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).