Classic U.S. Ultras: The Way Too Cool 50k

AJW's Taproom[Author’s Note: This is the first in a six-part series on classic American ultramarathons. Each month between now and August, I will profile a race and share a bit of its history. I hope you enjoy it!]

This weekend in Northern California, one of the U.S.’s largest 50k trail runs will celebrate its 31st running. The Way Too Cool 50k, held continuously on the first Saturday in March since 1990, has long been a highlight of the annual ultrarunning calendar. Long before the days of top runners jetting around the world to race any month of the year, Way Too Cool gathered the sport’s American elites each spring to compete on sections of the iconic Western States Trail, knock off some winter rust, and kick off the racing season.

Part season opener and part family reunion, Way Too Cool is the brainchild of race founders Pat and Sandy Whyte and has become a rite of spring for many American ultrarunners. Originally named the Cool Canyon Crawl, the event began with 130 starters and has ballooned to over 1,000 today. The late Western States 100 race director Greg Soderlund, who took over as RD for the Whytes in 1997 and changed the name of the race to Way Too Cool, recalled in a 2010 interview the explosive growth of the race through the early 2000s, “We started with mail-in registration that typically filled in a week. Once we went online, the race filled in seven or eight minutes. It just got faster every year…. It got pretty crazy.” In part due to this explosive popularity, current RD Julie Fingar, who took over the race from Soderlund in 2011, instituted a lottery which is still used today.

For a period of years during the Soderlund era, Way Too Cool consistently drew one of the most competitive fields in ultrarunning, including such luminaries as Ann Trason, Tim Twietmeyer, Geoff Roes, Nikki Kimball, Max King, Darcy Piceu, Dave Mackey, Luanne Park, and Scott Jurek. In fact, in the early years of the Montrail Ultra Cup, this year known as the Hoka One One Golden Ticket Races, a top-three finish at Way Too Cool was enough to secure a coveted spot in the Western States 100. In those days, a top finish at Way Too Cool was also enough to propel an athlete to the top of the sport.

In recent years, the competitiveness at the front of the pack has been more limited but that has done nothing to dampen enthusiasm for the race. This year, once again, over 1,000 folks, many of whom will be running their first ultramarathon, will flock to the Cool Fire Station in Cool, California to celebrate the start of spring and enjoy a day on some of the finest running trails in the United States. With that, the American ultra season unofficially begins.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Fort Rock Brewing in Rancho Cordova, California. Folsom Dam Good Pilsner is a wonderfully light and crisp beer that is complex and well-rounded. A variety that can often be made too bland, Fort Rock has created a Czech Pilsner that is anything but. Hopefully, a few of this weekend’s Way Too Cool runners can make the trip down to the brewery.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

Have you run, volunteered at, or spectated the Way Too Cool 50k over the years? Share your Way Too Cool 50k story.

There are 3 comments

  1. Gary Roberts

    Over the past few years the race has seemed to be a bit of a weather magnet. I can’t forget the videos of Max King blasting through the mud a couple years ago. Now after California passed through one of the driest February’s on record with only a tiny bit of leap day rain keeping us from a shut out, Saturday is forecast to have at least light rain throughout the morning.

    Maybe we need to hold Way Too Cool weekly to help with the drought.

  2. Mike tyler

    I nearly PRed there about 6 years ago. Its a fast course if you are fit and not a ton of rain beforehand. Kinda crowded but not as much as these days. I think it switvhed to lottery the ne t year. I ran with Magdelana for a bit in early going until a had a nice fall and backed down my pace.

  3. Jeff

    The competitiveness of this race has not waned…Just yesterday, 20 runners finished under 3:50!! Last year there were 16 runners under that mark, and 15 in 2018, 13 in 2017 AND 21 in 2016. In 2018, Ladia Albertson-Junkans and Brittany Peterson ran the 4th/5th fastest times ever. In 2017 Cody Reed ran the 4th fastest time ever for men. In 2019 Anthony Costales ran the 7th fastest time ever. WTC is FAST and always a fiercely fought battle.

    In 2003 when Uli Steidl, Dave Mackey, Ian Torrence, Scott Jurek, Karl Meltzer, and Hal Koerner were all in the top ten only 11 total runners were under 3:50…

    The author’s own WTC PR from ’04 of 4:04, 11th that year, would have scored him 30th place on Saturday.

    Way Too Cool continues to distinguish itself as not only the largest 50k in the country, but the most competitive year in and year out for 30+ years.

    Finisher numbers are more in the 500-800 range the last handful of years, too.

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