The lottery gods managed to get me into the Way Too Cool 50K this year and I had been looking forward to running this course. When they say 98%, most single track, they mean it! With a total elevation gain (and loss) of ~4,800ft, the Way Too Cool course is spectacularly scenic and fairly shaded. Even the weather let up just enough to have a sunny warm day for a great run. Though, this was a run that I have mixed feelings about. There were some things that went really well and others not so much.
Way Too Cool 50K
After a four hour drive on Friday, checked into Holiday Inn at Auburn and the place was humming with fellow runners. I didn’t know this going in, but the Way Too Cool is a huge production for a trail run, with over 1,000 runners toeing the starting line in two waves. I was on the first wave that left at 8am. When I checked in to get my bib, the volunteer asked me to ‘have fun and get dirty out there’. Should’ve known right then it was going to get muddy. Saw Gerad Dean, RD for the Headwaters Ultra 50K who would finish 12th overall at an impressive 3:54!
After a couple of miles of asphalt, the single track started and immediately there was a huge congestion. Should’ve gotten ahead early on, but I was pretty much stuck for the next 6 miles back to the starting line before I could maneuver my way out. And I wiped out twice on the mud and I was seriously feeling handicapped with my Luna Sandals as I had absolute no traction in these sections. And this course was full of muddy sections. Maybe I should’ve run with my Vibram KSO?
Tim Thompson, who I met at the Fort Ord 50K caught up with me, as I approached the Lower Quarry aid station at mile 11.1. The next 5.6 miles to Maine Bar was a nice rolling run along the American River and it was nice not to be slipping and falling for a change. My Garmin Forerunner 220 was definitely flaky during this run. Maybe it was the tree cover, but it kept losing and acquiring it’s signal and beeping fairly non-stop. Made it to the aid station (about half way) in 2:20 and I was feeling pretty strong. The climb from here up to Auburn Lake Trails aid station wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but it was starting to get pretty frustrating to navigate the muddy sections. Each time, I would slow down to a crawling pace, cherry picking my way on the grass next to the trails while other runners would just splash right through it.
After a bio break and biting into my Onigiri, I got second wind and kept pushing. The climb up to Goat Hill, especially approaching the top, was painful, not because it was too steep or I was too tired. With water flowing down on the single track and no place else to step on, I was slipping and sliding my way up. The volunteers were amazing and cheering everybody on. One more Onigiri and the descent began again for about 3 miles. I tried not to walk the flats and to prevent blisters, this time I the top of my foot taped up with Leukotape which held surprisingly well. When I got to the last aid station, I noticed on a volunteer’s watch I had about 14 minutes to cover the last 1.4 miles for a sub-6:00 finish. Of course there had to be more muddy climbs (do you see a theme here?). Ran up the last hill and sprinted towards the finish, crossing at 6:04. Somewhat disappointing and I really can see a 5:30ish finish on this course. But many things went right. I paced myself early on, didn’t burn up by mile 20, ran most of the flats and downhills even during the later half of the race, ate and hydrated well, didn’t get blisters, etc. Live and learn I guess. On the flip side, creek crossings are oh-so-delicious with Luna Sandals!
My only other complaint is that I felt that there very few stretches where I could see the whole trail ahead of me. Given the number of people on this course, I was staring down at somebody’s shoes, most of the time, watching cautiously for roots and stumps that appear in short notice. I suppose the way out of this is to learn to run faster and get up front early on.
Were you at the Way Too Cool 50K? How did you do?
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