Way Too Cool 50K | California | March 10, 2007
Too Cool for Words
By Gary Dudney
The buzz before the start of Way Too Cool wasn’t about the ideal weather or the stellar cast of elite ultrarunners milling about. (You couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a former Western States champion or two.) The buzz was about how people had managed to squeeze into the 7 minutes and 33 seconds it took to fill the 450 spots in the race through on line registration back in December.
One of the most popular 50K trail runs in the country seems to be just getting more popular. Way Too Cool is like the perfect storm, except in a good way. Elite runners are eager to get an early look at the competition that floods in to this race. Middle of the packers love to catch up with friends and be part of a great tradition. Rank beginners show up in droves having been told this race makes a great first ultra. Add in the fantastic scenery along the Middle Fork of the American River, the cache of using parts of the Western States course, the proximity of historic Auburn (“Endurance Capitol of the World”), the notable swag, and everyone goes away happy.
Way Too Cool is also a great 50K for fast times. The first couple of miles feature a gentle downhill slope and about half a mile of asphalt road. Runners fire off marathon style trying to sort themselves out before they hit the trails. After the first aid station at Highway 49, the course dips down close to the river and then offers up miles of rolling fire road and then lightning fast singletrack. Trains of runners form up over the long eight mile stretch to the Auburn Lake Trails aid station and push each other to the max. You hear veteran runners warning neophytes about the terrors of “Ball Bearing,” a three-quarter mile long steep climb that comes later in the race, but the real pitfall at Way Too Cool is probably being lured into an overly ambitious pace.
The course makes a loop at the far end where Waterfall Trail descends to the evocatively named Dead Truck Trail (though the truck is nowhere in evidence) and then meets the ascending Maine Bar Trail, which includes Ball Bearing. After the big climb, the race is on again in earnest back over rolling trails to Brown’s Bar where the short and steep Goat Hill is quickly conquered at about the marathon mark. All serious obstacles are now left behind and the two last segments of the race, three miles to Highway 49 and less than two miles to the finish at Cool flash by like a dream, or like a nightmare, depending on how much is left in the tank.
The final quarter mile of the race wraps around a field next to the Cool Fire Station. A crowd cheers the runners home. Timing chips guarantee precise finish results. It’s not uncommon to see someone collapse at the finish line, having been run nearly to death by marathoners moving up to the 50K distance who don’t know it’s okay to walk a little. But once recovered, the collapsee can wander inside the huge pavilion tent where hotdogs, soup, and cold drinks await. Awards go to the top 10% in each age group category. Runners with cute little frogs on their bib numbers score a random prize, like a fleece jacket with an embroidered Way Too Cool logo. GU Sports, the presenting sponsor, has a booth with yet more giveaways. Zombie Runner is there to fill orders.
There are showers nearby and no end of exhilarated runners bursting with the whole experience, delighted to have finished a great race on a perfect day. The whole thing’s…well…way too cool for words.