Nothing Like Joining the Polar Bear Club at Mile 18 – Way Too Cool Race Report

Well, it was definitely an adventure.  Unfortunately, not the fun one I was hoping for, but an adventure nonetheless, and I still finished, so I’ll take it.  Let’s start at the beginning….

Getting to the race was easier than it’s been in past years, well, maybe just easier than it was that first year.  Hopefully, I’ll never have that part of the adventure again.  But, there was traffic, but not that bad of traffic.  We were at Auburn Ale House and eating just after 5.  Delicious and I highly recommend it.  Delicious Mac & Cheese, though, this may have been one of those times that the Dairy allergy reared its ugly head.  Ugh…but, better now than in the morning.

Packet pick-up was moved to Folsom…not sure why, but definitely didnt seem like it was going to be as close to the hotel and food, so we opted for morning pick-up.  Which meant an early morning, but not that early of a morning.  Get up at 4:15 to go to the gym…get up at 4:15 to go to a race.  Kind of the same, right?

So, we get to the start line, and similar to two years ago, we get epic parking.  Go early…get a space in the lot.  Perfect.  Also similar to two years ago, I had brought rain boots purely for the walk from the car to packet pick-up that morning.  Of course I didnt need them.  Maybe it was foreshadowing good things to come?  I got my stuff…bib, t-shirt (really nice shirts this year!), bag (great replacement for the instacart bag of gross), and went back to the car for a pre-race nap.

With an hour to go until start time, it was time to start getting ready.  I made my way over to the row of porta-potties, glad it was still early enough that they werent crowded.  Of course I have a run in with some random dude….moral of the story – lock your porta-potty door.  That’s how the rest of us know you’re in there.  Once I found a new one, I unfortunately realized that the previous nights stomach issues had carried over into the morning.  I walked back to the car hoping I had pepto in my pack….and that if I did, it would be enough.

Luckily, planning from previous years did me well, and there was some in the pack.  But, alas, only one.  Hopefully one tablet of pink-chalk gold would do me well.  I choked that down and proceeded to layer up….tank, fleece running jacket, gloves, hat, headband, hand warmers, and due to some last minute drops on the windshield, a rain jacket.

Brian and I made our way over to the start line only to notice that there were people playing in snow.  Where did they get the snow from?!

001 Apparently, it came from the back of someone’s pick-up truck.  Whether they’d filled it up on purpose, or lived somewhere that it was snowing, we’re not sure.  What we do know, is that the weather later added to their load.  haha.

Since I waited until the last possible second to get out of the car, there wasn’t much time before it was time to line up.  In the ten minutes or so before the race, I met a lady from Boston, who was loving the warmer-than-Boston temperatures, and a local lady running her first Way Too Cool.  Somewhere in there, I also ran into Brazen Mike, who I’ve seen at all three of the WTC’s I’ve run.  The weather held off long enough for us to start, and we were off.

Miles 1-8

The first mile or so passed in a blur….I think I was pretty much jogging until I got to the trail entrance (maybe a mile or so), then had to wait for 30 seconds-ish to get on the trail.  Maybe it was like that in previous years too, but it did seem like there was a lot of congestion in the first eight miles.

Once on the trail, I was off again.  The first loop weaves along a rolling trail, where you’re really at the liberty of the rest of the runners….if they’re running, you’re running.  If they’re walking up the hill, you’re walking up the hill.  As I ran down to the first descent, I heard the ‘OMG, we’re going to get wet’ shrieks, and briefly remembered the last time I ran down this hill in the 100+ degree weather this summer.  Definitely no water then.  Different story today.  Not as deep as year’s passed, but definitely knee deep or so.  But, it’s early and everyone still wants to avoid getting wet, so, there’s a line to cross the river.  Really people?  It’s raining.  And there’s more river crossings than I can count.  You’re going to get wet.  Just cross the river.

Across the river and up the next hill I went, continuing to follow the pack of runners on the winding trails.  Of course, I found some mud to slip in somewhere around mile 5…gotta get that first fall in early.  But, I bounce and was back up in no time….not even really enough time for the runners behind me to pass me.  Through the rivers and through the mud, back through the finish line we were heading.  I started singing the ‘I Love Mud’ song from when I was about five in my head.  At some point, it started raining, and a guy behind me was joking that it was ‘dry rain’ since when it’s 100+ degrees there over the summer, it’s dry heat.  A couple more river crossings and a lot of mud later, we were back to the start/finish line.

I saw Brian, who stuffed more hand warmers in my coat pocket, even though I was sure I didnt need them.  At some point on the first loop, I’d realized hand warmers and gloves were too warm and had taken both off, before putting just gloves back on.  I grabbed a quarter of a pb&j and a cup of Sprite at the aid station….based on the earlier stomach issues, I was afraid to take anything else, but also afraid to under fuel myself.  Ugh…it’s such a game some days.  A quick kiss, and I was off…Eight miles down.  22(ish) to go.

Miles 8 – 13

I was feeling good, so began the jog out of the park.  Hiked up the hill, jogged down….then ran into a junction where there appeared to be two sets of course markings.  Maybe the chalk washed away in the pouring rain?  Anyway, the guy in front of me and the guy behind me were both confused.  ‘Do you know where to go’? I really didnt, but I could see other runners heading down the path to the right, so we guessed and took that path.  Luckily, we were right and down to the quarry we went.

The quarry is….flat.  It has that going for it.  But, other than that, it’s about three miles of boring that feel like 35.  So, we played tag.  I jogged along, then took a short break to walk…a guy came up behind me said, ‘tag, you’re it’, and jogged by. He took a walk break further down, and as I jogged past, tagged him. This continued for several miles, I learned that he was a local guy, running his first WTC. It was a great way to make a friend and pass some miles until we hit the luau themed aid station around mile 12 or 13.

Miles 13 – 21

I had forgotten how much of a no-man’s land the 7.5 mile slog between 13 miles and 21 miles is.  It seems to get me every time.  Even that first year, when I LOVED the race and ran really well, I started to mentally lose it somewhere around mile 19.  Last year, I made the rookie mistake of not refilling my pack at mile 13, and was out of water by mile 19.  This year, while I was determined not to make rookie mistakes, I underestimated that slog between aid stations and the mental toughness it takes to get through it.

Somewhere in there, I had three people come up behind me, so I moved to the side so they could pass.  They told me not to worry, that they were sweepers.  What?!  Sweepers already??  I asked if I was last, but they were quick to assure me that I was mid-pack, maybe the start of the back, and they were mid-pack sweepers.  Just making sure everyone was ok.  Insert sigh of relief….

Somewhere between mile 17 and 18, there was another river crossing.  No problem, I’ve been through several of these.  Except this one was deeper….and I slid on a rock.  But, I recovered.  Maybe over recovered….cause before I knew what was happening, I was swimming.  In freezing cold water.  Nothing like joining the Polar Bear club 18 miles in.  Two thoughts ran through my head…..first, I’m done for (I ended up hypothermic with a medic when it was 50 degrees, no way I can come back from a dip in ice cold water), and second…where was this terrible ice bath in August, I would have appreciated it then.

Even thought I was pretty sure I was done, I didnt really have a choice other than to continue the three-ish miles to the next aid station.  Thankfully, I wasnt hurt, and I’ve gone more miles in worse shape.  Then, this happened….

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I’m honestly not sure if it was hail or snow, or a combination of both.  But seriously??  As if the surprise ice bath wasnt enough, now I’m soaked and it’s snowing.

I made it down to the mile 21 aid station in one piece, which was more than can be said for the guy in front of me (the aid station volunteer’s words, not mine), apparently he’d rolled down the bottom of the hill. Which isn’t all that surprising, the switchbacks down to that aid station are pretty steep and really slick in the rain and mud.

Similar to two years ago, the warm broth at this aid station saved me. That, in addition to an amazing volunteer. Once I had some broth, he wrang (I don’t even know if that’s a word) out my clothes and helped me get my wet gloves back on. Despite being wet, having them on would still generate body heat. And my hands were cold…I can only imagine what they must have felt like. But, the sun had come out, I’d had some broth, and I still had hand warmers. So, I was off…the goal now was to finish the race I thought I wouldn’t.

Miles 21 – 26

The miles passed in a blur coming out of the aid station. I remember hiking on trails that I’d run down before and counting down the miles to Goat hill….and trying to remember where ‘mini goat hill’ was. Looking back, it seemed like the time passed quickly. At the time, it felt anything but.

Luckily enough, this year the course had returned to normal, and ‘mini goat hill’ had disappeared. I made the left turn toward Goat hill with a couple of other runners. One let the rest of us pass, and I followed another up the hill. I hadn’t really thought about goals for this race, and based on the rest of the day, I wouldn’t have achieved them if I had. However, I always have two goals with this race…..finish, and don’t stop on Goat hill. So, up I went. Passed a couple of people who had stopped to take a break…I’m pretty sure I was really slow, but I didn’t stop.

Hearing the aid station at the top was a relief. Relief that I was at the top of the hill or a mere five miles from the end, I’m not sure. I got some more broth, some soda, a quarter of a pb&j, and talked with some other runners. I saw Brazen Mike again, we caught up, wished each other luck, and were on our way.

Miles 26 – 31

The last five miles probably passed the fastest….thank god.  However, I did forget how treacherous they are in the rain and mud.  It was a lot of scrambling, climbing down, climbing up, and taking care not to slide.  The good news is, I can still hike as fast as some people can jog…sometimes faster.  I counted the miles down in my head, and looking back, it seems like I was at the final aid station before I knew it.  This year, that aid station was fluid only, which is fine…really, it’s a mile from the end.  But, I grabbed another cup of coke and was on my way.

And, oh the last mile…really, the first half of that mile…it’s very much like the Dipsea stairs minus the stairs.  There’s roots and trees and steep and mud…I think the only thing missing is another creek crossing.  But, the end was near, so it was all good.  Somewhere in there, I passed a lady walking up the trail who told me I only had half a mile to go.  I was somewhat surprised, as I thought it was twice that.  I told her she was my favorite…she laughed and said she’d gotten that a lot.

Just before the finish, another runner came up behind me.  We chatted briefly about how we were almost there.  He mentioned something about the cut-off and how he hoped we’d make it.  I’d forgotten all about the cut-off….I asked what time it was, and he said 4:30.  Ah…we’re good.  That’s ten minutes from now and we can see the finish (maybe .25 miles away).

Then…Finish!

I’m not sure I’ve ever been so happy to finish a race.  Well, I guess that’s not completely true….there was Lake Sonoma, and a couple of marathons where being done was pretty great.  But, I digress.  Brian met me at the finish line, and got a great photo of me running like a ninja (cause when all else fails, at least you still look cool….haha)…

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He had my coat (the one I took to Everest Base Camp), that I probably did need, but all I wanted was a hug, my frog cupcake, and to be in the car.  So, that’s what we did.  I even ended up with a new Solomon beer glass for my post-race beer a day later.

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If you need a laugh….this photo was taken right before I ate both of the frog’s eyes.  In about five seconds.

Journey to Lake Sonoma

So, what now?   First, I left all of the negative energy from the race on the course once I crossed the finish line.  It was a crazy, crazy day, and all things said and done, I’m glad I finished (I don’t know that I’ve ever been closer to a cutoff and still made it).  It really is about beating that voice in your head that says you can’t.

Now, it’s all about Lake Sonoma.  Even without the surprise swim, I did realize that I need more long runs between now and then.  My legs feel better than they did after this race last year, but not nearly as good as they did the year before that.  Looking at what’s different, it’s the mid-week miles.  In 2016, I had a 24 Hour Fitness membership, and a trail behind my office, in addition to OrangeTheory.  But, the good thing is that there’s still time to fix that before Lake Sonoma.  And I have a better base (thanks, OTF!) now than I did then.

And, potentially a big learning about mid-race fueling.  I only drank soda at the aid stations.  Well, that and the broth starting at mile 21.  And I never felt sick.  Not once after I started the race.  Perhaps it’s electrolyte drinks and running that don’t mix for me.  Regardless, definitely something to keep an eye on going forward.

So, here’s to lessons and good things to come.  I’d love to finish Lake Sonoma in the light.  But, as I learned this past weekend, goals can change mid-race due to slips, trips, and even a dip rivaling the polar bear club at mile 18.  If I can add a second Lake Sonoma finish to my race resume, I’ll consider that a win :).

Until next time….

2 thoughts on “Nothing Like Joining the Polar Bear Club at Mile 18 – Way Too Cool Race Report

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