Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Way Too Cool 50K 2015

When you’ve been struggling with your motivation like I have, there is no better cure than a long day of moving down sun soaked trails and greeting friends at every turn. For so many of us, the first Saturday of March in Cool, California is the kick off to the spring running season – the beginning of feeling faster and running more consistently. Also, the perfect, summer-like weather that has been present there the last few years certainly marks the change of seasons. It’s hard not to love the Way Too Cool 50K.

It only took me five years at this race to finally figure out how to run it. My training has been incredibly mediocre and uninspired, so I found myself really struggling with my confidence going into it this year. I knew there was no way I would come close to last year’s 4:44. I simply wasn’t in that kind of shape. And there is something mentally challenging about returning to a familiar race knowing it isn’t going to be your best performance.  I knew the best part of my day would be seeing friends (It was!), and I put my expectations in check, just hoping to finish in under five hours.

Jenelle and JP, keeping warm before the start

I caught a ride down the hill with Jenelle and JP. After a stop for coffee in Colfax, where we ran into fellow Truckee runner Jeff Brown, we made the early arrival in Cool to snag a great parking spot. I always think rock star parking is a good way to set the tone for an awesome day.

Another reason to get to Cool early, besides good parking, is the socializing. It’s easy to miss your faster or slower friends after the race, but in those chilly morning hours we are all there, excited and shivering together. For a day that was predicted to reach 70 degrees, it sure was freezing out at 7:00 AM!

Pre-race with Jamie

Jeff, ready for a great day!


I lined up with Jamie for the typically fast start of this race. After five years at Cool, the speedy start doesn’t intimidate me anymore. I had a great time on the rolling terrain in those first 8 miles! I met and ran with several runners local to my area – Craig from Reno, and Jeff who just moved to Truckee and is planning on joining my running club, the Donner Party Mountain Runners. As we cruised the downhill to Knickerbocker Creek, I was startled to see a makeshift bridge had been placed across it.

“When did they put a bridge here?” I asked.

“Damn, this race has gotten soft!” I heard a guy behind me joke. I laughed, but I couldn’t disagree. The water was clear and running low – the safest creek crossing you could imagine.

The only part of this loop that wasn’t pleasant was some guy several runners back who thought it would be a good idea to run with a cowbell attached to his hydration pack. I can tell you that after 8 miles, that cowbell became beyond annoying. I heard comments from several other runners about what they’d like to do to that guy and exactly where they’d like to put that cowbell.

I ran back into the first aid station at the start/finish area and handed off my arm warmers to JP. I didn’t need water yet, so I just grabbed a GU and headed out. To my dismay, cowbell guy was right behind me now. I was at the point where I was so annoyed with him that I knew I wouldn’t be able to ask him nicely to put his monotonous noisemaker away, so I just kept my mouth shut. On the downhill, I reminded myself that I wasn’t here to run a fast time, so I deliberately slowed down and let the cowbell guy pass me. I breathed an immediate sigh of relief and felt myself instantly relaxing and smiling. It’s funny how something like that can really get under your skin and put you in a negative mindset.

At the Quarry Road aid station (mile 11), I was greeted by friends Chaz, Pete, and Chris who filled me up with GU Brew and got me on my way in a flash. 

Coming into Quarry Rd. aid station (photo Pete Broomhall)

Chaz is on it with the refil! (photo Pete Broomhall)

I started to wonder where Jamie was. We had been running together the first mile until she paused to hand off her arm warmers to a friend. I knew she was in great shape and should smash her PR for the course, so I was expecting her to pass me any minute.

I was thoroughly enjoying this mellow section of trail that I run often in training during the late winter months. I had discovered on the drive down that I had forgotten my watch. I won’t try to explain how seriously my head is in the clouds these days, but let’s just say I wasn’t surprised that I had forgotten something. Luckily, the watch wasn’t critical, and in fact, it helped me relax and just run on feel. Since I didn’t have a big goal for this race, that was perfect.

Somewhere before the Main Bar aid station (mile 16.7), I realized I was coming up behind the cowbell guy again.

“Oh no!” I heard the men I was running with declare. “It’s him!” We were all relieved when we passed by and realized he had put the cowbell away.

A few minutes later, I was chatting with the woman who had saved us all. She had asked the guy very politely to put the cowbell away. It sounds like he didn’t acquiesce immediately – it took a little discussion and convincing on her part. I give this woman my eternal gratitude!

The ALT aid station always seems like forever in coming. I swear it is farther than 4.3 miles from Main Bar! Sure, all the uphill makes it slow, but I’m certain it has to be closer to 6 miles between those two stations.

As I was closing in on ALT, I saw a woman up ahead that I thought might be Erika Lindland. Awesome! Although I knew I was probably not in good enough shape to be running with her, I was excited to be near here this late in the race. She is a really strong runner, but on my good days, I can hang with her. I made it my goal to try to keep her in sight, but of course in my excitement I started running harder and began closing in on her. After about two miles of slowly gaining, I was right behind her coming into the ALT aid station at mile 21.

Unfortunately for me, she was just a bit faster than I was through the aid station. I saw her leave, assumed I would close the gap, and never saw her again. Ah well. She ended up running a 4:44 which was never going to happen for me, so it’s probably best that I didn’t kill myself trying to keep up with her.

Those last ten miles were probably the best I have ever felt on that stretch in this race. I had taken salt early (beginning at mile 11), stayed hydrated, and wasn’t cramping at all. In contrast, last year I suffered painful cramps for the last hour of the race, plus for another 30 minutes after finishing. I enjoyed the smooth, easy miles to Brown’s Bar, cranked up Goat Hill, and smiled at how great I felt.

I saw friends Kirk and Jenny and asked them if Jamie had come through yet. Maybe she had passed me somewhere and I’d missed her? When they said they hadn’t seen her all day, I started to worry. Where could she be?

It is always my goal to run it in from the last aid station at Highway 49. It’s only 1.4 miles, but it’s mostly uphill and a little technical. Last year, I had to walk some of it. This year, I had no problem running every step. There were a couple other women kicking ass on this section, and we blew by a handful of men up that hill on our way to the finish line.

I have to admit, it was kind of fun not knowing what my time was. I felt pretty confident that I was going to finish in under five hours, but realistically I knew that I was probably not faster than 4:50. I was guessing 4:56, so when I came around the final corner to see 4:50 on the clock, I was all smiles. It was such an awesome surprise!

The surprise that was not so awesome was when Jamie met me at the finish line all cleaned up and changed already. I knew she could not have finished that far ahead of me, even if I’d missed her passing me.

“What happened?” I cried. The look on her face told me it was nothing good, and I had her in a sweaty hug before she could answer. She’d taken a hard fall on the downhill to Quarry Road and had had to drop. It was a crummy turn of events for her day, but so far she didn’t think there was going to be any serious lasting damage.

I headed over to the tent for The Canyons Endurance Runs where I had stashed my bag. I barely had time to get my flip flops on before Chaz was handing me a beer. Normally I like to drink my GU recovery drink before any of that, but it was too hard to turn Chaz down. It tasted phenomenal!

Jenelle finished just a few minutes after I did, and we all spent a couple of relaxing hours in the sunshine recovering, cheering on friends, drinking beer, and just generally reveling in the ultra runner scene.

Pete, Chaz, and Chris, who graciously hosted me and other friends with a chair, shade, and a beer.

Curt, who hung around after his race long enough to see us slow people finish!

Both the men’s and women’s course records were broken that day, and there was a lot of talk about how all the elite road runners are affecting the sport of trail ultras. I remember the same conversations last year. And I’m pretty sure I heard them the year before that. Sure, it’s true. Of the men’s top ten times on the course, 9 are from the last three years. For the women, 6 of the top ten times are from either last year or this year. If I had run 4:50 at my first Way Too Cool in 2006, I would have finished 5th woman. Ha! That’s hilarious. This year it earned me 30th.

So things are getting speedy, and it makes sense that a fast course with good competition would be the gateway drug for trail-curious roadsters. I think it’s exciting. When I look around at the crowd at Way Too Cool, I just see smiles and happy people. For me, the bigger field and faster runners have done nothing to dampen the spirit of this race, and it’s fun to see such impressive performances. I guess if you prefer a more low-key scene, there’s still plenty of that to be had at other trail races.

Thanks so much to RD Julie and to all the volunteers who work so hard to help make this event so successful! I will always be back in some capacity, whether racing, volunteering, or cheering. 


  1. Way to kick behind, great race! Seems that everything is getting soft, roll with it:) Gosh, I am jealous! Living vicariously!

  2. What a wonderful day! And you kicked some serious butt out there! Congrats on the fantastic performance! It was great to see you out there too!