Okay, I’m going to get it out of the way first - this is one very cool race!
Back in December, after getting into the Miwok lottery I thought I’d chance the Way Too Cool lottery also. And as luck would have it I got into that too. My luck promptly ran out upon a Vegas with the girls. I had a week or so to decide if I wanted to go ahead and enter. I figured a March race in sunny California wouldn’t be a bad idea at all.
Sunny California was nowhere to be seen when I landed at SFO Friday morning and drove along I-80 past Sacramento and onto Auburn (finish line of WS100). It rained constantly. Getting heavier as the day went on. The forecast continued to promise clear skies and sun for Saturday but I wasn’t convinced. Had I really come all the way here to run in the cold rain? I picked up my race packet at the Auburn Running Company store and then drove the six or so miles out to...
It’s a small, one-stoplight town that makes the most of its name. Cool Beans Coffee Shop, Cool Massage Therapy, Cool Hair Do’s. You get the picture. Still raining, I drove by the race starting area to get my bearings for the morning and then it was time for coffee... and some carbo-loading...
Back to Auburn, checked into the hotel around 6pm and had lots of time to organize my race stuff and chill out before another early night. After getting back from Ireland last Monday, and then a fairly intense massage Wednesday evening, I had woken up Thursday with a sore throat and head cold. I wasn’t sure if it was the long flight or the massage churning up toxins or a mixture of both but I felt like I’d been run over by a train. Zero energy all day. Copious amounts of ginger tea helped my throat but going to bed that night I had the shivers and my body just felt sore all over. Amazing what a good night’s sleep can do - I woke up Friday like a new person. Still had a bit of a sore throat and blocked nose but my energy levels were revived. The race didn’t start until 8AM so I had another good sleep, up around 6AM – slight frost on the car but sure enough it was dry and the sun was beginning to break through the mist. I shouldn’t have doubted the forecast. Unlike back home it has rarely let me down. (The general consensus in Ireland is that Met Eireann should abandon all meteorological systems and just go with "scattered showers with the occasional sunny spell.")
Got parked a little before 7AM. I had eaten some granola and yogurt on the drive out followed by a banana. Got a small coffee in the check-in tent and then sat in the car to keep warm. My stomach was in bits. I couldn’t believe it. I rarely get nervous before races. I think being by myself was the main factor – I’m usually either with friends or know some people at the race and don’t have time to just think. And think and think... I had set a goal of 4:45 for this race when planning my calendar for the year. And hopefully a top-10 finish. Not really based on much. I looked at last years times, the UR rating (2/2), compared it to other races, took into account that it was still very early in the season. Should have taken into account that despite logging more miles than previous years for the winter months, I’ve had little to no hill training...
But too late for that now. I just wanted to get going. I had on shorts, tank with TCRC t-shirt over it (very excited to be representing Twin Cities Running Co. for the first time!), and arm warmers. Wearing my new-ish 2010 Montrail Masochists - love these shoes and they don't seem to have changed much about it but oddly enough I needed a size smaller than last year's version. Was undecided about gloves but standing in line for the porta-potty my fingers were turning white so I pulled on a light pair. It was in the mid-30’s but the sun was already beginning to shine brightly so I guess I should have known it would warm up pretty quickly.
A few minutes before race start everyone was out on the road – over 500 runners – the biggest field by far for any trail race I’ve done. But with the first 2 miles on the road, and then some wide trails before hitting any single track I knew that congestion wouldn’t be a problem. And we were off. My legs felt good to be running but I felt kind of shaky. It was weird. My lips were sort of trembling. I guess it was a mix of nerves and the cool air. But it settled down before long. I don’t think the head cold hurt me at all. My lungs were heaving a little on the early uphills but that was probably just a case of pushing too hard too soon. It was a fun group of runners to be among – lots of chatter on the road section and along the next several miles. Mostly CA runners and a lot of them from the Auburn area. Running alongside a group of guys discussing their planned 80 mile bike ride the next morning was a sign that I had indeed gone out too fast. Lots of triathletes and a few too many GPS fiends. I was wearing a regular watch and really did not need to know that we were running 7:20 pace. Make that 7:30 pace. And now we’ve sped up to 7:15’s. C’mon dudes it's mile 4 of a 31 mile race! Though I suppose it did cause me to fall back a bit which was definitely the right idea.
After a good mix of up and down, very runnable terrain, and a few water crossings (there would be many after Friday’s rain!), I hit AS 1 at mile 7.1 in just under an hour. No refill needed. About 20 minutes later I was regretting this upon remembering the two longest sections of the course were the first and second, with the next AS not until 15.6 miles. And I was getting low on water. And it was getting warm. I had taken a gel (still enjoying the Vanilla PowerBar Gels) just before the start and had about 5 or 6 with me, taking one every 45 minutes or so. And triple-berry nuun tabs in my water. I’d dropped my gloves at the AS. I didn’t really want to dump them - they are old and torn but I was kind of fond of them – but I figured it would be annoying to carry them the whole way.
Note - the links are not indicative of any sponsorship (I wish) - just figured I should give them credit for products I enjoy!
The next section was so pretty – lush green mountains, views over the American River Canyon, with glimpses of the river every now and then. The terrain was very runnable and after a while I fell into a nice pace between two other first-timers. The guy ahead mentioned we were on 4:30 pace. I took this with a grain of salt, it was early and I knew there were some big climbs to come. But at the same time I was running well within myself. We continued along for the next hour, hugging the mountainside as the winding trail took us inwards by several beautiful waterfalls and then back out along narrow ledges high above the canyon. The biggest water crossing so far came just before the second aid station. A bit of careful navigation but getting soaked was a guarantee which wasn’t a bad thing as it refreshed my somewhat tired feet. A mile or so back a girl had passed me and I wondered what place I was in. I felt like maybe top 20 but really had no idea. Then we went by a few supporters who told me I was number 8 female. Nice. 2:14 on the clock. Water refill and a few cups of coke at the AS and off up the hill. Then it was onto some very runnable single track. This was sweet! We had a 6.2 mile loop back to the same AS so I decided to see if I could do it in an hour. I vaguely remembered the steepest climb of the race being somewhere around mile 20 but no need to worry about that just yet. Quick bio-break along here and I was off again. It was beautiful, deep in the woods, smooth, soft surface – you could almost run without worrying about your footing. A little up and down but mostly flat. I knew the final miles would hurt and that I was probably pushing it more than I should right now but it felt good to run fast. I was running alone and loving it. I was thinking about Sea Legs Girl’s plans for a book of favourite running routes. I was thinking how incredible it would be to live somewhere like this, with awesome trails and mountains, and great weather year round. I was thinking how much I love running in Minnesota. Even in the winter. How incredible the people I’ve met there are. How much I enjoy training with my friends. How I’ll probably never really want to live anywhere else. How lucky I am to be able to travel to places like this.
Some steep downhill and then, then it was mile 20. And we were climbing. Oh boy. So much for an hour loop. This was painful. Back at the AS at 3:20. Just under 10 miles to go. 4:45 still a possibility? Just about. For now. A little over 5 miles to the next AS. Back the way we had come for the first few miles. Along the single track with the fantastic views. But this time we were meeting runners every 30 seconds or so. To be fair they were awesome and stepped aside but it did make it a bit hard to let loose. Not that I was feeling much like it after the mega climb. But then a girl went by and I decided to try to keep with her. It was fun! She was flying it. I met her after the race – Rachel Baker from San Francisco. A guy was just behind us and we rolled along like this for the next few miles. We turned off to the left and were on new trail as we hit some climbs. And then it really started to hit me. I just was not trained for these hills. My hips were aching. But still, I pulled back close to Rachel on the flats. I knew I was pushing harder than I would have by myself and was really grateful she had come along. Of course, I also knew there was every possibility I’d be crawling to the finish line. Another killer climb to the Old Goat AS at mile 26.8. 4:09. Quick refill and off again. Some nice downhill and then a mix of up and down. More up than I would have liked. I kept thinking we surely must be due some sustained downhill. But it never came. My hips got tighter and tighter. But my lungs felt good. And the scenery just got better. Wide meadows and stream crossings every hundred yards or so. It was so pretty. The course had been muddy in places but having a new appreciation for mud after Psycho Wyco it never felt slow or unsafe even on the downhills.
I was hoping to make it to the final AS back at Hwy 49 by 4:35 but the minutes ticked by and Rachel and the guy were far ahead out of sight. I was beginning to tire. And then, the glorious sound of diesel engines. Along hard paved road. A trail runner’s heaven - when it signifies less than 2 miles to go! 1.3 miles in fact – that was a nice surprise, my calculations had been closer to 2. I half thought of picking up the gloves – but no stopping now. 4:39. Could I do it in 4:50? 1.3 miles in 11 minutes seemed reasonable. Then I realized we were heading back the way we had come for the first mile or so. Which now meant up, up, up. I wasn’t even doing 11-minute miles! I had lost track of what position I was in as one girl – maybe two? - had flown by on the previous section and then I was passing a girl along here. 4:47 at the 1 mile to go sign which thankfully turned out to be quite the overestimation. Mostly flat along here but muddy, almost lost my shoe, but I was feeling good and pushing for the finish. Up a hill and turned off the trail we’d come out on to short cut back to the start/finish area... great support out along the trail here. It was so nice to see that finish line!
4:50:51, 9th F, 60th overall. I was really happy in the end. A bit slower than I’d hoped but when I saw that Darcy Africa had run 4:37 I immediately felt better :) Joelle Vaught was the winner in 4:13. A different league altogether. Caitlin Smith, last year’s winner and CR holder with 4:12 wasn’t running, nor was Devon Crosby-Helms and a few other top women.
Happy to be done... (note the lack of blood)
Crossing the finish line the announcer called out my name and upon hearing Minnesota I had a few people ask if I’d come all the way out here for the race – no big deal to me but upon seeing the results I think there were probably only a handful of runners from outside CA and the supporting states.
Some mud to clean off...
But first things first - the famous frog cupcake!
After cleaning up and hanging about in the lovely sunshine for an hour...
... I headed back towards San Francisco to meet up with friends, stopping at the Hwy 49 AS to pick up those ragged gloves. They’ll live to see another day!
I’d highly recommend this event for any mid-westerners looking for a spring race. Superbly well organized, great support along the course, even on the remotest trails, and overall a very friendly, welcoming atmosphere. The volunteers and staff were extremely helpful and I suppose the sunshine throughout the day helped too! And it’s a bit of a who’s who of ultra running with many top names toeing the line every year. It was a great experience but certainly a good reminder of the work I have to do before Miwok in a mere 7 weeks. That will come way too fast. I usually run my best races mid-summer to mid-fall so I know that to be ready earlier I simply have to train now the way I normaly would in May/June. And that means more than just logging miles. Hill repeats, speed work, intervals. The stuff that hurts. To quote Joe Z (as I did a few times along the trail yesterday) - "There are no secrets. You get out what you put in."
A huge congrats to Kami, also representing TCRC this weekend at Land Between the Lakes 50M in Kentucky, taking 2nd place in 8:30! And to the other locals who ran that race and those who travelled further south for the 3 Days of Syllamo. Looking forward to hearing everyone's stories.
A few more photos I took along the drive back to Auburn...