Way Too Cool 50K – 2016

March 5, 2016

Last week I tried to do some car shopping (or least car comparisons). I think I have narrowed it down to five car models – Toyota Prius, Toyota Camry Hybrid, Nissan Altima, Kia Optima, and Hyundai Sonata.

First, I walked to the (now moved) Traffic Circle Toyota.  I had a heck of time getting someone to show me cars.  I got to sit in two types of Priuses, but no offer of a test drive was to be had.

From there, I walked to Signal Hill to find the sister Hooman Nissan place, but I got turned around and never found it.  Long walk for nothing.  Though… I did get a pizza slice at Costco.

Once I picked up a rental car on Monday, I decided to drive over to Cerritos Auto Square and see if I could look at and/or drive some of the models I was interested in.

Once I found a salesman at the Kia place, we got in for a test drive, no questions asked, only requested my driver’s license to make sure I was licensed.  I liked the Kia Optima.  It has 45″ of driver leg space, which is important to an ultra tall, ultra runner.

I walked down to the Nissan place, which apparently had no main office and had a hard time finding someone to talk to me (hanging out by cars didn’t help).  After I had to fill out a bunch of forms, we went for a test drive.  The roominess was OK, and the salesman wanted me to make a decision on the spot.  I said I would get back to him (he pestered me by phone for 2 months afterwards even after I told him NOT to call me).

Finally, I went to the Hyundai shop.  They didn’t have any models I could drive, but I did sit in the cheapest model of the Sonata.  It was OK, but nothing special.

So, my mom said, “Come up a day early, and I will go shopping/test driving with you.”  I think that would help.

Meanwhile, I was getting used to and enjoying the Chevy Malibu rental, which had pretty decent leg room, and a weird feature where the engine would shut off on a complete stop (and restart when you took your foot off the brake).  It was getting about 30-35 mpg on the drive up to Northern California, so I was happy about that as well.

In the afternoon on Thursday, Mom and I went down to each of the four car dealerships that matched the models I was interested in.

At the Toyota place on Broadway, the salesman was very helpful, although none of the models had working batteries, so seats couldn’t really be adjusted, and in both Toyota cases, I found the cars to be a little on the tight side (though similar to my former car situation).

At the Nissan dealership, we sat in a few cars, and I didn’t really like any of them, and no one came to talk to us.  Guess they were not really interested in selling cars.

The Kia dealership was dark, but then we found the actual location across the street.  A portly, but very knowledgeable Black salesman got me into a Kia Optima (with mom in the backseat), gave me all the features, explained the difference between Kia and Hyundai (not a lot), and I was fairly poised to purchase that model of car (but I will wait until I am back in So. Cal.).

As a whim, we went over to the Hyundai dealership, which was just about to close, but a nice salesman took me around and seated me in several versions of the Hyundai Sonata, and said that he was also the TrueCar representative and that they wouldn’t dick around with the price.

So, I think when I get back, I will select one of these two models.  (More on this for my birthday post in a few days.)

On Friday, I mostly rested and went for birthday dinner at Bay Fung Tong with the family.

I tried to sleep well on Friday, because I have to leave by 5:00am to have time to park, get my number, etc., tomorrow morning.  Also, it is forecast to rain, so that could cause some havoc on the roads.

Unfortunately, I woke up at 4:45am, giving myself little time to get myself all ready.  Putting on my running clothes is one thing, but using the toilet, maybe eating something small and waking myself up enough to drive safely is another.

It was raining lightly when I left.  Even though there were few people on the roads, one driver did get too close to me and I nearly swerved off the road.  THAT woke me up!

The drive mostly went without any more problems, though when I did finally get up into Auburn, the car ahead of me on Highway 49 was driving about 15 miles per hour. It’s windy, but that was ridiculous.

The reason that a super-slow driver made me anxious was that all cars had to be across the starting line and going to park by a certain time, and that time was coming up quickly.  I didn’t want to have to figure out whatever Plan B would be, but I did get through just under the gun.

As with last year, this involved driving down the road to the end, turning around and then parking heading out.  Of course, the cars in front don’t seem to get that action.  I wanted them to just follow the directions, so that I can get myself parked, walk to the packet pick-up, walk back to the car, and get ready to go.

I am probably the 10th car from the bottom of the hill and the car is at least 3/4 of a mile from the start line.

It’s not raining at this point, but I can see parts of the course, and it looks to be very muddy.  But, I’ve done muddy here before.  I think I can handle it.

I have just enough time to get my bib, go back to the rental car, drop off my packet (shirt and crap in the bag), and get back before the “elite” start at 8:00am.

What do you know?  Hanging around at the start is Sandy Binder, which means that her husband Dave must be running.  I always enjoy seeing them (one year at Skyline 50K, I ran into him mid-course, on a training run, and then they met me at the finish, with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale).

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Ten minutes later, I was off (with the non-elites), working towards completing my 13th Way Too Cool.

A few months earlier… we spent Christmas Eve dinner with Mom’s closest college buddy and her family.  I have known Diane (Albracht) Benson probably my whole life, and my Mom has known her for over 50 years since they attended Stanford together (and their birthdays are just two days apart).  Diane has been battling various tumors and cancers off-and-on for several years.

At Christmas, Diane seemed more tired than usual and Mom thought that she might be on her last legs.  I thought that I should make sure to dedicate Cool to her and let her know I was thinking of her BEFORE she passed away (see Skyline 50K post from 2012 when I missed notifying my friend by hours).

I made up a special pace sheet with pictures and a poem and I mailed a copy to her about six weeks prior, especially when I heard that she was bedridden and too weak to do much.  As it turned out, she was suffering from a particularly bad case of sciatica, and it wasn’t the cancer that was causing the problems.  Still, I wanted to let her know I was thinking of her.

Now it’s time to head out on the Cool trails and see how well (or poorly) I can do.

At the start and also as I head down the paved hill, I see a few friends, including Martin Sengo (of GVH), and Kelly Dent and Tsehay Villeza (both running their first ever ultra, from AREC).

This paved portion of the first eight miles has somewhat rolling hills, but I decide instead of walking each hill, I am going to run the entire two miles to get out ahead of the bulk of the slow runners in my corral.  Once I get onto the unpaved trails and the single track, being free of slower runners will make the going slightly faster (not uncomfortable, but not a “settling for whatever” pace).

I am probably one of the first 20 people to reach the trailhead, which means both that I achieved my goal of getting out ahead, but also that I won’t have loads of people to trip into me on this rocky and mildly muddy downhill.  When I get to the bottom, the first water crossing is pretty substantial.  Nothing I can’t handle, but last year, I may not have had to get my feet wet because it was a dry year.

The water is about 2-1/2 feet deep and it is moving a little bit, enough to make someone not as tall as I am feel apprehensive.  About midway across (it’s maybe 15 feet across), I offer my arm to a struggling older lady.  It helps. We encounter one another a few other times and she refers to me as her “River Angel.”

When I get to the single track section, I get caught up in a “train” of quickly moving folks, but not so close that I am stumbling over rocks or roots.  At the tail end of it, as it heads uphill, I can go off the main part of the single-track to walk and let others pass.

Before I get back to Cool (to finish the first eight miles), there are three more substantial water crossings.  The first, which was completely dry last year, is essentially a 6′ puddle (deep enough to get the shoes wet).  The second is a foot deep, rushing stream with an awkward angle to step through.  (“River Angel” to the rescue here again.)  And the last crossing, just before the aid station, is another 1-1/2 foot deep slowly moving stream.

The past few years I have done this eight-mile stretch in about 90 minutes, and I am close to that time, finishing in 1:27:20.

The next section is a 5K, 90% downhill, and then across Highway 49 and onto the fire-road that parallels the American River for a spell.  The first bit of the trail is the reverse of the finish and it is fairly muddy (something to look forward to), but then the downhill starts.  It is not as muddy as in a past year (where it was like skiing on mud), but I have never been great with technical downhills, especially when there are faster people on your tail.  It is slower going than in drier years as the mud is sticking to my shoes and impairing my forward progress.

After you cross the 49, there is still a bit to go before you reach the actual aid station.  (It feels like it is further away each year, though.)  I get there in 39 minutes (slower than my first section, strangely) and refill my water bottles and adjust the inserts in my shoes.

The first couple miles of this next section are mostly flat, with some rolling hills.  The surface is dirt with gravel (but not a ton and not slippery), and there are a few avoidable puddles.  I run and walk intermittently here, because up ahead is a substantial uphill and I would like to be not already in distress when I hit the hills.  It has also started to rain a bit again, though the occasional tree cover prevents most of it from drenching my glasses.

I feel like I am making good progress here.  People pass me when I walk, but then I pass them back when I run and I permanently overtake them when I power-walk the hills.  I keep coming in-and-out of contact with a younger runner who is essentially running shirtless, but has on a transparent raincoat.  An odd look to be sure.  There are times when I pass him and don’t see him for a while, and then later, he passes me and I forget about him until I catch up again.

The aid station is in an unexpected spot.  Given my time – 44 minutes – I feel like it might be earl, especially because the volunteers say something like, “Just 6-1/2 miles to the next aid,” even though my pace sheet says it should be a mile less.  I guess we can say that I did 11 minute miles here and then be disappointed when I get to the next AS.

Whatever the distance, it weaves around the woods, past Ball “Buster” Hill, more paralleling of the American River (though it is more off in the distance now), mostly double-track (where people can pass without having to ask).  I am mostly by myself, but occasionally catch up with a “train” or two and get repassed by the “trains” when I stop once again to readjust my shoe inserts.

So, sure enough, when I get through the supposed 6.5 miles (5.6 on my sheet), I have dropped to a 14 minute pace, but I think from here on in, the mileages should match with what I have.

Now I follow a section of course that is super-familiar to me, having run it now 13 times (and probably another 9-10 times in the opposite direction).  However, despite the familiarity, it is hard to tell exactly where you are.  I try and count the approximate number of water crossings.  In the past, it was around 40-50 from the aid station to the wooden bridge.  This helps me because after the wooden bridge, there is one more feet-wet water crossing and then a whole bunch of uphill – Goat Hill.

Most of this 5.3.mile section is gentle rolling hills, but after the aforementioned water crossing, it turns left onto a wide fire road, steady uphill, and then turns onto the steep portion of Goat Hill.  I used to be able to power past people just walking up this hill, but it is definitely a struggle, especially with it being muddy.  I figure if I can get through this section at around a 15:00/mile pace, I am doing excellent.

Last year at this time, I began to abandon my dream of finishing in under 7 hours.  I have finished several times under 7 hours, but not recently.  Last year, I missed it by 7 minutes, but I feel like I am doing better this year.

When I start to see the “Burma Shave” signs:  “Almost,” “To,” “The Top,” etc., and can hear cowbells, I know I am almost there and the last of the hand-to-knee motion is over.  I have surprisingly covered the distance in 1:16, which is a 14:30 pace, better than I could have expected.

Now I have about 3.5 miles to the Highway 49 Crossing aid station, and I have always liked this section, but I KNOW it is going to be very wet and muddy.  There is yet a little more forested fire road, but then it pops out onto a single track with water flowing down it.  My right knee hurts a little bit with this downhill, so I don’t overdo it.  There are not a whole lot of people around me, which is nice, because as I’ve said, I don’t like people running downhills behind me.  It makes me nervous.

At the bottom of the hill is the berry bushes “water crossing.”  It isn’t really a water crossing, but the water all spills into a convenient hole that covers the entirety of the trail and is splashy for another 150 yards.  It doesn’t really matter at this point, as I am already muddy up to my shorts line and my shoes have been mostly wet the whole way.

I am just biding my time before I get into the quarry area and will soon be escorted across the Highway.

I get there in about 46 minutes and my total time (with 1.4 to go) is 6:12:50.  I am pretty excited because last year I got to this point in 6:47 and was pretty certain that I could not cover the last distance in just 13 minutes.  I should be able to break 7 hours this year unless I cannot go 1.4 miles in 47:10.  That would be, as they say, “sad.”

As with last year, I do not stop at the last AS because I am around 20 minutes from the end.  It is mostly uphill and then I will hit the last muddy stretch.  I go back and forth with a few guys and gals.  Most are better at the uphills than I am.

On the last stretch, I duel it out with an older gentleman.  This isn’t your typical “duel” it out you have in a 5K.  This is trying to run 9 or 10 minutes a mile and not stop.

Astoundingly, I come in at 6:31:52, which is my 3rd fastest (of 14) on this course, and my fastest on the new course – the first time under 7 hours on the new course.  The only two times I ran faster here was in 2002 and 2003, when it was my first and fourth ultra, and even then, those times were 6:24 and 6:28.

I have a little time after the race to socialize, but I do need to get going soon.  I get some minestrone soup and my cupcake and then go over to the beer tent.  There is this SF beer called Sufferfest, apparently gluten-free.  They give you a commemorative Way Too Cool 50K glass with the beer of your choice.  It’s not too bad.  I talk briefly with the brewer and convince him to give me a can of the beer so I can take it to my dad.  Think he might like it.

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Now the 0.75 jaunt back to the car to put some drier clothes on and then drive back to the Bay Area so I can attend the Piedmont Choirs’ Fundraising Gala.  It starts at 6pm and I am able to get out of Cool by 3:15pm.  That should be plenty of time.

Unfortunately, when I get back down into Sacramento, the rain just comes down with a vengeance.  On the Causeway (basically a bridge between Sacramento and Davis), traffic is at a near standstill, but also, my windshield wipers are on full throttle and not doing much.

Once I get through Davis, the weather clears up a little bit, but it’s now 4:30 and I still have 70 miles to drive, I need to shower, get dressed, and drive 5 miles to the event.

I essentially get to my folks’ house at 5:45, just as they are all leaving themselves.  It pours and pours and pours, and during the event, we saw lightning strikes through the windows.  Glad to be inside at this point in the storm.

Next year I hope to get in at least one more time, as it will be my 14th Cool, and the 28th running of the event.  What an honor to have run at least half of them.

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