Tag Archives: Martin Sengo

Way Too Cool 50K – 2017

March 4, 2017

Drove up to Oakland yesterday and hung with my parents and sister, including going out (sort of for my birthday) to Bay Fung Tong with them.  Maybe the noodle and rice dishes serve as carbo-loading.

This morning, I have an early drive up to Cool.  I have my new car (one year old on Tuesday) instead of the rental and the weather is a bit better (though it did rain the past couple of days and I have heard that there is damage to the course and there may be detours).

I get an earlier start than last year, when I was the 10th to last car to park and had to walk 3/4 of a mile to the start (and then back afterwards).  There is the usual chaos in the parking where people can’t listen to directions.  (They have you drive the entire length of the paved road, turn around at the end and then park facing the exit direction.  There is always someone who tries a three-point turn and holds up the whole situation, because they know better.)  But anyway, I am probably less than a quarter-mile from the start line, so that makes the day a little less stressful.

At the start, I am looking for people I might recognize.  I see a few GVH folks, including Martin Sengo.  I also see Tsehay Villeza from AREC.  Last year, she got pulled from the race even though she was moving well enough to finish under the time limit (so they got her in again).  Also from AREC (though local to the Sacramento area) is Anthony Fagundes.  He is attempting his first 50K, but he has had good success with shorter trail races (the overall winner of all Xterra races he’s run this season).  I hang out a bit with his parents who have driven up to watch him run.

Today my goal is just to finish (I am not really worried about the time limit, but my fitness is not the same as it was last year.).  The importance of finishing is to reach my goal of 14 Way Too Cool finishes, on this the 28th year of competitions (I will have run half of all races.)

The fast pack take off at 8:00am and then the slower field goes off at 8:10am.  I do put myself in the front of this group so that I can get away on the trail before the crowds behind me make me nervous.  (I can get over the roots and rocks better if someone isn’t breathing down my neck.)

I make better time on the road portion and force myself to run the little uphills, though once I get to the trail, I immediately feel the need to walk and get passed by about 20 people before I reach the steeper downhill part.

The trail seems more technical than last year.  I am guessing this is due to heavier rains which expose rocks and roots more readily.  The water crossings don’t seem any more heinous, though, but there is also more standing water on the trail than the past few years.

The last mile before completing the 8-mile loop is super-wet.  It is almost all puddles and super slippery (but I do not fall).  I am happy to finish this section in 95 minutes (11:52/mile pace).

From the Start/Finish at the Cool Firehouse, we now parallel Highway 49 for a bit (this will also be the same stretch for the finish) and then work our way over to the steep, muddy, wet downhill to the crossing before the aid station on the other side of Highway 49.  Lots of people pass me here because I am nervous about falling and do not have supreme confidence on technical downhill trails.

This section is only a 5K and I am not guzzling water, but I do remember an aid station a little past the highway crossing, but… hmm…, there doesn’t seem to be an aid station here.  A port-a-potty, yes, but that generally doesn’t offer the same treats as an aid station.  Hopefully, they have not eliminated too many aid stations because it’s tough to balance water consumption if you have no idea how far you are going.  I do click off a lap on my watch so I can compare with previous years or get an idea on my (mostly) downhill pace (13:07/mile).

After going through the non-aid station, the wide fire-road parallels the American River and is fairly flat and well-graded (with a rash of puddles, of course).  I am alternating between light jogging and brisk walking for most of this section.  It’s less about being tired and more about the upcoming hills that I want to be prepared for.

As we get to the end of the fire-road section and into the more single-track route along the river, it is clear that the trail is pretty much completely washed out.  I can envision what the trail WAS, but now there is no real trail here and we wander out into the riverbed a bit and just sort of stumble through uneven sand and boulders until a semblance of a trail reappears.

A few more tough rolling hills and the next aid station materializes.  The distance was almost as much as the 8 miles on the opening loop but it seems far worse as I am 8 miles less fresh.  I guess my pace based upon what the course map says, though a 10:27/mile pace seems to have been unrealistic at this point (and my GPS says something else).

According to my pace sheet, the next aid station is in 1.5 miles, but again, there is nothing there, so another split that is a bit useless (only for comparing to last year).  The location of the aid stations also don’t exactly match up with the web page, either…

Until I get to ALT (Auburn Lake Trail) at the river crossing.  Finally, what I have and what the website has, and what my GPS states all match up.  Here’s to hoping that the rest of the aid stations are not 6 or 7 miles apart!  These first 21 miles have taken me 4:43 (or 13:24/mile).  This would put me on pace for 6:40, which would be comparable to last year, but I don’t think I am going to maintain that pace on the last few sections, especially not Goat Hill.

The trail crosses the water and then winds around the hillside forever.  In previous years, I count the number of water crossings (anything that has running water and isn’t a puddle).  In a “dry” year, there are about 50 water crossings and today, there are over 80.  Most I can easily step over (though I am cautious so that I don’t slip, fall, and break my elbow).

The key to the end of this trail is a wooden bridge water crossing that takes us to the fire-road.  There is a bit of steep uphill here before turning onto the steeper single-track up to Goat Hill.

But that was BEFORE the trail got washed out.  I can see in the distance that there is a bunch of trees and branches blocking the trail and a turn-off earlier than usual heading up the hill.  This trail is very steep (much like the old Goat Hill trail) and I am really struggling to get up the hill and getting some calf cramps which are not helping.

Alas, absolute torture awaits.  Instead of traversing the hillside and continuing up to Goat Hill Aid Station, we basically are hooking around the obstruction in the most difficult manner possible, and then going back onto the fire-road, DOWN to the fire-road, and THEN going up the Goat Hill trail.  In essence, we are climbing the horrible hill TWICE!  My pace slows to a crawl, both because of cramping and being more out of shape.

The Burma-Shave style signs don’t help my mood.  It would have been nice to warn about this change or come up with something more reasonable.  I don’t think there was any reason to carve out a steep trail.  I would as soon climb over the obstruction than climb that hill twice.

The top of the hill takes me to 26 miles in 6:22 (which is slower than I ran WTC in 2002 and I still have 5 miles to go).  Unless I can cover the last 5 miles in 25 minutes (ha!), I will have a slower time than last year.

From Goat Hill, we now proceed to the (upper) Highway 49 crossing.  This is mostly rolling hills with a net downhill, but VERY wet and several sections that are completely puddles.  On the flatter sections, I am reduced to lots of walking and I seem to go back and forth with an older gentleman (70, I think he said) who is going for his 9th finish (and of course, there are folks going for their 28th finishes).  When I cannot run, he takes off on me and I figure I will not see him again until after I finish.

I get pretty excited once I get to the highway crossing because I know I can muddle through a mile-and-a-half to the finish in under 1 hour, 15 minutes (the 8:30 time limit).  After crossing the road, I don’t stop at the aid station because the end is so close and I would rather have the time to power up the muddy waterfalls that is the trail back up to the trail paralleling Highway 49.

I walk/run for a bit with a gal who finishing her first 50K (doing great, I might add) and then shuffle/jog past a number of slowing competitors and I catch back up to my 70 year-old friend on the last stretch.  We come across the finish together (though he may have started an hour early) and I proclaim that between us we have 23 Way Too Cool finishes!

Tsehay gets her finish (yay!) – knew she could do it.  Anthony beats me by almost 4 hours (he is also 20 years younger), coming in 7th overall, but not placing in his age group! My time is 7:38:26, almost an hour slower than last year.  I’ll attribute it to my lack of running this winter and the incessant rain preventing me from getting out on the trails.

I hope to be back out at Cool next year, and I really hope that they are able to repair some of my favorite trails and eliminate the run-arounds.  I hope they also continue to be sponsored by Sufferfest beer, so I can bring a can home and split with my dad (like I have the past two years).

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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.