Way Too Cool 50k Race Report

Running with Stephanie Howe at the start (Photo: David Roche)

Running with Stephanie Howe at the start (Photo: David Roche)

“Believe that you can run farther or faster. Believe that you’re young enough, old enough, strong enough, and so on to accomplish everything you want to do. Don’t let worn-out beliefs stop you from moving beyond yourself.”

                – John Bingham, sent to me by my coaches in my training plan for race week (I know, they’re pretty fantastic).

A lot of people asked me in the lead up to the Way Too Cool 50k if I was still planning on running it after all of the early season racing already under my belt. They seemed a little taken aback when I enthusiastically proclaimed that I was.

Why? Well, if I were a normal person, I might have at least paused to consider the wisdom of racing for the following reasons:

  • Just ran a hard-effort 100k at Black Canyon three weeks ago. Bandera 100k was five weeks prior to that. Preceded by December’s North Face 50 miler, again five weeks prior.
  • Since my training has been focused on longer distance efforts, perhaps a fast 50k without time for specific training is not the wisest choice?
  • How about the crowd of impressively, and let’s face it, seemingly out-of-my-league speedsters that were toeing the line at the start? I mean, those ladies definitely had the potential to take the shine distinctly off what has been a very good year so far.
  • Finally, I made the Elite Women’s Start at the Boston Marathon (in a mere six weeks), which is an absolutely unbelievable dream come true. Also, the Western States 100 miler is at the end of June. My 100 mile debut. On the ‘super bowl’ of big stages in the ultraworld. Maybe there are bigger fish to fry.

Of the above concerns, it was the risk of being put to shame by a group of twenty-something shorter-distance screamers that gave me the most pause. I mean, it hurts to get totally spanked by the competition. And yet, the familiar gnawing pang. I wanted to see how I could do. On a best case scenario, to prove that I had what it takes. That my legs know how to go fast as well as far. Alternatively, I knew that no matter how badly things might go, it’s incredibly motivating to come away from a race like this seeing how fast it can be run and how much I need to improve to compete with the best of the best. (It’s pointless questioning whether that’s even realistic for me. I didn’t get this far by thinking rationally about things like that.) So I took the plunge.

Cool, California. 7:59am. Since I was going ahead with the race, I decided to say hello to Stephanie Howe at the start line and run with her. Hey, why not. I knew (eventual winner) Megan Roche was likely to dust us all from the gun and her bold 5:50 opening mile immediately separated her from the rest of the ladies. Stephanie and I led the way for the remainder of the women’s field (about 6:15 pace), but the fast start felt comfortable enough and we chatted a little.

Well, it didn’t take long to figure out that the freshness I initially felt wasn’t going to last at this hot pace. Four miles in, I knew that if I wanted to finish the race strong, I was going to have to back off a bit. I just didn’t have that floating feeling that portends a great race and can carry me through for so many blissfully effortless miles. Instead, it felt like a training run and my legs wouldn’t turnover much faster than that. Bummer.

Heading down to Highway 49, followed closely by Lindsay Tollefson and new trail friend Curt Casazza (Photo: Inside Trail)

Heading down to Highway 49, followed closely by Lindsay Tollefson and new trail friend Curt Casazza (Photo: Inside Trail)

The middle miles were the hardest. Passed by ladies a few times over, I started to have the sneaking suspicion this might have been a mistake. But then, the gorgeous trails, the fact that I was almost never alone in this 1,200+ person race, the fact that part of this trail was a Western States preview, well, I just decided to sit back and enjoy it. Before long, with a few climbs in the back half under my belt, my legs co-operated on the more gentle sections and I finally found a rhythm. I’d passed a couple of women along the way and as the last half mile approached, a male runner wearing, of all things, a Hawaiian shirt, pulled me towards the finish. In true ultrarunning community spirit, he encouraged me to run hard with him for the last stretch. After we crossed the line, I surprised him with a kiss on the cheek, happy to have clung on to my position in the ladies field.

The problem is, I felt like I had plenty left in the tank. My legs hadn’t co-operated with the turnover I need for a fast 50k run, but they were ready to go all day. Just when I felt it was time to dig in and suffer, the race was over. Even so, I actually feel pretty good about the run overall. I didn’t come close to the podium, but my 5th place 4:06:40 would have won in 17 of the race’s 26 years (though trail conditions were definitely favorable this year). It also represents the 2nd fastest ladies Masters time on the course, behind Olympian Magdalena Boulet (2014), and is in the top 20 fastest women’s times ever run on the course. Yes, I actually looked those stats up to make myself feel better!

The upshot is I’m glad I ran the race. I hope never to lose sight of the fact that while it’s gratifying to do well, I’m ultimately doing this because I love it. Way Too Cool embodies many of the things that are hallmarks of the ultra scene. From first timers to course record setters, all are welcomed, celebrated, and encouraged in their efforts. I had a fantastic time meeting new friends both on and off the trail. From the jubilant aid station volunteers to the post-race vibe, Way Too Cool sure is a party! Regardless of whether it’s healthy for my ultrasignup score, I’ll probably be back to race here again.

Many congrats to my Nike teammates for their jaw-dropping performances. Megan Roche smashed the old course record by 7.5 mins. Patrick Smyth also took down a course record many thought untouchable, skimming 4 mins off Max King’s 2013 mark.

On the men’s side, it was a Nike podium sweep, with Ryan Bak in 2nd and Tim Tollefson in 3rd. On the women’s side, I ran to 5th and Lindsay Tollefson picked up 6th, in the deepest men’s and women’s fields the race has seen for years. Finally, a shout out to the awesome performances turned in by Stephanie Howe (2nd, also running under the previous course record) and YiOu Wang (3rd). Seriously nice work ladies!

Nike Trail Team members at Way Too Cool 50k (Photo, left to right: Team Manager Pat Werhane, Patrick Smyth, Lindsay Tollefson, Tim Tollefson, Megan Roche, me, Ryan Bak, Alex Varner, David Roche, Jarrett Tong (marketing manager at Nike)

Nike Trail Team members at Way Too Cool 50k (Photo, left to right: Team Manager Pat Werhane, Patrick Smyth, Lindsay Tollefson, Tim Tollefson, Megan Roche, me, Ryan Bak, Alex Varner, David Roche, Nike Trail Puppy Addie, and Jarrett Tong (Nike marketing manager)