March 7, 2015
Way Too Cool has become a special tradition for me, starting with the 2002 presentation, which was my 1st ever ultra-marathon. The race always hits right around my birthday, but had never actually hit ON my birthday (One year, my birthday was on a Saturday, but the race was a week later.). This year, I would have the treat of running it on my ACTUAL birthday.
Three days following my last race (Big Baz 21K), I had a hospital procedure (colonoscopy). I’m not sure I have addressed this previously in my posts, but I had been suffering from hemorrhoids and a fissure since mid-November last year and it was determined that I should have the procedure done to rule out any internal problems. The procedure went off without a hitch (if you call the prep (36 hours of liquid diet and 6 hours of toilet blowouts the night before), due, I believe to a great anesthesiologist, Dr. Choi… who also happened to be a protege of my good friend, Kim Gimenez. We had a nice talk about running as the propofol took its effect.
The unfortunate side effect of the procedure was that my hemorrhoid issue was just about resolved, but the prep for the procedure re-aggravated the issue and it will probably be another 2-3 months of dealing with it. The good news (for me, at least) is that exercise improves it, and sitting a lot doesn’t help. Most hospital procedures keep you AWAY from the exercise. I was able to resume training runs only one day later without any additional issues, even mounting an ascent of Holy Jim Trail with AREC 4 days later.
Way Too Cool was 3 weeks after the procedure and my biggest concern was the drive up north, since sitting in the car for 6 hours hardly feels great. (Though I have my “butt pillow” for a little relief.) I did my usual bit where I leave before 6am (to avoid traffic on the So. Cal. side) with the goal of arriving around noonish.
I had made a different arrangement than last year, where I had stayed with Mark & Joann Helmus (the latter who ran Cool last year on HER birthday). They had made an offer of a stay, even though they were in the process of moving AND were not running the race. I did get a last-minute offer from a new-ish GVH guy, who took me up on my offer of a ride to-and-from the race, especially because he is MUCH faster than me and would utilize the time waiting for me to down a few beers. After the race, however, the plan was to drive down to the Bay Area and spend the rest of my birthday with my family in Oakland.
The drive up was fairly uneventful, except a little traffic through Santa Clarita (even at 6-something a.m.). When I got just outside of Sacramento, I called my friend Lori so that we could meet for lunch. I have known Lori since our freshman (and sophomore) dorm days in the Fall of 1990 (25 years ago this year).
We met at Dos Coyotes, a somewhat former haunt of mine, a place that has definitely stood the test of time (as have the two places I lived (other than dorms) – still look pretty hovel-y). I had a paella burrito. Pretty freakin’ delicious! It was really nice to catch up with Lori. To me, it feels like little time has passed, partly because we are friends on Facebook and partly because I still feel like I am that college guy still trying to figure out his life.
After a nice long lunch, I still had a couple of hours to kill before I could meet up with Travis. I went down and parked in the Whole Foods parking lot, sat and read for a bit and then walked around town a little bit, stopping in the used bookstore that is at the old Fleet Feet location (and buying a couple good finds) as well as at the Helmus’ Optometry business so I could wish Joann a happy birthday and also drop off a little bread treat I baked for her. Mark, Joann and I chatted for a little bit. She had just returned from Arkansas, having run the Little Rock Marathon last Sunday.
I drove over to Travis’ house a little after 4pm (a little before he was getting off work) and sat outside and read until he arrived. He is in his early 30s and has done a handful of trail ultras, mostly in Colorado, where he lived before Davis… and he is much faster than I am, more like a 3 hour marathoner. He lives in a house with a roommates, one of which is heading out for pizza, but we end up opting for Chipotle (I am getting my fill of burritos today for sure!)
Afterwards, we watch Unbreakable, a documentary about the 2010 Western States 100. It is pretty incredible to see these crazy athletes and how fast they can run difficult trails, accelerate in the end stages, and succeed mentally. (Hint: None of them is 6’6″ or over 200 pounds.)
Afterwards, we watch some movies about Anton Krupicka. Some pretty terrain, but a little too hippy-dippy for me. I had my encounter with Krupicka at the 2011 Rocky Raccoon 100M, where I think he volunteered at an aid station after finishing 2nd overall in the race (more than 16 hours before I did).
In the morning (my birthday!), Travis and I meet Annie Vogel-Ciernia (another GVH member running Cool) and then drive to Stephen Andrews’ house (his family will pick him up from the finish, but don’t want to drive up to Cool at 6am). The drive is uneventful, but once we arrive in Cool, I realize that the increase in participation has caused an increase in parking as well (I’m guessing that most folks did not carpool.). Last year, I drove up with someone not running the race, and in previous years, I never had to park more than a quarter mile from the start. This year, however, we are parked at least 6/10 mile from the start. This means that I walk to pick up my bib, THEN take my stuff back to the car, THEN hike back up to the start. I’m around 2 miles in before we actually get going.
My pace sheet has a picture of me on my 40th birthday, wearing a party hat. I tell as many people as possible that today is my 44th birthday and I am running my 43rd 50K. Also, on the back of my pace sheet is the weird fact I came up with, that along with this being my 43rd 50K, it is also my 72nd ultramarathon, so I included 4 of my friends who are 43 years old AND born in 1972. Seeing as that it is only March, there are not a lot of candidates (a number of friends wondered why they hadn’t been included… “I’m born in ’72.” “But you’re not 43 yet!” “I will be!” They’re missing my weird point.). Anyway, my inspirations were Stephanie Harris, Kristen Womersley, Scott Casey, and Cynthia Mar (3 running friends and a college friend). I think it is cool that I came up with this; it works ONLY for this race (for example, my 44th 50K, will be my 73rd ultra, and unless I wait until 2017, the numbers won’t work out); and the race IS Way Too Cool!
The “faster folks” are off at 8:00am and I am with the “slowpokes” at 8:10. Even were I to run at the pace I ran my first Cool back in 2002, I would still be with the slower folks. Anyway, I should have some folks to meet and to run with.
The longest stretch is the first loop, which leaves Cool, runs around 2 miles on the paved road (by my car) and eventually comes back through the start. It includes 2 big water crossings – the kind that you can’t avoid getting wet on – and a few smaller ones… though for the most part, the course is drier than it has been in the past, due to the drought, but my feet do still get wet.
Early on in the course, I am having some difficulty with my posterior (still issues from the hemorrhoids and colonoscopy. Runners can talk about anything, so I have been chatting with the person nearest me, but from the side, I get (as often happens) response from another runner who has been hearing the conversation. It is further advice about colonoscopies as you get older. I won’t repeat the conversation, but it is a bit surreal, because it is the Original Western States competitor, Gordy Ainsleigh.
I maintain a comfortable pace on this section; I will say largely due to the number of people on the single-track sections… once you are in a train of people, you cannot really stop and walk, you need to keep moving. I manage around 11:15/mile, and then set off 3.1 miles to the Highway 49 crossing at the Quarry.
Lots of people are passing me in this section; it is mostly downhill and my footing is not particularly solid, plus downhill is not my thing. The best part of this section is that it is 75% shaded, so the effects of the heat to come is muted a bit. I cross the road and reach the 2nd aid station in about 38 minutes (or 12:25/mile). It is decorated in a beachy, luau-y style and welcoming. I make sure that I refill my water bottles at each stop so I can stay as dehydrated as possible.
This third leg runs mostly along the American River on a gravel fire-road. It is rolling hills but not a lot of up for the first 2.5 miles. On this section, I meet John and Jeff – one experienced ultramarathoner and his friend. On the flats, we trade leading. I mention that I would like to finish under 7 hours, so I have to maintain a certain pace. They stay with me for quite some time… but then we reach a couple of extended hills (in the sun). The motivating cry (fading into the distance) is “Stay with Emmett; he’ll get us to the pace we need to finish strong.” I didn’t see them again after I ‘power-walked’ up the hill and beyond.
On part of this section, I also engaged with an older woman who was close to my pace. Yes, I tend to end up with the older folks. My pace is usually equivalent to the 55+ crowd (for women, maybe 70+ for men). More importantly, most of these ‘older’ folks are not so preoccupied with music or other distractions and we can have a real conversation that is not tending back to “You’ll catch up with me,” which is said with the intent of stopping talking and getting back to the music. Claudia and I trade leading throughout the race. We reach the aid station around the same time, running 4.4 miles in around 52 minutes (12 minute/mile pace), but after this stretch, she disappears for quite a while. I figure I won’t see her again until maybe the end.
This next section is about 5.6 miles of double-track. It passes by my old nemesis/success Ball Bearing (0.7 miles; 700′ elevation gain) and continues fairly flat and then hooks into the old course return single track. Some of this is runnable (even for me). Sometimes I am in a train with a bunch of folks and sometimes I am by myself and antsy runners want to get by me. Though, invariably, not long after they pass, I recatch them tying shoelaces or slowing down (“Tag. You’re it.”). I do end up walking a lot of this trail, more due to a warm day than due to difficulty of trail, but still manage around 15 minutes/mile. The wheels are starting to fall off, and I may not make my goal of sub-7:00.
This next section will take me up Goat Hill, continuing along the old course and up this dreaded steep hill at a particularly bad time. Part of my “train” is an Asian gal. I inquire about her ethnicity, so I can impress with my Chinese, Japanese, or Korean folk song… so of course, she is Indonesian. Besides impressing her that I know two dozen words in Bahasa Indonesia, I sing for her on trail, saying basically that I can sing at whatever pace is necessary for her running speed (and I have a more eclectic selection of music than can be found on one’s I-Pod – Inspirational, Classical, and Oldies). Unfortunately, Jenny is faster than I am, so eventually she pushes on a bit ahead of me and I lose contact before the bridge and uphill to Goat Hill.
The top of Goat Hill is really close to the marathon point. I remember from my first Cool how flummoxed I was at my time… but really, it was about par with how it should be. You cannot compare road marathon times to trail ultra times. My nearly-marathon split is a shade under 6 hours. Feel like I will be hard-pressed to get under 7 hours. (And at a 16:00/mile pace, probably not.)
The next section is a lot of downhill, some wet (though, as previously noted, not as wet as in previous years), some slippery gravel, and a few short uphills. I re-encounter Claudia in this section and pass her (she finishes about 5 minutes behind me). I feel pretty good, and when I get to the road crossing JUST before the last aid station, I am at 6 hours 47 minutes, which means I have 13 minutes to do 1.4 miles. Normally, not a tall order, but seeing as half of this is uphill and all of it is trails, odds are I will not break 7 hours, but I will be really close.
I don’t stop at all at the last station (it’s 1.4 miles to the finish, so hardly seems worth it unless I was all out of water on the last 3.4 mile section). I go as fast as I can manage on the technical uphill, but it certainly isn’t sub-10:00s. I do what I can and I will be really satisfied with my finishing time (at least it is well under the 8-1/2 hour time limit).
At the finish, the strangest thing happens (I swear I did not look at my watch and try to make it possible!) – my finishing time is 7:07:07 and there are 7 splits. Seven is my lucky number and today is the 7th. 43-50Ks (4+3 = 7). 73rd ultra (3/7 is my birthday). The “official” time comes out as 7:07:06 (stupid timing chips!).
Travis and Annie have been done for 2+ hours and are getting their drink on. I do the finish line thing (get my frog cupcake, too hot soup, and pulled pork sandwich (and a couple of Cokes). I am not particularly hungry, even though I probably only consumed half a banana, some potato chips and half of a Payday bar. I carefully carry my cupcake and sandwich to the car (another 0.6 miles) and seal them inside a plastic container (formerly held Sprouts Gummi Coke Bottles) to eat on Sunday morning.
Annie and Travis drive back with me to Davis and then I continue on down to Oakland. I am trying to work the timing out so that I have time for a shower before we go for dinner at Bay Fung Tong. We are joined by Tom and Margaret (Tom’s birthday is Tuesday), Diane and John, Marisa, Mom and Dad, Bari, and Shauna (whose birthday was 6 days ago). Marisa and Margaret are the odd women out as their birthdays are not in January or March. We get our usual complement of dishes, including Black Bean and Jalapeno deep fried squid. Yum. I get some funny gifts from Diane and John (including yellow caution tape saying “Warning – Man in Kitchen” and a few other kitchen doo-hickeys). A great way to spend my birthday!
On Sunday, after a trip to Chinatown for Dim Sum at Tao Yuen, I drive back to Long Beach, so I can continue my 80+ consecutive month Boeing 5K streak.