Race Recap: Way Too Cool. I am Strong if you are Strong.

Way Too Cool is always a great event that showcases the amazing vibe of the Northern California trail running community and this year was no different. Thank you to Julie Fingar and her team of amazing volunteers for putting on a masterclass as always.  After a dry winter, ‘Miracle March’ started and the course got pounded with several days of rain leading up to the event. The race day forecast included the possibility of snow and hail, adding an unfamiliar element to race day conditions. For many, the race is a season opener; a chance to bust off some rust and see where fitness is. I headed into race week feeling as fit as I ever have and excited to try to keep up with some uber fast women. I can’t control what the other racers do, and I can’t control the elements, however I wanted to run under 4 hours which I thought would also put me on the podium for the second year in a row. Most of all, I wanted to push myself and work on racing skills ahead of Lake Sonoma 50 in April. In the end, I fell short of both my time and place goals, but absolutely crushed getting the most from myself in what turned out to be extremely difficult circumstances. I finished in 4:03 and fought hard for 4th place.

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It was a tough day, but having people like coach Mario in my corner is a big part of what kept me going. Photo: Jamil Coury

My emotion at the finish line was a reflection of the beautiful dichotomy that most ultra races represent: disappointment with the result, but extremely proud of the process, in physical pain, but also high on the atmosphere. All in all, I did not have the day I wanted, but I come away feeling empowered by my ability to overcome, and inspired by an ever growing list of women who are as impressive for their attitude as they are for their speed. I made some new friends and only seem to have a small patch of poison oak, so all in all the day was a success.

So how did my race get so derailed? Well, on Friday as I was driving up to meet the Salomon crew at bib pickup in Folsom, I was in a car accident. Thankfully, there were no injuries and no identifiable damage to the other car, but my tin can was pretty beat up and has now been deemed a total loss.  After dealing with the police and the towing company, I waited with my 7 bags of stuff in the pouring rain for a Lyft to take me to Fleet Feet. I tried to put it aside, after all there was nothing to be done until Monday, and the Salomon crew did a good job of keeping my mind off it until bed time. Ricky Gates had some particularly entertaining stories about his experiences on my former home trails in Oakland. On race morning I again tried to remain focused, but kept having mini flashbacks to the seconds before and during impact. I went out fast but not too fast and kept the front ladies in reach for about the first 3 miles. It was about then that the adrenaline from the race start wore off and my legs felt like they had already run 20 miles. They were not responsive and felt super heavy. The smallest of rolling hills on the first 8 mile loop felt like the last repeat of a hill workout. As the lead ladies pack pulled further away and I felt worse, I also descended into a mental hole so deep that I almost dropped at mile 8. I knew I was fit enough to at least keep Ladia, Liz and Brittany in range, and that I should not be feeling this bad so early. Coming through the start line at mile 8 and getting such amazing crowd support from so many friends was a huge factor in me deciding to keep going.

Rallying thanks so a super cheer gang at the mile 8 aid station. Photo: Sasha Teninty

Instead of allowing myself to feel sorry for much longer, I resolved to get the most out of myself as I could on this day. In the end, that is all we can really ask of ourselves. Shit happens, things we can’t control can derail a race, but adapting to it and giving it my all is what draws me to ultras in the first place. I am a downhill runner: much like my now totaled Honda Insight, I recharge on the downhills. I used the big descent to the river to get myself back on track as much as possible. I went slower here than I would have typically done in a race, but used this time to accept that my legs felt terrible and decide to force them to work anyways. I was honored to battle hard with Abby Levene all day for 5th, then 4th place. After leap frogging with her all day, I came upon her for the final time at the mile 20.5 aid station and used my momentum to pass her on the downhill and then proceeded to run scared, albeit alone, for the final 10 miles. I was generally faster than last year on the miles that were more downhill or flat, but slower on the uphills and lost over 3 minutes in the final 3 miles. I guess that eventually my legs decided they really were done. I pushed hard all the way to the finish believing I was still within shooting distance of sub 4, but in the end I missed it by 3 minutes and was 6 minutes back from 3rd place. I have already spent many agonizing minutes pouring over my strava splits, identifying places I know I can run faster, and I still 100% believe I can hit low to mid 3:50s on that course.

I came away having learned that even if I feel terrible, I can still run pretty fast and that I have developed pretty strong mental resiliency. I am still sore from race day but am already fired up for the next race on the docket: Lake Sonoma 50 mile. I am so thankful for the support I received before, during and after the race from the amazing digital and physical trail running community. When I realized I had no car, and in theory had no way to get home after the race, I wasn’t the least bit concerned. I knew there were about 30 people running, cheering or volunteering who would happily give me a ride back to Marin. That peace of mind was what allowed me to toe the line on race day. I went through a slightly traumatic experience away from home and my husband and never felt isolated or alone because I wasn’t. I had an amazing network of people who helped get me to the race, helped keep me in the race and helped me find joy in it all. People ask what my tattoo “I am strong if you are strong” means and I can’t think of a better way to explain it than that.

Thank you to Mike and the Salomon crew for the hospitality, the support and for being generally awesome. Thank you Gu for being out on course and making fueling one of the easy things. A huge thanks to Hal at Mt. Tam Sport and Spine for keeping me tuned up and healthy and to Sufferfest Beer for making sure I always celebrate the effort! Finally, thanks to super coach Mario who went above and beyond and provided some much needed emotional support as well a ride home after the race.

Shoes: Salomon Sense Ultra

Socks: Stance OTC – for extra poison oak protection

Kit: Salomon S/lab 3″ shorts, Exo Tee and buff

Hydration: Salomon Pulse belt with Simple butt bottle

Fuel: Gu Energy Labs Roctane Drink and 5 gels: Strawberry Kiwi, Salter-watermelon and birthday cake flavors

Cover photo by Jamil Coury featuring Ricky Gates, both of whom were out on course capturing the day.

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