Sunday, March 9, 2014

Way Too Cool 2014: ouch again!

Enough! Someone has to speak-up so better be me... I need to stop chasing big goals while I'm injured and blatantly under trained! Only 110 miles overall of running in February, not a single hill, I should just be happy to toe the line, set a conservative pace and finish. But that's so far from the goals I had set for this year, and the level of fitness I had built in January...
The setup for this year's Way Too Cool was perfect though: 25th anniversary, blue and sunny skies, nice temperatures, 45F at the start and 70+ by mid day, soft trails with just enough mud to remind us we are still in winter and a few creeks to cross. After last Sunday's Nationals, my tibia was burning but I was able to ice it a lot at the hotel I was staying at for my customer meetings in New Jersey. No running of course but 2 sessions on the elliptical to get the sore legs moving. At the last minute I made a reservation for Friday night in Auburn, fearing the parking issues with 1,233 participants in this year's edition. Quite a few being from our San Jose QuickSilver running club (20 total today)!
The team in blue even got interviewed!
It was my 94th ultra race, 45th 50K and 9th consecutive Way Too Cool. I must admit that I have a bumpy relationship with this race, mostly love which gets me to come back, but I had quite lows on this course. 2006 was actually my first ultra. I had bee told it was an easy and "flat" course and suffered so much from cold temperatures that I barely broke 4:30. 2007 was even worse with asthma kicking in and a 4:45 finish (still no post as I started blogging late March 2007). A breakthrough on the shorter course of 2008 with a nice 3:56 ("Cool, at last."). 4:14 in 2009 ("Longer, slower.") then my worst finish in 4:58 in 2010 ("Not completely cool"). Back in 2011 with a 4:18 ("My 5th birthday"), 4:06 in 2012 ("Way too what?") and another breakthrough last year in perfect dry conditions with a top 10 finish in 3:50:25 ("So cool!").
With that I only needed to run 10 minutes slower this year to improve the course record of my brand new M50-59 age group. As usual with the very fast top runners and the 1st mile all downhill and on pavement, the start was very fast. I ran the first mile in 6:06 and it felt easy except for some tension in my calves, residual tiredness from racing hard 6 days ago at the Nationals. I was probably in the top 20-25 at the end of the first loop, coming back to Cool at an average 7 min/mile pace which was comparable to last year. My tibia started burning on the rough downhill to Highway 49 crossing at mile 10 but it was bearable.
The next section is a scenic and rolling 4-mile along the American River and I kept the pace slightly under 7 which was slightly faster than last year. The course is not quite 31.1 miles, closer to 30.4-30.5, with the second half harder in my opinion than the first. My Garmin indicated 1:46 for the first half (15.2) miles, that was indeed a fast pace, way under 4 hours. Starting at the half marathon, my calves started cramping so I doubled my S!Caps intake and slowed down a little, letting Karl Schnaitter among others closing on me by the Maine Bar aid station.

Although the UltraSignup statistics were putting me in 31st position in the list of entrants, Race Director Julie Fingar assigned me the bib #17, I always appreciate the faith she has in me, it did pay off last year! ;-) UltraRunnerPodcast's Eric Schranz was taking pictures of us on Lower Quarry Road (see below). That was around mile 14 and he said "Here is Jean, racing again! You are in 15th." So far, so good...
Well, so far, too fast... The cramps worsen and the pace falling down the cliff, 7:20, 7:30, 7:40... I did pass a couple of runners but was mostly passed by a few others. Teammate John Burton passed me just before the mile 19 camera, and he had the top 2 female on his heels which probably motivated him! ;-) Speedsters Caitleen Smith, who encouraged me, and Magdalena Boulet. A mile never felt as long at the one between that livecast camera and the Auburn Lake Trails aid station. I had my Gu2O almost refilled by one of the volunteers when Mark Richtman flew in the aid station yelling "Gu2O, Gu2O!" Over the last 3 miles I was expecting Mark Murray to catch me, but that was the other Mark who showed up first, the 58-year old and ex member of ultra running Team USA. I left the aid station first but Mark was quick to pass me and leave me in the dust. Our average pace at this point was 7:49, if I recall, so I thought he had a shot to the age group record himself.

From that point, having lost the age group category, the race became a real struggle. The cramping was really bad but, over the years, I learned how to deal with it and keep moving. Albeit quite slowly now. Last year, I was so excited to run most of Goat Hill, this year it was an agony. I briefly stopped at the aid station at the top of Goat Hill to take two small cups of Coke and I had hard time leaving the station, both my legs almost paralyzed. Pictures of me being passed by Michael Fink and Jady Palko, from Galen Farris:
I forced myself to jog the next miles, with more runners passing me, and didn't want to lose more time at the Highway 49 Crossing. The last hill was a struggle and even the last 1/2 mile to the finish with the cramps seizing both my calves (Pictures from Scott Sandow).

While my finish time wasn't my worse here, 4:14:38, I placed 40th and 5th in my new age group, yikes! Here is the screen shot that Greg took from the video live cast at the finish line:
At 58 Mark Richtman had won our age group in 4:02, missing the AG course record by a minute (he had no idea what that record was). Mark Murray also had a tough day with such a fast start and ran a 4:27 (versus 4:02 last year).

The race was won by Chris Vargo from Colorado Springs (3:16:51) beating local elite Alex Varner by 13 seconds, what a finish! To put things into perspective, Max King had set a Course Record last year in 3:08:50 but on a completely dry course so I'd say this year's conditions were not as good, although great for a winter race.

Magdalena won, clocking the 2nd fastest time on this course, 3:53:09, with Caitlin taking second in 3:56 and Jennifer Pfeifer (50!) passing me in the last 1/4 mile stretch to take 3rd in 4:14.

Overall, a masterpiece event organized by Julie and her NorCal Ultras crew, I believe now the largest 50K in North America, and maybe the largest ultra. Apart from the parking (I arrived almost 2 hours before the start and was parked 0.4 mile from the start, some runners having to park a mile away!), it never felt crowded. Well, even it wasn't my best day, I wasn't in the middle of the pack either... I only stopped at one aid station, but thank you to all the volunteers along the course. And to those hanging out at the finish line, I'm sure you spent the whole day handling such a crowd! What another ultra party you spoiled us with!

The first thing I did after finishing is some stretching of my sore legs and get a massage from Ve Loyce, the Monster of the Monsters of Massage. After 17 miles of running with cramps, my legs are still super sore this Sunday morning, but the massage helped me quitting the WTC scene walking... The tibia is burning pretty bad again this morning and I still don't know for sure what the injury is. At least my next race is only in 4 weeks (American River)...

Run happy and safely out there, looking forward to hearing about other WTC stories on FaceBook or the blogopshere!


Big Johnny Burton said...

Thorough race re-cap as always Jean! Sorry that you didn't have your best race this year, but at least it wasn't your worst :)

By the way, there seems to be a section missing from your blog where you talk about slowing down and letting Karl Schnaitter pass???


Jeremy said...

Good job toughing it out Jean! Been there, done that. I am sure you will bounce back stronger than ever, just keep your head up.

Galen Farris said...

Nice write up Jean! I was happy to take the photos! But I think you have me confused with a much faster Galen--Galen Burrell. I've run WTC before but nowhere near as fast as 3:25. Maybe some day . . . :)