Sunday, March 15, 2009
For me, and countless others, WTC marks the official beginning of the ultra running season. This year was my 4th WTC and each year it just seems to get better. From the camaraderie, organization, aid station volunteers, competition, all the way down to the delicious froggy cupcakes.
Julie Finger assumed the new role of Race Director and her first order of business seemed to be the course. She changed it. It was well known that WTC was not a "true" 50K but everyone seemed to accept that fact with 20 years of tradition. Why change it now? Paul DeWitt and I went up to the course on Friday to do a little scouting and shake the legs out. We ran into Julie and she explained the reasoning: When the race started it was called the Cool Canyon Crawl in which that course was exactly 31 myles. Well when the race changed to Way Too Cool a few years later the course ended up being marked incorrectly, making a turn off the road too early - a short cut if you will. I'm not sure when they figured it out but the RD just decided to keep it the same. Julie and others wheeled (most accurate) the old course and sure enough - 31 myles. Before she made the announcement of the change she consulted with Uli Steidl and other course record holders and got their opinion, they were all in favor of making it a "true" 50K. Change is always seen as difficult and people react with frustration. I commend Julie for making the change because the way I see it is that Way Too Cool can now be sanctioned and maybe someday host the 50K national trail championship. I also commend Julie for a tremendous race atmosphere - no detail was left undone! And yes there were little froggy cupcakes that Julie's Mom and friend Monica spent 8 hours baking and decorating.
For the race itself this is how it happened for me: A couple days leading up to the race I came down with a sore throat - I couldn't believe it! I always seem to get sick before a race, or maybe it's just that I'm ultra sensitive to how I'm feeling and make a mountain out of a mole hill. But my throat was sore and my Friday leg loosener wasn't good so I was little fearful at this point. Friday night I went to eat with Paul DeWitt, Justin Ricks and his wife Denise. We talked about the course, shoes, and strategy. Strategy mainly because it's easy to get caught up in the excitement and start way too fast so I wanted to warn first timer and teammate Justin Ricks.
Start to Hwy 49 (7.1 myles)
Sure enough 5:59 for the first mile and I was behind about 25 people. Justin and I looked at each other and just shook our heads. Next mile still on the roads with a couple hills, 6:15. So for 2 myles 12:14. I just did a tempo run of 2 myles in 12:12!!! And the leaders were still pulling away! We started the trail and climbed up to the highest point, a few started to fall back, and a quick group of 6 started to form: myself, Justin Ricks, Karl Meltzer, Rod Bien, Michael Buchanan and another guy I didn't know. We got to Hwy 49 in about 47 minutes (6:37 pace) which turns out to be about 11 minutes slower than my previous years on the old course. Breathing pretty easy and feeling really good.
Hwy 49 to ALT 1 (8.3 myles - 15.4 total)
Started the descent down to the American River where it seemed to be a little muddy and rutted but no worse than previous years. As we ran parallel to the river our little group becomes smaller: myself, Justin, Karl, Victor Ballesteros, and Rod. Once up on the ALT trail we picked up another runner, Jeff Kozak, and settled in behind him. It was slower than I wanted and others seemed to be antsy but I knew going too fast on this section is way too easy and could cause a blow up problem later. Almost to the aid station a couple of guys in matching singlets came flying past us "like a train" with no water bottles - roadies! I made a mental note that I would see them again no matter how good they looked. I made it to ALT 1 in 1.49 - quick math told me I was about 12 minutes slower than last year but same split from last year.
ALT1 to ALT 2 (6.3 myles - 21.7 total)
We got to the aid station and Victor just bolted up the hill (didn't see again). The roadies got a cup of water and were off. I settled in once again behind Jeff Kozak for about 2 myles and turned around to notice Karl was coming fast. I decided to get past Jeff and get to Ball Bearing hill keeping Karl behind me. Up to this point I had taken in a flask of EFS gel (400 calories) and then started on GU packs (1 every 20 minutes). I also had a Nathan water bottle that I had filled up twice. Having said that, nutrition and hydration were spot on with no problems. I made it around to Ball Bearing Hill with Rod Bien, Karl Meltzer, and now Lewis Taylor. Lewis passed me 2 years ago with 4 myles to go so I knew he was gonna be tough. I climbed Ball Bearing real good! Honestly I ran a good chunk of it and caught up with Justin and now Phil Kochik. At this point I am in 14th place and feeling good. I made it in 2.39, which was still 12 minutes slower than last year but did the loop in 50 minutes (fastest yet)
ALT 2 to Goat Hill (5.1 myles - 26.8 total)
I filled my water bottles and grabbed two more GUs. I went out on the trail with Phil Kochik, Justin, and another guy. This section is the same fast section (ALT) that we went out on but now we had oncoming traffic (slower runners) to contend with. I was content to sit behind these guys and let them part the way. About a mile into the stretch Justin passed me and I followed. We soon separated ourselves from the other two. Justin was running good and I was thinking if I had to sprint to the finish with him I would certainly lose. But nonetheless, happy to lose to a talented runner like Justin. Suddenly about 3 myles into the section he pulled over and that was the last I saw of him. I was now feeling the best I had all day leading up to Goat Hill. I soon caught two other guys, which only fueled my fire. One of the guys I caught was the roadie that passed "like a train" earlier. I gritted my teeth to catch the next one and to keep Lewis off my heels. I made it to Goat Hill in 3.20, still 11 minutes slower than last year.
Goat Hill to Hwy 49 (2.9 myles - 29.7 total)
I pretty much ran up Goat Hill because I caught a glimpse of Lewis behind me and this is where he passed me two years ago. I was motivated, feeling good, and bolted through the aid station. This is the section I have always suffered so I loaded up on the GUs taking two at the beginning of the section. This section is quite deceiving because of the climbing, if you do too much to get up Goat then you have nothing left for the hills that get you to Hwy 49. I caught a glimpse of two guys ahead and knew I could catch em if I ran the entire section. I caught one before Hwy 49 and was quickly running out of real estate. I'm not sure of my time going through here but I think it was around 3.42. I ran this section in 22 minutes my fastest by 3 minutes. Everyone at the aid station was cheering me on to catch the next guy who was only 1 minute up
Hwy 49 to the Finish (1.3 myles - 31 total)
Ironically the distance left was the distance that was added so theoretically I could say on the old course I would have come in around 3.42 - which I think is pretty accurate. I ran with everything I had to catch a glimpse of the next runner and I did.... but it was the ONE person I did not want to see - Paul DeWitt. Paul was running solid all day - I got glimpses of him about 4 or 5 minutes in front of me. He looked strong and I had high hopes he would pull the "W" outta the hat. Paul told me later that he had made it up to 3rd, tried to lose the guy he passed, ran out of salt, and began to cramp. Once that starts, it's pretty much over as far as holding a pace. I feel bad for Paul because he was hoping for a top 3 to qualify for Western. And the sad truth is that he would have been top 3 if the cramps hadn't started. But anyways, I passed Paul and guess who was in front of him? The other roadie guy that passed earlier "like a train" with no water bottle. He saw me and started running up the hill and was still ahead of me with the 1/2 mile sign to go. I dug a little deeper and broke him on the next little riser - it gave me those little tinglies in my head. 3.55:09 was my final time in 6th place. In my head before I began 3.55 is what I thought I was capable of.
This was probably my best "complete" ultra I have put together. Everything worked for me on this day. My nutrition and hydration were spot on. And I went out easier and always remembered what Guillermo Medina once told me "Let them come back to you". In total 8 runners came back to me and I'm here to tell you, it's better to pass than to be passed in the end. I guess the ol' legs came back after all. Next up for me, Miwok 100k - I have some unfinished business there...