Lake Sonoma 50 Mile
The Lake Sonoma 50 Mile has been a highly publicized 50 miler for the last couple years. This is in large part due to race director John Medinger (a.k.a. Tropical John or TJ) going all-out in providing a very unique and inviting experience before, during, and after the race itself. Categorized as "relentless," the course never has you climbing or descending for too long... but at the same time always has you climbing and descending. Endless rollers and winding single track makes up the majority of the course with 10-12 (depending on the rain patterns) stream crossings.
I have been wanting to race Lake Sonoma for the last couple years, but always had a conflict. Now that it is just a couple hours northwest from me, I had no reason to miss out on all the fun. With my race schedule this year including Comrades on May 29, most of my training has been geared towards the hilly roads of South Africa. With that said, I was probably about as prepared for Sonoma as I ever have been, given that I historically have done mostly flat roads.
My main goal from Sonoma was to get a very good workout and expose my legs to copious amounts of elevation, which was impossible to avoid with the 10,500 feet of ascent and descent. I thought that if things went really well and the field played out similar to previous years, I would have a shot at possibly cracking the top five, but in reality I had no clear idea. On one hand, I had done a lot more hill work and had noticed an increase in those skills, but on the other hand I had not been training specifically for the types of hills at Sonoma--and admittedly I am slow to adapt to big changes in training stimulus.
The uncertainty was quite refreshing after a season of racing events that I more or less had a good idea of what I could do based on training going into the event. After all, the uncertainty and desire to experience the unknown is a huge part of why I love this sport so much.
There are plenty of mile-by-mile descriptions of this course from folks who executed their race much better than I, so rather than laying out a detailed verison of how my day evolved I would much rather discuss a couple strategies I used and how they panned out.
Strategy 1: Hard on the descents and easy on the climbs. My training leading into Sonoma had more climbing-based workouts than descending workouts (climbing was by far the bigger weakness of the two). My strategy was to even this out a bit by giving my legs a tremendous downhilll workout. My mental approach gravitated towards a fartlek workout of sorts, where I pushed on the descents and ran within myself on the climbs.
Strategy 2: Don't get caught up in the race up front early on. I thought that if I ran a bit conservatively the first half and ended up having a strong day, I could potentially reel in some carnage that the relentless hills of Sonoma was sure to deliver.
Stragety 3: Practice fueling for Comrades. I anticipate Comrades to be similar to World 100k Championships in that fueling/hydrating efficiency is vital to keeping pace and not wasting time, so part of my strategy at LS50 was to practice this a bit. In order to maximize efficiency, I decided to combine my hydration and calories for the most part. I had nine bottles prepared with Guayaki Yerba Mate tea (brewed from loose leaf myself before the race) mixed with 1 scoop of Xendurance Fuel 5, 1/2 scoop of Xendurance Hydro-X and 1/2 Vespa Junior (approx. 115 cal./bottle). I also had about 15 Life Savers in my pack to trickle in a a bit of extra sugar along the way (approx. 225 cal.).
All three strategies seemed to work well through the first three quarters of the race as I had moved up from about 11th place into briefly 6th place just before the mile 40 mark on the course. I came through the turnaround at mile 25 with a split of 3:12 and I felt great. I was convinced I could come close to even-splitting the return as I did not feel like I had overreached at all on the way out. However, I was sorely mistaken as the last 10-12 miles of the race proved to be quite a grind, which resulted in me slipping back to 10th place by the time I reached the finish line.
My takeaways are two-fold as I believe it's hard to pin a fade like I had on one aspect, and ultimately you never know for sure exactly what went wrong in a sport with so many variables. I think one of my biggest mistakes was fueling. Of the nine bottles I packed, I only made it through six, which was completely my fault. My crew, Dan and Shawn, did an amazing job of getting to all the aid stations and at times offered me two bottles, but I never took them up on the offer and stuck with one. In previous races of this timeframe, I have been pretty solid on about 150-250 cal./hr. I fell a bit short of this and given it was a very new stimulus with the amount of climbing and descending I am used to, I likely should have been aiming for the high end of average, and felt I definitely could have used the additional hydration. My second takeaway is that I probaly just didn't quite have the legs for 10,500 ft. of gain and 10,500 of loss over 50 miles. Pushing harder on the downhills probably added a bit to this as I began to break down.
All in all this was an incredibly exciting experience in which I learned a lot. I would really like to go back in the future with a bit more specific training and a full peak and taper. The course is well thought out and provides a very intriguing aspect to planning.
I can't thank enough all the people who volunteered and cheered for everyone along the way, Tropical John and Lisa for organizing such an incredible atmosphere and truly doing it as a way to give back to the community, and Dan and Shawn for crewing me along the way.
A huge congrats to good friend Jim Walmsley for simply nailing the day. Jim has been bursting onto the trail scene fast this year and I know he was amped to have a good day. Equally impressive Jim's training partner Tim Frericks toeing the line for his first ultra and coming away with second overall!
Stream Crossing - Photo Credit: Bob MacGillivray (Drymax Socks)
Wide open single track - Photo Credit: Tiffany Bellize
Team Squirrel's Nut Butter (Me, Jim Walmsley, Tim Frericks, Chris Thornley) - Photo Credit: Nancy Hobbs
- Can of Coke
- Life Savers (15 total)