I don’t really even know where to begin with this race report. The last time I ran Way Too Cool was in 2010. You can read that race report here. That race was four years and 1 Squeaker ago. It was my first ever ultra and I had been running with a training group to prepare. This year, this race, everything was different.
Six months ago I had ankle surgery. This race was barely a glimmer in my mind at the time but I knew I wanted to run it again but I wasn’t sure if I could. After running CIM, I decided I could give it a shot knowing that running on trails with a bum ankle is way different then running on pavement.
With Pigeon by my side as my training partner every (other) weekend, I really hoped that I would gain the fitness that I needed to finish. And finish I did! Let’s get this race report moving! Warning, LOTS of photos ahead (and it is pretty long).
The day started off really early. I woke up at 4:30, dressed and waited in the garage for Pigeon and Missouri to arrive. The parking situation at WTC is a little crazy and getting a spot IN the parking lot vs on the haul road is ideal for many reasons.
When we arrived at the race, Pigeon and I got out and walked over to pick up our race packets. I didn’t realize that this was the 25th anniversary for Way Too Cool so that was pretty sweet. We got a neat bag (above photo), a nice shirt and a towel included in our schwag bag.
Our parking spot was pretty ideal. We were situated between my old training coaches Coach Nikon and Captain Kirk! That was a good sign in my book.
After multiple trips to the bathroom, a weak effort at trying to nap and a lot of laughter with Pigeon and Missouri, it was time to get ready for the race. I was feeling anxious. The race started at 8 am but we had arrived at the parking lot about 2 hours prior. For me, this throws a minor loop into my usual pre-race routine but it wasn’t too bad. I was able to eat my usual pre-race fuel and had packed all I needed and more.
As we were getting ready, I noticed that Pigeon was putting on her iShuffle. She usually runs with music, at least one ear bud in. For trails, I do not. In fact, I hardly ever run with music because I like to listen to the sounds of the race around me. It helps me enjoy the experience even more. However, I had packed my iShuffle because I thought I might listen to it in the car and that maybe I would want it for the race as a distraction. It was definitely a distraction as you’ll see later.
We knew the day was going to be really warm. It was predicted to reach the mid 70s and be sunny. I started the race wearing my usual Athleta running skirt and tank top and threw on some arm warmers which ended up being useless about 10 minutes into the race.
The race start was broken up into waves. The amount of people signed up for this race has grown tremendously the last few years and to accommodate the numbers, the race directors had to create wave starts. Pigeon and I were in wave 1 which is exactly where we wanted to be.
After a quick Happy Birthday Way Too Cool we were off and running up the paved road. The course compared to 2010 is different. The first 8 miles this year go up the road and we do a loop that takes us back through the parking lot.
The road was pretty boring except that there were hundreds of cars along the side of the road. People were dropping stuff at their cars left and right (or using them as shields as they went to the bathroom). Â At the very top of the hill we hit the single track trail that took us down …. to our first major obstacle and what would set the tone for the day…
These crossings wouldn’t be so bad except that it isn’t just dirt on the bottom. Underneath all that water are slippery jagged rocks of all sizes. You had to be very careful where you placed your foot IF you could see through the water.
Getting the first crossing over with was fun. Everyone was yelling and laughing. All the newbie runners were getting wet within the first mile and it was awesome.
Running with wet feet isn’t so bad. It actually feels quite nice on your joints and your feet typically don’t stay wet for long … unless there is mud, which there was a lot of in this race.
It was through these parts that I started experimenting with wearing my headphones and listening to my music. I put one bud in my ear, ran a couple of yards and almost killed myself. Nope! No way. I am not talented enough to listen to music, focus on the trail and my foot placement and not break a bone. So I took the bud out of my ear and then it was bothering me so as I was running I was trying to unfeed the headphone wires from under my shirt and just carry the darn thing. I was also carrying my arm warmers at this point. I knew we’d see Missouri at mile 8 or so. It was just annoying having all that in my hands.
These 8 miles were fun except for the long lines of people we’d be stuck behind and all the slippery mud we had to run through. It takes a lot of energy to prevent yourself from falling and I could instantly feel my calves and the muscles surrounding my ankle tensing up as I was running through these patches.
Once you are tired of being covered in mud, you come to another crossing!
As I was taking this photo I looked to my right and I see one of our fellow runners taking photos of all of us crossing. He laughed when he saw me taking photos so he took a photo of me taking a photo!
As we were running towards the parking lot there were lots of people lining the sides of the trail cheering for us. Initially I did not think I would like running through the finish area (you know, that mental game) but it was so early on in the race, that I actually think it helped me.
To me, it was like a new race. Pigeon and I have parked in this lot many times and have started our run from here. So in a way, I just thought of it as one of our training runs. I was also finally able to hand off my stuff to Missouri here. Thanks!!!
Once we ran through the lot and crossed the road, ran under the finish arch and back onto the trail we noticed it was a mud fest right in the finish shoot. That would be fun later for sure!
Pigeon and I just cruised along this section. Up and down the hills of the fire road until we came to the trail. I was feeling okay. This rocky section combined with the mud really started playing around with my achilles and the muscles surrounding my bum ankle.
On this stretch I overheard a conversation that had me laughing in my head (see, it pays to not wear ear buds). The guy and girl behind me had just met and were talking. The Way Too Cool race mascot is a huge frog and when you finish, you get an awesome froggie cupcake (that my girls love). I never once thought anything of it until I heard what this guy was saying ….
Guy: We’re coming up on the frog section!
Girl: Frog section?
Guy: Wait for it …
(ribbit ribbit ribbit times a million)
Girl: Oh yea!
Guy: The frogs say cupcake ….
(ribbit ribbit turns into cupcake cupcake cupcake)
Sure enough, the sound of all the millions of little frogs croaking together, sounded as if they are saying cupcake! I was totally smiling ear to ear and giggling in my head. Trail runs bring out the funniest of stories sometimes.
Soon we approached the downhill section that Pigeon loves. She turns to me and says “I need to make a pit-stop. I’ll catch up.” At first I was totally confused and I stopped. I realized here that I had not eaten a single thing so I grabbed some Picky Bar pieces out of my pack and started eating. Then I realized that I too had to make a pitstop or would need to in the near future. I also remembered that not far down the trail we’d cross Highway 49 where there would be a porta potty.
I know Pigeon. I know she could bomb that descent so I took off myself and made it to the porta potty after crossing highway 49. She passed me and we decided that I could catch up (there was an aid station in the middle too).
Sure enough I caught her on the rocky quarry road that parallels the river. We hiked a bit and laughed at our situation and then started running. Quarry road is rather boring. It is a fire road that is kind of annoying really. It has rocks and just goes up and down .. up and down. You either pass or get passed by a lot of people on this road.
But soon were back on the trails where the fun really begins!
Pigeon took the lead for pretty much the entire run sometimes leading a line of people. One thing I noticed this year was that many runners behind us never spoke up. Generally when you want to pass, I typically say “when you have a moment, I’d like to pass” or if you see a clearing you say “on your left” but no one did that. Either they truly didn’t want to pass or they would pass in a very dangerous spot and seem totally annoyed! It was starting to bug me a little bit.
Around mile 17 I was contemplating taking an Aleve. The pain in my achilles was starting to bug me and it was also migrating up my calf and starting to feel more like a cramp. I took a salt tab and on a climb, I dug an Aleve out of my pack and took that with some more Picky Bar pieces. I was willing to risk the tummy ache from the Aleve in an effort to calm the pain in my leg.
Boy am I glad that I took that! Within 20 minutes I started feeling like a million dollars. I had energy, I had strength and I really was hanging close to Pigeon’s tail finally happy to be cruising along easily. I was in such a good mood that I started laughing when I saw this sign …
If you are from New Jersey like myself, you will understand. Hoboken New Jersey has quite the reputation. Hoboken Creek however was another fairly large crossing.
It was pretty rocky and slippery underneath. That guy in the photo was icing his knee. We offered him some pain meds but he said he preferred the nice cold stream instead.
After that we hit a warm sunny patch that felt like we were running through a sauna. The temps were definitely warming up and I was taking more salt that I have in a long time in an effort to keep the cramping in my calves at bay.
Miles 17 to 25 I felt like a million dollars. The whole body felt great. My fueling felt fine although I probably could have squeezed in a little more calories but overall I felt great. Then we reached the infamous Goat Hill. I had sort of forgotten about Goat Hill.
Prior to the hill we’d been running in a long line of runners and I was too busy listening to the women behind me talk non stop the last 5 miles, to really notice that the hill was coming. Granted I was in a zone and pretty quiet but their talking just seemed to bug me. Pigeon was really quiet and I could tell was hurting by the way she was running.
As we were approaching Goat Hill I did something new. I am not a gel person but I had a Honey Stinger gel that I had picked up from work and decided to try it. Ugh, not a wise choice right before you climb the beast that is Goat Hill. Luckily, I kept it down.
By the time we reached the top (9 minutes later) I was toast. I really needed a recovery break here to just catch my breath, stretch my calves and maybe take in a little food but Pigeon was off and running and so was I.
These next few miles though are so pretty with some amazing views. I really wanted to take my camera out quite a few times but I was in the middle of a long line, we were so close to being done and I was watching my steps to make sure I didn’t fall.
Pretty much the last 4 miles of the race are a blur. I just wanted to be done and in hind sight, I should have taken in some food along the way. I usually ate at whatever aid station we came upon. Pigeon was drinking coke which was more like crack because she came alive after having been in a very visible down session earlier.
Her enthusiasm is infectious though (to most – some runners didn’t appreciate it haha). When I started hearing the cars that were on highway 49 I was happy. I knew we only had to cross 49 and then run the long mile UP towards the finish.
We crossed 49 and reached the aid-station they have there and some how I was confused. I wanted to get food but the ladies were grabbing at my water bottles and one lady was telling the other lady to put Gu Brew in my other bottle. I was trying desperately to tell her no, I don’t want that in there, just water and the one lady just handed me a cup of Gu Brew (which I drank) and the other lady had my bottles but I had my lids … it was just confusing. Pigeon was downing more soda and looking at me like “let’s go” so I just started running. It was all a blur. But, I ran.
We hiked up the crazy rocky section and I have to say, I really dislike this section. For someone who has an ankle that doesn’t bend well at all combined with some cramping calves, this section realllllly sucked.
Pigeon was just yelling at me “come on!” and “you can do this!” and in my head I wanted to scream at her but I know what she was doing. She was trying to motivate me. She wanted me to get my PR (personal record) so she was pushing. Generally when I am pushed, I do the opposite and back off. I don’t like being pushed but internally I wanted to be done with this last mile so bad that I just kept moving and praying that my calf wouldn’t seize up on me.
Finally we hit the rolling hills and Pigeon was just pushing and pushing. Then we hit the straight away and I all I wanted to do was just run this and even said, “this is good enough” in terms of my pace but Pigeon pushed even harder, “no it’s not.” Finally we made the curve towards the finish shoot and I all I wanted to do was sprint and avoid the mud so I sprinted …. then Pigeon sprinted. We crossed the finish at the exact same time! I can’t wait to see the finishers photos when they post them as I am sure our faces were hilarious.
As I cross the finish I am handed a medal by this adorable little blonde girl … who I realize is the Peanut! I am totally spent and baffled at how my daughter is handing out medals to the runners … she then runs off and I am left standing there alone trying to find Vans and Squeaker.
After the race I cleaned up, changed and hung out with Vans, the girls, Pigeon and a lot of the Fleet Feet crew. It was nice to relax after the race and let the girls enjoy my hard earned cup cake.
TiggerT was also out there showing support. It was a great day. The weather was great (warm but great) and despite the mud and water, everyone had a lot of fun.
The Way Too Cool course is not an easy 50K in my opinion. Our finish time was 6 hours and 14 minutes which is about 16 minutes faster than I did it in 2010 (granted a different course too). There is a lot of climbing out there on this course and combined with the mud and water, it could make things interesting.
I am happy with the race overall. I am pleased with my gear. My Jenny Vesta was fantastic and so far I am in love with it. The muddy ground made everything soft so the usual pain that I have in the ball of my foot was nonexistent during the race. I continue to love fueling with Picky Bars broken up into little pieces in my bag. Towards the end of the race I was running low so at one of the aid-stations I grabbed a potato and some M&Ms (not sure why, my hand just went there). I also use ginger chews from Trader Joes on the run in-between when my mouth is dry or my tummy is starting to feel off. Those work great although they can be hard to chew so be careful not to use them on a tough up hill.
Things that didn’t work or that I didn’t like so much was clearly running with my iShuffle and headphones. That was a big fail for me. No big deal, I much prefer the sounds and sights around me. Taking the Honey Stinger gel was not a hit for me. I thought it would give me a faster rush of energy and additional electrolytes but I just don’t love that gel consistency. The twinges in my achilles and ankle are a new(er) sensation for me. I tried going for a post race recovery run and only made it about a block before I decided to turn around and head home. I didn’t want my gait to change compensating for the ankle so I just called it a day and will try again tomorrow after some rest, icing and rolling.
Mostly I am happy. Everything else feels great today (the day after the race). However, I need to wrap my head around running the American River 50 miler in 4 weeks. Luckily my Cornell class is over. The stress that filled my week is also gone (knock on wood) so from here on out, I need to just focus what I can do to help my body be better for AR50.
These guys definitely help.