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Lake Sonoma 50

For the second year in a row, the Lake Sonoma 50 attracted one of the deepest fields in ultrarunning history.  As a Montrail Ultra Cup Western States 100 qualifier and a chance to test myself against some of the best in the sport I decided to throw my hat in the ring.  I knew that I'd be toeing the line next to several Western States 100 Top Ten finishers, Hardrock and Leadville champions, and plenty of other national and world champions, but I hoped that given the shorter distance, my fitness, and relative speed might allow me to outlast a few of them over 50 miles.

Interview with Ultra Runner Podcast.  Give it a listen.

Prior to the race, Ultra Runner Podcast contacted me for an interview.  My ultrasignup score based on previous race performances predicted I may be in the mix and this would be my chance to prove that I could run with the best. To be clear, I'm not delusional.  I realize that many of the ultras I've run have been local events, but until recently my job as a high school teacher and cross country and track coach didn't allow me to travel to the most competitive ultra races because they often fell on the same weekends as the most competitive cross country or track meets that I needed to attend with my team.  

I had a few decent races in 2011 and 2012 and then a solid year of training and racing in 2013 prior to the birth of our second child.  Since that time my wife and I have been trying to figure out how to both get in the training and racing that we each need while caring and providing for our family and getting the sleep that we need.  Thus far, I haven't figured out how to fit in as much volume, quality, and recovery into my routine as I had before without negatively impacting my familial, professional, academic, and civic commitments.  Lake Sonoma would test my fitness and see if what I had been doing is sufficient or if I need to make changes to my training in preparation for future races.

Lead pack before getting onto the trail. Photo by  John Medinger 
Well, the race started out like most ultras - a low key start in the dark.  The field was so deep that I wasn't able to get to the front for the first half mile or so.  The first few miles were certainly my favorite as they were on pavement and I was able to stretch my legs and actually run.  Don't get me wrong - I don't love pavement, but I do prefer being able to run unimpeded vs. riding the brakes.

After a mile or so of weaving through a number of the top runners in the sport I caught the brightly colored lead pack as we descended.  A number of the early leaders happened to be shorter than me and lighter on their feet so I actually had to back off and go around to avoid stepping on anyone's heels.

Early leaders entering the trails.  Photo by Ultra Runner Podcast.
We ran together until we reached the trail.  Within a mile Max King and Tim Tollefson passed and greeted Gary Gellin and I.  Gary latched onto them, but I was already struggling to run efficiently while simultaneously riding the brakes and ducking to avoid branches.  Despite relatively smooth footing, the tight turns didn't allow me to run unencumbered.  With the size of my feet and the length of my legs that is a must.

Tied up.  Photo by Gary Wang.
Eventually, around mile 17 I was able to open up and actually run which felt pretty good, but each time we'd get back on the single track I'd tighten up and begin running inefficiently again.
I thought that I was simply fatigued, but later realized in viewing pictures that my hips were low and my posture was poor.

At the turnaround I was in good position and was grateful to the Boggess family for their assistance.
Photo by Brad Boggess.
I enjoyed sharing a few miles with some people I'd never actually run with before - Michael Wardian, Karl Meltzer, and Jesse Haynes.  I had hoped to continue to work my way up throughout the race, but unfortunately I continued to fade further and further back in the pack as the race continued.

The heat of the day, fast early pace, and relentless undulations underfoot took their toll on me and many others.  Several of the early leaders eventually dropped.  While I certainly felt like dropping multiple times throughout the race, I continued to keep up hope that my body would bounce back and that I'd be able to reel others in.  Unfortunately, that never happened.

Jesse Haynes, Karl Meltzer, and I went back and forth for a while on the way back.  Jesse eventually dropped after falling while Karl pulled ahead.  I tried to respond, but my body didn't have much left. Eventually, around mile 41, Brian Tinder caught me and we ran together and chatted for the next few miles.

Neither Tinder not I were having the races we had hoped for, but even as we struggled toward the finish we commented on how grateful we were to be able to do what we do - fathers of young children and husbands, working full-time, and doing our best to compete at the top level.  Although we weren't as competitive as we had hoped to be we were grateful for the support of our families and sponsors which made it possible for us to test ourselves in the sun after a long, cold winter.

"Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes of which all men have some.”– Charles Dickens

Tinder and I entered the last aid station together.  He was quicker to the aid than I was.  I was ready to call it a day.  I filled my bottle up with Coke, ate some chips, and grabbed some GU chomps, and filled my buff with ice to wear on my head.  I was cooked and didn't have any more fight left in me.
As I exited the aid station, Jason Lehman entered.

I found it ironic that I traveled for hours and through several states to run against runners from all over the nation and ended up finishing between two guys I've run hundreds of miles with: Jason JBob Lehman in the Pacific Northwest and Brian Tinder in the Southwest.  Both are close friends and strong runners.  Though we had each hoped to finish higher and run faster, I can't think of two guys I would rather suffer with.  Both guys know how to have a good time and love to run as much for the challenge as for the camaraderie and community.

Post-Race with Jason Lehman
After the race we enjoyed delicious tamales and other tasty foods and beverages.   Trail Butter was also on site providing shade and samples of nut buttery goodness.  We stuck around enjoying good food and company and savoring the cold drinks and shade under the tents.

Nothing tastes better after a long run than Trail Butter.
Despite not performing as well as I had hoped I still enjoyed spending so much time on the trails with good friends and meeting new ones.

Tropical John puts on a top rate event.  From the pre-race pasta feed to the post-race spread and everything in between Lake Sonoma is a top-notch event in a beautiful place with wonderful people. Participants received so much swag that that we'll be outfitted for every season in Lake Sonoma gear.

Aside from a good time with friends in a beautiful place, one thing I reflected upon in the race and since the race is that I miss running freely.  For about 40 of the 50 miles of Lake Sonoma I felt like the course and my lack of skill on tight, twisting, shaded single track impeded my ability to run freely.  While I savor a challenge, I also enjoy feeling smooth.  I didn't feel smooth on race day and I think that could be attributed to several factors, but one thing I keep thinking of is that I want to run a road marathon again.  Not that I was ever anything special, but road marathons suite my gait and strengths well.  I like to open up and roll, but my feet are so big and legs are so long that tight, twisty, washed-out terrain doesn't lend itself letting to go.

I feel like I've regained my aerobic fitness and slowly rebuilt my base and health from a long time down toward the end of last year.  Now, I need to begin training specifically for events rather than banking on run and ride commutes to get me there. I still plan to do some trail ultras this year, but I also aim to do a road marathon or two in the next year. It will be a nice change of pace and will ultimately help me regain some of my speed and stamina.

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