Lake Sonoma 50 (or the longest I’ve race I’ve ever run)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

                So I completely failed in my efforts to get something up before Lake Sonoma. Oh well… In my defense I did have a few things on my mind. Namely, some foot issues that made their presence felt more than a couple of times in the weeks leading up to LS50. Ever since Way Too Cool, the outer metatarsals in my right foot have been bugging me on and off. Some days more painful than others but for the most part, it was bearable and since it didn’t seem to get worse, I kept running. Then, 2 weeks before LS50, I did a tempo run on Thursday afternoon. Afterwards, my foot was more sore than normal. On Friday, I went out and had to stop 2 miles in. The pain had become concentrated in a fairly specific area (directly on my 4th metatarsal) and while it wasn’t tender to the touch like a stress fracture is, I was worried that it was heading in that direction. So I cut the run short, walked home, and promptly freaked out (ask Rachelle).

                I vowed to make it to the start line of LS50 even if I didn’t run a day in the 2 weeks that I had left until the race. I took the next day (Saturday) off, which was really tough because I had planned to go run some of the LS50 course in preparation for the race, but knew it wasn’t a good idea. The pain of not being able to run was somewhat eased by waking up at 7am on Saturday morning, seeing that it was absolutely pouring rain, and then rolling over and going back to sleep for another 4 hours. I tested the foot a couple of times on Saturday (I mean what injured runner isn’t constantly poking and prodding), and it seemed much better than the day before, so that made me optimistic. On Sunday, SFRC had organized a Double Dipsea run and I really wanted to do it, so I went in with the mindset that I would turn back if my foot bothered me. It didn’t. It felt actually really good. So I ran the whole thing and was happy again.

                I saw a PT (Hal) that Monday and he did some work on my foot that really seemed to help, so I owe a lot to him for getting me confident that it a) wasn’t a stress fracture and b) that I could resume training on it full bore. So I ran the following 2 weeks as I otherwise would have and was able to get through the taper (which did help with the healing I think due to the decreased mileage) and get to the start line at LS50 healthy. I should quickly note that the other foot issue I mentioned above is a bout of plantar fasciitis that has taken up residence in my right heel but I’ve managed to take the edge off of it with a combination of the Strassburg Sock and sleeping with my feet against the wall (thanks Sean and YiOu for the tip!).

                Anyways, last Thursday, my teammate Zach Miller (you may know him as The Cruise Ship Kid) arrived in SF and he and I were able to join SFRC for the group run with Montrail and Max King. On Friday, we drove up to Sonoma, saw the last couple miles of the course on our shakeout and got dinner with the Nike team (nice to finally meet the other members in person). I also had a nice chat with Eric Schranz (Ultra Runner Podcast), Sally McRae (also team Nike), Billy Yang (who was in town to film the race), and Josh Spector (also town to film and that dude who ran 135 miles in Brazil and is internet famous via Buzzfeed Once Dylan and Harmony arrived (Dylan was kind enough to offer to crew me during the race), we hit the sack (after my Osmo, of course).

                Sally, Billy, and Josh picked me up at 5:15am on Saturday morning. They humored me and let me play my pump up playlist, which involved Ace of Base (I Saw the Sign), Natalie Imbruglia (Torn), Ginuwine (Pony), and Hanson (Mmmbop). When we got to the start area, I went over to the Nike tent to get ready. Before I knew it, we were at the line and the whistle went off. It’s hard to miss the Nike team as our singlets are bright neon yellow, and I was really happy to be running with a team at an ultra. There’s just something difference about running with/for a team. You want to give it that much more because you want to run well for yourself as well as your teammates. Even though ultra running is a very solitary sport, just knowing your teammates are out there suffering with you is a big boost.


Waiting for the whistle

                The first couple miles were spent finding my rhythm. For those who don’t know, the course is a constant series of hills, with the 3 biggest maxing out at 600ft., but over the 50 miles, you end up climbing more than 10,000ft. So getting into a rhythm is a relative term I suppose. I settled in around 6-7th place behind Zach, Sage Canaday, Rob Krar, Chris Vargo (also Nike), and Max King. David Laney, Ryan Ghelfi, and Dan Kraft, all Nike as well, were within spitting distance behind me, so we had a good group near the front. I found myself running directly behind Rob and had heard that he likes to go out conservatively and finish strong, which I wanted to try to do as well, so I settled in behind him. Matt Laye had reminded me a couple days before that 50 miles is a long time to run someone else’s race, so I really made it a point to stay conservative in the early part of the race. The miles just ticked by fairly uneventfully and the order didn’t really change much for the first half of the race. I ate a couple of Picky Bars and then switched to Gu’s, took a couple of salt tablets at mile 17, and hit the turnaround feeling really relaxed at 3:02. At the turnaround, I saw the Nike guys (Pat and Michael), as well as Dylan, Jorge, Fernando, and Matt (also kind enough to crew for me) and their cheers put a big smile on my face. I got a new bottle from Dbo which was nice. They also told me that Zach had gone off the front by a couple of minutes. I wasn’t sure what to make of that, as I’ve heard stories of magnificent blowups on the way back, but hoped that he would continue to run well.


Feeling good near the turnaround

                After the turnaround, things started to happen among the leaders. David, Ryan, and Dan had fallen back a bit in the preceding miles, just as I had let a small gap form between Rob and myself. I was keeping him in sight, but realized I was still losing ground slowly but surely. Around mile 30, I passed Max and then Chris, who ended up dropping out due to an IT band issue (get it fixed!). I came into the mile 38 aid station in 4th place still feeling decent, but fatigue was starting to set in. The miles between that aid station and the final one with 4.5 to go seemed really long. My stomach started to get a little upset from all of the Gu I was taking, but I forced myself to keep eating. I found my spirits fluctuating wildly between deep, dark places, and mountaintops. I realized that it was directly correlated with my Gu consumption, as they caused spikes and drops in my blood sugar. I realize that Gu’s are not ideal in that respect, but they were all I could stomach and the aid stations were using electrolyte drinks that I had not tried out in training, so I was hesitant to use that. That’ something I definitely need to work on.


By all means, move at a glacial pace. You know how that thrills me.

                The final aid station is an out and back of about 0.2 miles each way, and as I was heading down, I saw Rob heading up. I didn’t see Sage or Zach (meaning they were several minutes ahead), and upon arriving at the aid station itself, realized I was 3-4 minutes behind Rob. He later said in his interview that he was running scared after seeing me, but if I had been able to talk to him, I would have assured him that I was unable to give chase. At that aid station I was desperate for anything to help turn my race around and as a result I had my first Coke in 15-16 years. It was glorious and definitely helped more because I really don’t have much caffeine in my diet (no coffee or soda). I also had several fingerfulls of salt which helped stave off some of the near cramps I had experienced recently. I left the aid station slightly rejuvenated but it didn’t last long. My mind wandered to darker places as the miles seemed interminable. I was sincerely hoping that no one would come up behind me, as I realized I had absolutely no gas left in the tank. I finally reached the 1 mile to go sign, and breathed a huge sigh of relief when I saw the parking lot. I crossed the finish line in 4th in 6:24:04 and my teammate Zach was waiting for me. He had managed to stay off the front and won in a new course record of 6:11 (who wins a 50 miler wire to wire?!). Rob had passed Sage in the last mile and both of them were also under the old course record as well. I was about 10-11 minutes behind Sage, and had lost 6-7 minutes in the final 4 miles. Rob had a strong finish as I had suspect he would, but I was just unable to emulate it that day.


Finally done!

               The biggest surprise was when Matt came up to me and informed me that I had earned a ticket to Western States. I had played out a lot of scenarios in my head going into the race but I had never really seriously considered what I would do if I got a spot. I hadn’t thought it was an issue as I had forgotten that Rob was already in, and had contented myself with finishing 4th in a solid debut at the 50 mile distance and not having to make the decision about Western States. Now I have to figure out what to do, as I had planned on doing the US Mountain Running Championships which are the week after Western. I can’t do both and will have to put some though into it in the coming weeks.


That mustache though…

                But back to the race… David and Ryan finished 5th and 6th and Dan was 9th, so Nike had 5 in the top 10 of one of the most competitive 50 milers of the year. The Nike crew (teammates, managers, and media folks) were all absolutely elated with the performances of the day, especially with Zach’s victory. Some of the Nike media guys had never been to a trail race and I think they had a blast following us around the course and seeing the enthusiasm and camaraderie amongst all competitors that are unique to races like this. You rarely see the winner of a track 5k turn around and hug the next 5 finishers as they cross the line. The Nike crew was in some of the seemingly most random places on the course, and their cheering in those spots and at aid stations played a big role in our performances. After the race, we spent the afternoon recovering (tamales and beer), went back to the hotel, showered, and went to dinner in downtown Healdsburg (burgers and more beer).





                We were up way too early on Sunday morning for a photo shoot with the Nike media folks and I soon realized that I couldn’t run due to my right hip flexor being incredibly tight. So I sat on the sidelines for the active shots, which was fine with me. After the photoshoot, everyone headed their separate ways. It was a great weekend and I can’t wait to get everyone back together again, whenever that might be (TNFEC in December?!). I got a massage on Monday afternoon from Erika which did wonders for my legs and hip flexor and then Zach (who was staying with) and I were lucky enough to be part of Ginger Runner Live that night (

                All in all, I’m really pleased with the way the race went. I was completely unsure how my body would respond in hours 5 and 6 of running (I’d never run longer than 4 hours) and it definitely went better than I had thought it might. I did hit some really low spots, but at no point did I ever think I wouldn’t finish. I definitely need to eat more in order to keep my energy at a more consistent level. The wild swings at the end were less than ideal and in these longer races, I need to really figure out what my body needs. Zach said after the race that he ate basically the whole time which is something I have to embrace I think. I’m used to the mentality of coming into a 5k or a 10k really lean, light and fast, and it’s been hard getting out of that mindset and into one where more food is better heading into and especially during a race. So I’ve got some things to play with on my long runs. Other than that, the recovery has gone better than I thought these first couple days (fingers crossed it continues) and my legs are feeling not too awful. I fly to Boston on Saturday. Bib #104 if you want to track. We’ve got a good crew going and a lot of guys are going to run very fast for us.

                Finally, I’d just like to thank everyone who played a role in this Lake Sonoma experience. It all started back in February with Dbo and Matt’s performances at Sean O’Brien and Rocky Raccoon respectively, when I was sitting in my apartment that Saturday night still amped from following their races during the day and I decided to sign up for this race. Jorge kicked the year off with his victory at Bandera and just got things rolling for the whole SFRC crew. Dbo, Matt, Jorge, Fernando, and Tanner were along the course and their crewing and cheering helped me keep going. At the finish, I’ve never felt so supported by a group of people. The Nike crew (Pat, Michael, Derek, Bruno and those I’m forgetting) were instrumental in the success of the team on race day. They made sure we had everything we needed and were on the course cheering their heads off as well. Billy (who just put up his LS50 video:, Josh and Eric were also out there yelling for us and provided big boosts. Last but not least, John Medinger and his race crew and the volunteers did an amazing job of putting this race on. It was incredibly well organized and I’m already looking forward to next year.

P.S. For those wondering about Western States, I haven’t made up my mind. I’ll give it more thought after Boston.

About afvarner

Runner. Donuts. Sneakerhead. Not necessarily in that order. Nike Trail Elite. Picky Bars. Gu. Vicory Sportdesign.
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6 Responses to Lake Sonoma 50 (or the longest I’ve race I’ve ever run)

  1. Billy Yang says:

    Rad report and an even RADDER performance. See ya in Squawwwww!!!


  2. Karen says:

    Eat salty boiled potatoes – they don’t mess with your blood sugar like gu and are super easy to digest (and not sticky if you want to weirdly clutch one in your fist for a mile or so before eating it). Also, crappy as it feels right now to hear, don’t attempt WS until you can get nutrition/strategy/mood swings figured out pretty stably for 50. If you don’t get that done in time, I’m pretty confident you’ll qualify again 🙂

  3. Pingback: Daily News, Fri, Apr 18

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