoyed running all the up hills and and coasting the descents. Occasionally I looked at my HR, though I had stopped using it as a metric. The legs were still feeling good. Along the way, I had great conversations with many interesting folks. Fielded several of questions about my NJ Trail Series Mountain Madness 50K shirt. I quizzed them on the course and details about Goat Hill. Listening to many of the runners talk about the upcoming races in the area (Miwok 100K, American River 50M, etc) I started to become a bit jealous. These runners are spoiled! Having such a plethora of trail race choices, you don't know how good you have it.

Red-Visor-Runners say howdy.
The American River
Mile 18 the real hills started, with steep inclines. Between there and the ALT aid station at mile 21, thing became challenging. Capitulating to my trail-runner side, I started to walk the hills (still a somewhat foreign concept to my road-running back ground). Legs were working hard now. It was amazing to me is how many runners were willing to flash me a smile on the up hills (treat hills like old friends..). Came across Runner's Rambles blogger Aron and her friend Jessica, leading the charge up a hill. (Aron's WTC 2012 review was part of my race prep). So many other warm, genuine smiles told me I was in good company.

Amazing hills, with wonderful smiles from Jessica and Aron,

Mike's having too much fun,
Carol lights up the hill with her glowing smile

As the trail carried us towards the ALT aid station, the terrain changed often. Several creek crossing were accomplished and lots of single track rising through the mountain.

Made me fantasize about running WS 100 someday
Shallow creeks can still wet your shoes 
By the time I crested the hill into ALT AS, my legs were really tight and pace was slowing. It was about 3 hr 30 mins into the run. Recent experience has told me the 20 - 25 mi range is where my right IT band and hip start to get tired. Sure enough they were under protest. I stopped for awhile and ate a bunch of goodies at  table of feast, which included chicken noodle soup. Though I was not running for time, with 10 miles to go, it was obvious to me I would not break 5:30. (Spending too much time taking pics). Now Goat Hill became a slight concern.

Eat or run? Such difficult decisions!
Soup Lady says "Soup For You! Yes?"
After some eating and stretching and more eating, I decided to make my way towards the Goat. This section of trail between ALT and GH stations was mostly single track that oscillated up and down and around the high hills. It had a lulling effect and I fought off some tiredness as I soaked up the views. Several local runners helped me know when we were nearing Goat Hill.

Bob, trail connoisseur, gave the low down on the GH ups
Flowing single track from ALT to GH
My pace was averaging about 11 min/mi during these miles. My legs remained sore and became a bit heavy. Surprisingly my pace remained steady. Finally I came to the bottom of Goat Hill. I threw on a smile, said hello and started the hike. The grade was the steepest of the day. Running would not gain me much time over walking, (not that I could run it at this point) so I enjoyed the push up the curved track towards the peak. I probably annoyed some people by filming and taking pictures as we climbed. 

Towards the top, my calves started to cramp and changed to a side stepping movement to provide some relief. A few volunteers with signs had placed themselves a few hundred yards from the top. This provided a little boost knowing we were close. Before I knew it, I crested the hill and was greeted by some smiling volunteers. I had made it up Goat Hill!

GS starts not too threatening, 
then the rise gets steeper. Almost there . .
Goat Hill Ambassador of Welcome 
Reaching the AS, my legs were screaming. Started to eat and drink whatever I could get in my mouth. Spent sometime stretching. I probably passed about 10 minutes hanging out here, wondering if I would get to the finish OK.

Maybe it was the food and rest I took on, or perhaps it's that the trail was now mostly down hill. Whatever it be, I started to feel better several minutes after leaving GH AS. My legs didn't hurt so much and started to feel a tad bit better. I maintained a slow, steady pace. Soon the 2nd Rt 49 crossing appeared and that meant the final aid station. As with all the others, this was full of smiling volunteers looking to feed me and provide support for my needs. Blogger Gretchen was volunteering there and was slightly surprised when I thanked her for her 2012 WTC blog post.

Aloha and Thanks Hwy 49 AS volunteers.
I left the AS quickly and took on the last hill, which left only about a mile to go on nice easy open trail. About  a half mile out my smile broadened and I just felt great. I closed it out at a 5:40 time, which was great! Mission accomplished! Thoroughly enjoyed every minute of Way Too Cool. Absolutely worth the trek across the country!

Does finishing WTC make me Cool? (Doubtful)

One last thing on the to-d list; hanging out at the Patagonia Lounge and have a beer. They were tapping a local dark ale. Perfect ending to a perfect race!!!.

Auburn trails and dark brew. I could get used to this.
It was perfect conditions for the 2013 Way Too Cool 50. This was reinforced by Max King demolishing the course record with a 3:08:50 time. He was followed by Chris Vargo in 3:18:44 and Leor Pantilat in 3:21:51. All three below last years winning time. My new hero is 51 yr old women's winner Meghan Arbogast with a time of 4:06:45. So much for the age affects. Rory Bosio was close behind at 4:07:38 followed by Jennifer Pfeifer with 4:14:10.

Thank you to RD Julie Fingar for providing such an exceptional race. Special commendations to all the volunteers that helped make the Way Too Cool 50K a brilliant event and made each runner feel as though you were there just for them. Thank you for all the smiles and support.

Frog cupcakes are Way, Way Too Cool

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

On My Way Too Cool

The fat, wet snowflakes blustered without direction as they fell. I watched from the terminal window as the snow lazily deposited itself on the wings of the plane. Not much accumulation with temps slightly above freezing, just a thin layer starting to build.  My day started at 5am EST, waking to start my trip to the airport and eventually to California. A half inch of snow covered my car, which required clearing before heading off.

The Eastern Snowy Planes
I get to travel for my work a large amount. Flying has always been an excitement for me and, even now, I really enjoy the takeoffs and landings. It had been a long time, though, since I spent time looking out an airport window. As I watched the snow, I checked again the weather projection for Cool CA on my phone and smiled. Perfect conditions still on the horizon. The snow seemed to be heavier now.

The trail gods smiled upon me and I became one of only a few East Coasters fortunate to be selected by the Way Too Cool 50K 2013 lottery. Not sure if it was pure luck, or if there was some non-CA quota the gods had to meet. Whatever the contributing factors, the outcome has had me revved up for quite a while! Getting the chance to run this legendary race is quite a privilege!

Do You Know The Way Too Cool?
Since winning the WTC lottery, I had consumed any blog posts, podcasts and videos I could find about the race. I tried to learn as much about the course as can be gleamed from the virtual world.  Scott Dunlap’s post of the 2012 race, with all the wonderful pics, had me salivating to be there. I regularly run trails in NJ , yet they are short, not more than 10 miles. Nothing like the super abundance of unending, beautiful, single track that  California is blessed with.

Ahh, The Running Life!
Flight departure display didn't show any delays or cancellation. No emails or text from United indicating up to the minute schedule changes. Though the flight pushed back on time at 8:15am, the line for deicing the wings was a wait. At 9:33am we finally took off, without event or angst.
Landing in San Fran it was a different world, with no possible thoughts of snow.

The drive up to Auburn was under cloudless skies and helped to fortify the weather predictions for race day. (Excitement rising!) My destination, the Auburn Running Company, to pick up my race packet, get some extra swag, and learn the scoop of the course from the locals.  

ARC, Trail Running HQ
Several runners became perfect trail consultants and blissfully shared their knowledge. I introduced myself to Gary Gellin (2012 WTC winner), who had responded graciously to my emails about course questions. The WTC team was there to hand out the packets and  offer some additional WTC gear for sale. 

Get your numbers HERE!

The ARC employees were quite busy helping runners trying new shoes and restocking their trail gear. June, the cashier, recognized my east coast, NJ accent (what accent?) and admitted she was originally from NJ. We had a good talk about NJ and the Auburn area. She gave me some recommendations for dinner.  Thanks June.

Cool Swag Supervisors

After hanging around ARC for a long while, soaking up some trail karma from the experts, I decided to drive down to Cool and check out the start. The road out to Cool was a real treat!. My smile grew bigger as I maneuvered through the drive. It was an exciting, windy mountain road, with amazing views of the canyon and mountain around every serpentine curve. I wished my mini SUV was a Porsche that could take the curves at 60 mph, barely holding the road. (Go Speed Acer!)

When I got to the start, there was a bustle of activity building the WTC Village and setting up the start and finish. My pulse started to rise as I pulled past the fire house, thinking was I really here?  Was I dreaming, only to wake up to shoveling the snow?

There Snow Place Like Home
Yes! It was real and I could hardly wait until the morning to join 1000 runners taking on the famed Way Too Cool 50K course.

WTC finish is waiting for you!
Headed back to Auburn (holding back on the serpentines) to have some dinner. Enjoyed some great authentic Italian cuisine at Tres Pazzi. My waitress Kristi was enthusiastic to hear I was running the race. Her coworker was also running. By serendipity, I bumped into her after finishing the race, while she waited at the finish shoot, to cheer on her friend.

Mom, waitress and  trail running cheerleader
It was time to head to the hotel, lay out my race gear and running grub, go through the prep list and once again, check the weather predictions for tomorrow. This was going to be brilliant!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Febapple Frozen Fifty Lives Up To Its Name!

This past Saturday, Feb 23 2013, I had the pleasure of joining over 250 runners at The Febapple Frozen Fifty, a NJ Trail Series race at the South Mountain Reserve in South Orange NJ. This outstanding challenge of a trail run can be summed this year as Icy, Rocky, Rainy, Muddy Fun!

The Febapple offered choices of a 50 mile, 50 K, 20 and 10 mile races. The course is a 10 mile loop, pinched in the middle, forming two smaller loops of 4 and 6 miles. The start/finish, with aid station, was located in the middle. Race directors Rick and Jennifer McNulty do a great job of organizing these trail races, providing separate start times for each distance and constant logging of every runner's loop times. Their aid stations are always bountifully stocked with all kinds of goodies. All their trail events/races are well organized, with the emphasis on the fun, the trails and the running community.

RDs Jennifer and Rick
I was using Febapple as a training race for a 50K I am running in two weeks in California (Way Too Cool 50K). I signed up for the 20 miler and planned to throw in an extra 4 to 6 miles. Got there early to pick up my swag (an awesome fleece vest with embroidered Febapple logo) and watched the 50K start. Rick mentioned that the 6 mi loop was quite icy, so I decided to do the 4 mi loop as a warm up. With 50 minutes until the 20 mile start, I had plenty of time. The temps were in the upper 30s and there was a constant misty drizzle that created an eerie fog from the snow and ice.

50Kers on their way
I started off slow, trying to keep a low heart rate. Being a newbie to using a HR monitor, I am still tinkering with it and obtaining baseline data. Due to some remaining hurricane Sandy damage, the first mile of the 4 mi loop was on paved road, then entered the trail with a long decent on rocky terrain. This section of the trail was in good shape, with no ice or snow, just a bit slick from the rain. It continues down and around. At the lowest point it turned and started to climb on a rocky covered access path. As the climb continued some ice and snow started to appear.

My pace was still casual, when I came upon a stopped 50K runner, who seemed quite confused. "I think I'm going in circles. How do I get out of here?" I told him to just follow the ribbon markers. A few minutes after that encounter, I started realizing things looks familiar. When my watched beeped showing 4 miles I knew something was wrong. Sure enough I too had gone in a circle, missing a well marked turn off the access path. (Guess I was enjoying the hill to much.) A bit of panic immediately jolted my pace to a fast push, scrambling to make up time. In my hast, I tripped on a very technical single track section and took my first of two falls. Things were not going as planned. By the time I got back to the start, I was at 6 miles and 15 minutes late for the start of my race. Headed back out on the 4 mile loop to officially start my race. I didn't catch up with too many 20 milers on the trails the rest of the day.

I kept a steady pace and tried to focus on relaxing, suppressing that racing mentality. 'Its all about time on my feet today', I kept telling myself. The second time through the 4 mile loop went better, though the uphills on ice were tricky trying to find footing.
Slow go! Crunchy snow better than ice.
Staring the 6 mile loop, I immediately remembered Rick's warning about it being very icy. This loop had much more ice and hard crusted snow, covering a majority of the 6 miles. The climbs were not as steep, but with more of the slippery white stuff, much more challenging. The legs were getting a workout, with lots of lateral motion and braking.
Forgot my ice skates
Got spikes?
The far side of this loop had another aid station. PB&J squares and some chicken noodle soup hit the spot. Heading back to the starting point, there were lots more slow climbs and slippery descents.  One section of narrow trail had some downed trees that needed to be overcome. Slipping on the ice and trying to maintain my balance, I hit my forehead on a tree branch. Wham! Those colorful stars sure looked so nice over the snow.

The 6 mile loop held a hidden jewel tucked away near the end. The best site of the course, a semi frozen wonder. I had to stop and admire.
Nature's Art
A 100 yards later, another amazing site.
Ice Castle
By the time I finished up this loop, I was pushing 16 miles and soaked from rain, which had not let up. I changed my tops and socks and started out for another 10 miles. This time around, due to the constant rain and runners tread, any part of the trail not covered in ice or rocks was now a muddy trough. So much for keeping the new socks dry. Splashing through the muck was somehow primitive and exhilarating.
Slop Fest!!!
Just beyond my 20 mile point, my right leg IT band and quad started to really complain. All that slipping, breaking and sideways movement was taking its payment. I tried to maintain an even pace, when not running on the ice, but was definitely slowing down. Some of the hill I started to walk, especially where slippery. Thought it best not to push it and hurt myself. This was a training run, after all.

I finished the day with 25 well fought miles and a total running time of 4:42, with an elevation gain/loss of 2800 ft (gotta love the GPS watch). Right on target for my last long training run before a 50K in 2 weeks.

The Febapple certainly lived up to the 'Frozen' part of its name sake. As with all the NJ Trail Series races, it was a great mix of challenging hills, technical single track, varying terrain conditions and beautiful displays of nature. Quite an enjoyable run! In addition to the swag, top 3 winners of each race were awarded apple-istic keepsakes. Thanks to all the great volunteers, and to Jennifer and Rick for an outstanding job putting on another successful Febapple Frozen Fifty.
Smiling volunteers dished out the goodies
Great swag!
Rick's got you covered.