On March 7, 2015, I ran the most difficult race I have ever done. The Way Too Cool 50k. I signed up for this race for several reasons. It is local to me, it is a month before American River 50 (miler) and would be good training, and it is a race called Way Too Cool. Actually in the town of Cool, CA. I also had a lot of friends running the race, and even a co-worker.
This would be my first trail race over a half marathon distance. I did the Drag N’ Fly half marathon 18 months ago, which was killer, but this was 31 miles, not 13.5. I wasn’t all that nervous about it, until I looked at the elevation chart. 4850 feet climbing and 4850 feet descending. I was looking forward to the descents, but the hills looked really scary. I typically run on a fairly flat parkway, and don’t get that much hill training. Even when I go up to my parents’ ranch, I can get a couple of hills, but nothing like 800 feet in 1.5 miles, or 400 feet in 0.3 miles. I figured it would be tough, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I was shooting for a 5:30 time, about an hour slower than my road 50k time, but I was really hoping for sub 5 hours.
The day before the race, I started getting sick. I was actually surprised that it took that long. The Dashing Wife and Dashing Son had been sick most of the week. Nothing major, but a lot of snot and congestion. I started heavy doses of zinc, vitamin C, and whatever else I could think of to help. I also bought some 12 hour Sudafed for race day.
Endorphin Dude came over and crashed on my couch that night and we drove to the race start early the next morning. We thought that getting there an hour early would be enough, and boy were we wrong. We had to park 0.75 miles away from the start, which isn’t that bad. It was a nice warm up walk. Well, it would have been if I hadn’t been with Tony. We couldn’t go more than five cars before somebody saw him and he had to get his picture taken. Luckily, I actually knew some of these people too.
The porta potty line was super long, and the first wave took off while I was in line. Then we lined up for Wave 2. It was brisk at the start line, but I knew it was going to warm up. I purposely didn’t bring anything extra, because I was going to get warm as soon as I started running. Also, I was wearing my Buffalo Chips race singlet over my normal Dashing Dad shirt. I hadn’t gotten a short sleeve Buffalo shirt yet, and with my hydration pack, I didn’t want the chafing.
I purposely lined up towards the middle of the pack. I didn’t want to shoot out of the gate too fast. My morning runs are nearly always sub-8 minute miles, a pace I can maintain for 20 miles on flat ground. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do on rolling trails. I needed to take it easy. I ran for the first mile or so downhill at a comfortable pace, and took a walk break at the bottom of the hill. The first 8 miles were on the Olmstead Loop, which was gorgeous. Rolling hills, nice single track trail, pretty flowers, nice views, just great. There was poison oak all over the place, so I had to shoot the Dashing Wife a text to find the Technu, so I could clean up afterwards.
I took it easy as best I could. I walked up most of the hills, but ran a little bit in 15 and 30 second bursts. There were a couple of stream crossings, but only one where we had to actually get our feet wet. On that crossing, I saw where everybody had been going based on the muddy water, so I decided to take the rocky (submerged) path because I could see what I was going to step on. I am also comfortable walking on rocks from my time river hiking.
I also found out that my Hoka One One Stinson Trail shoes don’t drain water very well. My feet were definitely heavy and sloshy for a good half mile after that crossing. But the cold water felt really good. I did the first 8 miles (which took us back to the start) in a little over 75 minutes. At the first aid station, I put another liter in my pack, grabbed some food and started off to the next aid station 3.1 miles away, and downhill.
I flew through this section of the course. I followed this guy down the hill, and we were moving pretty quickly (I just checked my splits, and we ran two miles in 16:12, my fastest two miles of the whole race). We were passing people like crazy. Both of us had sure footing, and the path was wide enough to allow us to pass folks safely. There were a lot of sections where that wasn’t possible, and you had to hop off the trail to let folks pass.
Mile 11 to 16 were on a fire trail road along the American River. We also passed an abandoned mine, which the archaeologist in me really enjoyed. I like seeing history when I run. I filled my hydration pack at the half-way point, which I am glad I did. It was only 5 or so miles to the next aid station, but they were a hard 5 miles. I was doing really well at the half way point. I hit the halfway point around 2:27, so I was pretty happy that I had banked some time.
Right around mile 17 or so is where the big hill started. This was the 800 foot climb in 1.5 miles. Everybody was trudging up the hill. There was no overtaking or passing up this hill. Nobody stopped. They just climbed this hill. By the end, I was using my hands to push my knees down to get up the hill. At the top of the hill, it leveled out, but all of my energy was gone. Just gone. I walked for about a quarter mile and decided I needed to get a move on.
I started doing 100 meter run/walk. Run for 100 meters, walk for 100 meters. And yes, I was doing meters. 0.06 miles on my garmin is 100 meters. 0.10 miles was too far to run at that point. Then I bumped the running up to 200 meters. I got my legs back and eventually was running 300 meters at a stretch. I was getting passed by people like crazy at this point. I obviously pushed myself too hard early on. It was also at this point that I realized my 5:30 goal had gone out the window. The 5 hour goal was gone about 20 meters up that big hill. I decided to try for 5:45.
I was running out of water, energy, and just about everything else as I approached mile 21. I told myself that once I hit 21.2, I would reward myself with the fruit cup of pineapple I brought with me. FYI, pineapple is the best thing ever during a long run. I thought only having single digits left was a good time to reward myself. Luckily, an aid station popped up. This aid station was the best thing ever. I am glad they weren’t charging people because I would have handed over my credit card with no qualms what so ever.
I downed some electrolyte, a couple cups of Coke (no Dr. Pepper), some water, oranges, and soup. Grandma Campbell’s secret recipe, or so I was told. I made loud orgasm-type noises as I enjoyed the soup, took another shot of Coke-a-Cola, did the manliest burp ever, got out my pineapple, refilled my water pouch, and took off running again. I was a new person at this point. At least for a little while. I still didn’t have any legs in me. I was running 400 meters at a stretch now.
Around mile 23, I managed to latch on the back of a group of about 10 people and I ran nearly two full kilometers non-stop. It was a 10 minute pace, but it was running. One of the best and worst things about trail running is that on single track, there are times where you can only run as fast as the person that is 10 people ahead of you. I didn’t care at this point. It just felt good to be running. I also noticed that 5:45 was going to be hard to achieve, so I readjusted to 6 hours.
I wasn’t all that upset about not being able to hit my time goal. I was upset that I had underestimated the course and done more hill training. As long as I finished, I would be happy. I really didn’t want to walk the rest of the course, but I would if I had to. I did a bit more run/walk until mile 26. I walked up the hills and ran down them as best I could.
Then came Goat Hill.
Pretty much right when you have completed a marathon, they throw this 400 foot near vertical wall at you. 400 feet of climbing in under a quarter mile. I thought the last hill was bad, this was horrible. I was pushing on my knees most of the way up, and trying to pull my way up trees. I was thinking that I should wear knee pads next time and crawl up. I will talk about “next time” later on. Luckily, at the top of Goat Hill was an aid station. Plus there was a guy with a megaphone cheering everybody on partway up the hill. I got some food, found that I still had plenty of water (which meant I probably wasn’t drinking enough), took a shot of soda, and had some kids sponge water over the top of my head. That felt really good.
It was at this point that things started looking up. That aid station said it was at mile 26.4. My Garmin said I was at 25.8. I had somehow lost a kilometer, which I was perfectly okay with. I figure with the switch backs, canyon walls, and trees, my GPS wasn’t getting as good of a signal that it gets on a long open straight away. The way I saw it, with my 11:30 average pace, my estimated finish time was suddenly 7 minutes closer. Before that, I figured that six hours was going to be tough to beat. So, when I hit mile 26 on the Garmin at 4:56, I figured I could make the next 5.2 miles in 1:04 pretty easy.
The next few miles were downhill, so running was a going well. At least for the next mile or so. Then more hills appeared. I was walking those. I eventually got to the last aid station which was 1.4 miles to the finish. Again, I got another surprise, my Garmin was at 28.9 miles, so I had managed to lose even more distance. I hit the aid station with plenty water in my pack, so I grabbed some electrolyte and a shot of coke and kept on going. Even though the aid station was at 1.4 miles, I turned the next corner and there was the 1 mile left sign. I was excited because I was at 5:34. I figured if I could push myself the last mile, I could get in under 5:45.
That was, of course, before I turned the next corner. There was, yet another @%@%# @%#@% $@%# hill. It was another trudge fest. This course was just mean. I made it to the top of the hill, and tried my best to get moving again. Luckily, the course was flat after that. I went back to run walking. Once I hit the quarter mile left, I was going to push it to the finish. 5:45 wasn’t going to happen, but 5:48 was a definitely possibility.
I saw the finish line and just gave it all I got, I crossed the finish line before 5:48, so I was happy. I hurt, but I was happy. They handed me some water, a medal, and some other stuff. I also got to see the Dashing Family. After some congratulatory hugs, I hobbled over to the food tent. I also asked the Dashing Wife to go get my car. I just ran 31.2 miles, I really didn’t want to go another 0.7 to get the car. Since she is so awesome, she went and got the car. I ate my food while I waited, and then changed into some less sweaty and nasty clothes.
I looked at the results and found out that both the male and female finishers broke course records. The male winner finished in under 3:05. That is a fast marathon, and he did a trail 50k. He averaged sub 6 minute miles. Absolutely amazing. The first female came in around 3:40ish. We hung out at the finish line and waited for Endorphin Dude to finish. He finished at 8:15 ish, which is pretty awesome considering he ran a 100 miler, a 50 miler, and 3 other 50ks in the last 36 days. Yes, he has ran more miles in races over that 5 week period than I have ran in the last 3 months. He is an animal. We got him his food and drove back to my house (after stopping 385 more times to say hi to his fans). We had some dinner, I kicked him to the curb and fell asleep.
Overall, I enjoyed 29 miles of the race. The hills at the 17, 26, and 30 mile mark were just mean. I really didn’t like them. I don’t think I want to do anything like that again. I enjoyed running on trails, but I just don’t think I am cut out to be an ultra runner. It isn’t about my time. My time was good. I just don’t know if I really enjoyed my time out there. But AR50 is coming up in less than four weeks. I am running that race instead of just pacing. This race has far less elevation change, so it may make all the difference in the world.