There’s a number of ways to describe Range of Motion athlete Peter Beck—great guy, great photographer, great athlete. But this time around we get to call him great reporter as he recounts his running of this year’s Way Too Cool 50k held each year in the Northern California city of Cool. Here is his report:
The morning of the Way Too Cool 50K was one of those perfect NorCal mornings – clear, crisp and dry – perfect conditions for a trail run with 1,000+ of your best running buddies! As a bonus it rained lightly the night before dampening down that infamous Cool red colored dust. The stage was set–it was going to be an epic day for a race.
My morning started with a 5:15am alarm–plenty of time for a light breakfast of oatmeal and a banana. It was just a short drive to the race start in Cool from our friend’s house where we stayed the night before. I was in the second of two waves, with an 8:10am start, so this gave me plenty of time to get my gear together and to get my mind focused on the day to come. I did one last run-down of my mental checklist to make sure I had everything and then it was on to greet friends, stand in the porta-pottie line and then get to running!
I ran three 50K’s in 2012 and while I finished them all, I never felt like I ran them with a consistent pace – meaning I felt strong in the first half but I dragged myself through the second. I also finished each one of them feeling like I couldn’t take another step. I even found myself injured with a nasty IT Band pull after the third 50K (Skyline), which in retrospect I now recognize as my body telling me that I just wasn’t doing something right. I knew then that if I was going to make 2013 a successful and fun year of running that I needed to tap Coach Andy’s experience in order to fix a few things during the off-season–and that Way Too Cool was going to be the place to see if it all worked. My previous best time (PR) for this distance was 7 hours, 34 minutes, at the Skyline To The Sea 50K. My “dream goal” for Way Too Cool was to break the seven hour barrier. That would mean running an overall pace of a 13:30 min/mile or better for 31 miles – definitely a stretch for me. But I wrote that goal on to a piece of tape and put it on my watch as a reminder.
The Way Too Cool course breaks down in to two loops. The first is an eight or nine mile stretch known as the Olmstead Loop. It’s relatively flat and deceptively fast. I knew from previous race-prep conversations with Coach Andy that I needed to meter myself during this portion and concentrate on running my own race. With the excitement of the race start it is easy to go out too quickly – which would cost me in the later miles. I used this time as a warm-up and focus on my heart rate and pace. My goal for this loop was just to keep everything relaxed.
The second loop is much more challenging. It consists of a large descent of several miles, a long rolling stretch along the river, then a series of climbs. From past experience I knew that this final stretch was going to be the hardest for me to tackle since I tend to fade in the later miles. One of the things Coach Andy and I worked on in the off-season was how often and how consistently I was fueling myself. I found through much trial and error that water, every eight to ten minutes, and an energy gel every 30 minutes works well for me. I also found (through much error, unfortunately) that my stomach and gels with caffeine in them don’t work together well when I am running either. Eliminating caffeine from my fuel intake before and during a race has made a huge difference in how I feel. Finally, I’m a heavy sweater which necessitates including some sort of salt supplement to my fueling routine. Again, through trial and error I’ve found that PowerGels fill the void for me since they contain 200mg of sodium each – more than twice what GU and most of the other brands have.
So how did the race unfold?!
I started the race in the front end of the middle pack and used the first two mile stretch of road to let my breathing settle in. By the time we hit the single-track segment of the Olmstead Loop I was feeling relaxed and happy. My Garmin showed I was running a 9:30m/m so I backed off a little to keep my HR low. I came out of the loop and in to the first Aid Station at just around an hour and a half – exactly where I wanted to be. The next few miles I knew according to Coach Andy’s race plan would be rolling followed by a steep downhill that would require me to focus on the use of good form in order to save my quads for the later miles. Several people flew past me on this stretch, a couple of which I ended up passing on the hills later on (always a nice feeling!). I rolled into the second aid station at the bottom of the canyon feeling great. I looked at my watch and couldn’t believe that I had already ran nearly 12 miles! But best of all I checked my average pace data on my Garmin and it indicated that I was running at a 11:45 m/m pace. Amazing–I was ahead of my plan! Then with a quick stop to dump trash and to refill of my water bottles I was back on my way.
The next hour went quickly. I was nervous along this portion not having actually run this stretch of trail before—mostly because I didn’t know where the serious climb out of the canyon was going to happen. Every slight uphill had me thinking, “Is this where it starts? Am I gonna be able to do this?” I reminded myself, of course I could – and was going to. Before I knew it I was at the third Aid Station still feeling strong and best of all, my stomach was still feeling good. I took the time to thank the volunteers but didn’t take the time to stop–there were hills waiting to conquer!
I studied the course map and elevation charts in the weeks leading up to this event and I have to admit, I kind of psyched myself out about the three big hills that dominate this race. There’s the first hill out of the canyon that starts after aid station three and it’s big. The second hill is so infamous that it carries its own name – Goat Hill. And finally the third, a big rolling hill that comes up just before the finish. Historically I haven’t felt like I’ve done well on hills in the later miles of a race. But then again I don’t think I’ve trained myself in the past like I had for the hills of Way Too Cool. So I simply took the hills one at a time.
The first hill started off steep as expected, but I found that as long as I kept moving–power-walking and using good form– it didn’t feel too bad. And before I knew it I was on the ridgeline looking down at the most beautiful view of the canyon! The next few miles rolled along a ridge allowing me to run at an easy pace and shake out that first climb.
When I reached Goat Hill I knew that one, I was doing great on time and two, nothing was going to stop me from finishing – not even this infamous hill! The hill ultimately wasn’t as bad as I had feared but you wouldn’t have known if from listening to the other runners around me. So many swear words! The best part about finishing the Goat Hill climb is that there is an aid station at the top which also serves as the marathon mileage marker of the course (right around 26.2 miles). I checked my average pace as I was leaving this station and saw I was doing under a 12:30m/m pace – still well ahead of my goal! A mile later I was passed by my friend Karen. As she went by I said “if we keep this up we’re going to break seven hours!” Her reply stopped me in my tracks (figuratively… not literally) “Forget seven hours, I’m dialed in for a 6:45 finish!” and off she went. It was then that I realized that if I could keep her in my sights for the next four miles that I too could achieve something previously thought unachievable to me – breaking the six hour and forty-five minute barrier! There was no time to waste so off I went.
By mile twenty nine Karen was gone, but more importantly my legs and stomach were still feeling good and I was nearly done. I reached the “One Mile Left” sign, looked at my watch and it dawned on me – I could walk the rest of the way now if I wanted to and would still break seven hours! What an amazing feeling this was! Of course I didn’t walk but the realization that I was going to break my dream goal was so powerful that I ran the rest of that last hill, across the field and around the corner to the finish. I looked at my watch as I rounded the corner to see it was reading six hours and forty eight minutes – forty six minutes faster than my previous best 50K finish time! I let out a roar and threw my arms over my head. Done. Elated. And most important, I know now that I can do this again.
Next up for the spring: Diablo 50K, Born To Run 50K and the Tahoe Rim Trail 50 Miler – the latter being my first full 50 miler. I know now that I can finish them all. Thanks to Coach Andy for helping me to realize that yes, I can do this!