Way Too Cool 50K is a race with a lot of local popularity as well as a name among ultra elites. It’s a trail race which begins in Cool, CA and winds through the many splendiferous hills and valleys surrounding highway 49 and the American River, sharing many trails with the Western States 100 and finishing back in Cool. There are so many people who want to run it each year that there is a lottery to get in. DW put us both in for the lottery and although I made it in, she unfortunately did not.
DW having other plans for the day, she dropped me off at some friends’ home and I rode in with them. The only interesting thing about this is that it was at 4:30am and they were helping out the race director by managing different parts of race setup and organization. We got out there by about 5:30 and were among the first to show. I’d never seen a trail race so well-organized and elaborate! There was a huge tent for registration (and food and free massages after the race), a “runner’s lounge”, people whipping up gallons of scrambled eggs (for volunteers), coffee, giant inflatable frogs, you name it!
After a bit of meandering and checking things out I came to a firm decision that I had to do something to keep warm, so I helped set up. I really didn’t have anything better to do until 8:00, and they could use another pair of hands, especially ones that know how to tie knots and anchor guy ropes for arches. So I got blood moving through my hands by rolling out the start/finish arch, putting up signs, moving cinder blocks, propping up a 8’ grinning frog, downing coffee and brownies, and throwing a few strides in to loosen up the legs a bit.
John Wayne showed up about the time we were pushing up the 20’ CLIF BAR arch, but I had my hands full, so I hollered a “nice shoes” at him, pointing out our identical footwear. Later I found out we almost wore the same thing from head to toe (go $4 Target clearance tech shirts). After tying a few knots I hoped others could untie later, I broke off from set up and acted like a proper pre-race runner and John and I greeted each other with big smiles.
I saw countless familiar faces and realized that this area’s ultra scene is really like an extended family. There are probably about two hundred people who you can count on to be out there on any given race day. I was excited but a bit nervous at once; this would be my first trail race without DW, and I wasn’t sure how I’d pass the next 6+ hrs (I thought JW would dust me for sure!)
The race began and we moved with the crowd, trying to warm up a bit. JW and I both planned to keep it conservative for the first 20, then reassess based on how we felt. Pretty early we came up to the first stre@m crossing, and looking at the line, John gave a devlish grin and said, “I’m going through.” We dashed around the crowd and splashed through the ankle-deep water, jumping ahead about 15 spots. Man, it was cold… and felt great! (I tried this later, misjudged the depth, and soaked myself up to my hips!) For the first 11 miles or so John and I chatted nonstop, covering everything from race schedules to webcasts to inner conflicts of comic book characters. It was great! That guy is a class act and a hell of a runner. It was a really great experience to run with him for a couple hours.
At around mile 11 he experience some intense pain in his arches and told me to go on. I really didn’t want to but he’d just discussed his fear of slowing anyone else down and insisted. I trotted along, worrying about his feet and thinking that I probably should’ve left him some S-caps (he forgot his). Along a long downhill I met up with the woman who’d given me a ride when Mt Diablo crushed my ability to move a few months ago. She asked how my 50M went and how my training was going. That is why I love the ultra community; I met her for 20 minutes several months ago and she remembered everything we’d talked about! She’s training for WS100 and Javelina Jundred.
I was cruising along in a pretty decent mood, but still wondered how John was doing. Every once in a while I’d glance back, and what did I see at mile 15? John powering up the hill behind me, beaming and looking strong! I was so happy! He caught up and told me he felt better running the ups, so I knew he’d be running the rest of the race ahead of me. I was extremely glad to see a comeback, and John is so cheerful you can’t help but root for the guy! I felt happy and refreshed as he blazed down the next hill and sped out of view.
I spent the next 10 miles soaking in the lush woods and talking to interesting people. One guy I had seen at a 25M race wearing a tutu, our 50M wearing pink leggings, and right in front of me sporting a long bright red evening gown! He’s one of the regular WS100 trail goats of the region, and usually runs with his wife. We got to talking and I asked if I could snap a pic of his “elegant presence” out there. He replied, “Only… if you don’t publish it.”
I thought about it and said, “That’s really creepy, I’d only be taking a pic of you in a dress for my own private enjoyment! Nevermind, dude.” We laughed and he teased me a bit about it.
These friends were a great surprise! At the top of a long uphill, they waited with cookies and cowbell!
Goat Hill was the toughest hill of the day, a long stretch straight up a mountain… at mile 26. All you can do is bear down and burn those quads. Unfortunately, they had a photographer set up at the top to catch everyone looking like hell, lol.
A guy doused me with cold water at the top of Goat Hill!
After Goat Hill I knew it was mostly downhill and technical terrain (my favorite), so I was free to empty the tank over the next 5 miles! I had a great time letting gravity do the work and hopping around like a billy goat. I stopped a few times to hand out S-caps and peppermint to those stopped by nausea and cramping, and was lucky to be able to help a poor woman who’d run out of water by filling her bottle out of my pack. It was around here that I really missed having DW there to share it with, but I was having fun bounding around, sometimes dipping to 7:30 pace.
Everything the previous week’s road marathon had hurt, this trail race fixed. By the end my legs were feeling strong and bulletproof. I was glad to see John ½ mi from the finish, cheering me in. I actually ended up running the last part with a friend of John’s (they’d run their first ultra together). I turned the last corner, saw the finish arch, and took off. The next ten seconds held several high fives, some cheers from friends, the amazing sight of DW’s smiling face, and a leap across the finish line!
Finish time – 6:42:26, a 53min PR for this guy!
Here’s a link to the finish video. The clock reads 6:43:xx when I enter the frame in blue…
This race was very enjoyable for me. It would have been better with my better half tearing it up next to me, but it was pretty awesome anyway. I’m incredibly grateful to be able to enjoy doing this kind of thing; I know many aren’t so lucky and that it’s something to be appreciated. I had fun, felt good, and ran the last 1/3 faster than the first 2/3. This was the first race wherein I can honestly say I had no dark times, no slogging drudgery to wait out, which is surprising given the 6,100′ of climbing in WTC. I hope I can keep up the trend in this weekend’s 50K. A bunch of us are going to the Marin Headlands by San Francisco to tackle 6,600’ of elevation gain over 31 miles of scenic views of San Fran and the sea!
Have fun and stay ambitious, my friends! Good luck to everyone racing this weekend and good times to everyone else!