Saturday, April 09, 2016

Lake Sonoma 50 Mile -- 8:41:12

photo credit: Chihping
The scenery was lush and beautiful, the weather was cool with occasional light rains, the trails were very runnable, the course was thoroughly well-marked, and the race organization was wonderful. This was my first time running Lake Sonoma 50 (and my 8th 50 miler) and I'm really pleased with how it went.

I covered the 50.3 miles and 10,500' of elevation gain in 8 hours 41 minutes. I felt strong and ran well the entire time, and had an especially good finish. My training was solid, and I think I found the right balance between being patient early on and putting in a hard effort, so that I didn't "bonk" or fall off that performance cliff, where so many of us runners get too depleted and have to dramatically slow down.

The Lead Up
I had heard good things about Lake Sonoma 50 from friends -- that it's scenic, well-organized, and that it draws some of the best national trail runners, thanks to it being a Western States Golden Ticket race. There were 304 finishers this year. The demand is high and so there is a lottery and I was lucky enough to get in, along with three other friends from my running club (Franz, Gary, and Loren).

The race course consists of single-track trails, dirt fire roads, and a couple of miles of pavement at the beginning. The course is basically an out-and-back, except on the outward route, we start on a road, but when we return, we run on a single-track trail that parallels the road. (The road helps us to get spread out and avoids a log jam at the trail head.)

My training leading up to this race was relatively solid:
  • 3/6 -- 73.8 miles for the week, 30.5 for the longest run
  • 3/13 -- 93.7 miles for the week, 30.5 for the longest run
  • 3/20 -- 84 miles for the week, 29 & 16 for weekend runs
  • 3/27 -- 80 miles for the week, 20 for the longest run
  • 4/3 -- 54 miles for the week, 10.5 and 10 for the weekend runs
My long runs had gone well and I was doing a tempo run (racing up Montara Mountain but then coming back down more slowly) every Tuesday, and a track workout every Thursday. My peak week of training ended up being four weeks before the race. I had hoped that three weeks out would be the peak week (topping out at 100 miles), but I wasn't able to make it happen. I was slightly concerned that in my long runs, that I was running them too slowly. For the future, I'm thinking I should incorporate more race-pace miles.

Race Day
My alarm went off at 3:10am and I was out the door in about 20 minutes, having prepared breakfast (2 bagels with peanut butter) and packed my bags the night before. It's about a 2 hour drive from my house to the marina at Lake Sonoma. The light rain was nearly non-stop during the drive. I had a difficult time finding the exact starting area online in advance, but as I got close I was able to follow some cars to the correct parking location.

I'm glad I got there at about 5:30am because the parking lot was filling up fast. There was no line to pick up my bib. "What's your last name?" the guy asks. "Little". He responds, "Ron Little from the Coastside Running Club!" "Is that Stan Jenson?" I asked the man in the shadows. Yes it was! He volunteers everywhere it seems. Thanks for being there, Stan!

There was no line to the porta-potties. Score! 10 or 15 minutes later, the line had about 15 people in it. So again, I was glad to have arrived early.

I didn't see any public sources of water, but I had brought my own extra water, so I had enough to start the race with.

I took a selfie:

I saw Franz and his wife, Jen. Time for another selfie:

At 6:15am I ate an energy gel, drank a bunch of water, and put away my warm clothes in my car. I positioned myself in the starting area, about a third of the way back. Jen Pfeiffer! We chatted for a bit and I knew I should not start the race in front of her; she's fast! Gary! It was good to see him again. I saw Franz again and he soon positioned himself closer to the start line. 6:30am rolled around, and we're off!

The initial couple of miles are on a paved road that mostly goes uphill and I tried to be patient and not run too fast. I walked the steepest section. Even still, I hit the single-track trail with an average pace of less than 9 minutes per mile, which I knew was not sustainable. I kept reminding myself to slow down. Occasionally I caught glimpses of the front runners who were already far ahead, running around 7 minutes per mile.

I enjoyed the scenery and easy miles.
photo credit: Chihping
I had a pace chart taped to my water bottle that listed the aid station distances and time goals for a 8:15 (hours and minutes), 8:30, and 8:45 finish time.
When I reached the first aid station, my friend Veronica cheered me on and filled up one of my bottles. I was about three minutes ahead of an 8:15 finish time. We did just have a lot of downhill, plus the road was very smooth and runnable, so I didn't worry about it too much.

For the next couple of aid stations, I was right at the 8:15 finish time pace. A few of us ran together for a while and the woman in front of me introduced herself as Erika and said she was a contributing editor to Ultrarunning Magazine. Cool! She said she was hoping to break 9 hours, which would be a personal record for her. We compared some race times and I started thinking that maybe I was running too slowly. I was feeling good, so I gradually increased my effort and pulled away from them.

Unfortunately, a faint feeling of having gas started to feel more and more pronounced...

Poop. It's a fact of life for all of us, but it's not something you want to deal with during a race. I apparently still don't understand human digestion because in spite of my best efforts and precautions, I was gradually feeling the urge to defecate. I was hoping that there would be a porta-potty at the Madrone Aid Station at mile 18.8 but I didn't see anything. (Where do the volunteers go?) So, at around the three hour mark, I pulled off the trail and took a dump, trying hard not to make a mess. I wasn't carrying toilet paper, but some leaves on the ground served the purpose. 

Back to running! A bunch of people had passed me, but I tried not to worry about it. A little while later, I had to cross a mud pit. As with the streams I had run through, I just plowed straight ahead. On one particular step, my right foot sank into the mud up to my ankle, and as I plucked my foot out, my shoe remained behind! Wow! I didn't know it was possible to yank my foot cleanly out from my shoe like that with the laces still tied. I stopped and hopped back on one foot to dig my shoe out of the mud, and got it back on while trying not to have a bunch of mud on the inside.

I was sitting in the middle of the trail getting passed by people when Erika came by and asked if everything was alright. "Yes, it is now!" I noticed that she was wisely running on the side, around the mud pit.

From a distance I saw the front runners returning. The lead guy was so fast! Eventually we crossed paths and it's just amazing to me how good the best runners are and what a wide range of human ability there is. I glanced at my watch -- 3:22 (hours:minutes) elapsed time. I wouldn't return to that exact same spot until shortly after the 5 hour mark. And when I did return to that spot, heading back to the start, there were still people behind me on their outbound journey!

As I neared the half-way point, one of the volunteers at an intersection called out my name. Kelly! Cool! I thanked her for being there.

I finally arrived at the half-way point, re-supplied myself quickly, and got going. It was fun running into everyone behind me, who were on their outward-bound journey. Gary! Loren! Janeth! Chihping!
photo credit: Chihping
My quads started feeling sore around the 26 mile mark, on one of the steep descents. I took an ibuprofen, with the hopes that swelling around my joints and muscles would be reduced. As an aside, based on some knowledgeable friends, ibuprofen is cleaned out of the blood by your kidneys, which are also busy cleaning out muscle debris in an endurance event, so it's not as safe as tylenol, which is processed primarily by the liver. But ibuprofen reduces swelling in addition to providing some pain relief, and I seem to be able to handle a small dose easily, so I'll probably stick with ibuprofen for the 50 mile and 100K distances.

I could feel my big toenail on my right foot getting banged up. My toenails were already a mess, so it's no big deal to lose another toenail. No time to stop.

Mile 30 passed. I felt good! I gradually increased my effort.

In most (all?) of my previous seven 50 milers, I've had "low points" during the 30-40 mile range. I was consciously monitoring myself and trying to find the right balance of running as fast as I could without blowing up. I was passing people steadily. And I felt pretty good!

There was a light rain on and off from around mile 20 to 40 as I recall. It felt good.

As time went on, I started running the gradual downhills faster. I felt really good, almost like I was running a road marathon. On the steep descents that required a lot of braking, I didn't feel particularly strong or nimble. On the steep uphills, I could sense my heart rate rising too high and I often power-hiked the steepest sections. Still, I was passing people.

I came across this hilarious and accurate sign:
photo credit: Chihping
The longest section between aid stations was between mile 38 and 45.5. Erika had warned me earlier to carry a lot of water and be prepared for a lot of climbing. My 40 ounces (two water bottles) lasted just long enough for this section. I was so happy to be coming into the last aid station. Franz! This was a short (quarter mile) out and back to the aid station and he was hiking the uphill. His training had been limited and inconsistent, so I was super impressed that he was doing so well. He did a fist bump but I awkwardly did a high-five, so, what would you call that, the "high bump"? :-) And then right behind Franz was Jen Pfeiffer! Cool! We had talked about running some miles of the race together but our paces didn't work out this time.

I made a quick stop at the aid station, just filling one water bottle with sports drink, and I was right back to the race.

I eventually caught up with Franz who said his legs were giving out on him and he had to slow down. We wished each other luck and I pushed on.

A couple of times I felt a brief twinge of cramps in my left quads. I knew I was on the edge. Even with just four miles left, there was ample time to fall apart. I thought of the Western States 100 finish where the first place guy (Brian Morrison in 2006 -- video) collapsed in the final 300 meters. Still, I did not feel desperate and I was still running really well.

I caught up to Jen. She was wearing earbuds and didn't hear me until I called out to her from right behind her. She congratulated me and encouraged me to finish. I pushed onward.

I loved the sign that said "one mile to go". Nice! I increased my effort and felt like I was flying over the rocky ground. But then there were yet more hills. Even with the cars in sight, the course went up another short steep hill. Finally, I saw the ribbons of the finish line and I "sprinted" (compared to the rest of the race, at least). Woo hoo!

I caught my breath and cheered for Jen's arrival. Then I went to use a poison oak cleansing wipe that I had in my car, because I had brushed against poison oak twice during the race, including one branch that caught my face. I grabbed a jacket and my camera and phone and went back to catch Franz finishing.

Gary finished not long after and it was great hanging out a bit with them. We put on our newly acquired race jackets!

The race provided some great free food to the runners and I was impressed with the jacket and shirt and other goodies that they gave to us runners. Thank you, race organizers!

What Went Well
  • I didn't "hit the wall" or bonk. I ran relatively consistently and strong the entire time.
  • I actually enjoyed the run the entire time; I never felt like I was suffering.
  • The race organization and volunteers were wonderful. Thank you, volunteers!
  • No cramps.
  • No blisters, unless you count the big toenail on my right foot, which I expect to lose.
  • No chafing.
  • Didn't trip or fall.
  • Didn't get lost.
Things to Improve On
  • I had to poop during the race. Although I initially estimated that this wasted 4 minutes, looking back over my Garmin data, this may have only cost me 2 minutes. I've done research before, and I tried to emulate the planning of the early astronauts by consuming very little fiber the day before, but I'm apparently doing something wrong. To my running friends, I apologize in advance, but I'll be asking you about your gastrointestinal planning for races. :-)
  • Don't step in deep mud! One of my shoes was sucked off my foot by unexpectedly thick sticky mud. I should have run more to the side of the mud pit.
Random Data
  • I consumed about 300 calories an hour plus whatever was in the sports drink. I had double-checked the recommended maximum amount for long-endurance events -- 1 gram of carbs per kilogram of bodyweight per hour. This would translate into three energy gels per hour, but I also consumed some aid station food (peanut butter and jelly squares) and sports drink.
  • I took one SaltStick capsule every hour except at the end where I went about 90 minutes between capsules (because I had dropped one along the way and didn't have extras).
  • I weighed 164.8 lbs the morning of the race. I let myself go and splurged the day before, eating plenty of carbs. For the previous week, my weight was under 163 lbs. I weighed 163.2 after the race, after eating and drinking plenty. I weighed 162.8 the morning after the race.
  • Garmin GPS data
  • The official results are in. There were 304 finishes and I'm listed as 49th. Considering all of the fast runners this race attracts, I'm totally pleased with my placement!
  • The parking lot entrance (and start line) is here. I couldn't figure this out exactly from the website, but fortunately I happened to follow some cars who went to the right spot.
  • I carried three packets of Shot Bloks in my vest, which provided food for about 2 hours of running. I'm glad I did, because that gave me the option to skip getting food at some aid stations.
  • I picked up two bits of trash that had been accidentally dropped by other runners. We don't want these races to generate any trash on the trails, because then the race may be forbidden to give energy gels (like what happened at Miwok 100K).
  • I saw some ultrarunning luminaries including Gordy Ainsleigh and Ann Trason.