Jeremy Wolf: Way Too Cool 50k Race Report

Visions of a podium finish, good energy level, quick legs, enjoying the dirt trails and lush forest, these were all things I was experiencing through the first 21 miles.  I couldn’t have hoped for a better start to my first 50k of 2014.  Then without notice, an entirely new race emerged, a race just to finish.

Washing off the mud. Jeremy in yellow. Photo by Michael Kirby
With pools of water and piles of slush engulfing Missoula, the timing was perfect for an escape to California to race Way Too Cool 50k.  It’s been a brutal last month to get solid running in on the snow and ice engulfed roads and trails around town, and I did not fight it.  I accepted mother nature’s fate, and more often than lacing up the running shoes, I dawned backcountry and skate skis for my means to stay fit.  Just to make sure my legs would be ready for a fast 50k, I hopped on a treadmill for tempo runs.  Buoyed with strength conditioning at Momentum Athletic Training, I was feeling strong and in shape for an early season race.
Ten minutes before the race starts, I load the four external pockets of my shorts with 8 Hammer gels.  As I run off towards the start line, I take four strides and my shorts have slipped down to my thighs.  Weighed down by the gels, I look to cinch the draw string and secure the shorts to my waist, only to discover that no draw string exists.  I don’t want to race 31 miles holding up my shorts, so 5 minutes before the start, I’m back in the car putting on a different pair of shorts and trying to stuff as many gels as I can into the lone rear pocket.  The rest of the gels are tucked between my skin and elastic ban of the shorts.   Lesson 1 – Don’t wear gear for a race that you’ve never run in before.  Yep, I knew that one already and blatantly ignored it. 
As I’m sprinting the quarter mile to the start line, someone along the way tells me “one minute till the gun”.  I fly around the crowd of runners and make it to the front row with 20 seconds to spare.  Gun goes off and so do I, sufficiently warmed up.  The first mile is on flat paved road, and I settle in around 6th place.  I was a little surprised when my watch reads 5:33 at mile marker one, that felt easy.  The pace slows slightly as the course turns into beautiful red dirt trail, weaving through rolling green hills, and over creek crossings.  I settle in with a group of 3 guys and we chat a bit.  I tell the guys I’m from Missoula and haven’t run on dirt for over a month.  Rod Bien, a Patagonia Athlete, asks if I know Justin Angle, and I share a few tales about Justin and I’s backcountry skiing trips to Marshall Mountain this winter.
Off to a fast start.  5:33 first mile. Photo by Michael Kirby
The three of us comfortably stay together through the eight mile loop that takes us back through the starting area.  We collectively come through in 52 minutes, 6:30 pace, and in positions 3,4,5 with two Nike runners a minute and a half ahead.  We stay together for the next mile until the only big decent on the course.  As we start the 1000 ft decent to the American River, I instantly put a gap on the other two and never hear them the rest of the way down.  At 11 miles, I hit the American River and aid station.  I put down a hammer gel, which I did approximately every 40 minutes of the race.  The aid station workers told me I was 3 minutes off the lead.
Feeling good cruising along the American River. Photo by Eric Schranz
I continued along the dirt road that followed the American River upstream for the next five miles.  The temperature was nearing 60 degrees, not hot, but I was glad the trail stayed along the shady side of the canyon.  I was feeling great and was running strong and comfortable at a pace I felt I could maintain the rest of the way.  All by myself in 3rd, I was taking in the natural beauty of the river, canyon, and my surroundings. 
At mile 17, the 1000 ft climb to the top of the canyon begins.  I didn’t push too hard up this climb, but maintained a comfortable running pace the entire way.  I even enjoyed a thigh deep creek crossing along the way, refreshing!  However, after reaching the top of the climb, things started to turn in an entirely different direction.
The American River.
While I was still in 3rd at the mile 21 aid station, Rod had closed the gap and was right behind me.  More importantly yet unwelcoming, my quads screamed with pain every step I took.  They were officially blown, and I still had 10 miles to go.  This was bad news, I couldn’t just take a gel or rub them and everything would be ok.  Once the quads are shot, they’re closed for business.  As my pace slowed to a shuffle, an entirely new race unfolded.  Confidence and thoughts of standing on the podium were instantly replaced by self doubt and desires to drop out as runner after runner passed me.  I was moving so sluggishly that a runner passing me asked “Are you in the race?”.  Yeah, I looked that bad. 
With about five miles to go, I was expecting that at any time some of those footsteps I heard approaching me from behind would belong to a Hoka teammate.  Sure enough, a bright yellow Hoka One One shirt goes blowing by me.   Magdalena Boulet, would be the top runner on the team today.  Despite all the pain, pride swallowing, and adversity, I hobbled on. 
Rolling hillside near the finish.

With a mile to go, the legs started to loosen slightly, so I was able to move in a fashion that resembled running.  After being passed by 14 people in the last 10 miles, I crossed the finish in 17th place in 3 hrs and 59 minutes.  The high fives I had envisioned not long ago, were replaced by an awkward on-camera interview around the subject of how this race went from being a podium contender to now a snow bound Montanan’s early season training run.
Finish Line Mud.
So in a nut shell, Way Too Cool 50k went from way good too way bad in an instant.  It was a physical collapse that I’ve never experienced before in a race of any length.   So now I’m left to answer the question “why?”.  Lack of early season running specific training, went out too fast, bombing down the 1000 ft decent, hydration, maybe the answer is “yes” to all.  Chalk this one up as a tough training run and remember that there’s always another race.  I’ve got Lake Sanoma 50 mile in 5 weeks, it’s time to hit the trails.

Nutrition - 6 Hammer Gels and 3 Perpetuem Solids.  Energy levels felt great all day.

Shoes – Hoka One One Rapa Nui 2 Trail.  Great cushioning and aggressive tread handled the muddy trails with ease.
Finish Area

Great post race atmosphere!

by Jeremy Wolf 
twitter: @jeremywolfRun


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