Way Too Cool 50K 3-5-16

Cramps on Cramps on Cramps…
The start of the 2016 WTC 50k. I’m somewhere around 5 rows back on the left side.
All ultra’s are tough! Between juggling all the variables that go into racing (nutrition, hydration, weather, pacing, cumulative fatigue, proper lubing, etc.), most people find comfort in trusting their training.
Working with Thomas throughout the training block for CIM and now into preparing for Western States has been great. With no previous formal training, all of these quality workouts have been new to me. Although I’m still incredibly slow compared to the guys winning high profile races like North Face 50, Lake Sonoma and even Way Too Cool, I’m starting to feel the benefits of training fast. Also, having an actual daily plan makes it much easier to lace up for 5:00am runs.
The four weeks leading up to Way Too Cool were the four largest volume weeks I’ve ever completed (90, 90, 100 and 100), and all had significant amounts of vertical gain. Let alone worrying about WTC, I was nervous how my body would hold up from increasing the volume of training. With no taper and the 100 mile week before WTC having an 8 mile tempo and 3×2 mile workout, there was some definite doubt as to if this was the right training plan for me.
Taking a half day on Friday, I made my way up to the Auburn Running Company to pick up my WTC packet early, so I could sleep in and take my time on race day. Completely forgetting about traffic… that’s right, there is actually traffic outside of San Luis Obispo, I was forced to race the clock barely making it in before the 6pm cutoff. Aside from the usual Friday evening traffic, the pouring rain probably didn’t help much either.
After a quick race packet pickup and dinner at the Royal Thai restaurant in Auburn (the spicy eggplant was incredible), I made my way back to Roseville to crash for the evening.
Staying so close to Cool with a race start at 8:00am, I was able to sleep in until 6… damn, I can get used to this! After a quick shower, breakfast and coffee to go (fully caffeinated on race days), I made my way out to the Cool Fire Station to find a parking spot.
Making the same mistake I made in 2014, I pulled into Cool around 7:00am, and was forced to park just shy of the 1 mile mark. Next time I definitely need to find a better spot.
WTC would be the first ultra that I’ve raced more than once. With perfect weather conditions and a solid race in 2014, I was able to run a 4:17. Being fitter than I was two years ago, I felt confident in running a faster time, but the conditions wouldn’t be so ideal in 2016.
With an hour to go before race time, I went through my usual pre-race routine:
– Top off the water bottle… check
– Lube up everywhere… check
– Pick out the right pair of mud shoes… Icebugs… check
– Make sure my bib is fastened and actually wear a shirt this race… check
– Pick out a pair of shorts to race in… North Face Better than Naked… check
– Put a couple of gels into my shorts… check
– Have I ever raced in these shorts holding gels before??? Oh well… check
– Salt tabs… Oops!
I made my way up to the starting area about 20 minutes before race time to warm up and make one last potty stop. With over 900 runners racing this year, Julie Fingar really has this race dialed in, with frequent and well staffed aid stations along with plenty of toilets situated right next to the start. I sneaked up to the 10th or so row of runners a couple minutes before go time. With a quick countdown, we were off!
Passing my car and the first mile in 6:30 (The first 1.5 miles of WTC are on a paved road), I was sitting somewhere in 50-75th place. There were a ton of speedsters smoking the road, but I knew we’d be hitting single track soon and didn’t want to get stuck behind the slow train. Moving up the pack a few positions before hitting the trail, thankfully the group in front wasn’t afraid to move.
The next several miles were relatively fast, considering the slop we were forced to make our way through. There’s a waist high creek/river crossing in the first few miles, and then multiple water crossings scattered throughout the next few miles. Thankfully it wasn’t raining on us at the start, but the overnight downpour had left its mark with puddles, slippery mud and some heavy creekflow. I settled into a pack behind Brian Purcell, one of the guys I ran against in Point Pinole during a 6hr timed race in 2014. With 800ish runners behind us and a lot of people that wanted to move up, there was a significant amount of jockeying throughout the first few miles.
After moving past Brian, I settled in behind Mark Richtman, a ridiculously fast 60 year old that recently set an age group 50k record, a bulky dude with a HUGE back tattoo rocking headphones and a speedy Amy Leedham that was running as 4th female. We made some good time trudging through the slop from miles 4-8, but the back tat guy kept flying on the down hills, and then slowing down dramatically on the flats and climbs. His breathing was also pretty labored, so I didn’t assume he’d hang around for very long. Unfortunately, he did…
Mr. Back Tat would sprint the down hills past Mark, Amy and I, and then fall back behind us when we leveled out. This wouldn’t have been much of an issue on an open trail, or even this single track in good conditions, but trying to fly past other runners on wet, sloppy single track is a recipe for disaster.
Somewhere between mile 6-7, Mark was leading our pack of four. Back tat was sucking wind but hanging relatively close in second. Amy and I gave Back Tat some room, as neither of us wanted to be in his way when we hit the down hills. Passing through another water crossing as we hit a steep downhill into VERY narrow single track, Back Tat opens up like usual but Mark had absolutely no where to go. Instead of pulling up like any normal runner would do, Back Tat decides it best to try and run right through Mark. Not expecting to get a forearm into his back, Mark turned around and shouted something, likely laced with a few four letter words. Instead of apologizing and asking if it’s ok to pass, Back Tat goes into a rampage cursing and hollering at Mark. All of this is occurring as we’re running low 7 minute miles through some nasty single track, leaping over mud puddles and trying not to slip and fall on our ass. Thankfully for Mark, Amy and I, we hit a decent climb and Back Tat had finally blew his load. He disappeared into the pack, and I took off with Mark.
Mile 8 is the first aid station, where runners cross back through the starting area. Mark and I passed through together in 56 minutes. We spent the next 3-4 miles running together and chatting about upcoming races. We’re both racing Western States this summer and Mark is going after the 60+ record of 20ish hours. Assuming he stays healthy, I think the record is his to lose. Pulling into the 11-12 mile aid station after a solid descent, I stopped to fill up my water bottle and grab another gel. Mark kept moving and I planned to settle into my own pace.
Running by myself for the first time all race, it was nice to focus entirely on my own pace. I kept Mark in my sights, but I wasn’t checking my watch or worrying about pace, and trying to run by feel. Assuming Mark was proficient in his pacing, considering he’s been racing for 30 years, I tried to relax through miles 12-18 before we started to climb. Also somewhere during these early miles, I started to realize that I should have practiced some faster running with gels in these shorts. Even after frequent tightening, these damn things kept riding down!
Somewhere around mile 8-9
Miles 18-19 are climbing miles. Runners gain 1,000ft+ in this short distance, after several miles of downhill. Hopefully the quads aren’t too blown, because they’re going to get some work over the last third of this race. This year’s climb felt much more tolerable than 2014, as I recall getting passed by several runners during this section.
Nearing the top of the climb, I heard a loud “WOOHOO,” and turned quickly to see two runners climbing towards me. As we began to level off, one runner passed, then I settled into the middle,  in front of Lindsay Tollefson. For the next several miles, we ran together making good time towards Goat Hill, as I pulled my shorts up every few strides.
Goat Hill is the steepest climb of the race, starting at mile 26, that forces most to power hike. After pounding the quads for 18 miles on relatively flat and/or downhill terrain, a couple miles of climbing is followed by another 6-7 miles of rolling singletrack. I was doubly humbled on Goat Hill this year, as I had to hike the main portion of the climb, and I started to feel some cramping coming on. Forgetting to pack salt tabs, I didn’t think much about it until my legs started to seize up after cresting Goat Hill.
We made our way into the aid station at the top of the climb, and I rummaged through the supplies unfortunately unable to acquire any salt. In hindsight, I should’ve took an extra 30 seconds to pound some pretzels or something with salt in it, but I merely topped off my bottle with an energy drink and assumed that I could power through the last 5 miles with no issues…
I shouldn’t assume!
Shortly after leaving the aid station on top of Goat Hill the cramping got worse, and I was forced to hobble/shuffle through the last few miles. With an early plan to push the pace after Goat Hill, I definitely shot myself in the foot with a rookie nutrition mistake. The last several miles were an exercise in finding the right pace that didn’t result in my legs locking up, and trying to hold back expletive after expletive… after expletive.
Pissing off at least a minute per mile over the last 5, I stopped feeling so sorry for myself as I passed a runner on our last climb. Hobbling past this guy, I realized that he must’ve been dealing with something worse than my self-induced lack of sodium.
Finishing in 4:04, but feeling pretty damn “salty” due to my nutrition mistake, I made my way over to the finisher’s area to have some water and hopefully track down a beer. After reading an article in Trail  Runner Magazine on two ultrarunners that started Sufferfest Brewing, I was stoked to see the owners braving the elements and pouring their gluten-ish free IPA. With the weather turning sour, I decided to hobble the mile back to my car so I could track down some damn salt tabs .
Like magic, five salt tabs cured all cramping issues, and I made my way back to SLO to relax and get some sleep.
What I learned:
– Salt prevents and fixes a lot of cramping issues, and I will not forget to pack these magic pills again!
– Running by feel worked well, as the course was anything but fast, and trying to hit target times would’ve only forced me to push an unnecessary pace
– Although Icebugs destroy my feet as there’s not a millimeter of protection on them, they work wonders on muddy, slippery, wet trails
– I need to practice running with gels in my shorts before trying to race with them in
– Beer always tastes better after a hard run… even if it’s gluten-free!

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