Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Way Too Fun at The Way Too Cool 50k

Last Saturday, I had the great pleasure of joining 700+ runners for the 15th running of the Way Too Cool 50k in Cool, CA, on a wonderfully sunny day. It was great to catch up with friends, watch Gary Gellin and Tyler Stewart fly to new course records, and embrace every minute of a leisurely run in the American River Canyon.

My original plan was to go fast at WTC and try and get under four hours, extending my streak of a PR half marathon and near-PR marathon in the last month. But a not-so-funny thing happened on the way to the starting line...the stomach flu (ugh). Not a mild case either, but one of those daycare-concocted ebola strains that strips your body of dehydration faster than running Badwater in a mud mask. By the time race day arrived, I had only managed a few slow jogs in the previous two weeks, but felt good enough to toe the line.

At the start, everyone was buzzing about the near-perfect conditions of the trails and ideal weather. It might even be possible to run the race with dry feet! Unheard of. I warmed up with my Inside Trail Racing teammates Gary Gellin (in peak shape) and Tim Long (fighting a cold of his own), and caught up with UltraRunner Podcast's Scotty Sandow (training for States), top Women's finisher Caitlin Smith, the whippet-thin Will Gotthardt, Oregon's Rod Bien, the always-fast Erik Skaden, Sam Robinson (here for his first 50k), and the army of great volunteers that make this race so special. At 7:30am sharp, one of the biggest ultras in the country was off and running!
(Racers ready...)
(Catching up at the start with Erik Skaden and Jacob Rydman)
(And we're off!)
The pace was fast from the get-go, with Sam Robinson, super-Master Rich Hanna, Gary Gellin, and AZ's Shaun Martin quickly forming a pack up front. I was in a large chase peleton about 20 seconds back, where Erik Skaden, Mark Lantz, Jacob Rydman, Michael Fink, and Caitlin Smith cruised at a 6:30 min/mile pace. Better get my pictures fast, since I ain't hangin' with these guys for long!

(Skaden says hi, as he paces with Mark Lantz and the gang)
(Hey, where did that lead pack go?)
(The gorilla returns with his new friend, banana man!)

(Michael Fink and Caitlin Smith take us onto the dirt)
We hit the dirt about 1.5 miles in, and the trails were in amazing shape. This was a PR day for somebody, for sure! Not for me though - I was already getting that twitchy muscle feeling like I was already dehydrated. It probably didn't help that I forgot my water bottle at the start too. But I remembered my camera! ;-)

(Conga line down the single track)
(Will Gotthardt starts picking up speed)
(Comin' through!)
The rolling single track was wonderful, and after a few miles, I decided to stop fighting the twitchy muscles, ease up on the accelerator, and just enjoy the fact that I get to spend this beautiful day outside with friends. A sub-7 min/mile hurt, but 8:30 min/mile felt just fine...best to listen to the body and just cruise today. The freedom to choose a pace felt like the greatest gift of all, particularly when juxtaposed with my every-fifteen-minutes-booked weekday reality. Honestly, could there be a better way to spend the day?

(The trees say winter, but the flowers say spring)
(Enjoying the single track, photo courtesy of Pete Beck)

(Jean Pommier passes me up)
(Great cheering section!)
I got a chance to say hi as many runners flew by, including Ironman triathlete Tyler Stewart, Jean Pommier (fresh in from Dubai), Erik Skaden, and a strong Tim Long. We passed by the Cool Fire Station (mile 7) where tons of fans were out to cheer on their runners, then headed down to the river. I had my Nikon J1 with me - heavy artillery as far as cameras go - and was able to spend some time adjusting the settings to get some good shots. It's hard to say which is more fun, going fast or going just fast enough to take great pictures!

(Go photo guy! Pic courtesy of Tim Stahler)
(Trails were PERFECT)
(Hopping a creek on the way to the American River)
(Yummy single track)
(Volunteers get us across Hwy 49)
We crossed Hwy 49 and dropped down into the calm canyon filled with sounds of birds, frogs, and the crazy volunteers at the aid station rocking out to 70's tunes. The runners were spread out along the fire road, all running quietly enough to not disturb the fisherman and hikers. I was so glad I didn't have my iPod this time - if you slow down enough, there is a symphony of nature surrounding you. The morning recital is a well-practiced masterpiece!

(Joe Van De Water heading down into the canyon)
(Gravity good!)
(The peaceful American River)
(The lively volunteers)
By the time I reached the next aid station (mile 14), I was realizing the forgotten water bottle was a big mistake. No problem, said Mike and the volunteers, as they went into their supplies and got a spare. Phew! Thanks, guys! Good thing too, since I would drain half of it by the time we reached the climb up the American River Canyon trail, and all of it well before the ALT aid station. For this race, the bottle is a must!
(Turning up the first big climb)
(Smiling up the American River Canyon trail)
Rory Bosio and a few others made mincemeat of the climb while I slowly hiked up and soaked in all the early blooming flowers. This was definitely where this course sorts out the Men/Women from the Boys/Girls, and I was at pre-teen pace at best. No worries...my body was holding up just fine so I was loving it.
(The super-fun aid station crew at ALT)
(The creeks didn't get much bigger than this)
(Filmmaker extraordinaire JB Benna shows that new daddyhood isn't cramping his training too much)
I got a bite at the ALT aid station (mile 21), and couldn't help but flash back to the 2009 Western States when I came through at 3am and flunked my weigh in. Ah, so much more pleasant this time! Without the out-and-back of previous WTC courses, it felt like we had the trail all to ourselves, and we worked together to get a nice pace going. We came upon a limping Graham Cooper who had twisted his ankle, and it was nice to have the freedom to slow down and walk with him for a bit. He's one of the few guys I know who actually sees this section of the course during Western States during the daylight with his Top 10 finishes.

(Gary builds up speed for Goat Hill)
(Jason Reed shows how to tackle the 25% incline of Goat Hill)
(Not sure if his dentist would approve of this technique)
(Howdy partner! Welcome to Goat Hill!)
(Deja vu...Norm and Helen Klein, Marty Hoffman, and the regular crew of Goat Hill)
Goat Hill was the beast we expected, but we were rewarded with one of the finest run aid stations in ultrarunning (mile 26). I had a huge lunch - soup, sandwich, rice krispy treats, and Coke - and wondered if I was going to end this race up a few pounds. Soon enough Marty boosted me out to make room for others, and we zig-zagged our way through the single track to Hwy 49 again. We can smell the barn door now!

(The Way Too Awesome aid station)
(Enjoying a beer with the volunteers)
(Running with beer on this awesome single track - could life get any better?)
The Way Too Awesome aid station (mile 29.5) definitely lived up to its name, with 80's tunes, costumes, fun and loud volunteers, and a full cooler of beer! Eric Schranz (of UltraRunner Podcast fame) set me up with a very tasty Jack Russell IPA, and I had a toast with the volunteers before hitting the trail with my ice cold brewskie. One volunteer joked "if you can finish the beer before the finish, you can have six more!". You're on! But a few swigs later I realized how hard it is to run and drink beer...I have a whole new respect for the beer mile.

(Running with beer...a beautiful thing! Photo courtesy of Pete Beck)
I did manage to finish that beer, but only because I stopped right before the finish to chug it down. Let's hope that Facchino Photography got that one! I finished up in 4:46:06 for 122nd place, surprised that I still managed to do alright with all that goofing off. My Inside Trail Racing teammates had an amazing day, with Gary Gellin winning overall and setting a CR 3:27:43, and Tim Long timing his sub-4 goal perfectly to finish in 3:59:59.

(At the finish!)
(Gary Gellin hustles in to shave 40 seconds off the CR! Photo courtesy of Pete Beck)
(Frog cupcakes - the best finisher award there is!)
(Will Gotthardt cools down after a 4-hr finish, while Sam Robinson enjoys recounting his first 50k [3:53!], and Caitlin is already updating Facebook)
I got to hear the full story on the front runners while we all stuffed our faces with cupcakes and beer, lounging in the comfy chairs of the Patagonia lounge. In the overall race, Gary said that Shaun Martin set the pace early, while Sam Robinson looked effortless on the flat stuff, and Rich helped push the pace on the hills. Shaun said "Gary was flat out punishing us on the climbs", and when Gary ran the whole length of Goat Hill to build a two minute lead over former WTC winner Rich Hanna, he went right through the aid station and sprinted to the finish in record time (well, record time for the new course). 47-year-old Rich Hanna was 2nd (3:30, a PR for this course), Jacob Rydman closed fast for 3rd (3:34), Shaun Martin was 4th (3:36), and Rod Bien rocked 5th (3:41).

The Women's race was led by Caitlin Smith for the first 12 miles, before she was sidelined by stomach issues and ceded the lead to triathlete Tyler Stewart, who went on to win with a CR 3:49. Santa Monica's Megan Lieb snuck by for 2nd (4:00), and Caitlin held on for 3rd (4:05). The Women get faster every year!

Overall an amazing day, and a fabulous way to usher in the ultrarunning season. I am grateful for the chance to share it with so many great runners and volunteers!

- SD


  1. Looks like we owe you a six pack!

    Nice report as always.

  2. Great write up, Scott. It was nice chatting with you before the start and running with you. Stay healthy for Boston!

  3. Wonderful report! Your description definitely made me want to go run that race someday. It sounds like you had a great time :)

  4. Great race report and pics. Gives the reader an idea of what the race is all about.

  5. There are 704 finishers listed, which lead me to believe more runners started! Nice report and race, as usual! Too bad about the stomach bug!

  6. I love that you took the time to take so many great pictures and still had a good finishing time! (I've got the picture-taking bit down, but the good finishing time thing is a LONG ways off.) I still have a hard time imagining anyone running up Goat Hill - Yikes! Thanks for posting this.

  7. Great write up. Must be nice "goofing off" and still being able to finish in that time. It was nice meeting you out there (not Tim.) oops. :) I'm very new to ultras.

  8. Great stuff Scott, as always...I was hoping to run with you throughout the day. I finally put together a complete run on that %#&! course.

  9. A couple other excellent recaps as well...

    Jacob Rydman, CA (3rd, 3:34:08): http://jacobrydman.blogspot.com/2012/03/2012-way-too-cool-50k.html

    Rod Bien, OR (5th, 3:41:42): http://rodbien.blogspot.com/2012/03/way-too-cool-2012.html

  10. Great pictures, thank you. It was a fantastic day and my first time at the Way Too Cool. I was first turned on to this race because of your reports and its been a long running "want to do" n my list. I should have paid more attention to your report and for matter, the race profile. Goat hill was a frightening surprise for me, but sometimes it's better to not know until it's right in front of you

  11. What a unique and photo-filled race report! The WTC lottery has not been on my side yet, however, reading this was nearly as good as doing the race itself!- thanks so much for capturing the experience and sharing.

  12. great write-up, Scott! i have no idea how you can run that fast and still take such great pictures. :)

    i got these of you on saturday that you might like: https://picasaweb.google.com/petebeckphotography/WayToCool50KSet1#5718739555567159314

    and beer still in hand:



  13. Pete, those are fantastic pics! I added above. Thanks so much!

    Thanks all for stopping by...it was a great day.

  14. Hi Scott, awesome write up of WTC, it was definitely the beautiful day for the race. I shared you blog with bunch of my friends in our local running community.

    If there any way I can bug you for a picture you took of me? It is by far the best race pictures of me I've seen so far; just happened you got it so perfect. It's the one with the title (Hopping a creek on the way to the American River). I would really appreciated and my mom probably too.



  15. Dalius - you are welcome to it! You should be able to click on it to get the full rez version, then right mouse click to save the file to your computer. If for any reason it doesn't work, just send me an e-mail at scottdunlap [at] yahoo.com and I'll get you the highest rez version I have.

  16. This event looked like it was a blast - and I'm sorry I couldn't be there to enjoy it as well. Glad it was a major success!

  17. What a great race recap and pictures!

  18. Thanks for a nice and complete race report!

  19. I am looking forward to adding a Way Too Cool Finish in march of 2013 to my race list. Thanks for the write up, I'm not in your class of runner, but will have a smile on. will you be there this year?

  20. Just re-read this in advance of the 2013 edition of WTC. It's fantastic, and makes me so much more relaxed! I love your attitude. I am intimidated by the competition that will be out there, so this report reminds me to run my own race, take whatever happens in stride, and most of all have fun. Still, I think I'll save the beer for after the finish, not the final miles!

  21. Great article, makes me want to start trail running tomorrow (I'm a road man right now).

  22. hi Scott! thanks so much for the pics and info, sounds like great fun! I just got into my first ever ULTRA, the Way Too Cool 2017 and im not sure if the course is the same but im so excited! "Do the race that scares you" -- i took the advice. hope to see you there.

    1. Fantastic! The course has changed a little bit, but still has all the fun sections. You're going to crush it! Frog cupcakes never tasted so good.


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