It was a beautiful morning to race the Way Too Cool 50K. With the race time temperature in the low 40’s I was excited to get going. There were well over 1,200 for the 25th anniversary running of the race which meant a wave start for the race, which was great for a slow poke for me. At the end, Chris Vargo won the race in a blazing 3:16:51 hours quickly followed by Alex Varner at 3:17:04. The duo were a full 18 minutes from the pack with Jason Rydman finishing still at a fast 3:35:56. For a mere mortal like me finishing at 8:08 these times are incredible.
The course is beautiful, beginning with an eight mile mostly single track (the first 1.5 miles is on asphalt) loop that covers beautiful rolling hills above a bluff that overlooks the American River. Since we have finally been getting rain here in California, the creeks were full which meant a couple knee to thigh-high crossings to clean off your shoes from the muddy slop that you would sometimes run through. Since there was a two wave start, for the first time for this race, and I was in the second wave the single track was not too congested.
On the way back on the loop, I saw my wife and kids and gave them high fives as I passed before dropping into the more difficult parts of the race.
The next section of the race drops down into the American River Canyon. The decent went pretty fast and uneventful – sans kicking a rock and almost taking a face plant. This section did get muddy at times but went pretty fast to the Lower Quarry Aid station.
After the Lower Quarry Aid Station, I was treated to a run next to the river. This part of the trail is more like fire trail with a good portion of it on unmaintained asphalt. At times we climbed up some nice little hills only to drop back down to the river. I found myself starting to slow down, but my strategy was to be able to keep somewhat of a healthy pace until the major climb out of the Canyon. However, with each small hill I found myself slowing.
I made it to the Maine Bar Aid station in no time which picked my spirits up just a bit. Memorizing the map as well as the sign post indicated that I had 4.3 miles to the next aid station at the top of the canyon. However, the location of the aid station did not align with where my watch indicated we were. Come to find out from other runners who have done the course before that the aid station was in the wrong place meaning that the next aid would be at 6.5 miles instead of the 4.3.
So at mile 17 the climb out of the canyon began. I was initially overtaken by the beauty of this area, so many waterfalls and creek crossings. Then the reality hit of how long this hill is. It was brutal four mile climb with some very steep grade sections. Now I love up hill, but with the limited training schedule after Surf City, I can say my training suffered and it showed up here. By mile 19 I was done and by mile 20ish I had decided that I would be dropping at the ALT aid station at mile 21.1. I was sore and aching with all of my focus being on that instead of finishing.
I had reached the lowest point I have had in a race for some time when low and behold a stone bench appeared above the trail. I took a moment and climbed up and sat just to take in the view of the canyon below. It was gorgeous. A flock of birds flew in formation with a loud squawking noise. A couple of runners looked up at me with an odd expression on their faces. Another jokingly stated that there was no sitting in trail running and that I must have been listening to too many fast runners on the podcasts (and she was right). After about five minutes I decided it was time to go but before I did, I realized my back was up against a plaque. This spot was dedicated to a Barbara Barsalou Schoener, a trail runner and mother of two who was killed by a mountain lion attack in 1994 near this spot. I could see why her loved ones put this bench in this spot to commemorate her.
This stop invigorated my and I found my pain was somewhat gone as well as my thoughts of dropping. This was further solidified when I got to the ALT aid station to know I still had over a 30 minute lead over the cut-off so I would finish. So after a Madeline dipped in salt and a couple of cups of Sprite, I was off. I wanted at least to get to Goat Hill to see what the entire hullabaloo was about.
The next 5.3 miles was awesome and I ran a lot of it. This was gorgeous terrain with several more creek crossings. By this time, I realized that I had made a poor decision to leave my camera because I could have easily taken a lot of pictures on this race. If I haven’t said it before, this is one beautiful course. I came across one lady who had her sons Flat Stanly and commented on how awesome that was then joked with her about no pacers being allowed. We laughed and made the time go by. I was feeling no pain at this point that is until Goat Hill.
Goat Hill occurs right at about mile 26.2, marathon distance. It is a single track trail with 20% grade with some switch back for 0.2 miles. I had been looking forward to this wall since I had heard about it and to experience it this late in the race was fun while challenging. Because of the rain, the last two hundred feet was a slop fest with a small little stream coming down at you.
At the top I was met with the best run aid station of the entire race, however there was a little bit of drama occurring. A little boy that had been helping had disappeared so a couple of the aid staff were searching for him. Then just moments after I arrived, the boy arrived with the safety patrol runner. He had taken after the safety patrol runner and was well halfway to the other aid station before he was turned around and back with his family. That said, the other aid station workers really were a crack team and they took care of all the runners very efficiently.
With the Goat Hill behind me now and knowing that there were only 4.7 mile to go and feeling great, I was in get er’ done mode. I knew I was going to finish and there was still a strong possibility that I could still finish under 8 hours. However, the clock was slowly ticking and by the time I had gotten to the last aid station 1.1 mile from the finish I had 15 minutes to be under that point.
I quickly realized that I would not be able to achieve this feat with some pretty fun and challenging technical up hill. There were a lot of roots and rocks and streams of mud to overcome before getting to the last 0.5 victory lap.
With one last splash through a muddy puddle and high fives from family and friends I got to the finish at 8:08 hours.
I can say I loved this race just for the shear amount of single track as well as the technical aspects of the course. This is a beautiful course and, other than the misplaced aid station, well run. I would probably run this race again; however my training would be more focused on this race, especially uphill. And I probably would not be doing a road marathon 5 weeks earlier like I did here.
A shout out to Brazen Racing - I saw a lot of the Brazen Racing family there. RD Sam and Jasmin were running this race with Sam’s brother. Marie would jump out periodically to take pictures of us at different times ( how she got so quickly to the various spots before any of the runners really surprised me!). One runner I came across had a Bay Breeze race shirt on which is one of Brazen Racing’s flattest half marathon races. We joked how this race was just like that one if you take out the hills with 20% grades and shortened it to a 13.1 mile distance. In fact, I would say race shirt/logo wise, Brazen was well represented.
In all, this was a great race. I learned a lot about pushing through and overcoming. And as I stated in my last post, there was no time goals here, just to finish and to have fun. Mission accomplished!