Way Too Cool 50K Race Report: The Anatomy of A Pain Cave Blow Up
I have very mixed feelings about the Way Too Cool 50k this past weekend. On one hand, it's an excellently organized and executed race with a ridiculous amount of local support and a wonderful atmosphere. On the other hand, I toed the line in less than ideal shape and proceeded to blow up and experience the most uncomfortable 5 miles yet of my very short ultra-running "career". I also got to see the huge discrepancy over the hype and coverage for the men's race versus the hype and coverage of the women's race. I realize there are a lot fewer women than men in ultra-running, but I found myself consistently disappointed by the pre and post race coverage of the women's efforts. After taking a day to reflect on the whole thing I am glad I raced, I am actually proud of my effort, despite being a little disappointed in the final result, and I am even more excited for the next ultra, whatever that may be. I am also really thankful to be part of such a strong trail running community. Trail runners are wonderful in general, but SFRC is so supportive, and I really felt the value of this group on Saturday. Strava results here: https://www.strava.com/activities/509433055 (Cover photo by Mario Fraioli) I was undecided about whether or not I was going to toe the line in Cool at all until the afternoon of the day before. I have been battling an upper respiratory infection for the past 2 weeks, and even though I was no longer curled in a sad little ball on my couch, binge watching Orange is the New Black, I was certainly far from in top shape. Cool was never my goal race for the spring, and as such, I was always going to head into it under-prepared, but I hadn't run a solid workout since the Lake Chabot 30k race 2 weeks ago and could feel the effects of my body fighting off the unwanted invader on my endurance. To make matters worse, the weather forecast did not look favorable for a fast day. However, I knew I felt good enough that I would be really bummed if I didn't at least try and so I packed my bags and headed to Cool with my husband and fellow racer Paddy on Friday after work.
Race morning was cool but not raining which was a huge blessing, However, it had down poured all night long and the trails were a slippery mess. I was particularly concerned about the creek crossings. At a small, but mighty, 5'2" tall, I could be getting into waist deep rushing water. I lined up in what Megan Roche dubbed, 'ladies corner' behind Megan, YiOu Wang and next to Anna Mae Flynn and Lindsay Tollefson. I really didn't want to go out too fast because I knew my legs were at a disadvantage and a super fast start would kick me in the ass later on. The first 400 meters felt like the beginning of a typical Saturday morning SFRC run: the usual suspects were up ahead and everyone was chatting. I let Megan and YiOu go (smart move for anyone really) and felt fast but comfortable. I even let Anna Mae and her pacer / Solomon buddy go because I felt it would to be too fast for me to stick with them. I still clocked the first mile at 6:12. I realized I was going to be in trouble later on when I had trouble getting a handle on my breathing after we hit the trails just after the first mile. Pace wise, I was still consistently in the low 7s but my breathing was more labored than it should have been.My HR data backs this up: It was around 175 bpm for the first several miles; well into my 'threshold' zone. As I slowed to try to get a handle on it, I started getting passed by lots of fellow SFRC dudes, shown in the photos below. Proof that I went out too fast for how I felt on the day.
I came through the first aid station at minute 58 in 4th place. I knew there was a big downhill section coming up which is usually my forte, but I just couldn't get the leg turnover going to really bomb down the hills. I was also kind of freaked out by losing control of my heart rate so early and kept replaying coach David's voice in my head from our race strategy planing call: "Go out reserved and if you are feeling it, push things from miles 11-20 because that's where you are going to be able to make the most of your effort". I had clearly not gone out as reserved as I should have so from miles 8-11 I was trying to recoil the spring: Instead of clocking low 6's for the very runnable downhill miles 10 and 11, I was mid 6's to low 7's. Needless to say, I was not able to recoil the spring, but I still found myself at the Maine Barr Aid station (mile 16.7) far ahead of the target split I had written on my arm. I was definitely working, but was feeling pretty good...and then the rock that had been in my shoe for the past 3 miles shifted and became a huge pain in the ass. I ran about 800 meters with this tiny rock causing serious discomfort in the arch of my right foot before I decided I had to stop to get it out. I wear Solomon Sense Pros when racing, so at least I didn't have to go through tying and untying my shoe but just as I was slipping my foot back into my shoe, I saw Lindsay Tollesfson cresting the hill and in my rush to get moving again, I didn't get the laces tucked back into the nice little pocket on the tongue. I managed to hold onto 4th through about mile 17.5, but giving up those 90 seconds was too much to overcome and Lindsay passed me as we entered the uphill section of the course. I went through the 30K mark 3 minutes faster than my 30k tune up race two weeks prior and even though I was hurting, I felt confident about a low 4 finish.
I knew I was giving a sub-par performance, but I was ok with letting Lindsay go. I convinced myself 5th place and a low 4 finish was still pretty amazing given the circumstances and so I trugged on. The uphills , though small, felt like summiting Mount Shasta, but I found a new lease on my race's life around mile 20 when I caught up to a couple guys who had passed me earlier in the race. We went through the Auburn Lake Aid station which is at the top of a nice descent and let out a couple "wahoos!!". The two guys were running comfortably, but just a tiny bit slower than I felt like I should be running, so after some very pleasant conversation and with their supporting words, I squeezed past them on the beautiful single track and enjoyed a very zen few miles until Goat Hill. Miles 21-25 were a new level of achievement for me. I felt terrible, but I was totally fine with that and even embraced it. I felt myself pushing through the barriers and felt powerful. I felt like I was clocking low 7s because the trail on this stretch is pretty flat, but I was actually in the low to mid 8s which was a little disappointing. I was no longer on track for a sub or very low 4 finish, but could probably pull a 4:07. And then Goat Hill killed my will to live and my dreams of a strong finish. It's not even that bad of a climb, it's relatively short and you pretty much have to power hike it, but that effort level at mile 26 was just too much for my poor little energy system to handle. Even when it flattened out for miles 27-28, I was still clocking mid 10's. One of the dudes I had passed after Auburn Lake caught back up to me and passed me. Shit was falling apart.
I told myself I just had to make it to the next aid station: 3.3 miles. That's it. I always wondered why they put an aid station within a few miles of a finish at ultras. Now I know: it's not because people actually need water or food with 1.4 miles to go til the finish, it's because we need the milestone to get us to the finish. I knew the last chunk was mostly uphill, but I was determined to run it: I could mayybbee still get 4:10 if I really was able to push it for the last 1.4 miles. And then the last hill was steep and rocky and really hard to run. I punched it once it flattened out and finished strong in 4:14, but the last 5 miles were by far the hardest 5 miles of any trail race to date.
I am lucky enough to have had an amazing support crew out there. Only my husband was there just for me, but the SFRC cheer crew who braved the elements to be there for everyone running was really amazing. The food and beer at the finish area was amazing and the whole event has a wonderful vibe. I feel like I have a lot more to give on this course, and am already excited to come back next year, but I know I gave everything I had on the day. I am taking a day off running for each 10 miles of racing (which will hopefully be enough time for the ankle, Achilles and hip flexor issues that flared up on Saturday to subside) and easing back into it this week. Next week kicks off the final 4 weeks of intense road training for Boston which means focusing in on all the non-running things to really hone everything for the big dance on April 18th.