Third Time’s the Charm – Lake Sonoma 50 Race Report

“It’s impossible”, said Pride. “It’s risky”, said Experience. “It’s pointless”, said Reason. “Give it a try”, whispered the Heart. – unknown

Wow…where to even begin.  I could begin with the North Face DNF’s, which led me to try a different race….I could start with the race weather, rain rain and more rain….I could start with the irony of finding out I got into the race on a day I had the flu and was struggling to keep gatorade down.  But, I think I’ll start with a quote I saw online from running club coach, Mike Fanelli.

“I tell our runners to divide the race into thirds. Run the first part with your head, the middle part with your personality, and the last part with your heart.”

Well, before we go there, I will forewarn everyone that parts of this might be TMI.  But, that’s ultra running and I might as well be honest.

A couple of other miscellaneous logistical details for anyone reading this and doing the race/considering the race.  We stayed at the Wine Country Inn & Suites in Cloverdale.  Great hotel, seemed like it may have been recently remodeled.  When I checked in, they were very nice and gave us a complimentary upgrade to a suite.  We had dinner at Piacere Ristorante Italiano…one of the only restaurants in Cloverdale, but it was amazing.  Quaint, family run, restaurant, and everyone was so friendly…and the food was delicious.  As I ate all of my garlic bread, fettuccine alfredo, and chicken, I was glad I had 50 miles to burn it off the next day.  Haha!

Anyway, on to the race….

“Divide the race into thirds”

Over the past week I did a lot of thinking about the quote and my race plan and how I would divide the race.  Somehow, I knew even thirds wouldn’t work for me.  If I was going to get through 50 miles and 11,000+ feet of elevation solo, I had to do it differently.

My first third was really a half – the first 25 miles.  The next third was about 13 miles, and would take me to the cursed mile 38.  The last third was the 12 miles from there to the finish.  I figured if I could get through the cut-off at mile 38, I would make it to the finish.

“Run the first part with your head” 

Checking in, dropping my drop bags, and getting ready were pretty uneventful.  As the time for the race to start drew closer, everyone was just kind of milling about, waiting for Tropical John to get us going.  He directed everyone up to the road, and pretty quickly after that – we were off.

The first 2.3 miles were on the paved road.  Not my favorite…well, not my knee’s favorite, but it did allow the field to spread out.  I jogged the downhills and hiked the uphills.  At one point, another runner commented on how he was having to jog to keep up with my hike.  haha…here we go again.  I can be known in the ultra community as the fast hiker.  I like it.

Jumping onto the trail was a nice relief from the pavement, and while the field had thinned out, there were still plenty of people around.  Some passed me….some I passed.  I recognized some of them from Way Too Cool in March.  Kind of fun to see the same people and get to know them.  One of the ladies I met there, recognized me as the ‘fast hiker’ from Way Too Cool.  I got her started again at that Cool and later on in evening when Brian was waiting for me to finish before the cut-off, she (after running 50 miles) was ready to back track on the trails and make sure I got in before the cut-off.

The first 18 miles passed in a blur…there were the water only aid stations at Island View and Wulfow, I was 20 minutes early to meet Brian at Warm Springs where we uneventfully swapped out my pack, and there was at least one river crossing.  Oh the river crossings….if we weren’t old friends yet, we definitely are now.  And I’ve learned to handle them like a bull in a china shop….tear right through.  No time to skip from rock to rock.  And it’s raining….we’re wet anyway.

I hit the Madrone aid station and spent a little more time there than I should have.  I didn’t realize that the crews were at the top of the hill and the aid station was at the bottom, and I thought maybe I’d gotten ahead of Brian or something.  So I had the volunteers fill my bag, I had some coke and a sandwich, and was on my way up the hill.

And good god, the hills.  I had trained on all of them at least once and they weren’t that bad.  But in the race….wow.  Rough.  And the weird acid-like-puke-whatever it is that I get sometimes chose that moment to come to life.  Awesome.  I stopped to see Brian at the top of the hill…yay for Brian and the top of the hill.  But, I was pretty much good to go since I’d refilled at the aid station below.  So, off I went, acid issue in tow.

The trail between Madrone and the turn around continued to roll, though the ups and downs were longer.  There were only three large hills on elevation profile, but I feel like I only remember two of them.  The climb out of Madrone was definitely the worst, and I’m glad it wasn’t the warm, sunny day I had been wishing for.  The faster runners had also started their journey back from the turn around at this point, so watching for them and cheering them on kept me occupied while I continued to climb and attempt to keep the acid at bay.

By the time I got to the turn around, I was ready for something….I wasn’t sure what, but definitely something.  Brian was there and he refilled my pack and electrolyte bottle.  Asked if I wanted to sit for a minute, but I decided not to.  I was pretty sure if I sat down, I wasn’t getting back up.  At some point, one of the volunteers handed me my drop bag.  I didn’t need it, but one less thing to try to collect later.  Since the broth was so amazing during Way Too Cool, I asked if there was any broth.  Sadly, there wasn’t.  No salted potatoes either.  So I had a couple of potato chips and headed back out.

“Run the middle part with your personality”

Despite feeling awful, I decided I was going to try to have fun on the way back.  While I knew I was currently moving fast enough to finish, I knew that the worse I felt, the slower I was going to move…hopefully some fun would keep me moving faster.

I chatted with another runner climbing out of the aid station – she had a rough first half, but was feeling better and was on her way shortly.  I could only hope that I’d start feeling better soon.  Coming out of the larger rollers, I was back to a swamp like piece of trail full of wet mud.  It had tried to take my shoe on the way out, but luckily, I won.  I tried to be careful crossing it the second time, but apparently my luck had run out.  The mud tried to take my shoe again, which thankfully, it didn’t.  It did however, make sure to hold tight to one shoe so when my other foot slid, there was nowhere to go but down.  Awesome.  I love falling in the mud at mile 27…28?  I’m not sure.  Well, nothing to do but get up, try to shake out my shoes and wipe off my hands (turns out clothing makes a great towel….).

A short while later, another runner came up behind me.  She told me that I was awfully muddy.  Yup, sure am…that’s what happens when you fall in the mud….we chatted about making the cut-offs (we thought we’d be ok if we made the 4:30 at Warm Springs), how fast I was walking, and how she was hoping there were still quesadillas at the next aid station.

I was welcomed back into Madrone by Brian holding a cup of warm broth.  Amazing….so thankful there was a crew with some to spare.  As I took the cup, I looked at him and said, ‘I fell in the mud’….he told me it looked like it and asked if I wanted different shoes.  I didn’t want to stop, so took one last sip of the broth and headed down the giant hill I’d climbed up a few miles ago.

I don’t really remember the miles between Madrone and Warm Springs….I remember the guys at Wulfow telling me and the lady I’d met shortly before Madrone that we had plenty of time to make the 4:30 cut-off.  I remember getting so sick of the acid that I finally decided to stop and see what would happen if I gave in and threw it up.  It worked…sort of.  It at least went away for a few minutes after that.  And so began my last 18 miles.  Hike the uphills, jog the downhills, throw up….rinse, repeat….and is it really all that surprising that my lottery of pain ends similar in fashion to how it started?

I jogged down to the Warm Spring aid station with plenty of time before the cut-off.  Brian welcomed me with an open can of Sprite (come on Sprite…save the day) and my headlamp.  I took the Sprite while he secured the headlamp in my bag.  After that, I was quickly on my way.  I was still nervous about finishing on time, but everyone assured me I could do it.  That put some spring back in my step and I jogged out of the aid station, down a hill and across a creek.

“Run the last part with your heart”

The last twelve were definitely the toughest.  Which they should be, but the acid puking continued…it might have even gotten worse, I don’t really know.  At some point I tried Pepto and that didn’t really help.  I just know I was ready to be done.  I was hoping for local wildlife to eat me….or a boar hunter (or anyone) to shoot me.  I desperately wanted to quit, but somehow, kept putting one foot in front of the other.  I thought of everything I’ve done in the past that was tougher or hurt more….I thought of the times I wasn’t able to finish and how this time, I was going to…I thought of all the training; the early mornings, the late nights…but most of all, I just thought about being done.  I thought that the description of the course – relentlessly rolling, was more than accurate….and while it was trying to get the best of me, guess what course…I’m relentless too.  So, I pressed on, climbing over downed trees….ducking under them….why did it seem like there were more going back than there were on the way out?

Soon after leaving Warm Springs, I realized that the wet clothes had taken their toll on my skin.  My stomach was chafed….the back of my legs were chafed.  Just ouch.  And of course I had ten or eleven miles left to go and no more drop bags or crew to pass.  Well, my choices were limited, since I’m pretty sure running without clothes is frowned upon…and cold, so on I went.  I did stop at one point to reapply body glide right there on the trail.  I think it was past the point of being helped though.  Luckily, I wouldn’t find out how bad it was until I was home.  Not good…

Sometime shortly after discovering the chafing, I was hiking along and stepped on some muddy rocks.  I was fine, but they seemed to be stuck in my shoe…awesome.  And of course I couldn’t get whatever it was off.  So I had to stop.  And try to pull whatever out of my shoe. Except there wasn’t anything stuck there.  It was rubber from the bottom of my shoe.  Apparently two wet, muddy, river crossing – filed, races were too much for it and it broke.  Well, great.   I can’t have rubber hanging off my shoe, that seems like the fast track to tripping.  So, here I am in the woods, trying to use one foot to step on the rubber and tear it off the other.  How I managed to rip it off and not fall, I don’t know.  Only me.  Not wanting to litter, I shoved the muddy piece of shoe in my pack with the gu.  At that point, I wasn’t eating much anyway.  Stupid shoe…stupid timing.  Again, no more drop bags or crew to pass, where I had extra shoes.  Of course….

After far too long, I made it down to the Island View aid station.  Down another hill that of course I’d have to come back up.  I got down and checked in with a guy who could’ve been Alan Alda’s brother.  He let me know I was going to finish and congratulated me.  Only 4.7 to go from here.  Asked me if my stomach was ok….I let him know it hadn’t been since mile 30.  He asked if I was puking….I let him know only since mile 32.  He gave me some coke and let me know that it happens sometimes.  He asked if I was #297….I told him that sounded right.  I was #279…..yeah running delirium….

On my way in and out of Island View, I did see some other runners.  It was nice to remember I wasn’t out there alone after being in no man’s land for so long.  Though, they were all ahead of me…I was pretty sure I was DFL.  Except I wasn’t.  Close, but not quite haha…

Somewhere between Island View and the finish, I fished out my headlamp.  I think it was right around the 48 mile mark.  I also passed a spectator around the same time who congratulated me, cheered me on, and let me know how far I had to go.  The trail to the finish line felt pretty treacherous in the dark, even with a headlamp.  I ran this trail on the first training run I did at Lake Sonoma, and it was a lot of zigging and zagging around rocks in the light, much more of an adventure in the dark.  I reminded myself that I’d swept Dipsea in the dark…and if I did that, I could handle the mile or so that was left of this.  I’d done 49 already.  What was one more.

I saw the finish line in the distance, and then heard it before I got there.  I wanted to run it in, but didn’t want to start too early….I didn’t want to add the finish line to the list of places I’d puked.  The finish was a little confusing, and I’m sure I was delirious, so that didn’t help…but I came out of the woods, unsure of which way to go. It was only around some bushes, so not a huge deal….but, it was late, I was tired, and literally 200m away.  I tiredly asked a volunteer for help, and she directed me around the bushes (there was a small flag there, which up until then had meant don’t go this way….) and to the red light that was the finish.  The one time you want to go towards the light.  So around I went and over to the finish.  I remember someone telling me to watch out for a concrete barrier a few seconds before I actually saw it…thank you headlamp.

Then, it was on to the finish line flags.  And, despite my late finish, there was a decent sized crowd to cheer me in.  I heard Brian cheering for me and saw Tropical John standing by clock, but for some reason I didn’t know where to stop.  Where do I stop?  I asked.  Brian told me to keep going and Tropical John (and his wife?) held up their hands to high-five me as I came in.  Holy shit….I did it.  After so many times where I thought I wouldn’t….or couldn’t and an entire day of not being sure I’d actually make it in.  After two failed North Face attempts, I finished a race with more elevation and without a pacer.  A fall, a lot of puking, a broken shoe, and 13:51:55 later, I had actually done it.  I was pretty sure there would be tears…either tears of joy if I actually finished or tears of sorrow if I didn’t.  But, there weren’t.  I was really just thankful to finally stop moving.  I got my awesome swag (Marissa was right….this race really does have the best stuff), turned down the food, and headed for the car.  It was time for the wet, chaffing clothes to go away….and really time to go home.

All throughout the race, all I could think about was how I was never doing this again.  The 50k was fun.  Nothing about this was fun after mile….20 or so.  But, today is a new day, and despite a couple of issues, I still finished.  My legs actually felt fine…so I was trained…I was ready.  I was ahead of where I wanted to be until mile 25.  Had I not had the acid issues, maybe I would have stayed there.  I feel way better today than I did after my first marathon….than after the Honolulu Marathon.  At those times, who knew I’d ever want to go twice that distance.  So, let’s not rule doing it again out.  I mean, it will be awhile…maybe a year.  But Lake Sonoma happens every spring….

Thanks to Tropical John and the volunteers for putting on a great race.  Huge thanks to Brian for crewing and spending hours in the rain to cheer me on.  Being able to count on a friendly face at five different points on the course was amazing.  Thank you to my friends who spent time over the past few weeks talking me off the race ledge and assuring me that I could, in fact, do this.  And to the team at Orange Theory for kicking my butt and helping me get strong enough to finish, despite some race craziness.

“Impossible is Nothing” – Muhammad Ali

2 thoughts on “Third Time’s the Charm – Lake Sonoma 50 Race Report

  1. I knew you could do it. Congratulations and great a$$ job…you got it done before cutoff, and you did it despite a lot of obstacles. I loved your blog write ups. Never say never…I am sure you will be tackling a hundred miler in no time. Just keep running.

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