|Mrs Notthat pacing me to the finish of the 2012 Way Too Cool.|
But then Mrs Notthat, in a weak moment that in retrospect should have caused me concern, uttered the words I thought I'd never hear: "Go ahead and put my name in the lottery too."
So I put in both our names and figured one or the other would get in and have a built-in crew - the chances of both of us getting in didn't seem very good.
So of course we both got in. And Mrs Notthat's first ever 50K was now very real.
We both stepped up our training and things were looking OK until a couple of things happened:
• I strained my Achilles and had to take the month of January off from running.
• We scheduled a two week trip to New Zealand, right in the crucial point of our training, for our 30th anniversary. (We did manage to squeeze in two trail runs while over there though, which helped a bit.)
As WTC grew closer, our anxiety started to grow. Then a ray of hope struck us - in addition to there being two waves for the start for the first time, there was also going to be an early start option. We were both still nervous, but knowing that we had an additional 30 minutes was a nice bonus.
We arrived at the Auburn Running Company for packet pickup with minutes to spare. And just in time to see my WTC arch-nemesis Alegna (not her real name) pick up her goody bag.
Parking is always a bit of a challenge here, and the WTC people were suggesting people arrive at least 30 minutes earlier than whatever they thought would be early enough. (There were several hundred more runners this year than in previous years, which added a bit to the challenge.) Since we were in the early start, we were there by 6:45 and there were already a LOT of cars there. Due to a couple of quirks though, the main one involving us staying in the car to keep warm for a few minutes after we parked the first time, we managed to end up about 20 feet from the start line - I took this as a good omen.
The early start group was surprisingly small, maybe 30 runners total. I believe this was mostly due to most runners not even knowing it existed, and I suspect it won't be like this next year. (You had to request to be in the early start several days ahead of time, so you couldn't just walk up and take advantage of it on race day.)
As is the tradition, a gorilla (on crutches - not part of the tradition) and a banana were at the end of the paved part of the course, giving high fives to us as we headed onto the trails.
This picture shows a couple of things:
• I was keeping up with Mrs Notthat. She had been warned by Coach Ydna (not his real name) that it is very easy to get caught up in the early part of the race and go out too fast. This happened to me last year where I finished the opening eight mile loop in much quicker fashion than was prudent.
• We had the trails nearly to ourselves. For the runners in the normal start, the single-track trails in the eight mile loop result in major bottlenecks - one runner slows down a bit and it ripples through several hundred runners behind him. This is largely why I went too fast last year - I did not want to be a "trail boulder" so I kept up with whoever was ahead of me when I was on these sections.
We were about 4.5 miles into the loop when the lead runners blew past us. The eventual winner, on the left, set a stunning course record of 3:08:50. The trails were in fantastic shape and the weather was perfect. And Xam (not his real name) is a VERY good runner.
The opening loop has several creek crossings. Most have optional "bridges" you can use to keep from getting wet. For the normal starters, there would be long lines of people waiting to use the "bridges" - last year I picked up some time by choosing to just splash through the creeks and bypass the lines. This year there were no lines so I opted to stay dry, knowing that there were many more splashing opportunities coming up.
At the end of the eight mile loop, you get a massive lift as you pass back through the start area - there are a lot of people there cheering you on and it's hard not to pick up your pace and try to fly through here. Unless you need a porta-pottie, which I did. So I had to pull over, locate the toilets that weren't locked (I assume the state thought it was a good idea to keep their toilets in this area locked - it really made things confusing), do my business, then head out on the 23 mile loop that makes up the rest of the race.
|The gorilla was still out there encouraging the runners on, while Mr Brazen stared enviously at all that body hair.|
From that point you go along more great trails to a long downhill stretch and the first Highway 49 crossing. I love this crossing. I feel for the people that have to wait in the cars, but also get a bit pumped as the traffic control volunteers call out "RUNNER COMING THROUGH" as I stumble my way across the road.
|Looking back on the runners behind me streaming across the road.|
|A great view that almost every runner with a camera took a picture of|
|Gotta love an aid station that has its own arch!|
The aid station was lively and did a great job of getting us fed and on our way.
|Niloc (not his real name) admiring the view.|
The trail along the river is really a dirt road which meant that, pretty much for the first time, we weren't on crowded single-track. Which meant that runners could really sort themselves out and focus on their pacing. Or in my case, the view.
|A leprechaun lost his hat.|
This aid station, at mile 16.7, is a very nice sight mostly because it means you are over halfway done. It's also a frightening sight since it means the real course is about to show up. It had taken me 3:20 to get this far - if I could keep that pace up I would have a great finish time (for me). But mortals don't keep that pace up for the last half of the course since that's where about 80% of the climbing is done.
I was a bit tired at this point - my lack of proper training was really showing. The good bit though was that my stomach was doing great - last year at this point I was starting to feel queasy.
|"Hi Llib and Nire (not your real names)!"|
|For those who aren't aware, the Way Too Cool course used to include a very infamous hill called Ball Bearing. I've never been on it, but I've been told it was horrific. Or awesome - it depends on how you are wired.|
Then with cowbells. I'm pretty sure that person on the left is trying to moon me.
At mile 21 you hit the last official cutoff and aid station four. I beat this cutoff by 1:18 (keep in mind that I had a 40 minute head start for it, which means I really only beat it by a bit over 38 minutes).
These people were great and it was tough to leave them. It helped though that it was mostly downhill from here for the next few miles and that there were only ten miles left. It didn't help though that I knew Goat Hill was the next milestone.
I was pretty tired by this point but still thrilled that I was having no tummy issues. A bit reluctantly, I headed out of here for Goat Hill.
|The start of Goat Hill.|
But all good things come to a horrible end, and this was no different.
When you look at the elevation chart for WTC, you see a lot of rolling hills and then you see something that looks like a printer error - over a very short distance you go up a lot. It looks like a cliff. You keep telling yourself that it's a very short distance, maybe a half mile at most, but it never seems to end. I was taking ridiculously tiny steps and gladly stepping aside so that proper runners could go past me.
Then my Trail Angel appeared.
Yes, Innej (not her real name) had gone just as far as I had, but while I looked like I could topple over dead at any moment, she looked like she was ready to hit to prom. "Oh come on Mr Nothat; this hill's not so bad! Keep your feet moving and it will be over in no time!"
I tried to get her to go past so that I could pretend to break a leg or something and lay along the trail for an hour or two. But she wouldn't hear of it. So now I was holding her up, and there was nothing for it but to keep going.
And I did. Not fast mind you.
This boy clanging a cowbell was very near the top. When he saw me he stopped the cowbell and tried to remember how to call 911.
These people were actually at the top and were working hard to keep me going on willpower alone.
And it worked. Between my Trail Angel, the boy, and these people, I somehow made it to the top.
This is the fifth aid station, mile 26.4, and it is by far my favorite, although that's mostly because it means I've finished a Marathon and have less than five more miles to go. Even better, half of those miles are downhill (and yes, half of them are uphill, but after Goat Hill, that hill really seems a bit trivial).
Here is something that totally amazes me that I just worked out - I had made it to this point in significantly less than seven hours. I've never run a trail Marathon that fast. I was VERY tired at this point, but was still feeling good. A tiny part of my brain told me that I could possibly finish in under eight hours, but then a much larger and wiser part of my brain nearly sprained itself laughing about that.
But it was true - if I had any legs left I could beat eight hours. And I had my Trail Angel who vowed to hang with me for a bit.
Leaving Goat Hill you think it's all downhill for a bit, but there are a couple of nasty but short hills you have to deal with first. And I was truly done. I ran with my Trail Angel for short bursts but now I was getting calf cramps and was just too worn out to keep anything but a brisk shuffle going.
I tried to get my Trail Angel, who couldn't possible have looked fresher or more perky at the start of the race, to go on without me but she stuck with me for a bit. Finally, once we started going back uphill, she headed off. I'm reasonably sure that she subtracted a good 15 to 30 minutes from my finish time (and I probably added the same to hers).
She was awesome.
With about a mile and a half to go, you cross back over Highway 49. And again, traffic is stopped for you and you end up feeling like a VIP.
Then you hit the last, and I think loudest, aid station at mile 29.8. It's a little odd to have an aid station so close to the finish, but I love it. It breaks up the hill you are heading up and you get to see this sign:
I was still slightly under eight hours at this point, but I knew there was some climbing ahead. I also knew that I was going to beat my time from last year. Maybe by a lot.
This was new, and a WONDERFUL surprise! I loved knowing that there was only one mile left. And that also meant I was nearly done with that last real hill. But even better was seeing…
… this. Likely my favorite trail marking ever.
With about a quarter mile to go you have a small hill, but on the top of that hill are some very enthusiastic people that really help pull you up it.
Last year I was passed a bit after Goat Hill by my WTC arch-nemesis Alegna. She ended up beating me by about ten minutes. I had been determined to beat her this year, but knew deep down it was hopeless. But since I had a 40 minute head start, I figured I'd at least cross the finish line before her.
Then here she comes, bubbly and all up for storming the finish line. I tried to keep up with her but after about 20 steps I couldn't do it - she was on a mission. So yes, she beat me to the finish line, even with my head start. She improved from last year's time by about 50 minutes - astonishing!
And then finally, I took the turn and headed down the chute. It was glorious! There were still a lot of people hanging around and cheering, and it was one of the most emotional finishes I've ever had.
|Picture by Ssirhc, who finished in well under five hours. Sheesh.|
I had managed to not only beat last year's time, but beat it by nearly 20 minutes, and even better, finish in a bit under 8:30! I was shocked, to say the least.
But wait - what about Mrs Notthat? I had lost sight of her way back at mile eight when I went searching for a porta-pottie. I half expected to see her at an aid station ready to exact some revenge on me for getting her into this, but no - I had no idea how she was doing.
|Another picture by Ssirhc.|
The tradition at the end of the race is to get a slice of pizza and a frog cupcake. My tradition is to somehow drop my frog cupcake before I get a chance to eat it. (Weirdly, it didn't fall face first, and was fine and I got to eat it.)
The shirt, as usual, is great. I picked up a pair of WTC sleeves for $10. We also got a fun bandana with the course map printed on it (thanks for a great map - much better than last year's). And as a total surprise - a finisher medal!
This really isn't a particularly hard race, at least on paper. Having so much of the climbing so late in the race makes it much tougher than it looks, although if you are in decent shape and the trails are in as good of shape as they were this year, you can set a pretty fast time.
I really love that the year that Mrs Notthat decided to make this her first 50K, the race decided to have an early start, waves, and finisher medals. Nice timing on her part! (A secondary benefit of the early start was that we got to see almost all of the runners on the course. It turned out that we knew about 40 different people in the race - it was a blast seeing most of them fly by!)
The volunteers and race organization is very well done - I've done several NorCalUltras events and they never fail to impress (the Golden Hills Marathon is a particular favorite).
I loved getting froggy with it - thanks Julie (her real name) for letting us run this race!
That's it - move along…
PS: You can see a lot more of my pictures here.