Sunday, March 13, 2011

Way Too Cool 2011: my 5th birthday

March 2006, my first Way Too Cool and official ultra race. I was not blogging yet (it took me another year), but I remember my mixed feelings. On one hand, I did not much about ultra, everything I learned was from word of mouth from my fellow Striders, Charles Stevens and Mark Williams in particular, and helping out at aid stations, including being the Captain at Last Chance at Western States. On the other hand, I felt bullish and confident, thinking that this was just 5 miles longer than a marathon, not a big deal. I got so cold this year and suffered from asthma. Painful experience but would say ultra was meant to be easy? 4 hours and 29 minutes, I did not feel good about it although that was a first in getting farther and, nevertheless, one week before setting my PR on the half marathon at 1:15:04.
March 2011 therefore corresponds to my 5th birthday. In ultra... What a ground covered in 5 years! 56 ultras (an average of one per month for the 11 months I run each year), 13,190 miles (more than half the Earth circumference), 2 DNFs (Did Not Finish), 0 DNS (Did Not Start), 220 blog posts, so many connections and friends made through this sport, and an amazing way to push the envelope outside of work. So much that the family now gets a little bit blasé about all these miles and races... I know I'm not the only one in this situation, that's part of ultra...
This edition of Way Too Cool promised to be fast, with a new course avoiding the 2-way traffic of previous years on the single track section. At least fast for the competitive field attracted by the reputation of this event. So popular that the Race Director, Julie Fingar, got more than 600 runners registering, including 159 first timers at this distance (and ultra in general)! I must say that, continuing on Greg Soderlund's legacy (Western States Race Director), this is a very professional organization, including the serious chip timing but also a lot of creativity, humor and fun on the frog theme (see pictures).
The scoop for me was that Max visited us for his Spring break and I proposed him to join me for the race on Saturday, then drive up to Tahoe to ski on Sunday. The second part was certainly more appealing and exciting to him than the first one, although he is a great runner, but he did an amazing job at taking more than 400 pictures of the runners after the first loop, and the top 31 at the finish. That's a lot of picture, and a lot of time out there but, thankfully the day was gorgeous albeit on the cool side for me who always on the chilly side (except at Ohlone and Western States when temperatures go over 90F! ;-).

I woke at 2:40 AM, we left home at 3:35, made a small detour to pick Toshi in San Jose and Max drove rather fast which got us at Cool at 6:25. Great parking lot and, normally with an ultra crowd, we were not the first ones but got a good spot (the race was scheduled to start at 8AM). There was no line at the port-a-potties and I took the opportunity to take a picture of all the signs on the doors. Here is a new concept, the motivational port-a-potties!! And certainly great quotes to explain why we are passionate about ultra...
The race started right on time and here we were, losing sight of the front runners pretty quickly despite a first mile at 6:20 for me. I tried no to get caught up in the frenzy of the start and remained in the steps of Erik Skaden for a couple of miles. He then made a move to catch the group in front of him where the two lead gals were, Joelle Vaught and Caitlin Smith. Erik was on Caitlin's heels and the contrast was quite impressive, looked to me like The Little Red Riding Hood (Caitlin in red of course as she runs for Salomon).
We came back at Cool after this introductory 8-mile loop which was already rolling and muddy, and quite fast (under one hour). I was carrying two bottles and did not stop at the first three aid stations. I had gastric and intestinal issues since mile 4 and that was really not getting better with more miles. As we were running along the American River, I passed Sean and tried to keep up with Joelle, which I did for a couple of mile until the pain was so high that I stopped but without much success. A few miles later, around 15, I thought I was going to throw-up and that this will make a long run. As Tim Twitemeyer says, if you don't feel good, then do it, you will feel better afterwards. But that's for a 100-mile strategy, not really a 50K one. Thinking of what Agnès told me on Friday night ("Remember that you do that for the fun!") I worked on getting my thinking back on the positives as the weather, views and trails were gorgeous this Saturday.

I kept moving an finally reached the next aid station, Auburn Lake Trail or ALT at mile 21, under 3 hours as I recall. But my abdomen was still hurting, I felt like it was just a big pouch with a piece of concrete bouncing in it. This lasted about 20 miles total until another sharp pain started in my right calf, although not really a cramp. I started running more slowly and economically and felt like I was not moving when Caren Spore passed me with her short strides but incredible fast shuffle. I had came down to 8 minute/mile average pace but was probably running in the neighborhood of 9-10 min/mile then. Meghan Arbogast caught up with me at the bottom of the killer Goat Hill and I decided to give another try to pushing the pace. She passed me just before the aid station but, the time to get a hug from Norm Klein, a high five with Helen, get more water and a brownie, she was gone. In the 10 miles, I passed a couple of runners and got passed by 4 or 5. Much better than most of my finishes at Way Too Cool, but my 2008 3:56:52 run, albeit probably a shorter course by at least half a mile.
Given the circumstances (yes, Greg Soderlund, I had an excuse to go that slow ;-), I was glad to be done and pass the finish line this Saturday in 4:18:09, yet embarrassed when I heard that the winner had broke 3:30 (Mike Wolf winning in 3:28:01!), followed by international elite Todd Braje, then our very special team star, Gar Gellin placing third in a blazing 3:35 and Top Master. Toshi had an amazing race, finishing right under 4 hours (3:59:52!). With that I placed 31st overall, 4th in my M40-49 age group, with two M50-59 just before me (wow, I can't even use age as an excuse...), and 4 women. Joelle caught up with Caitlin finally and finished first. The same would happen to Caren eventually who got passed by Meghan. What a race in the race! Here are the top 31 finishers negotiating the last turn, credit to Max.
Just a bit of asthma tonight which is good news after so many episodes in my races along the American River in particular. I have been taking Singulair very diligently for the past year, without any serious incident at last, so it seems to be working, albeit a pricey treatment. Next race will be the good final test, American River 50-mile.

With this perfect and sunny weather, it was great hanging out in the finish area and catching up with my teammates, Todd Braje and many other runners who were happy to share their experience on this muddy trail, crossing many creeks. Got some food, including a good soup and the very special and traditional Way Too Cool cupcake (or should we call them coolcakes?). Well, cool for us runner but what about these 2 super (cool) moms who decorated 650 cupcakes on Friday... THANK YOU ladies!
564 finishers overall. The team did quite well today (thanks Captain Greg for the stats!): Gary (3rd), Toshi (15th), Jean (31st), Sean (86th), Adam (162nd), and Adona (12th) and Clare (16th). Here is a great shot by Max of Gary's finish. From his stride, you can barely tell the difference between a 3-mile cross-country race and a 50K ultra, amazing! Such as his feat to take on the overall podium at 42 in such a competitive field.
A big thank you to the super efficient volunteers, at the sign-up, all the aid stations, the parking lot (what an improvement, at least for the early birds!), the finish area, the food tent, you all rocks, this is... Way Too Cool!
And, yes, a few really enjoyed the mud more than others, look at the color of Mike Lauren's t-shirt!
I will add a few pictures to this post later tonight. In the meantime, while I'm getting prepared to go skiing, there is a ton (450) being uploaded on my Picasa album , thanks to Max's diligent coverage. And, an index if you don't want to browse through all of them:
  1. Race setup and start
  2. The "first" 600 runners at the end of the 8 mile loop (back to Cool)
  3. The top 31 finishers at the last turn
PS: bloggers (of FaceBookers...), feel free to reuse pictures in your posts by giving credit and linkage to this post.


Fleet Feet Bend said...

Nice job at the race and solid time. I was wondering if you would mind if I used several of your pictures for my blog. I don't have any shots of myself and you have some good ones on your album. And, if is okay, who should I give credit to? Congrats again on your race.
Rod Bien
Bend, OR

Jean Pommier said...

Great job on your 6th place Rob, and amazing time!
Sure, please use the pictures. The ones of us running are from my son, Max. Please link back reference to my blog post.

Scott Dunlap said...

Not a bad time at all for a stomach-troubled race! And great pictures, Max!!!

Happy 5th ultra birthday. You friendship and blogging has been one of my favorite parts of joining the ultra world. I look forward to running with you again, and living vicariously through your great blog!


Bruce said...

Jean, nice meeting you at the race (red and white Brooks singlet #153), nice write up and thanks for the pix. Good luck at AR 50, I hope to watch.

Anonymous said...

Bravo pour ce résultat malgré la douleur la boue!
Meilleure santé pour AR
et tendres baisers