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

A look at the history of the Way Too Cool 50k in California.

By on March 6, 2020 | Comments

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.

Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.