I’ve been overanalyzing and agonizing over my performance at the 2014 Lake Sonoma 50 mile race. I’m a numbers guy and I like cold, hard scientific data. The obvious results from this race of course demonstrate the fact that both men’s and women’s ultra-trail running fields are getting really close and competitive. Every second counts!
Before I get into all the quantitative garble and “what ifs,” I first want to say that Zach Miller needs to be taken for real on all ultra-trail courses! The guy has some serious strength, talent and mental tenacity (as well as self-discipline for training on a ship). I’ll admit that I didn’t fully respect the move he made as he shot into the lead about 5 miles into the race as I figured that over 45 more miles and 9,200’ of climbing he’d come back into sight. Obviously I was very wrong. Big congrats to Zach (and Rob) for running tough, gritty races and soundly beating a competitive field head to head in course record time. I tried my best, had a solid (more even paced) race and lowered my time from last year but they were stronger on the day and I ended up 3rd.
I’m not going to give a detailed blow by blow account of the race (there will be lots of video footage showing that!), but here’s a brief summary of went through my head at various points along the course as things progressed:
First aid station (about 11.5 miles in): “Crap, we’re 3 minutes slower than I was last year at this point….the weather is much cooler and it’s overcast….so maybe we should have taken this thing out faster?!”
Half way at 25 miles: Okay, Zac is still 3 minutes ahead and you’re 2 minutes slower than last year at this point in the race. It’s time to make up time! Crap, but the pace doesn’t feel any easier than last year (and it should?)!”
38.5 miles (last crew aid station): Okay, you made a break on Rob…he must not be feeling good…but where is that Zac kid?…WHY is he not coming back?!”
Mile 42: “Oh, crap, gotta peel off into the bushes….just keep it together…no more 9min miles and NO WALKING!”
Mile 45.5 (last aid station): “Okay, there’s Zac and he has a half mile on you…he’s not coming back!…Okay there’s Rob, he’s 90 sec behind you…there’s a chance he’s going to charge so you better get moving…no time for a full coke and screw taking anymore gels..can’t waste time…”
Mile 48: “Okay, don’t see Rob back there, you probably have second locked up. Well, second place was designed to make the first loser feel better…”
Mile 49: “Holy crap! Rob is right behind you closing…put up a damn fight. Why won’t my hips respond?! Damn stiff-ass legs. There’s the 3:44 1500m speed…and I never thought it would be this close of a finish!”
The Finish: “If only you and Rob knew that Zac was finally starting to come back hard in the final 4 miles…if only the race was a mile or two longer….[more pointless regrets and meaningless ‘what-ifs’]”
Silly mistakes and bloopers that I’m kicking myself for:
- About 6 miles into the race I took off the hand strap on my Ultimate Direction bottle to pull out a VFuel gel. While doing this I managed to clumsily fumble my bottle and it fell off the trail and rolled about 40 feet down a steep ravine thick enough with vegetation that I could barely still see it. I paused for a second thinking of the time I may spend wasting to: a. retrieve it and b. only use my one remaining bottle (that my parents had while crewing for me) for the rest of the race. After also considering c. this is litter and you’ll have to come all the way out here after the race to get it I decided that “a” was my best option. I took a little tumble in the bushes as I slid down the very steep slope and then proceeded to crawl my way out. Rob Krar came running past just as I was climbing out and asked “what are you doing down there?!”.
2. After Rob had passed me at the 49.2 mile mark I was still trying to finish rather strong and therefore not thinking clearly. As I approached a road crossing (the only road crossing/intersection on the course) I started to make a B-line directly towards the finish line parking lot (which was in sight with about 300 yards to go). Well, it was also the wrong way as after about 40m of running I could hear shouts (my dad) and I didn’t spot any ribbons leading me to the finishing straight. After stopping dead in my tracks I turned around and clearly saw the trail markings after the road intersection crossing that I had totally missed. This cost an extra 15-20 seconds, but luckily it did not affect my finishing place!
“Mistakes” that were par for the course (i.e. somewhat typical things that happen in an ultra):
- I wasn’t having the best day in terms of how my GI tract was feeling. Sometimes it’s nerves, sometimes it’s just the lack of blood flood to that area of the body and sometimes it’s just something that you eat the night before that doesn’t sit very well….whatever the case (this is often out of one’s control) I had to peel off into the bushes a couple times for a good 30 seconds at a time. Gross.
2. Pacing due to weather: My game-plan going into the race was to run off my splits from last year. If anything I wanted to be right on them or a couple minutes faster. After the first two miles were about 20 sec slower than last year I figured we might be playing “catch-up” to my ghost of last year. Regardless of what the other runners were doing my plan was to run off my splits and shoot for a sub 6:10 finishing time. However, after the first aid station I realized that we were perhaps a bit too conservative given the much cooler conditions (see weather comparison below). The fact that Zac had opened up a lead still didn’t bother me (it should have!), and with Rob lurking behind me the pace at the time seemed reasonable. In retrospect it might have been better to take advantage of the cooler conditions for the first 4 hours of the race instead of actually going out slower than last year…
From Wunderground.com Weather data Archives in nearby Healdsburg, CA:
In 2013 the temperature rose quickly, with a high of 74 degrees and 96% humidity (it was quite sunny). As you can see in the graphic below, the temperature was above 60 by 10AM (race start was 6:30AM).
In 2014 the temperature rose much slower, with a high of only 64 degrees and 89% humidity (it was quite foggy). As you can see in the graph below, the temperature remained below 60 until about 12:30pm (race start was at 6:30 AM).
Placing and head-to-head competition aside, if i honestly look at myself in the mirror and ask: “was your run at lake sonoma 50 this year a better performance than last year given the cooler weather conditions?” I’m inclined to answer: “No.”
More Speculation and a Training Rant:
Going into this year’s race I had a goal of running under 6:10. I thought that could be a reasonable winning time. I also thought that 2nd place would be over 6:15 though! Last year a lot of major ultras were decided by at least 2 minutes (if not 5 or 10!). A close finish was not what I would have predicted..
I don’t want to make any more excuses. I came into Lake Sonoma focused as an “A-race,” gave my all and got soundly beat. My tactics and pacing were solid and my crew and sponsor support was amazingly perfect. I live a pampered life where I have the time and flexibility to train however and whenever I want. What I start to question (as a self-coached athlete) is whether or not my training and racing schedule needs to be reexamined and tinkered with. Luckily, my co-coach and girlfriend at Vo2max Productions (Sandi Nypaver) has repeatedly told me how I’m lacking in vertical training. I agree.
The Future of MUT Running is bright and competitive. When I came out with the idea of my film project “MUT Runner.” I envisioned (as many predicted) that course records for ultras all around would start falling rapidly, sponsorship opportunities would open up, and the depth of numbers in the sport would grow. It appears to be a continuing trend, along with the fact that nowadays to win a major ultra you need to do speedwork and periodize your in your training. Part of the reason I am doing the film project is because I want to share some (what is hopefully) informative training advice for all runners from top runners.
Based my own training and racing I feel that it is becoming even more essential to very selectively pick and choose my battles. Gone are the days of thinking one can show up on back to back weekends (or even back to back months) and win a major trail race. I also know that racing every month is probably not ideal. It is a vicious cycle of recovery, training hard and tapering on a 2 week basis! This will catch up with me and: a. injure me, or b. really make me come out flat (as in UROC and Sierre-Zinal I suspect last year). In examining how UROC was the worst race of my life I became afraid of logging more than 12,000 feet of climbing a week (I tend to climb too hard) and exhausting myself again. But when I hear that Zach Miller spends 75 min a lot of days running up and down stairs on a cruise ship and then follows that with a long treadmill session I get a kick in the butt! The guy is very disciplined and dedicated and probably puts in more vertical while working on a cruise ship than I do in the mountains of Boulder. I have no excuses!
Ideally in the future I need to sit back and focus on getting in a a good, consistent 2-3 month block of training in that specifically targets the demands any given course….
Next up: Transvulcania in 3.5 weeks (Oh, boy!).
Overall the 2014 Lake Sonoma 50 was a brutal, bloodbath of a race on a spectacular, challenging course. I did my best on the day with the knowledge and training I had and came up short of the win. I’m very competitive by nature and do not take these things lightly. I’m in a very fortunate position where I can train and race as a MUT Runner full time so there are no excuses! The amazing support of my girlfriend Sandi (who was helped film video footage of the race while cheering for me) , my family (the ultra supportive crew) who drove down from Oregon, my local friends and my awesome sponsors (including the HOKA One One entourage that was out on the course) are what make this dream possible and allow me to run to the best of my potential. I also want to thank RD John Medinger for another awesome race weekend (topped off with wine tasting!) as well as all the volunteers who armed the aid stations and made this race possible. Congrats to all the runners as well – it was a blast seeing you out on the course!
PS I’m excited to annouce that I’ll be at the Wings For Life World Run on May 4th in Denver. This is a charity that is near and dear to my heart as it supports spinal cord research. My sister ming will also be attending and participating in her wheelchair. 100% of your entry fee goes towards the charity and it is an unique event open to all runners of all abilities. This will be taking place simultaneously in selected cities across the World and the finish line is actually a “chase car” that will catch you from behind and determine how far you run! Check out the Wings For Life website for more info and to sign up!
Gear used/Shameless Sponsor Plugs:
Kicks: HOKA ONE ONE Huakas
Hydration: Ultimate Direction Fastdraw and Jurek Essential Waist Pack
Nutrition: Vfuel gels (one every 20 minutes)
FLORA Health Udo’s Oil/7 sources (used throughout training cycle for improved recovery, fat burning and health.
Ugo Bars…snacks for recovery after long runs and other training sessions
Avery Beer…for post-race/workout celebrations!
Compression: Compressport Calf Sleeves
Socks: Drymax maximum protection (no blisters!)
Shades: Smith Optics Pivlock V2 glasses
Online Training Log/GPS: strava.com
About the Author (Author Profile)2-time Olympic Trials Qualifier, Mountain runner, Author of "Running For The Hansons," trail runner, videos for Vo2max Productioins, LLC.
Sites That Link to this Post
- Daily News, Thurs, Apr 17 | April 17, 2014
- UGo Star Athletes News | UGo bars | May 9, 2014
- Sage Canaday Transvulcania Ultra Marathon Race report 2014 | May 14, 2014