Sometimes getting to the start is the hardest part

In the months leading up to the Way Too Cool 50k, I felt like I had finally overcome some nagging injuries (PF in both feet), and I had a good shot at pulling off a decent time. But these last couple weeks had really thrown me off my mental game, between work and some high-stress personal crap. Even though I felt like I had put in the time training, I know that for me, the mental aspect of running an ultra is far more important than the physical, and I didn’t think I could pull myself together in time.

Thursday night, after an especially devastating email (in the personal crap area) I decided I did not need to run the race. It was just going to be too much, and I would most likely get out on the course and have a complete breakdown after the stress that has been building up. I told my kids I wasn’t going to do it. 8 year old son: “How far is it?” Me: “30 miles” 8 year old son: “30 miles! That’s all?! You can run a lot farther than 30 miles!” 8 year old twins, repeatedly, in unison: “DO THE RACE! DO THE RACE!”

That helped but it wasn’t quite enough to convince me. Fortunately, I had scheduled a 90 minute acupuncture session for Friday afternoon. I arrived a stressed out crazy mess, and Carla worked her miracles and I came out so mellow, content and relaxed that nothing could faze me. I drove to Sacramento, had a nice dinner with Chaz, my boyfriend, and I told him I was ALL-IN. An encouraging note from a friend, Allyson, who had run the race many times, sealed the deal.  Saturday was going to be a good day.

We arrived in Cool and were greeted with glorious weather- blue skies, sunshine, and temps ranging from the high 40s at the start to the low 70s during the race. The course, 98% single track trails, consists of 2 loops, 6 incredible aid stations with VERY enthusiastic volunteers and spectators, 4,800 feet of climbing and an equal amount of descent- all of which make up a beautiful (especially in the Spring- lots of green growing things and little creeks and waterfalls), runnable course with only one tough climb, around mile 26 (Goat Hill).

Over 1,200 runners were entered for this year’s race, the thought of which terrified me. I must say though, I did not feel crowded AT ALL during the race. There were actually several stretches of trail where I didn’t see anyone in front or behind me. Much smaller races have felt more crowded.

Chaz and I took off together,  and managed a comfortable, but fairly quick pace, through the first mile of pavement (a great place to spread out from all those people) and remaining 7 miles of the Olmstead Loop, which icreek crossing, photo by Paul Berquamncluded several creek crossings and a lot of sloppy muddy sections.  Chaz was struggling with back problems, but was planning to power through it regardless. We passed through mile 8, which is also the start/finish, averaging around 9:10/mile. He pulled ahead during the faster downhill section from Cool to the Hwy 49 crossing, and I also picked up the pace here and cruised. “You’ve got to make hay when the sun is shining” ran through my head, whenever I started to think maybe I shouldn’t be running this fast so early on. I met up with Chaz again after crossing Hwy 49, and we ran together down, and then up, Quarry Road.olmstead loop, photo by Scott Sandow

Part of the mental game for me, is being on top of my insecurities before they have a chance to creep in and take over. Throughout WTC, I kept telling myself, THIS is where all the training pays off. This is where all those stupid interval sessions on the treadmill come into play. This is where those endless miles on the bike path in Squaw (while my kids were skiing) pay off. I had done my time on hills, but I had also put in a lot of flat miles at a faster than usual pace, just because that was my only time/place to run. And now I was using it to my advantage.

quarry rd, photo by ultrarunner podcastAround mile 20, Chaz’s aching back was clearly not going to let him keep the pace, so I pulled ahead without saying anything. I couldn’t say goodbye, that would be too hard (and weird), so I just kind of left him and hoped for the best. I kept telling myself he would be most happy if I ran my best race, not if I worried about him (or waited).

It was around this point that I started catching and passing people pretty consistently, instead of being the one who was passed. It was also around this time that I let my mental game take full control of the situation. Instead of thinking, gosh, I have 20 miles on my feet, and I’ve been running faster than usual, I kept reminding myself, it was miles 20-45 at Western States that I had felt the strongest and happiest, and so during WTC, I was going to OWN miles 20-30. These were my niche miles, and nothing was going to stop me.

I passed Bill Rose, a great friend, injured, who I have put some long miles in with training for this race, around mile 21. Just the sound of his voice “keep running strong kiddo” stayed with me.

I passed my friend JP, also injured, around mile 22, and we both fired each other up with some Donner Party Mountain Runners (new club) silliness. I continued to use this throughout the rest of the race, telling myself, “the Donner Party wouldn’t complain” “The Donner Party wouldn’t walk this hill” “We eat the competition”; and so forth. -It was effective.

Around mile 26, my overall pace had slowed down to around 9:40/mile, but I wasn’t sure of the exact mileage of the race (29-31?), or of what the final miles would do to my pace, so I had to make a real conscious effort to get to that finish line before 5 hours was up. I wouldn’t let myself look at my overall time (ever), because I knew if I saw the clock, and a sub-5 finish wasn’t going to happen, I would slow down no matter what.

At Goat Hill, the sound of Gregory “G-Dawg” Holmes voice carried me up the climb, and after 2 salt tablets from another friend, Joe Sellner, at the aid station, I focused on getting down the hill to the Hwy 49 crossing, the final aid station, in one piece, and passing as many people as possible.

I didn’t want to fill my water bottle here and potentially waste any precious time (still hoping to break 5 hours), so I just downed a small cup of coke, and continued. I was able to run the last 1.5 miles to the finish, which I always consider a victory, especially when a good part of it is climbing. The final section of the race is downhill and then flat, and you can see and hear the finish for the last ½ mile. It is a very exciting conclusion to the race, with a lot of spectators (for an ultra), and a big banner and announcer.

As I approached the finish, the clock read 4:55 and I couldn’t have been happier! A fantastic ending to a spectacular race. My faith in myself, and in my future in ultras, had been restored. I was met at the finish by Gretchen Brugman, who had finished about 11 minutes before me (a PR for her!). I waited for Chaz and was super excited to see him come through about 30 minutes later (a personal worst for him by over an hour, but a HUGE victory considerfinish line party, photo by Jenelleing his back problems).

The post-party is top notch, and we stayed for several hours celebrating with friends. All of my friends who started the race finished, some with personal bests, some with personal worsts, but everyone was happy to be there and had a great experience, whether it was a suffer-fest or an easy time for them.

My race nutrition: Gu every 4-6 miles, about 5 20-oz bottles of electrolyte/water mix, and had at least 6 salt tablets throughout. No stomach issues or nausea problems at all (hurray!)


finish line, photo by Gretchen Brugman

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