You’ll Always Wonder What If. Lake Sonoma 50 Mile

After The North Face 50 Mile Championships (race report here) last December, I couldn’t have been happier with my safe, conservative race strategy, having a strong finish to the 2015 season.  As the training started to ramp up for 2016, the thoughts of what if would continually creep into my head when I would look back on the race.  What if I went out a tiny bit harder? What if I started pushing just a little earlier? What if I had run the downhills slightly more aggressively? All these what ifs fueled the fire for the months of training leading to the Lake Sonoma 50 mile.

A month ago I had a great run at The Way Too Cool 50k in March where I practiced a slightly more aggressive pacing strategy, I liked the result and was ready to head to Sonoma with a similar plan.

 

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One of the many incredible views along the course

Race morning started with a lovely 3:30am wake-up call, followed by pounding back a few cups of Peet’s Major Dickason’s blend.  After a Clash of Clans battle, and fumbling around with how many gels I can fit in my shorts, Madi and I drove to the start to the long journey that awaited me.

A few brief instructions by Race Director Tropical John, and at 6:30am, the Lake Sonoma 50 mile was off.  The first two miles are on the road before dipping into the trails.  The lead group that quickly formed had to be about 30 large.  As with the first two miles of any 50 miler, they go by uncomfortably easy and do a great job of setting an unsustainable cadence leading into the next 48.

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One of the three bigger climbs in the middle miles of the race

The miles were just peeling away as I got into a great rhythm going up and down all the little hills that seem to never last more than a minute or two.  The first of the three major climbs of the day came right after the Madrone Point aid station at mile 18.  What’s amazing about the Lake Sonoma course is that the largest climb gains a mere 700 feet, while the entire course boasts an impressive 10,500 feet of total gain.  It’s the hundred little climbs that really suck the life out of you.  After the climb out of Madrone, there is a descent of equal size, then the largest climb of the day up to No-Name Flat, which marks the halfway point and turn-around on the course.

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Little extra help from Madi at the No-Name aid station.  Mile 25.2

After topping off the bottles and chugging a flask of Roctane like it was a beer mile, I set off.  It was really nice seeing my crew at the turn-around, as seeing familiar faces always brings new found energy.  Everything was feeling great and I was excited to get back into the rolling terrain along the lake.

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Quick hi-five to Madi’s dad before heading into the woods

The excitement was building as I quickly dashed in and out of the Madrone aid station again at mile 31. This marked the start of the single-track section to the finish.  Almost immediately after the first few climbs, my legs felt that familiar jello type feeling.  No worries, I thought as I had just gone down a few good sized descents and they just needed some time to adjust again, but the fatigue only set in deeper.  By mile 32, I was in a full fledged hole of energy-less bonk.  As with most ultras, there are lows and there are highs.  I figured this was just a low, and if I just powered through, it would turn around and I could start motoring again.  To my demise, this feeling never came.

Lake Sonoma is not a great course to bonk on.  The climbs are too short to get into a good hiking rhythm, and the downhills are so short, there isn’t any time to recover and the next uphill is right there to slap you in the face.  Relentless would be the word I heard oh so many times that weekend.  At about 40, I got passed by the great Speedgoat Karl Meltzer and proceeded to latch onto his pace for about 14 seconds.  Then I failed to jump over a three inch high log in the trail…Luckily no fingers were broken during this fall as I was moving much slower than last time.  The final 10 miles were a death march hovering between two and three minutes per mile slower than on the way out.

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Mom told me to put on my happy face

I gave it everything I had from the final aid station (mile 45.5) to the finish for a few reasons.  One, being I’d feel forever guilty jogging it in.  Two, I didn’t want to get chicked.  Three, I didn’t want to run slower than at North Face.  Coming off the trail and into the parking lot, I’ve never been so relieved to see a finish line, as the previous 18 miles were some of the hardest I’ve ever done in my life.  I crossed the line in 7 hours 13 minutes and 42 seconds, which was all of 30 seconds faster than at North Face.  Personal Best.

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Someone find me a chair!
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A chair had never been more comfortable than at that moment. Ever.

Despite the carnage and long slog back from the turn around, I don’t regret the way I ran at all.  If I hadn’t taken the chance, I would still be wondering what if.  Now if I do this again, I might regret it, as I clearly didn’t learn anything, but we’ll see what happens next time around.  Huge thanks to Tropical John and all the volunteers for putting on an amazing race.  I would not have made it to the finish if I didn’t have all those great aid stations to look forward to.  Also to Madi, my parents, and her parents for being an awesome crew and putting up with my insanity =]

Huge congrats to Jim Walmsley and YiOu Wang for their victories, the lucky athletes who earned their Golden Tickets to Western, and to everybody else who made it to the finish of this brutiful (brutal and beautiful.  Yes, it’s a word now) course.

Strava data for my race can be found here.

Gear:

  • Shoes: Hoka Clayton (review coming soon)
  • Pack: Ultimate Direction AK Pack
  • Bottles: Hydrapak 8oz softflask and Nathan ExoShot handheld softflask
  • Nutrition: ~60 ounces water, ~50 ounces of Roctane drink, 10 packages of Gu Chews, a few gels, 6 S-Caps, and 12 ounces of Coke.

Next Up, the Siskiyou out and Back.  The race distance TBD

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Bonus Picture: Best biscuits and gravy I’ve ever had, the morning after the race
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4 thoughts on “You’ll Always Wonder What If. Lake Sonoma 50 Mile

    1. I chose the Clayton for Lake Sonoma because I didn’t think the Vazee Summit would be enough shoe cushion-wise for that course. Looking back, I think I made the right choice, as grip was only an issue a few times, but for 49 of the miles, it was hard packed runnable terrain

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