Way Too Cool 50K – 2014

March 8, 2014

For the past few years, I have entered the lottery for the Way Too Cool 50K and not gotten in.  In 2013, I started at 167th on the wait list and moved up to 2nd by the week before the race… but did not get in.  I guess that I cannot be too upset about missing out a few times because I have already had the opportunity to complete this event 10 times (10 years in a row!), but I still like doing the race because it always occurs right around my birthday.

I entered the lottery once in again back in December and was pleasantly surprised that I got in… but I did note that twice as many folks got in as in the past and that there would be staggered starts… so I wondered if there was a lottery at all, really?

One of the significant differences between 2014 the first few years that I did the race was that some of my friends had moved out of the area and some of my other friends had started a family.  This changed some of my options vis-a-vis where I could stay, but I still had a few options from some running club friends in Davis.

I looked at the list of those who were participating and I had one friend where the logistics might work out… and my fairly-inconvenient back-up plan, which was to stay with my parents in Oakland and drive up (about 3-1/2 hours one way).  The friend (also running the race) had in-laws staying and said it would be too inconvenient, but he also suggested I send a group e-mail seeing if I could sleep on someone’s floor.

I did end up getting a response from a name I recognized (but did not actually know), who said that she was running Cool (possibly close to my slow speed) and that I could sleep at their place.  I offered to drive her to and from the race, but she said that her husband was going up as well (for a tempo or long run) and that I could probably drive up with them.  Pretty generous for someone I have never met.

The drive up from Long Beach to Davis would be on Friday, March 7th, my 43rd birthday. Being as that it was a regular Friday and I wouldn’t be able to go to their house until after work… and also traffic would be a circumstance… which is why I did my usual leave-at-the-crack-of-dawn drive.

Unfortunately for getting ready for the race, I had a hard time falling asleep on Thursday and only slept a couple of hours.  It was hard to get up and drive for 6 or 7 hours, especially leaving in the dark.

The drive was fairly uneventful until I stopped at the rest stop.  I used to be able to drive non-stop but my knees cannot handle being stuck in one position for that long.  When I get to the rest stop, I lock my valuables and computer in the trunk.  My trunk stuck a bit (usually happens when I don’t open it for a few days) and it slightly bent my key.  When I tried to restart the car, the key would not turn. The key still fit in the lock, but would not turn at all.  I started to freak out, but realized I needed to try and bend the key back to the correct position.

I didn’t have much success with trying to bend it with my hand or hitting against something, but I did get it to bend back by reinserting it into the trunk and carefully bending it the other way.  The key was still bent (and this is no little key), but I got it back far enough to start the car, and I did not turn the car off until I got to Davis.

It was early when I got to Davis (around 11am), so I had to find something to do for several hours.  I parked in the Whole Foods lot and then sat for a few hours and read a book (and stretched out my legs).  I also called my folks to let them know my schedule, as I will drive down after Cool tomorrow and celebrate the rest of my birthday weekend with them.

While I was sitting and reading, my friend Josh Eichhorn walked by (apparently heading to a music rehearsal).  Feels like old times.

Around 2pm, I walked over to the business place of the people I will stay with.  Both of them are optometrists and operate a store/office pretty close to where I parked.  I asked for Joann just to see what the schedule is.  She came to the front and we chatted briefly.  She said that it would probably be around 5 before we could go anywhere, but if I wanted, she would give me the key to the house… but I said I would move my car closer (also, I had to move my car out of the Whole Foods lot) and walk around for a few more hours.

I ended up going to a new used bookstore (bought a Thursday Next novel), an off-campus UCD store (talked at length with one of the employees who is my age but has college-aged kids), and the Fleet Feet Running store.  There is a half marathon in town tomorrow, so there is a little bit of chaos around here.

Around 4, I came back to their storefront and read my book until they were ready to leave.

Joann’s husband, Mark, who is quite the accomplished runner, biked or ran to the office.  Joann wanted to stop by the store, and Mark would ride with me to a friend’s house who had picked up our bibs and shirts.

Mark and Joann live in the Wildhorse area of Davis.  This area was not built when I was in college and in fact, they were still talking about developing it when I left 15 years ago.  It used to be fields.

The Helmus’ have a beautiful house and I was staying in the rec room (with piano (!) and many of Mark’s medals from marathons.  I have a bit of a headache, so I laid down for a bit before joining them for dinner – wild rice, chicken and asparagus.

I got to sleep at a decent hour (no surprise, because I didn’t sleep well last night).  All in all, I didn’t celebrate my birthday in the most exciting manner, but I did meet some great people.

I woke up early and got myself all prepped and ready.  Mark and I wished Joann a happy birthday (that’s right, our birthdays are back-to-back!) and then Mark drove us up to Cool.  We parked in a different spot than I have ever parked before (the firehouse lot was full and we were just off the road instead of a MILE down the road).  I already had my bib, so I didn’t have to check in and could just relax until our start.

There was a little bit of an area set aside for some vendors, including Patagonia. We plopped down on the Patagonia couch and tried to relax until it was time for us to run.  I am in the second wave at 8:10.  The “elites” start at 8:00am.

There are a lot of people here.  The crowd at the starting line is equal to the crowd I have seen in past races… and this is just the first wave.  I’m certain that our group will be just as big.

It is the usual start, down the paved road for about a mile.  I do my usual bit of running easy and then walking up the minor hills.  Of course, this puts me in the back immediately, which is fine.

When I get to the end of the paved road, we turn onto the dirt… or mud, as most of it seems to be.  When it is single-track, I try and stay with a pack, but do not like to be too close to anyone since I have a significantly wider stride than most others.

Early on, on the trail.

Early on, on the trail.

This first section of the trail is the longest between aid stations – 8 miles!  This also has what has to be the most annoying water crossing… one where there is a back-up on trail… though there is not much one can do to avoid getting wet.  Basically, it is a lot of standing water in between a couple of hedges.  You cannot go around it and there are no stones to step across.  It is ankle deep and 10 feet across.  Hope no one tried to jump it!

The first aid station is back at the start – we just made a large circle.  I had a pretty good start, in my estimation, doing about 12 minutes per mile.  I know I will be reduced to a walk later, so it is good to save a little time now.

Now I head out towards Highway 49.  In past years, the road crossing is pretty close to the start (about 1.5 miles), but they have utilized this new course in the past few years to avoid a lot of two-way traffic on narrow trails.  I liked the old trail, but usually had to share a trail (read: step off the path to let them pass) with about 30 faster runners.

On the “new” trail, we virtually parallel the highway to a point further down, safely cross and then have another aid station in just 3.1 miles.  I continue to maintain around 12 minutes per mile on this section, but there are some hills up ahead.

I continue downhill and am paralleling the American River.  It is mostly flat, but have some hills which I walk.  About midway through this section is the point where the old trail connects, so some of this feels familiar.  The aid station isn’t precisely where it should be, the base of Ball Bearing Hill – the site of many triumphs and struggles.  We don’t climb this hill any more, though.  I thought this was an awkward spot for an aid station, so well, it’s not here.  Better in a better spot.

This aid station is at about 15 miles, pretty close to halfway.  I am at 3:10.  If I could maintain my pace (riiiight…) I would have a personal best.  It’s a good feeling, though.

Shoes have dried out.

Shoes have dried out.

About a mile past this point, I am now back on the original course, but doing it in reverse.  This is the section that I always struggle with at the beginning… and now I am 18 miles in… and a few years older.  I walked a whole lot on this section and slowed to about 21 minutes per mile (at least my pace is still under 15:00).

The race continues on the same section (now forward) of the old course.  I KNOW what is ahead.  Goat Hill (which sounds a little like “Go to Hell,” which is apt).  It’s not as bad as Ball Bearing Hill, but it is tough for a steep climb when you are tired.  I am moving forward still, but I am not moving forward very fast.

The one saving grace is the Burma Shave signs going up the hill. I can barely raise my head to look at the signs.  When I get to the top of the hill and the aid station (a little over a marathon distance), I am at 6 hours and 4 minutes.  I am not going to run a PR… unless I can cover the last 5 miles or so in 16 minutes.  Wouldn’t THAT be exciting?  (… but not practical)

From Goat Hill back to the Highway 49 crossing (the original one) is one of my favorite sections, and not just because it’s a lot of downhill.  The best part is that once my shoes have dried out, there is ANOTHER unavoidable water crossing, with prickly blackberry bushes on both sides.  I am not being sarcastic; I really like this section.  The trail itself is cool.  (Way too cool!)  I never carry a camera, but I wish I had some pictures of this section.

Once I get out of the wet and muddy section, then there is about 30 minutes of thinking that I am almost to the road crossing, but never quite getting there.  However, when I do finally cross the road, I am back at a better pace (around 14:30/mile).  The best news here is that I have 1 hour and 40 minutes to finish the final 1.6 miles… so I will make the cutoff.  I was a bit concerned about this in the beginning, but not so now.

This last section is lots of uphill and muddy.  In fact, there is water running down this trail (not cascades, but enough to make it slow going).  The last bit of the trail parallels the road into Cool and is mercifully flat.

Trying to catch some ladies on the final stretch.

Trying to catch some ladies on the final stretch.

My final time was 7:14 (well, 7:13:59, but 7:14 contains multiples of 7, my favorite number), which was about 20 minutes slower than 3 years ago, but I was very satisfied with my time, given the few issues I have had recently with my heart, back, and knees.

After the race, I rode back with Mark and Joann (birthday girl finished about a half an hour ahead of me) to Davis, and I left pretty quickly to drive down to the Bay Area, where I met up with my parents and we celebrated my birthday again.

If I get the opportunity, I will totally run Cool again.  Always a great birthday present to myself.

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