Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Way Too Los Angeles Cool 50k Marathon

For many, the weekend of March 8 and 9 may have simply represented an opportunity to get out and relax in the beautiful California sunshine, to take it all in;  lush green grass blanketing the rolling foothills,  the sounds of young birds chirping with excitement, colorful butterflies dancing across the scene.  Or for those on the East Coast, maybe just another bland stretch of time to survive by huddling together for protection from the iced wind and wickedly driven snow.
92.2k worth of running gear

This weekend has weighed on my mind for months now.  I had gone and signed up for the 2014 Way Too Cool 50k and LA Marathon.  Their start lines and times were 400 miles and 23 hours apart, respectively.  I was booked to fly from Sacramento to LA on a 6 pm flight and knew that I would need to finish in the top half of the Way Too Cool 50k field in order to give myself three hours to get from the finish line to the airport (a ~40 minute drive from Cool).

By the time Friday, March 07 rolled around, I was tingling with excitement and trepidation.  The time to question my plan and my fitness had passed.  I focused on addressing each item on my weekend's itinerary individually, only as its need to be addressed became pressing.  I stayed "in the now".  I verified my flight and hotel reservations, I printed boarding passes, I laid out my running gear for both races, I packed, I ate, I re-checked my gear 40 times and threw it and my luggage in my truck, at ~8:00 pm, I put on my running shorts, socks, and tank, and went to sleep.  I put in a solid 9+ hours of nighty-night.

Saturday, March 08, 2014:
I woke up at 5:15 AM, ate a "grilled yeast" (my invention... two pieces of toast, earth balance "buttery spread", and nutritional yeast.  Tastes kinda like grilled cheese) and a PB&J sandwich, and drove off to Cool, CA.  I arrived in Cool shortly before 7 AM and proceeded to follow the long line of cars into the designated parking area (no idea why I didn't park at the Holiday Market lot).  I wound up parking ~0.75 miles from the start/finish, which actually made for a nice little warm-up and cool-down walk.

I mingled, I browsed, I chatted, I snapped pictures with friends.  The Way Too Cool 50k is a classic, extremely well-run, locally organized event in its 25th year and as usual the pre-race atmosphere was electric.  Tunes pumping through the sound system and the upbeat chatter of old and new friends filled the air.  At ~7:50 AM, I meandered into the Wave 1 starting corral and waited for the gun.  I planned to be back here in roughly 6 hours.  Before I knew it (literally) the race had begun.  When I realized that the crowd wasn't just scooting up towards the start line, but crossing it, I started my watch and got to it.

I had settled in towards the back of the ~1200 person field as I was in no rush.  I passed some and was passed by others.  After a mile or so, I saw my friend Erica, who I ran and chatted with for most of the first ~8 mile loop.  It was a beautiful day and I was taking it in, cruising the trails and stomping through mud and stream crossings, of which there was no shortage.
Erica doing her best to cool me off with a kick full of water.
I very nearly ate it in mile 7 when I caught my foot on a root during a short, steep downhill at a small stream crossing, but was able to keep my feet in front of my center of gravity and enjoyed a miraculous recovery.  That experience was good for a muddy leg and a lot of laughs.

One muddy leg.
I came into the first aid station at mile 8 feeling terrific.  The group of friends I had been running with thus far became separated amidst the hustle and bustle of the cheering crowds and the opportunity to take in some food and drink.  I enjoyed half of a banana and a quarter of a PB&J sandwich.

Saying hi to Steve and eating a banana, mile 8.
I ran out of the aid station and headed into the Cool meadows before letting my legs loose a bit, enjoying some smooth ~8 minute miles, during the ~3 mile downhill stretch to the first Highway 49 crossing.  I crossed the highway and ran into the Lower Quarry aid station at mile 11, where I stirred up a few scoops of Perpetuem with some water, chugged it, and headed out onto the Quarry road.  I cruised along the American River and continued to feel comfortable.  I hit the halfway (15.5 mile) mark in 2 hours 50 minutes, which was right on pace for a ~6 hour finish considering that the majority of the elevation gain comes in the second half of the course.

Mid-point selfie.
At some point over the course of the next 10 miles I began to fatigue and in the moment, life became more difficult.  My journey through the familiar trails started to feel compulsory and my steps grew laborious.  I certainly wasn't experiencing any difficulties that I had not encountered and overcome during previous adventures and races, but it had become clear that the seemingly effortless 50k experience that I had enjoyed 2 weeks prior at the Fourmidable 50k, was indeed a 2 week old experience.  I was going to have to push through some discomfort for today's finish.  Interestingly, Fourmidable 50k is considerably more difficult course, but every day on the trails brings its own challenges and today's were proving to be more difficult despite the more forgiving course.  Forgive me, I'll suck it up and stop whining now.

Top of Goat Hill
I climbed up out of the river canyon and ran through the Maine Bar aid station, throwing back some soda and potato chips on my way through.  I jostled through the forest along some of my favorite stretches of the Western States trail, doing my best to appreciate the trees, ferns, moss covered rocks, stream crossings, and cushy single track.   Eventually I made it to Goat Hill, a big milestone along the course, marking the steepest climb of the day, the crest of which is roughly the marathon distance.  I made a strong push up the hill, put my smile on, said hello to a handful of friends at the top, grabbed some soda and fresh fruit at the aid station, and moved on.

I kept on trucking.  I wasn't moving very fast at this point, but I was moving.  My body felt good, albeit quite tired.  I had no acute pain, no aches or problematic tightness, and I knew I'd have no problem staying settled into my current pace and sniffing out the finish line.  I crossed Highway 49 for the second time, and began the climb back up to Cool.  One can smell the finish line from here and before you know it I was up at the Cool meadow again, less than a mile from the end.  And suddenly, there I was, back where I started.  The infectious cheer of the finish-line crowds lifted me up as a rolled on in to the finish, stomping straight through one last trough of swampy, muddy goodness.  I finished in 6 hours 3 minutes.

One last bit of mud for the day.

Done for the day
Hoover Jones

Karyn got me back to good with a Recovery Pump demo!

I thoroughly snacked, chatted, re-capped, drank, and consumed all of the recovery, drink, re-capping, chatting, and snacking that was to be had at the finish.  Suddenly it was 3:30 PM.  I had a 6:20 PM flight to catch.  I jogged the 3/4 mile to my car and drove off to the shower and the pile of food.  I made it to the airport with time to spare and time to make a new acquaintance, Mitch.  He was wearing a Way Too Cool 50k medal and told me he was en route to LA so he could run the LA Marathon in the morning.  What a guy.

We flew to LAX, caught a pricey cab fair to Santa Monica, checked into our hotel, and roamed out to the 3rd St. Promenade, where I sniffed out a Chipotle.  Nothing like a huge Chipotle burrito at past 10 PM, the night before a marathon.  I got back to the hotel, slithered into bed shortly after 11 PM and fell to sleep.

Sunday, March 09, 2014:
As I slept some genius decided to skip an hour of the lovely night, delivering 4 AM an hour ahead of schedule.  My alarm sounded, my wake-up call called.  I scooped up my 4 hours of sleep, ate a banana, a few large scoops of peanut butter, then threaded myself through my running shorts and singlet, and squished my feet into my still-wet-and-muddy shoes, before stumbling out into the darkness in seek of a race shuttle.
Tired, not really hungry anymore.
Almost marathon time.

After a short 2 block walk, I landed the front-most seat on a 5 AM shuttle and was whisked away onto a ~30 minute voyage, ending at Dodger Stadium.  My fellow runners and I piled out of the bus and headed for the stadium.  I happened upon a bagel, loaded it with some peanut butter I had brought along, made myself comfortable in section 48, and waited for Billy (who picked up my marathon bib from the expo) & Co., who would arrive shortly.  I scrounged up some safety pins, dropped off my drop bag and headed into the sea of 25,000 runners with Billy, Lori, and Kieran, where we enjoyed a fantastic sunrise and stood around for a while.

Billy, Kieran, Lori, and I enjoying the sunrise.

The national anthem, Randy Newman singing "I Love LA, seemed just like last year, except my legs were way more tired.  The mob and I began our shuffle towards the starting line.  Billy, Lori, Kieran, and I started running together and did so for the first ~10k, but what would typically be a casual pace (9:00-9:30 min/miles) for me was feeling difficult and I was putting out more effort than I wanted to, to keep up, specifically on any uphill grades.  After a short, steep climb, we passed the Disney Concert Hall, and my gaze was captured by a group of people queued up in front of a few porta-potties.  I thought to myself "thanks again for grabbing my race pack, nice running, see you all later", abruptly dropped off the pack without saying a word, and joined the fine folks in the porta-potty line (I would do so again in mile 11 and mile 16.  I blame the late night Chipotle burrito.)  The bathroom line was long and sucked up a good 5 minutes (I think I spent ~15-20 mins in the three bathroom lines I visited during the race).

I resumed my expedition at a more "comfortable" (I use that word loosely) and, what I figured to be, more sustainable pace.  For a very brief moment during maybe the 8th mile I allowed the idea of stopping at a cafe for some food and then taking a cab to Santa Monica enter my mind.  I would never do such a thing.  I knew that I would continue on, that I would persevere, I would withstand any discomfort or monotony that this day had in store for me.  I do not quit endeavors such as this.  I would move forth, with a smile on my face.

Mile 13, feeling "fantastic".

For miles and miles, I progressed towards the beaches of Santa Monica.  I let my mind drift at times, away from the thoughts and feelings that demanded I stop running.  I focused on the spectators and on other runners, knowing that each person was out conquering their own challenges.  It's amazing to see the love, happiness, hugs, and cheer that are expressed when a group of family and friends sees "their runner" 15, 20, or 25 miles into their race.

I was able to cruise along at a ~10:30 min/mile pace without too much grief, so that is what I did.  It was warm out, temps in the 80's, and was becoming hot.  I occasionally reminded myself that this would end in x hours/miles and that the familiar reward would be well worth it.  People all around me were struggling and enduring, together we marched on.

Cruising past a "walker" (Walking Dead)

21-22 miles in, as I pleaded with the road ahead to present to me the start of the long descent to Ocean Ave, I caught a glimpse of and high-fived "The Unicorn" (who had just run down from the mountains) as he cheered on runners.  A mile or two later, I shared a quick "hello" with Jimmy Freeman, who piled on 1500 miles (or something like that, OK maybe ~30+) while pacing and cheering on LA Marathon runners.  I counted down the street numbers from 28th Ave down to Ocean (1st) Ave.  I didn't have much of a kick, I just maintained my pace and ran through the heat, en route to my 18th marathon or longer race finish.  It happened, on a day that recorded a record high of 88 degrees at the finish line, 4 hours 42 minutes 41 seconds after I started, I ran through the arch, received my medal, and rejoiced with Candace, my sister, and my fellow runners (I even bumped into Emil in the finisher's area)!

~1/4 mile left
Felt so good to be done!
LA Marathon #2 complete

I had been looking forward to this "beach time" for weeks!
Not pictured: me icing my legs in the water for 1/2 hr.

Just like The Karate Kid, I once believed I could not, but
I could... and I did.

Some race stats



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