In 2012 I ran Way Too Cool 50k as my first official ultra, but mostly it was a long training run for AR50. I still remember driving back from Auburn that day, so happy, excited and floating around on a runner’s high. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I would put in for the lottery for 2013, and I was thrilled when I got in.
2013 so far has been about running races just because I want to, not because it fits into a bigger training plan or for any other reason than I simply want to be there running. This race definitely fell into that. I was so excited to go to Cool and be a part of this big race with so many friends.
My “training” has been different in that I don’t really have an end goal in mind, and I don’t have a specific training plan laid out for anything. I definitely have been doing a lot of running, but it’s very different from what I am used to. It’s very organic and very based on circumstances and situations (as in what my friends are running that day). I was slightly nervous going into this race because my longest run since Fort Ord 50k at the beginning of February was 21 miles, but on the other hand I have been doing a lot of decent back to back (19/15, 21/15, 18/17) long runs and have kept my mileage in the low 70s most weeks. I was curious to see how the back to backs vs. longer runs would play out on this race. I took my mileage down about 15% the week before, but didn’t taper much at all during the week leading up to the race, besides only doing a short run the day before.
Since I had run this race previously, and it was my first ultra, I decided I definitely wanted to set a goal to beat that initial time of 5:50:52. My 50k PR (5:36:45) was from October, on a flatter course, when I was in peak 50 mile training. I thought I might be able to come close to a PR, but I wasn’t overly concerned. Jessica and I planned to run together, both knowing we wanted to come in sub 5:50 for sure, but maybe faster on a good day.
Alyssa, Jessica and I made the 2 hour drive from my house early Saturday morning. We made great time, got a decent parking spot, and were able to relax a little bit waiting for the race to start. I ran into a few friends (including finally meeting Andee) while walking around and was definitely pumped for the day ahead. I wasn’t really nervous at all, just excited.
This is a pretty big 50k with 1000 people on the entrants list. This year the race start was staggered between 2 waves which I was really happy about. I remembered all the single track getting pretty crowded last year, so I was hoping the wave start would help ease some of that congestion. Jess and I were in wave 1, so as it got close to start time, we went and lined up together. We found a friend and were chatting about other upcoming races, then pretty soon we were running!
The first mile+ is on the road leading to the single track dirt trails. I knew we were running kind of fast, but so was everyone else. It’s a race to get to the trails! Our first mile clocked in around 8:30 which made me laugh. Mile 1 of a 50k was the fastest I had run in a very long time – this was either going to end up really good or really bad.
The first 8 miles are a loop around back to the start. After the road section it gets on single track trails and can get pretty congested. Once you get put into a spot in line, you pretty much are stuck there unless you maneuver your way out. Jess was up a couple people ahead of me, so I just tried to find my own rhythm and was remembering what it was like being out there last year at the start of my first ultra.
A few miles in we were able to find our way back to each other, but I didn’t have much to say. We were running a little harder than usual for me and I just was staying in my zone following her. I also knew these first 8 miles would be more crowded, so I just stayed calm at my place in the pack and continued to run strong. I wasn’t looking at my Garmin at all – I had a feeling seeing my average pace might get in my head, so I just continued to follow Jess as best I could.
(Photo by Inside Trail)
The first 8 miles flew by and before I knew it, we were back at the start. This time we had a bunch of friends cheering us on! It was so fun to run into this aid station and have so many familiar faces.
(Photo by Cate)
I passed my gloves to Cate’s husband and went to grab some food. The weather was perfect out and my gloves were all I needed to stay warm the first couple miles. I was completely content in a tank and shorts after that. I grabbed a couple potatoes, said hi to Jana and laughed while her camera was clicking away with my mouth full of food, yet again.
(Photo by Jana)
We wasted no time and were off again to complete the big 22+ mile loop that would bring us back here to the finish. At this point I looked at my Garmin and our average pace was in the 9:40s. I thought about mentioning slowing down, but I also knew that the bigger hills were coming and we could recover on them.
We continued to run really strong all the way through mile 15. The big hills hadn’t started yet and I knew we were running a really great pace. I started dreaming of a big PR, but didn’t really want to vocalize or jinx anything yet. We were only half way through with the harder part of the race left, and a lot could happen. I was really enjoying running harder than usual, and kept reminding myself that I had nothing to lose. I have never really bonked hard in a trail race, so if that was the worst that could happen, bring it on.
As we ran along the course, memories from last year kept coming back. Most everything looked familiar to me, but I wasn’t sure which order things would come in until they happened. There is so much great, runnable single track on this course and I was just so happy to be running out there that day. The trails were in excellent condition and the weather was perfect.
Every time we came to an aid station, I would grab a potato or two, a cup of coke and we were off. There was no lollygagging this race. I took a salt cap every 8 or so miles, and was drinking water from my pack. I would eat Shot Bloks every couple miles and just made sure to keep feeding myself, I didn’t want any energy problems due to bad fueling.
We had a couple times that we got stuck behind runners, but mostly the course was much more open than I remember last year. I am not sure if it was the two wave start, that we were running faster, or a combination of the two, but it was really nice to be able to set our own pace.
Mostly though, this race was me chasing Jess for 31 miles. We have spent so many miles together over the last 8+ months and I could tell she was having a really strong day. I didn’t want to do anything to ruin that for her, I just wanted to keep up as best I could.
The miles were flying by and soon enough we were at the infamous Goat Hill which is just before mile 26. The hill gains 500 feet in about a half mile, so its a good hike. We had been running pretty hard for 4 or so miles, so my legs actually appreciated the break to slow down and hike. We made it to the top unscathed and knew we were close. I couldn’t remember what these last few miles were like, but there were definitely more hills than I remembered. We had been checking in with our overall time and knew we had a big PR pending any catastrophes, so we just kept on running as hard as we could.
We went through the last aid station quickly with 1.4 miles to go and I remembered the hill getting back up to the finish line from last year. I was definitely not as strong as I hoped, but Jess kept pushing me along. With less than a half mile to go I waved her to go ahead. She completely ignored me and told me we had two minutes to go and we were going to be sub 5:20 very matter of factly. I don’t think I fully believed her but I ran as hard as I could with her. We rounded the corner, saw the finish line and made our way across it.
The clock said 5:20:XX, so I thought we missed it forgetting this was chip timed, but I looked at my Garmin to see 5:19:58. I couldn’t believe it! Over a 15 minute PR and sub 5:20.
Cate and Jana were right there screaming and yelling, and Jess and I were just smiling non-stop. We were so, so happy.
We took some pictures, got some warm clothes and food and saw our friends cross the finish line. It was so fun to see so many friends cross their first ultra-marathon finish line. It simply was such a great day.
I still can’t stop smiling from this race and am so glad it all came together. After finishing off 2012 with some disappointment on the race front, it was so nice to unexpectedly come out and crush a goal like this. I am so thankful Jess was there to push me and to remind me how great it feels to push my limits, to go out of my comfort zone, and to surpass my expectations. This race has also peaked my curiosity into challenging this time, what a little bit of taper might do and what other PRs I might have in me. That’s all for another day though.
Once again NorCal Ultras put on such a great race. It was incredibly well organized, with great support, great food, great swag and anything else you could possibly want in a race. The volunteers and aid stations were simply amazing, and I can’t recommend this race or thank them enough.
This race, yet again, holds a special place in my little runner heart. It’s been an amazing first year in the ultra world and this was the perfect celebration of every bit of pure joy and giddiness I have found out on the trails.