Keeping My Head on Straight!
It’s been four years since I’ve been out on the Lake Sonoma 50 mile course. I remember it being a tough hilly course with lots of exposed trails. It was hot that year, so it was DRY. I remember finishing the race with every last bit of effort squeezed out of me. I finished 8th woman and had run down some notable women in the process to capture a Top 10 spot, so all in, I felt like the race held some good vibes and a good training challenge for me, and I was eager to return.
This year was a little different. After several months of rain the trails were chewed up. The storms that had hit Northern California throughout the winter turned sections of trail around the lake into mud soup. It’s rather difficult to find your stride when you are slipping and sliding your way out to No Name Flat (mile 25.2). If the mud wasn’t enough to interrupt your pace . . . try fallen trees, stream and river crossings, and a detour (goat-trail) that had been created to extend the trail which had been washed out from a landslide. There was nothing really comfortable about running the course this year.
My goal going into the race was to use it as a training opportunity for Western States 100, which I will be running in June. I would train right through it and see how I recovered. The words “strong and steady” kept playing through my head once the race began. Initially, I tried to keep pace with a pack of elite women for the first 2.25 mile stretch of paved road. But then my own words, “run your own race” (I wrote a blog post about this not long ago!), came to mind and I pulled back to allow some recovery as the road disappeared from under my feet and transitioned to single track trail.
It’s interesting running 50 miles. I like the distance because it is just long enough to require both pacing and fueling strategy. You can’t relax with this distance if you want to be competitive. But you also can’t push too hard too early or you run the risk of blowing up in the later miles. I always think through how much I will need for fuel and where I will get it. Most of the time I don’t take much from aid stations but try to be self sufficient. In this case I carried a one liter bladder for close to 18 miles then transitioned to a handheld for the second half. In hind sight, I should have carried two handhelds but frankly didn’t think I would need this much fluid. If I had considered the distance between aid stations factoring in my sweat rate and temperature increase, I would have been more adequately prepared. I did gobble up a couple of Health Warrior Chia Bars, which turned out to be amazing. I ate one on the way out and another on the return. They worked great to keep me feeling full and hydrated–I’m adding those to my crew and drop bags at Western States.
The biggest challenge with running Lake Sonoma is to run the first half conservatively and save something for the second half. A course of this difficulty (10k+ elevation gain) requires not only speed but strength. When I review my splits for the race one thing is clear, I should have slowed down a bit more to the turnaround. While I PR’d for 50k and earned a Strava cup (yeehaw!) this doesn’t help with the overall result which ended with me running on empty for the final 12 miles. As I said earlier, another handheld of my electrolyte drink, Amino Vital, paired with salt capsules, would have been the trick to reignite the failing engine.
Despite my melt-down in the final 12 miles of the race, I still managed to move up a spot when I passed Leslie Howlett and stayed just ahead of Christina Clark. Kerrie Wlad passed me in the last 4 miles, but anything can happen in the final stages of a race. It ain’t over till it’s over! Ultimately I finished with a time of 9:20:33 and 14th female overall. I still enjoyed this race as much as I remembered—the added challenges were tough, but with Western States looming out there in the near distance, I can use all the practice I can get!
Gear that was important to my performance for this race:
Ultraspire Spry 2.0 vest and handheld bottles
Amino Vital liquids
Balega Ultralight socks
*Photo credit: Facchino Photography