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Rock/Creek Race Team members Josh Wheeler and Owen Bradley write about running the Way Too Cool 50k in California

Fresh off of running the Way Too Cool 50k in Cool, California, Owen Bradley and Josh Wheeler share their race reports below. As always, an interesting read!

Most ultra runners get really paranoid about getting sick the week of a big race. I woke up on Friday in Auburn, CA and thought I was in the clear, despite having the plane ride where I sat next to a nine-month-old baby who kept trying to touch me and his 16 year old mother who got air sick. But after several blueberry pancakes, the stomach issues and nausea started.

They lasted most of the day and were accompanied by fever that night. I was thinking at 7pm that I was not going to be able to race the next morning. After a restless night of waking up, I went to the start with my Rock/Creek teammate Josh Wheeler to see how I felt. To conserve energy, my warm-up was a jog to the port-a-potty. It was against my better judgment to run, but as my ex-military high school weight training teacher always said: “Anyone can go when they are fresh.”

My plan was to run the first eight miles, which were a loop that returned to starting area, and see how I was feeling. Josh jokingly told me I should take the field of star-studded runners out fast since the first 2K was on the road. I decided there is no better way to see how I was really feeling like running the first mile at 5:20 and hitting the 1.5 mile mark where the trail started at about eight and a half minutes.

From that point on in the race, I just kept getting passed. This was very justified, in most cases, since in 2010 this was the sixth most competitive race according to Ultrarunner magazine. This year’s field was no different. I fell at about mile three, very unexpectedly from a very small rock that just jumped up and grabbed my shoe. I landed hard on my hands and water bottle which squirted out like a fire hose. I am still having hand pains as I type this report five days post race.

I was in good position at the eight-mile point, at approximately 54 minutes. The next three miles were mainly downhill and contained a section of trail called ‘the chute,’ apropos due to the course’s wet and downhill structuring. By this early point in the race, I was mentally just playing the “get to the next aid station game” with myself.

I arrived at the mile eleven aid station, took an Endurolyte and started up the iPod. The next four miles were along the banks of the American River on the Western States Trail. According to the locals, they were going to build a dam at about mile 12 on the course (the concrete pillars are still standing), but the plan was fortunately overturned due to local protests.

I forgot to mention that the course was very muddy and filled with creek crossings. I was knee deep within the first five miles. It was refreshing to cool the feet off occasionally but made for heavy feet. I tried to regain some pride on the way to the aid station at mile 15 by actually running with some of the people who were passing me, which helped pass the time; I was too mentally unstable to strike up a conversation.

I slowly jogged into the mile 21 aid station at approximately 2:45 (so based on my mental math I was still slightly under eight minute pace). After some Coke and a GU, I then hit my low point along the trail from miles 21 to 26, at the top of Goat Hill. I wish I could say that Goat Hill was the only time I walked but it was not the case. I had frequent walk breaks during this section.

But at the marathon point, I had been caught by several runners including another girl, and I was at my limit. I reached deep into my belly and pushed myself as hard as I could those last five miles. According to a time sheet I saw after the race, I was in 60th place at this point. I caught up to and stayed with Denise Bourassa, who was running strong and left the aid station before I did. I ran up a majority of the hills which were manageable and had set a new goal of running under four hours and thirty minutes. I seemed to get stronger with every step those last few miles.

There was one last aid station 1.5 miles from the finish, where I grabbed a swig of Coke and moved on through… it was time to push it home. The last mile was on the same trail you ran on from mile eight to nine, so with familiar trails under my feet I yearned for the finish. I ended up finishing in 4:25:10, which put me 46th overall. It’s the farthest down that I have ever finished a race, but that is why we race: to see how we can perform on any given day. I did not have a great race, but I gave it all I had on this particular day and for that I can hold my head high.

My hat is off to the great field of runners who blazed those picturesque trails. I would definitely recommend running this race, but be ready to run with the best; 15 runners finished in under four hours for the 50k! This course was very runner friendly and deserves another shot from me at better finishing time. The green frog cupcakes are almost worth the trip.

A total of 700 runners toed the line on a beautiful day in Cool, CA for the 15th annual event. I must give proper credit to Julie Finger and her team for putting together a first-class event, with great aid stations and a killer post race setup featuring excellent food and massages.

They do not call Auburn the endurance capital of the country for nothing.

~Owen Bradley

[Owen Bradley runs in Brooks Cascadia trail running shoes, SmartWool socks, Patagonia Long Haulers… and little else]



I want to extend some thank yous before launching into a full blown race report. First of all, a huge thank you to Julie Fingar, W2C race director. Not only does she put on one of the largest and most competitive 50k races in the country, but she was willing to take time out to play host to Owen and myself the day before the race. She made the transition across the country seamless. Without her help, neither Owen nor I could have made it the start line in reasonable health (more on that to come).

Secondly, thank you to Rock/Creek and La Sportiva for their support in sending me out to Cool, CA equipped with the best trail running gear available. The support I have received from these two incredible companies has allowed me to string together back-to-back-to-back-to-back races.

Alright… now a race report!

Honestly, Mt. Mitchell went far better than I was expecting it to. The obstacles that aligned prior to that race really made the finish line a wonderful experience. Following Mitchell, I was mentally charged and ready to get back on a race course.

So, the next weekend, I found myself toeing the line at the Umstead Trail Marathon. After a week of little to no running, I thought that my recovery had gone smoothly. However, as soon as the gun sounded, I knew I was not fully ready to race. I stuck in with the leaders believing that perhaps I was just still a little sore; however, as we cruised through the five mile marker and my legs/back were not loosening up, I decided to save the effort for W2C the following weekend.

I took the following week tremendously easy, with just one short track session on Tuesday to judge how the recovery was progressing. Thursday I grabbed a flight out of RDU and seemingly 24hrs later arrived in Auburn, CA. A six-hour flight from D.C. turned into eight+ hours of sitting as our plane was stalled on the runway for over two hours before finally taking off. Thankfully, both Hannah Pate and Owen Bradley were troopers, waiting a few extra hours to pick me up at the airport.

The next day was spent catching up on sleep, after getting in around 2am. We got out quick in the morning and stopped off at the race expo before heading out to the race start in Cool Canyon. Along the way, we got sidetracked on the Western State 100 race course. The scenery was breathtaking, and once we finally got to the race start line I couldn’t help myself so I ran for a little over an hour on the course. Unfortunately, I did not realize that for the first thirty minutes I was running down into the canyon, only to have to turn around and run back up the canyon for the next thirty minutes. Almost too excited to sleep, I was up before my alarm sounded.

The gun sounded and we were off flying. I slotted in, feeling very comfortable, around fourth position. Talking with Julie before the race, she had said that in order to win this race you needed to play it smart in the early miles. With a new course (an 8mile loop before leading out on the larger 24mi loop), I knew I wanted to start the larger loop in around fourth position.

The early miles breezed by and I quickly realized two things. One, the course was extremely muddy. Second, the early pace was a little quick. Having never run the course and not knowing any of the other competitors, I glanced back only to see the world-famous Hal Koerner leading the chase pack. I knew Hal was a smart competitor and had raced the course before, so I eased up and dropped back to his group. We came in through the mile eight marker in fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh (respectively) while being chased by a large, hairy man dressed as a gorilla (not to be confused with Owen Bradley, who is equally as furry).

We dropped down the “chute,” which was more like a slip-n-slide with the mud. At the bottom, we were still holding around a six-minute mile pace. Onto the fire road, I was introduced to fourth place finisher, Tim Olsen, who ran a patient race to finish just off the podium. Best of luck next week, Tim, as he takes on the best in the business at Krissy Moehl’s Chuckanut 50k!

Heading into the first climb of the day, Tim had already put a 20-second gap on our group. I knew I needed to pick up the pace and bridge before I lost contact. However, at a creek crossing, I slipped… causing my back to spasm. My heart sank, as I began to worry that the same back injury that I had to fight during Mt. Mitchell was back. On the next uphill, I lost contact with the chase pack as my back spasmed, forcing me to walk to the uphill. From that point on in the race, I was unable to lengthen my stride as my back repeatedly would spasm, contracting down on my diaphragm.

Aside from the misfortune, I had a blast enjoying the beauty of Cool Canyon and American River. Coming into the last aid station, I knew my shot at a top-five finish was blown out. I focused on breaking four hours and, with a mile to go, I knew I had it pretty well in hand. Crossing the line was a relief as W2C was the fourth race started in four weeks. Honestly, I was a little upset with the overall finish, but you cannot be frustrated with a 15 minute PR.

So what’s next? I was registered to race Bull Run Run 50 miler. I have decided to withdraw and address my back injury. My next race will be in a few weeks but for the meantime best of luck to all those that are racing this upcoming weekend (to my running partner, Owen at Oak Mountain 50k). Finally, thank you to Owen and Hannah for putting up with me for a few days and getting me to/from the airport at ungodly early hours!

~Josh Wheeler

[Josh Wheeler runs in La Sportiva Crosslite trail running shoes, with a Nathan Quickdraw Elite and/or Ultimate Direction Access Waist Pack for hydration]

[Rock/Creek Race Team members run in Patagonia Air Flow Sleeveless T-shirts]