Lake Sonoma 50, 2017
Mid-April 2017 arrived, which in this neck of the woods meant time for the Lake Sonoma 50 mile trot, put on by Tropical John Medinger and Lisa Henson, in the beautiful wine country of Northern California. John does an outstanding job of inviting and recruiting both speedy elite runners from around the country, as well as many upstanding ultra running community members that make up the heart and soul of this crazy sport. At stake for the speedy kids was a chance for a Golden Ticket – 2 per gender – for entry into the Western States Endurance Run coming up in 2 months, and for the veterans – more smack talk and bragging rights in the friendly competition built up over years of racing and experience.
My personal goal was a sub 8 hour finish. As my third go at this race, I thought it a natural progression. Four years ago, I ran 8:13, 2 years ago, 8:09. Seemed a reasonable aspiration. Looking over the list of women in the race, I predicted that if I ran smart I could still manage top-10, perhaps even 8th. But generally, I hoped to feel good, stay calm, and enjoy the day.
Staying again with our generous hostess, Mary Prchal, made me slightly wish I were only visiting so Mark and I could luxuriate in her incredible Italian style home. We quite enjoyed our evening exploring her gardens and trees, finished off with a relaxing conversation around her fire pit. But having to get up in the wee small hours, we all retired early.
Up early, I ate my standard rice and eggs and coffee. Being somewhat of a veteran at this sport, I had no nervousness, only pleasant anticipation of a day on the trails, without rain, and time spent with many friends, old and new, and the eager anticipation of the best effort I could produce on the day.
Upon arrival at the race start, I warmed up with some gentle jogging, saying hello to friends, and finally lined up for the start. So many familiar faces made a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Tropical John gave us last minute instructions, and at 6:30 a.m., we were off. I jogged gently on the down hill start, keeping my eyes down so as not to get caught up in too fast a pace with the speedy girls. But as we began our first mild ascent, I reminded myself this was a 50 mile race, not 100. So I picked up the pace a bit, anticipating a bit of a conga line once we reached the single track. The pavement went on longer than I remembered, and when I finally got there was happy be able to high-5 Tropical John and Lisa who had driven out to send us on our way.
My legs felt great and I coasted down each down, and focused on floating on the climbs. The single track was in good shape for the most part, but with the amount of rain the area had seen over the winter, there were definitely some muddy, sloppy spots. For the next several miles I would ebb and flow with the terrain and the runners around me. I passed a couple of women, but really had no idea how many were ahead of me. I found myself feeling anxious while running in a thick group, especially while conversations were going on around me. I longed to be alone on the trail, where I could listen to myself and focus on my effort, but with the nature of the course, all the rollers, made it very difficult to spread out.
To reach my sub 8:00 time goal, I would need to average around 9:30 pace. My watch was set to show my average pace, and so far, I was well under that, but it was early, and there significant climbs ahead. Crossing the largest creek on the course was a welcome sight, as it was just before the first full aid station, Warm Springs, and I get pretty jazzed coming in for aid. To my pleasant surprise, Mark had made it out in time to crew and take a photo or two, and check in on how I was feeling. “I feel great!” and off I went, with Altra team mate Leslie Howlett in tow. A serpentine climb ensued and I could hear the voice of a woman ahead. Not wanting to change my effort, I just let it be an awareness. Over the next few miles I separated myself from most of the runners – gradually catching some and passing, including the woman I had heard before. Every down hill on this section was met with “you have to go back up this in a few hours, so save it!” I rolled in Wulfow and saw Greg Lanctot, gave him a quick hug and kept my march on to Madrone AS, at mile 18.
I downed some coke and part of a banana – “What place am I in?” I asked anyone who might know. The answer was an astonishing “6th”. Huh? That didn’t seem quite possible, but you never know. Just then, a gal passed me, that I had passed earlier. And in a few minutes on the steep climb out, I passed her again.
“What’s your name? I feel like we should know each other if we’re going to play this game all day!” I teased. She was Amy, and lived in the bay area but actually grew up in Auburn. I continued my little jog, my legs prepared for it from the vertical gain I had been running all winter. At the top of the climb was Mark again, providing moral support, and camera action. I asked if he knew what place I was in, but he was unsure.
Now I started to anticipate the lead men coming back, while listening for footsteps behind as well. The descent here was good enough to get my pace back down, but it looked like 9:30 was out of the question. Finally, Sage Canaday came into view, looking very focused and strong. He was followed by a string of men that all looked a bit rough relative to him.
Reaching another long steep climb, I was happy to find my legs still willing to jog the steep slope. Up and up, and near the crest, I saw a deer running from the nearby field, onto the course, cross it right in front of a very surprised runner on his way back – it was a close call!
Moments later, I encountered the lead woman, Yiou Wang, looking smooth and focused. I cheered her on, and minutes later came Kaci Licktieg and Magda Boulet, running side by side, full of joy. That’s my kind of sportsmanship. In 4th place was Courtney Dauwalter. At my point on the course I entered the lolly pop loop, so now I would not know who was ahead of me after 4th place. This is my favorite part of the course, as it is actually pretty flat, very smooth single track, in the shade, and I felt like I was flying.
Into the half way point aid station, Mark was ready to resupply me. I asked if I was in 6th place, but he wasn’t sure. I asked Stan Jenson who was with a clip board, and he said I wasn’t up that high. My halfway split was right around 4:00, a good 5 or 6 minutes slower than 2 years ago, but given the mud and a minor but hilly reroute early in the race, I thought that was pretty good. But I’m not much of a negative split runner, so didn’t keep my hopes up on breaking 8.
Heading back out and finishing the loop, I began the fun part of meeting my friends and runners that I’m coaching that were on their way out. Craig said my friends Lewis Taylor and Dan Barger weren’t too far ahead. I asked if he knew how many women were up, but he didn’t know. I decided I need to stop asking, and just keep running.
The steep down hill was fun and welcome. Back at lake level, then another climb back to Madrone. I heard two male voices behind me “Go Meghan!” and couldn’t figure it out until they were right behind me. I asked “who is it?” “Zach and Pat!” my 100k USA team mates out for a training run. It was a pleasant surprise have their support. They reached the top before me, and told Mark I was nearly there. He got more photos, and down I flew to the aid station. More coke and banana, and I was happily back to the single track.
Ahead I saw the bright red jersey of my Texan friend Liza Howard. I had no idea she was ahead of me until then. I caught up to her and we chatted briefly before I scooted on by, and later learned that her asthma had kicked in good and strong.
I ran through Wulfow again, but didn’t need to stop. I felt great, and was really having a good time. I felt like I was flying on the descents, and maintaining a strong pace on the climbs. At last, almost back to Warm Springs, I saw my friend Meghan Hicks, tweeting for IRunFar. I asked her “what place?” and she said “you are in 9th, 51 minutes behind the lead. There are 2 runners ahead by 5 and 10 minutes.”
Sweet! Rolling into the aid station, Mark was there with a fresh bottle. I downed a whole coke, ate more banana, then hunkered down for those last 12 miles. I plunged my way across the deep creek, passing a male runner, who then stayed on my heels for the next few miles before finally passing. With about 9 miles to go, I heard a female voice yell “Go Meghan!” I looked up ahead on a climbing switch back and saw my other Texan friend, Sabrina Little. She was in a good hike, and it took a good 2-3 miles before I caught her. She said “I’ve done more elevation today than the last 6 weeks combined!” And she did not give up. At the final aid station, which is a dog leg, I saw my friend Lewis coming out. I sloshed my way down to aid, where there was ice cold coke and ice cold electrolyte beverage. It was heavenly.
Now came the last final push. At the top of the dog leg, here came Sabrina, running tough. The last 4+ miles of this race seem to go on forever. My shoes were full of debris from the mud and from the sediment picked up from all the water crossings. I had a good blister going on, but thankfully in an “okay” place in that it wasn’t really preventing me from running. The single track through here is quite beautiful, but technical and rocky in places, so that combined with fatigue, it was a bit deflating. No where near my goal time, I mentally let go of ever trying to break 8 hours here. Yes, it was definitely a slower day with all of the mud, but I can only give that so much credit. As I ground my way up the final climb, I could see the man who had passed me last, but didn’t have the drive at this point to try and catch him. At last, onto the grassy chute to the finish line, I was welcomed in by Tropical John, Mary, Lisa, Mark, and many others. Final time – 8:28. I was happy to have come in 8th place, and adjusted my attitude about the time.
Mark and I had a couple more hours of waiting and watching friends come in, sharing war stories with other finishers, and enjoying the wonderful food and beverages provided by John and Lisa.
Many thanks to Tropical John and Lisa for putting on a stellar event, my sponsors Altra Running, Nathan Sports, Injinji Socks, and Squirrels Nut Butter, to our hostess Mary Prchal, and to my person Mark for his undying support of me and my running.