I was looking forward to this year’s edition of the Way Too Cool 50k, not so much because I had won the race last year, but more so because it was an opportunity to mix it up with super elites Max King and Geoff Roes. It was an awesome experience to run with these superstars and at the end of the day I was able to successfully defend my title in 3:41:47 with some help from Geoff who ran off course in the late stages of the race after he had come from behind and took the lead.
I arrived the day before the run in heavy rains which dropped an inch or more of liquid on the course. I knew we were in store for lots of mud and wet stream crossings, a stark difference from the dry course conditions the previous year. In fact, there were over a dozen wet stream crossings; one of them was waist deep! Last year, my feet stayed dry the entire race. By comparison, my feet were soaked about 90 percent of this race. Every time we dunked in a stream, the shoes became heavy until the water squished out. I estimate that the muddy and wet trail conditions, especially in the last third of the course, added on another 5-10 minutes.
The morning was cold and frosty, but with a brilliant sunshine I knew it would warm up as the run progressed. I decided to run aggressively from the start and took off in the lead with Max just behind. The pace felt comfortable and the mud was negotiable for the most part. I continued to lead into the first trip through Auburn Lakes Aid Station (~15 miles) with Max King just behind. At this point, Max took the lead but I kept him within my sights as we did the loop back to the second trip through the Auburn Lakes Aid Station. I could not see Max on the return trip of the Auburn Lakes Trail section, but the participants running in the opposite direction verified that he was only 45-60 seconds ahead. The going along this section became tiresome and slow because nearly 500 hundred runners had stomped through the soft surface creating a slick and muddy mess.
I passed Max just before the Goat Hill Aid Station, but a few minutes later Geoff Roes came flying by on a technical and water-logged downhill. He obviously had more in his tank and was poised to finish strong. At the next stream crossing I misplaced my foot and slightly turned my ankle. Fortunately, the pain went away after 30 seconds so I knew it was only a minor sprain and continued running. What I had lost, however, was my focus. I resolved myself to finishing second and the mud and boggy conditions that continued all the way to the end did not help. When I crossed the finish line I assumed I was in second, but I was nonetheless proud of my performance in the difficult conditions. Then I realized that I had run through a finish tape and thought something must be wrong. Geoff Roes had taken a wrong turn at the junction with the Quarry Trail, heading downhill instead of uphill towards Hwy 49. By the time Geoff realized he was off course he had lost a lot of time and wound up finishing third. Max was running strong until the Goat Hill Aid Station, but struggled in the last few muddy miles and finished in second. Gary Gellin, whom I train with and has accompanied me on several local adventure runs, had a great performance to finish fourth and was the first masters finisher. Also congratulations to Joelle Vaught for winning the women’s race and her second Way Too Cool victory (first time in 2006).
It was great to chat with runners after the race and soak in the sunshine despite the cool winds. Congratulations to all the participants for braving the muddy and wet conditions and thanks to race director Julie Fingar, all the volunteers, and everybody involved in putting on this fantastic event!