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

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