Author - Linda Sanders

Barkley Marathon returns again, but can anyone complete it?

Barkley Marathon: by Larry Carroll

If you complete 60 miles, your fellow marathoners may congratulate you on your “fun run.” An annual event, it was inspired by the real-life jailbreak of one of history’s most notorious assassins. Dozens of athletes line up to run a race which often has no finishers, beginning not with the shot of a starter’s pistol but the lighting of a cigarette.

Welcome to Barkley, the world’s most eccentric ultra-marathon.

Photo Credit: Barkley Marathon

To know Barkley is to know Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell — the enigmatic, brilliant, endearingly abrasive founder of the race. In 1977, much of the country watched in horror as James Earl Ray — killer of Martin Luther King Jr. — escaped Tennessee’s Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary. For 54 hours, Ray fled on foot across the unforgiving woodland floor before being apprehended by FBI bloodhounds, who found him in the dark buried under half-rotten leaves, covered in sweat and mud. When Cantrell heard reports that Ray had covered 8 miles, inspiration hit and he mockingly responded: “I could do at least 100 miles.”

Now, every late March/early April, runners gather to do exactly that. Limited to 40 participants, Barkley fills up fast despite a labyrinthine registration process. A secretive “Why I Should Be Allowed to Run” essay must be submitted (no details are advertised), along with a $1.60 fee and a license plate (if you’re a first-time runner), gold-toe dress socks (if you’ve run before) or a pack of Camel cigarettes (if you’re a returning finisher). One race applicant is summarily deemed to be least likely to finish even one lap — and receives bib number one along with the Cantrell-approved title of “human sacrifice.”

Photo Credit: Barkley Marathon

Although the race has changed over the years, it currently is made up of a 20-mile loop — unmarked, with no aid stations. Runners of the 100-mile version do this loop five times, two of them at night. Overall the race has more than 52,000 feet of accumulated vertical climb, frequently aided by less-than-ideal weather conditions, and if you drop out you’re greeted by a bugler playing “Taps” upon returning to the starting line.

It may come as no surprise, then, that Barkley has had been started more than 1,000 times but finished only 18 (by 15 different runners). In 2006, nobody even completed the 60-mile “fun run” under the time limit — and last year, below-freezing temps, heavy rain and fog marked an installment which saw no finishers and had runners wearing bibs emblazoned with the back-breaking, all-caps phrase: “HELP IS NOT COMING.”

The 2019 Barkley will be run in the woods of Tennessee on March 31. Now 71, “Laz” is still overseeing the race and coming off his own 3000-mile, 126-day run across North America. Recently, the race’s official Facebook page posted a picture of a massive anvil with the message: “Barkley runners now will be required to carry this anvil on loop 5.” We think it’s a joke — but remembering the eccentric nature of Barkley, there’s no way to be certain until the end of the month when that cigarette gets lit.


Nine Trails run boasts tough trails, top talent and tattoos

By Larry Carroll

One of the most in-demand races of this spring is quickly gaining a high profile … because it has such a low profile.

It is called the Nine Trails 35 Mile Endurance Run, and although it has been around in some form for nearly thirty years, in most years it tends to play a minor role in the ultra-marathon ecosystem. This year, however, some of the sport’s most high-profile athletes have signed up for the March 23rd event — and the eyes of marathoners worldwide are suddenly focusing on Santa Barbara, California.

Photo Credit: Santa Barbara

Race director Luis Escobar is touting the Nine Trails as having the most impressive entrance list in the country, and looking over the docket it seems tough to argue the point. Jim Walmsley, Sandi Nypaver, Tim Freriks, Cat Bradley, Cody Reed and many more are among those planning to run -and hoping the fire and flood damaged trails permit a great run for athletes of all different ability levels.

“Lots of things play into (running the race),” Walmsley tells Trail Runner magazine . “March is a nice time of year—without big options—and this is a distance that you can use to build into April and May races, where there are notoriously a lot of big race options.”

Although it is a 35-mile run, the Nine Trails makes a lot of sense for ultra-marathoners accustomed to running greater distances. Event organizers say experienced runners often remark that it runs like a tough 50 miler, thanks to steep, rocky and long trails. Featuring more than 10,000 vertical feet of gain and descent, athletes must also be accustomed to long, slow sections with very little support.

Photo Credit: Santa Barbara trail

Oh yeah, the view also helps. In all of North America, it’s hard to find a more beautiful place than Santa Barbara, and Nine Trails promises big climbs with big views. The race covers the Jesusita Trailhead to Romero Canyon and back, following the picturesque Santa Barbara front country trail system across creeks, canyons and catwalks.

“It’s hard to find a mountain race in the spring,” Nypaver tells Trail Runner. “It was great to see a competitive field shape up for Nine Trails—a race that’s more my style—and for the race to take place in the earlier part of the year.”

Created by local trail-runner Patsy Dorsey in 1990, Nine Trails gained a reputation as a challenging race in a beautiful place. Since Escobar took over in 2004, it has continued to grow in size and scope.

Photo Credit: Nine Trails run

Also, the race seems to be intensifying its stakes. According to Bradley, another race may conflict — but if she does indeed make it to Santa Barbara, it will be to make good on a wager with the race director.

“Nine Trails and I have a long history,” she says. “The only reason I signed up was because Luis and I made a bet. If I beat his fastest time on the course, he has to get my face and Nine Trails official time tattooed on his chest.”

paul chappel

ITRA QUARTZ Elite program engages 71 top athletes in anti-doping program

By Larry Carroll

The International Trail-Running Association has released its list of athletes engaged in the QUARTZ Elite Program, revealing a growing number of entrants over past installments. Touting the included names as the first time “a discipline gives its elite athletes the chance to contribute actively to a doping-free sport by signing up for a unique health monitoring program,” the ITRA reports that 71 male and female runners have elected to participate.

Using the ITRA Performance Index as a guide, the program is offered free of charge to top 10 athletes in the men’s and women’s rankings, as well as the top 3 in each trail category and athletes returning from suspension after having previously tested positive at an event.

Among those listed are such high-profile names as USA’s Jim Walmsley, Tim Tollefson and Tim Freriks, Spain’s Kilian Jornet Burgada and Pau Gapell, and French athletes Francois D’Haene and Nicolas Martin. Female athletes who have responded to the invitation include USA’s Megan Kimmel, Camille Herron and Katie Schide, Caroline Chaverot and Nathalie Mauclair from France, and Sweden’s Ida Nilsson and Lina Helander.

Camille Herron
Photo Credit: Camille Herron

Organized by Athletes for Transparency and the Ultra Sports Science foundation, the QUARTZ program’s stated mission is to “allow everyone to contribute to a sport without doping, whilst safeguarding the health of the runners.” Touting its worldwide growth, the program is divided into 3 sub-programs: QUARTZ Elite, QUARTZ Event (“for race organizers who wish to make runners’ health a priority”) and QUARTZ Regular (“for all runners who wish to act on behalf of their own health”). The program’s site says that more than 300,000 users have registered since the program’s 2015 inception.

Photo Credit: 71 athletes take part of the Elite QUARTZ Program.

Athletes for Transparency was launched in 2004, with the intent of developing the sport’s rules and ethics, as well as promoting the health of its athletes in a doping-free environment. ITRA was created in 2013, aiming to give a voice to the world of trail running while promoting tenets of strong ethical codes, diversity, race safety and runner health as well as fostering exposure with national and international institutions interested in the sport.

Photo Credit: 71 athletes take part of the Elite QUARTZ Program.

As part of the process, QUARTZ Elite runners have the opportunity to make their data public. As any observer can see on the organization’s public profiles page , these athletes have chosen to provide information on their use of medications, dietary supplements, and other information that can only contribute to the sport’s transparency.


Transgender athlete Bo Aucoin speaks out on WSER policy changes

By Larry Carroll

The world’s oldest 100-mile trail race is touting a rule change that embraces the inclusion and equal rights beliefs of modern society — and transgender athletes are celebrating.

Photo Credit: Transgender athlete Bo Aucoin speaks out on WSER policy changes

At the beginning of February, the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run issued a Transgender Entrant Policy, with the stated intent “to establish rules to encourage and facilitate the participation of transgender runners at WSER with the goal of ensuring fair and inclusive practices that respect the personal rights and dignity of transgender entrants while preserving the integrity of competition for awards and records based on sex.” Posted on the event’s official Facebook page, it was easy to quickly see the passion with which the message was received.

“So excited to see the sport I love taking steps to be a more inclusive community,” posted one responder. “I will welcome others with open arms, and every single person out there on the trails grinding out miles should be encouraged to compete.”

Photo Credit : Transgender athlete Bo Aucoin speaks out on WSER policy changes

However, not everyone in the racing community has responded favorably — and as of this writing, the post’s 141 comments are littered with plenty of back-and-forth. One of those commenters is transgender athlete Bo Aucoin, who is now speaking out further on the issue in a powerful new interview.

“I know I’m a guy; I don’t know that I’ve ever known something so deeply. It’s terrifyingly liberating and painfully beautiful,” the 37-year-old Aucoin, who was born with female genitalia, tells ATRA . “Before transition I was quite competitive both as a distance runner and as a triathlete. I was never a pro or an elite, but I held my own as an age-grouper. Athletics helped ease some of the dysphoria I felt over my body.”

Regardless of their stance on other issues regarding transgender persons, some athletes and organizers have historically struggled with the issue of how to categorize them in races traditionally divided into “men’s” and “women’s” categories. Policies have increasingly focused on certain medical benchmarks that an athlete must reach in their transition before officially being allowed to compete as a certain gender, and the WSER statement seems to further that attempt at definition.

“A male-to-female transgender entrant can register to compete as a female provided the runner has been undergoing continuous, medically supervised hormone treatment for gender transition for at least one year prior to the race,” the policy states. “A female-to-male transgender entrant can register to compete as a male with no restrictions. The only exception is female-to-male transgender runners can no longer register to compete as a female if they have begun hormone treatment related to their gender transition that includes testosterone or any other banned substance.”

Photo Credit : Transgender athlete Bo Aucoin speaks out on WSER policy changes

The statement goes on to say that although a runner’s self-declared gender at registration will be taken at face value, a challenge can be made if a top 10 finish or age group award is at stake. That challenge may then require the athlete to provide documentation detailing their gender transition status. But as one Facebook commenter put it plainly: “Kudos for starting this conversation. I’m sure there’s no perfect policy and you may find ways to improve it, but thinking about it, writing about it, being a leader on it and such is a net good.”

Aucoin agrees, and is appreciative of the opportunity to participate in a race that has been a lifelong goal: “Being on testosterone, I find it nearly impossible to cry. That news, when it came across my Facebook feed, however, very nearly did the trick … the policy simply takes away a major obstacle that was once there (and in many situations is still there) for transgender individuals — an obstacle that was never there and will never be there for the cisgender population. From my perspective, the policy is not about making exclusive accommodations. It’s about granting inclusive accessibility.”

Ultimately, what the issue seems to boil down to is something that Aucoin states very succinctly: Transgender is not a choice, but tolerance is.

“I’ve said it numerous times to myself and to others, but I’ll say it again: If I could snap my fingers and be comfortable as a cisgender woman, I would do it in a heartbeat,” the athlete explains. “That would be a much easier, and quite frankly, a much ‘better’ life. Transitioning isn’t fun. It’s really freakin’ hard.”

“And I know hard,” Aucoin adds. “I’m an ultra-marathoner.”


Proteins at the Source – How Much Does an Ultra-Runner Need?

By Larry Carroll

Ever since the first caveman hit a saber tooth tiger over its head with a club, mankind has known that when it comes time to fuel ourselves protein is a necessity. As the years have passed, however, our intrinsic hunter-gatherer tendencies have evolved. These days, we’re more likely to gather salads than saber tooths — but protein is still an imperative, particularly for the ultra-athlete.

So, how important is protein for trail runners? And what are the best sources for those with vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets?

Nutritionists recommend a daily intake of 46 grams of protein for a healthy adult woman, and 56 grams for a man. In those parts of the world grappling with malnutrition, that’s a serious issue. But in developed countries including the United States, it is estimated that most people eat somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 grams of protein every day — and even vegans are above the threshold, using beans, nuts, whole grains and other sources to get an estimated 60 – 80 grams per day.

Photo Credit: Proteins at the Source

Of course, those numbers include all Americans, regardless of physical activity or level of fitness. So, where does that leave folks who spend their days training for marathons rather than sitting in a cubicle?

Although carbs have long been viewed as the rockstars of the running community, all those pre-run plates of pasta won’t cut it alone. Protein makes you feel fuller longer, helps manage your blood sugar, and assists runners with building and repairing vital tissues.

Photo Credit: Proteins at the Source

RunnersConnect breaks down the athlete’s intake needs with a simple equation: 1.2 to 1.7 grams per kg of body weight (in contrast to non-athletes, who need about .8 grams of protein). In order to build and maintain lean muscle mass, divide your current weight in pounds by 2.2 — for example, a 180-pound man would require about 82 grams of protein, while a 135-pound woman needs about 62 grams. As you’ll recall, both numbers fall well below the amount of protein intake for the average American.

So instead of hitting a certain number, perhaps ultra-runners need to act like a journalist and consider the source.

Photo Credit: Proteins at the Source

Some runners swear by chocolate milk, channeling their inner 8-year-olds while claiming it’s all in the interest of good health. But before you mix in that Nesquik, consider this: A glass of garden-variety reduced-fat chocolate milk will get you 7 grams of protein, along with 24 grams of sugar. Instead, it is more sensible to make your own shake with ingredients like protein powder, fruits and almond milk and focus on adding something into your diet like L-glutamine, which will help reduce inflammation and muscle soreness.

Other great sources of protein for runners include: Albacore tuna (low calorie, high in B12), grass-fed beef (leaner than grain-fed), eggs (17 grams of protein each) and skinless chicken (easily prepared in many different ways to keep your taste buds interested). For those aiming to maintain a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle, stock up on canned black beans (low glycemic index, meaning they steadily release energy to the body), raw almonds (lowers cholesterol and improves heart health), sweet potatoes (manganese and copper maintain healthy muscles) and anything whole grain because the fiber/protein mix will deliver a boost to your overall diet.

Photo Credit: Proteins at the Source

“With every footstrike, a runner carries two to seven times his or her body weight,” Dr. Douglas Kalman, a researcher on the effects of protein in athletes, told Runner’s World . “Protein is what keeps your body healthy under all that strain.” According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, athletes who don’t fuel their workouts with enough protein put themselves at a higher risk for injury.

So be smart with your sources and channel your inner caveman — even if you’re using your proverbial club only to gather a handful of almonds.

Old West Trails 50K

Old West Trails 50K Promises Campfires, Camaraderie — and Cowboy Hats

by Larry Carroll

You can easily recognize cowboys, because they wear ten-gallon hats, riding chaps, spurs and bolo ties. You can easily recognize ultra-marathoners, because they wear running shorts, a numbered bib, and suck down gel packets. But now that it’s time once again for the Old West Trails 50K, don’t be surprised if the line is about to get blurred.

Photo Credit: Pinnacle Endurance

On Saturday, March 9, Pinnacle Endurance will hold the fifth annual installment of their signature event. Over the last half-decade, Old West Trails has earned a reputation as being one of the more beautiful races in North America, giving runners the opportunity to bear witness to Anza Borrego Desert State Park in springtime. With manageable temperatures (typically 40 to 70 degrees F), a pristine desert landscape and a rainbow-friendly route, runners may become so enamored with their surroundings that they silence the screams of their throbbing muscles. Okay, well, maybe not.

Old West Trails 50K
Photo Credit: Pinnacle Endurance

“Your adventure includes sharing ancient trails with the ghosts of the Kumeyaay People, this region’s earliest known residents,” explains the event’s site, describing the historic landscape located in California’s San Diego County. “Travelers and adventurers of yesteryear also included: Spanish colonials, explorers & settlers from Mexico, Kearney’s Army of the West (guided by the legendary old west scout, Kit Carson), and the Mormon Battalion. During the famous gold rush era, prospectors and settlers often chose this southern overland route to reach California and its fortunes … come run in their tracks and enjoy the lands which gave them all renewed hope and shelter.”

Photo Credit: Pinnacle Endurance

Browsing through photos of past runs, you don’t see many cowboys — although the race’s logo is the silhouette of a runner wearing the sort of Stetson you’d expect to see on John Wayne. Instead, you see gorgeous desert blooms, multi-colored Barrel Cactus, and even the occasional tarantula. You also see cuts, scrapes and bruises all over the runners’ legs and arms — the result of brushing past all those prickly desert flora and slipping on rocky, often dampened terrain.

“We pride ourselves on providing you with beautiful races in beautiful places,” Pinnacle Endurance says of their efforts. “Ones that you will enjoy, while challenging you to do your best.”

Touting 2500 feet of gain and loss, the Old West Trails 50K claims that many runners achieve new personal records. Since many runners bring their families for the weekend and stay at nearby campsites and western-themed accommodations, the event promises a memorable experience in more ways than one.

The Old West Trails event is also known for having a tight-knit, friendly staff and pre- and post-race socials fueled by campfires and camaraderie — further blurring the lines between the ultra-runner and the cowboy.


Pau Capell

Pau Capell joined the ultra running scene only five years ago and is already snatching titles of some of the most well known races in the sport. For the third consecutive year, Capell has raced and won the TransGranCanaria- a race with over 750 meters of elevation gain and diverse landscape.

The TransGranCanaria FKT was previously held by Didrik Hermansen with an impressive 13:41:48. However in 2017 Capell surpassed this record with a time of 13:21:03. The following two years he beat his own personal best, coming in just after the 12:42 mark and maintaining the FKT.

This string of victories should come as no surprise to those familiar with the race or with Pau himself. Hailing from the rural countryside of Spain, he has been in contact with these types of terrains his entire life.

Having always been an active child, Pau was introduced to sports via soccer and following a disappointing injury was recommended distance running as a form of rehabilitation. However, running became more than just a form of physical therapy. Pau started to race in marathons, which led to longer and more difficult competitions and ultimately made him the champion he is today.

In addition to his remarkable running career Pau’s enthusiasm for sports and community compelled him to create his business: PrivyLife, a company dedicated to active lifestyles. However unlike most business owners, Pau doesn’t want his company to become too large. If given the option, Pau would love to have everything in balance without sacrificing too much of his work life balance.

When he looks back at his running and entrepreneurial career thus far, he considers the quick rise to success as a combination of hard work, dedication to goals, and most importantly a support system of family and friends. As we sat down with Pau today, he shared an intimate, never before heard story of just how important his supporters are to his running ethos. He shared the story of how his girlfriend Magda secretly put recordings of loved ones giving him encouraging messages. This added immense fuel to his run and now has become something that is always in his playlist.

Join us as we dive into his life and connect with him about running, race philosophy, his support system, and all things ultra running. Enjoy!

Listen to the full interview on the IRUN4Ultra’s podcast Here



by Larry Carroll

When it comes to sex, every athlete (or movie fan) remembers the cautionary words of crusty cornerman Mickey in the 1976 classic “Rocky”: “Women weaken legs!”

Sure enough, sports pop culture is riddled with tales that reinforce the message that athletes need to refrain from doing the nasty while training for a big competition. In “Bull Durham,” Tim Robbins’ golden-armed hurler Nuke LaLoosh puts Susan Sarandon’s bedroom eyes on hold during a winning streak; in “The Fighter,” Mark Wahlberg’s character rebuffs his girlfriend while insisting that he needs to “stay angry” for a big fight. And the advice lingers on — in the recent blockbuster “Creed,” Rocky Balboa busts out Mickey’s old words of wisdom when his protege (Michael B. Jordan) falls for Bianca (Tessa Thompson), advising him to hold back before presumably changing his mind when he arranges their rendezvous.

Is there any truth to the notion that harnessing your sexual desires can result in a better athletic performance? Or is it all a big Hollywood myth?

Photo credit: Sex and the Serious Athlete

According to CNN (sex olympics athletic performance), the notion actually predates Hollywood by a few hundred years, dating back to ancient Greece and Chinese medicine. While speaking with Australian researcher David Bishop, the outlet reports that only four major scientific studies have ever been done on the topic — and all targeted only men.

Perhaps the most noteworthy of those is a 2000 study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, which examined 15 athletes between the ages of 20 and 40, urging them to complete a bicycle stress test while abstaining and then again after having sexual relations with their partners. The conclusion? Although the study found no significant overall effect, it did warn: “The recovery capacity of an athlete could be affected if he had sexual intercourse approximately 2 hours before a competition event.”

Photo credit: Sex and the Serious Athlete

This would seem to strengthen the case of Ronda Rousey. In 2012, wielding a 12-1 UFC record and on top of her sport, the fighter gave an interview saying she has “as much sex as possible” before an event.

“For girls, it raises your testosterone,” Rousey said at the time. “So, I try to have as much sex as possible before a fight.” Laughing, she added: “Not with like everybody. I don’t put out Craigslist ads or anything, but you know, if I got a steady, I’m going to be like, ‘Yo. Fight time’s coming up’.”

Which begs the inevitable question: Would Mickey have warned Ronda that “Men weaken legs”?

In the world of ultra-running, participants are always looking for anything that could give them an edge. So, is the answer between the sheets?

Photo credit: Sex and the Serious Athlete

A 2015 Runner’s World article (Is it okay to have sex the night before a big race) addressed the notion of sex the night before an event, examining three studies. Experts advised that runners keep it to “a quickie,” try to avoid any late-evening marathons, and do their best to avoid anything new.

“Don’t experiment with new positions or acrobatics in the bedroom; it would be a shame to strain or pull a muscle or get that all-so-common calf cramp the night before the big race,” ob-gyn/runner Alyssa Dweck, M.D. told the magazine, adding: “It’s prudent to avoid a new brand of condom, spermicide, or other novel product during sex the night before a race, just in case you are sensitive and have an unexpected reaction.”

A 2013 Trail Runner article (Trail-tips/sex-and-the-trail-runner) quotes professor/author Dr. Tommy Boone, who agrees with the “no harm in a quickie” rule. “Active intercourse for five minutes only burns 20 to 30 calories, and even 40 minutes of vigorous intercourse burns just 250 calories, the equivalent to walking a couple of miles,” he observes.

Then again, some ultra-marathoners may be less eager to mess around then others. An Ultra-Running Magazine article entitled “Living With an Ultrarunner: It’s Not Always Easy” featured a spouse lamenting her husband’s lack of drive.

“Don’t assume the ultra-runner will be the All-American lover,” she explains (Living with an ultra runner its not always so easy ). “Although known for vigorous appetites for food and fresh air, this does not automatically carry over to a runner’s sex life. Adding seven to ten hours a week training time to the 40 hours most people work, plus time for stretching, showering, icing sore muscles, and so on doesn’t leave many magic moments for snuggling by the fire.”

Ultimately, it seems, the key to athletic training is not pushing your body beyond its normal rhythms and practices. “Current thinking in elite sports is that athletes should act in ways they consider ‘normal’ and not do something that goes against their beliefs — which will induce guilt, such as believing pre-competition sex is not good for you and yet engage in sex anyway,” Tennessee State University Health and Human Performance professor Mark Anshel told CNN.

“A lot of athletes feel guilt-free and okay about pre-competition sex because it helps them sleep better,” he explained. “Most contemporary coaches seem to agree.”


Celebrating 30 Years of Mud-Soaked Runs is Way Too Cool

By Larry Carroll

The name of the city is Cool. The participants are cool. The event is Way Too Cool — even if running this 50K feels like the polar opposite of a laid-back lifestyle.

Photo Credit: Celebrating 30 Years of Mud-Soaked Runs is Way Too Cool

On March 2nd, the 30th annual running of the Way Too Cool 50K Endurance Run will bring back what NorCal Ultras dubs “the most sought after 50K in the United States for veterans and novices alike.” Its mascot is the frog, which feels only appropriate since amphibians are equally at home on land or in water — and make no mistake, in Cool you’ll definitely get muddy, thanks to a course that crisscrosses the Middle Fork American River and watery Knickerbocker Creek.

Photo Credit: Celebrating 30 Years of Mud-Soaked Runs is Way Too Cool

Pictures from past events show runners knee-deep in water, navigating slippery rocks and covering their faces in mud splashes. Since 1990 the race has been touted as an ultra-runner’s rite of spring, with founders Pat and Sandy Whyte beginning with 130 entrants and a trail that had a runner jumping into a tractor to expand the final 50 yards — and growing it to a smoothly-orchestrated event that now has 1000 starters and a lottery just to be among them.

Photo Credit: Celebrating 30 Years of Mud-Soaked Runs is Way Too Cool

The combination of timing and location makes Way Too Cool (formerly known as the Cool Canyon Crawl) a popular race for runners who are training for events like the American River 50 or Western States Endurance Run. In the past, it has attracted many of the sport’s accomplished athletes (including 14-time Western States women’s title winner Ann Trason, 7-time Western States champ Scott Jurek and 5-time Western States winner Tim Twitmeyer), but prides itself on embracing the first-time runner.

“The middle and back of the pack is non-competitive,” former race director Greg Soderlund says on the Way Too Cool website. “It’s more like a training run than a race.”

Pushing off from the Cool Fire Station, the race is always eagerly anticipated in this town where the elevation (about 1500) is nearly equal to its population (posted as about 2500). Known as the gateway to El Dorado County, Cool was once a key stagecoach stop during the Gold Rush; today, Way Too Cool follows sections of that same Western States Trail, with more than a 7000 foot elevation change along the route. Over the years, runners have come to develop love/hate relationships with the challenging climbs over Goat Hill and Ball Bearing. As a quote on the site’s front page attributed to author/athlete Roger Crawford reads: “Being challenged in life is inevitable; being defeated is optional.”

Before every race, NorCal Ultras sends out “The Newt Patrol,” a group of folks whose purpose is to clear the trail of the California Newt — warty, slate-gray critters who resemble frogs and have become the unofficial mascot of the race (frog…newt…what’s the difference?). Always eager to embrace the beautiful terrain they inhabit, Way Too Cool ushers as many of these little guys as they can to safety before some 2000 running shoes come flying down the trail.

After the race, participants have long enjoyed post-race festivities that include a “soup for your soul” dish carrying on the tradition of the black-bean soup served by the Whytes in those early years of the Way Too Cool. The post-festivities feast is also known for their signature frog cupcake — a chocolate concoction with green frosting and oversized eyes. Which seems only appropriate, as it marks the conclusion of an endearing evet that is anything but a piece of cake.


Ellie Greenwood

When it comes to the world of Ultramarathons EVERYONE knows the name Ellie Greenwood, and for good reason. This British Ultramarathoner has numerous wins and course records under her belt that attest to how formidable she is as an athlete. She is a two-time 100km World champion, first British woman to win the 90km Comrades, holds records at the Western States 100, Canadian Death Race, JFK 50 Mile Run and the knee knackering north shore trail run.

We asked Ellie about how she got started running, unlike many athletes, she talked about how she always just enjoyed running. “I did run a little when I was in school, but not competitively or with a lot of structure” she said  “You know some things you just enjoy. When I was in university in the UK I decided to do a half marathon. I thought it would be fun, I had no concept of miles and pace. I did it and I loved it”.

That first half marathon ignited a passion and lead to more half and full marathons. Ultras were not even on her radar at that point and as soon as it was, she was intrigued. She assumed that since her marathoning experience had been good and she enjoyed outdoorsy activities like hiking, the idea of running further and on trails really appealed to Ellie greatly, however she did take her time getting into the sport “I did do a very low key one which is great” is what she said about her first Ultra “I spent quite a few years, I would say 6 years, between my first 50 k and my first 100 – miler”.

A big part of Ellie’s attitude towards participating in new things comes from her style of education. Her UK school was not super competitive like US schools, but encouraged more of a participation culture “It was a ‘put-up-your-hand-and-take-part’ atmosphere and I liked being active”. Not having big consequences based on winning or losing was very reassuring for Ellie. She also recognizes that Ultras are unique in being able to afford people the opportunity to perform well without having had a background in it. “It is sport specific. Had I wanted to be the best 10k runner in the world, I would have needed a lot more structure.”

Today Ellie looks at herself as more of a coach than a competitive runner “These day I am not really competing too much, I might get back there  and do a bit of that.” But even when she was competing, Ellie always mixed up her training, adding a variety of types of races, terrain to run on, rest days and participating in key races that flow well together . “2014 is a good example. I raced the comrades 56 miles road race in June, I did World 100K in November, but in the middle of the year, I did the Speed Goat, a very technical one.” Mixed in some fun activities like snowshoeing, Ellie makes the best of her time training. As a coach, she encourages the same ” If you do the same thing over and over, you are most likely to plateau.”

When asked about her win at the Comrades, “That was something I really wanted to do” she said  “It was the 3rd time that I ran it that I won it. Some other races I had better luck that I have showed up and won it” To get the result she wanted, she really needed to focus on it and it became much more than just a race she wanted to win “It was Hard! I tell you that. It wasn’t an easy day that I won”. But that made the win even more special.

When asked about a good strategy to pick races she said, “In the days right now, lets be honest, a lot of people chase UTMB points and Western States  qualifiers, its a wonderful thing to do and I am not anti those and there is nothing wrong with that but it narrows people down to lists. Have fun along the way. It will help with the motivation for training”.

When it comes to women in the sport, she had this to say “I think there have been changes in last 10 years or so. Obviously changes are still taking place and I think there is place for more change to happen” She attributes the increase in competitiveness in the sport of ultra running is because of the increase in participation. “I still think there isn a long way to go. WS now has the pregnancy deferral policy, but forgive me if I am wrong, UTMB doesn’t. There are still bridges like that that need to be crossed.” She talks about the importance of media, what they cover and more importantly how they cover female athletes so that women feel more included and can identify. She also talks about the importance of encouraging and fostering girls and women to participate.

Ellie doesn’t know what the future holds for her, but she knows that she will always be involved in running in some way, however she will continue to do what feels right and what is fun.

Listen to the whole podcast to hear everything that Ellie had to say.