Lake Sonoma 50 2018
We have a symbiotic relationship, Stephanie Violette and me. We’re seasoned, experienced, knowledgeable, and both of us are coaches. Yet come race week, second guessing our own plans, we seek approval from each other.
Me: Steph, here is my plan – I want to run faster, at 70-80% – I love that effort, I just don’t know how long I can do that!
Steph: Go for it – you can do it. You run fast 100ks on the road – you can do this. The key is keeping up with the calories.
Me: I plan on eating a huge dinner the night before, is that okay?
Steph: Yes! Go for it!
Me: And one gel every 30 minutes on race day….
Me: And of course, no matter what, the important thing is that I have fun, practice gratitude, and be happy no matter the outcome. This is what we do for fun.
Steph: Absolutely – just pretend we’re running together, chatting and having fun!
And so, I developed a mantra for Lake Sonoma 50 – “Fun, Food, Fast Feet”. I purposefully didn’t set a time goal. Having said that, I geeked out a few hours going over all my past performances here, gathering all of my splits, and found that if I ran all of the fastest ones, I would come in right at 8:00, a heretofore elusive time.
Race morning arrived with spectacular weather – cool, clear, full of hope and enthusiasm. I happily connected with so many runner friends – Hal, Lewis, Ashley, Amy, Taylor, Paul, and missing several in the mob of the masses.
RD Tropical John gave us last minute instructions – 1 – Be nice, 2 – Don’t litter, and 3 – Have fun, or he might take away our finish line beer. And with an unceremonious countdown, we were off.
I gradually got my legs spinning. I felt light and swift. Amy Sproston came up beside me and we did some back and forth and side by side running the first 2.5 + miles on the pavement. Hitting the single track was for me, the real beginning of the race. I was fortunate to fall in with a group with similar paces and we all hunkered down to a steady effort. I was definitely achieving goal one, having fun. I could feel my legs surging and flying. I kept things under control on the climbs. I felt GOOD. Up and down and in and out of drainages, I paid attention to my watch, and every 30 minutes, ate a gel. I imagined Steph right on my heels, chilling out.
There were few back and forths as I am prone to downhill flying and uphill grinding, but for the most part I was within a patient group. The air was clean, the colors were green, the temps were beyond comfortable. I finally began hearing voices from afar and thought, wow, I must be getting close to Warm Springs aid station! I looked at the distance on my watch and was slightly deflated to see 9 something. I still had over 2 miles to go. Never mind, no pressure, just keep having fun and do what you do.
At last, we hit the wide stream crossing before the aid station and clamored up. I grabbed 3 more gels, filled my bottle with water, and scooted out. Meghan Hicks of IRunFar was there, and I asked her how many ladies were ahead of me. “You’re in 10th!” which I was elated about.
The next several miles were away from the lake, undulating, green, shadowy, all the nature things, and I was pretty much on my own. I focused on my mantra, and really felt good. I caught a few men along the way, jogged into the Wulfow “water only” aid station and happily saw long time volunteer Greg Langtot. It is so much about community, familiarity, and the common sense and recognition of suffering for no good reason other than maybe living in a first world country making us seek out pain, that somehow we are affirmed by like-minded humans. I heard him tell a runner we had 2 miles to Madrone, the fully stocked aid station.
I tucked in behind a male runner, nipping at his heels. He asked if wanted around. “Maybe, but only if I can keep up on the climbs” which I couldn’t. Eventually we caught and passed a female runner, working very hard, and I encouraged her on while moving into ninth place.
At Madrone AS my time was 3:00. I grabbed a sip of coke, and a young volunteer (like 12 years old) filled my bottle with water. He very seriously said I was doing great, and I so appreciated him that I told him “you are too!”.
The climb from Madrone is steep, but not technical. I lightly tripped up the hill, jogging the whole way. At the top I saw Meredith Terenova, and she asked what she could do for me. “You can take my arm warmers!” to which she responded, “Why do you always give me your sweaty stuff!” and I replied “because you love me!” Bryon Powell, Meghan Hick’s counterpart for IRunFar was there, and said “you have the wrong number!” Tropical John gave me my age, 56, while Bryon somehow thought I was 57. “My birthday is Monday! You owe me!!”
I dove down trail from this summit, and shortly after heard “Hey Meghan!” It was Jim “Jimly” Walmsley, already headed back to the beginning. What? That was insanely fast. It was a good mile before I saw the 2nd male. I forged on, and soon caught Auburnite Dan Barger. As I floated by I commented “are we ever going to break 8 hours Dan?” to which he responded “It’s too hard.”
And so I pulled away. Eventually I saw Amy on one of the longer climbs. I jogged and jogged, refusing to hike (which in hindsight was foolish) even though it was quite steep. I mentally set Steph free, as in my mind, she glided up the hill ahead of me. My glutes were killing me and I couldn’t get them to relax. I kept thinking that with all the vertical hiking I had done training for Trans Gran Canaria, they would be solid! Well, I wasn’t hiking, duh. At the top of the climb, the first woman, Keely Heninger, came flying by on her way back. We both loudly cheered each other on. I was impressed with her time, as it she was on course record splits so far. I was peering for the beginning of the lollypop loop that was at the halfway point, thinking every little climb or turn must be it. At last I hit it and caught up to Amy. I was too focused on my time and thinking that if I was under 4 hours at the turn around I had a shot at sub-8:00, all the while reminding myself not to get caught up in a time goal. Auuugggghhhh.
Ashley Nordell was just leaving the loop as I flew into the aid station to some lovely “The Queen is in the House” announcements. I said hi to Craig and Laurie, got water in my bottle, grabbed fresh gels, drank a bit of coke, and then vamoosed out of there as Amy was refueling. I was filled with excitement for the second half of the race.
My legs felt a bit heavy, but I gave them time to warm back up as I started meeting runners on their way out to the lollypop loop. I love this part, where I start seeing friends as well as athletes I am coaching. I hit the downhill and attempted to glide gently down, saying hi and giving encouragement to all I encountered – Heidi, Laura, Kim, Megan – and then I hit some short grunt climbs, feeling like I was pretty much standing still. Ouch. I was moving forward, but slowly. Every place that flattened out, I tried to get a rhythm going, but was met with another uphill. Yikes, I was slow. I picked and picked my way and just before the final push to the top, Amy caught back up. “I forgot how hard this course is!” she said. But she had played her cards right. We crested together, then began the long descent to Madrone, where she pulled ahead. My athlete Dave Lent shouted out as we passed what position we were in, and by the time I left Madrone, another female had passed, so I was back in 10th.
Listening to my body, I eased along the single track the next 2 miles to Wulfow. Greg Langtot was still there, eliciting positive words. I stopped for more water and a good head dousing, and looked up to see that Clare Abrams, the first winner of this race, doing me the honor of filling m my bottle. It was lovely/sad to see her, as this would have been her 10th finish if it weren’t for an injury.
I skedaddled out, feeling reasonable better than I had a few miles back. I was basically alone – I could hear a runner back at times, but no one caught me. I approached a climb that was an earlier descent, with some sort of mean sign pegged in the ground about “No, you are not almost there!” The next creek crossing I quickly pulled off my buff and doused it as well as my face and put it back on while continuing forward. The next couple of miles drug on and on. I kept looking at my watch as the time ticked on and the miles, not so much. The trail was beautiful and winding and undulating in and out of the forest. At last I heard the Warm Springs AS volunteers and cruised in to get aid. One volunteer took my bottle while I grabbed a can of coke and began chugging. Before I could finish, he handed my water, took my coke and said “you need to get out of here!” He was right but I really wanted that coke.
I ran out with 2 men in tow. We waded the wide creek, then began the long journey to the last aid station, 7+ miles away. At last I let myself hike most of the climbs, and dumbly enough found that the hiking was pretty easy. A good lesson on specificity of training. Gradually the two behind me faded and I was on my own again. It was hard to believe that just hours before I had been on this same trail going out, all full of hope and energy. I kept up with my mantra, but the only fast feet I had was running downhill. Time and miles crept slowly, and I played the game of “maybe my watch is wrong and I’m closer to the aid station that it indicates” but it was actually quite accurate.
At last the turn to Lake View aid station, where a volunteer told me I was in 10th, and the next female ahead left 7 minutes ago. I downed another full coke and made my way out. I glanced up the trail and could see no one coming in and hoped I could maintain my 10th position to the finish.
I had a bit of momentum on the climbs and was surprised at how much downhill there still was – NO! I knew the finish was UP and every down just meant more climbing. I passed a couple of men struggling even more than me. I kept looking at my watch thinking I could at least come in at the same time as last year, 8:28, a far cry from 8:00 but at some point one quits caring and just wants it to end. Just when I thought it might be possible, I came to a sign “1 mile to go”. Rats. Not even close.
I kept grinding it out, not hugely motivated to push, when I heard steps behind me. Ack! Was it another woman?? I dared not turn around but found another gear and gumption and threw down the best I could. Grunting and grinding, I could hear the finish line festivities, and I held off the runner as I sprinted down the grassy lane to a time of 8:40.
Having set goals that I knew were in my control made the difference between failure and success and how I felt about the outcome. I nailed the nutrition, I had fun, and sometimes I had fast feet. I finished with gratitude, and had a wonderful afternoon hanging out with friends and cheering on the next finishers.
This run is one of my favorites for the old school feel, the volunteers, and most importantly, because John and Lisa are two of my favorite people for their generosity, kindness, and passion for putting on a great event.
Many thanks to my sponsors Squirrel’s Nut Butter, Injinji Socks, Nathan Hydration, and NOW Foods. Thanks to Laurie and Craig for getting up at O-dark thirty to take me to the start when they could have slept in. Thanks to Mary Prchal for once again putting me up in her amazing Italian Villa. And most of all, thanks to Mr. Mark Laws, for holding down the farm while flit and flutter down the trails.