In the first event of the Montrail Ultra Cup, the GU-sponsored Way Too Cool 50K ultra trail run found its start on a glorious spring mountain morning with perfect conditions that saw newbie ultra runner and University of Washington student Uli Steidl smash the course record by more than 12 minutes with his time of 3:18:17. Steidl, 31, from Germany but going to school in Seattle, Wash., was so far ahead by even five miles that bystanders who didn't know him just shook their heads and muttered to each other that he'd die off soon. (For those who are metrically challenged, 50K is 31 miles and Steidl's pace averages 6:23 per mile. Oh, that hurts.)
But nay-sayers were wrong. He kept the strong lead in only his second ultra (the first being at the 2002 Chuckanut 50K near Seattle, where he also set a course record). His marathon best is 2:17:01 last year in the Seattle Marathon. Second, third and fourth had to settle for their own race that ended 17 to 18 minutes later. Top women, twin sisters Liz and Mary Fagan, battled it out, with Liz pulling ahead for the win in 4:02:43, with Mary pulling in about four minutes later.
Although winners always attract attention, at the popular Way Too Cool (this year's event sold out in three hours in online registration in December) the rest of the pack is also spoiled by a well-run race with enthusiastic volunteers and beautiful trails. Race sponsor GU kept runners fueled with both its gel and its newer electrolyte drink, GU2O, at all the aid stations. In the finish line area, Montrail reps including Krissy Moehl were kept busy for hours showing off shoes and discussing fit. Also seen on the course: more Ultimate Designs bottles with hand-carry straps and waist-belt carriers than you can shake a stick at, but when it came to backpack systems CamelBak takes over.
SNEWS View: Race management straightened out aid station issues last year that left all aid stations past the first one depleted of GU for all except about the top 100 or so runners. This year, volunteers held bags full and divvied them out to runners to avoid the greedy handful-graabbing method. But, once again, Montrail was the only truly visible sponsor at the end with a bright yellow tent and a table spread with shoes and literature. As race sponsor, GU ought to stake out a finish line area to talk to runners about its lesser-known drink and do a little PR. Although Patagonia's logo is on race materials and therefore the company must hold some kind of sponsorship, it was hard to determine what exactly since no reps and no product were seen.
SNEWS -- along for every blastin' last step of the entire 50 really cool kilometers (no, really) -- heard a number of runners complain about how hard it is to find Montrails. For many ultra runners, the alternative seems to be wearing whatever shoes they've owned for years. Some literally have holes in them from overuse! But that's ultrarunning for you; it's its own animal indeed. Which is of course why SNEWS has to be there in the trenches (in this case, more like in the mud and creeks), running along (although really really far behind the leader) to make sure we have first-hand and on-the-scene coverage.