“This pace is unsustainable.” My inner voice repeated this over and over as Chris Vargo and I split a couple sub 7-min miles about 15 miles into the Lake Sonoma 50. We were on a gorgeous, rolling single-track complete with water crossings, lake views, forests and meadows. I knew after the first aid station 11.5 miles into the race that Chris and I were already 5 minutes ahead of Dakota Jones’s course record pace of 6:17 (a rather stout course record set the previous year where he won by about 20 minutes over Timothy Olson). Despite our rather aggressive intensity, Chris and I weren’t even leading the race as 2:14 marathoner Max King and young ultra upstart Cameron Clayton had already opened up a 2-minutes gap on us at that point. I obsessively glanced at my forearm where I had jotted down Dakota’s Course Record splits at various aids stations in permanent ink. After some extrapolation I figured we were on pace to run a sub-6hr 50-miler. On a course with nearly 10,500 feet of vertical gain I figured that that would probably be impossible…at least for me on that day…
PHOTO: when we first hit the trail around mile 3 I was in the lead…but not by much and not for long…:
PHOTO: “holding back” on a downhill with Chris Vargo around mile 20:
The longest climbs on the course come near the turn-around point in the middle; somewhere between miles 20-24. Originally this was where I figured I’d “make my move” – however, at around this point Max and Cameron had increased their lead to 5-minutes.
My legs felt stiff and unresponsive on the climbs and I suddenly feared that I had not tapered enough for this race (I also had Transvulcania next month in the back of my mind). Perhaps the cumulative fatigue of racing a tough 100km at Tarawera in New Zealand, along with a 95-mile week and 30-mile long run a couple weeks later had finally caught up to me? Every little up and down rollercoaster hill rocked my hip flexors and pulled at my hamstrings. But the pace was hot and I still believed in my splits, my mental math, and the sheer work output required to sustain such a torrid pace for 50-miles of rolling hills. I knew all I could do was run my best for that day…whatever that was going to be.
At mile 28 on a gradual uphill climb I decisively put the hammer down for the first time and gave chase.
“He’s got 4-minutes on you.”
“They’re 3- minutes ahead.”
Racers running in the opposite direction on the out-back course encouraged me (and provided me with valuable, tactical race information) as I gained a second wind and increased my effort to work my way back up to the lead. I grinded up some hills right around 7-min flat pace and really felt the intensity of the effort…motivated more than ever to make up ground as I gained confidence.
I passed Cameron around mile 34. He said something about having limited mobility in his stride and I think he was having hydration issues (I later found out that after drinking some water at the aid stations he got his legs back under him and was able to regain his stride). I had been in that same state just a month ago during the last 10 miles of the Tarawera 100km so today I was deliberately drinking more…
When I stopped to piss for a third time during the race at about mile 36 (by the way I hate having to stop and piss because it always seems like I’m losing 20 seconds each time…but I really had to go!) I had no idea Max King was just ahead of me around the next corner. Glancing at my GPS I braced myself for another 8min+ mile split because of my piss break and vowed to run the next mile faster to “make up time.” Around the corner and up a hill I was startled to see Max all of a sudden. I could tell from his stride that he was at a low-point in the race and that his pace had drastically slowed. As I passed he mentioned he was hurting and he encouraged me to go for the course record. By the time I got to the final full aid station at mile 38.5, I had put a couple minutes on Max and really surprised my parents (who assumed I would still be in 3rd place).
Around mile 40 the waves of nausea hit. I walked a couple steps and dry-heaved. The thought of another gel to wash down with my coke was sickening – still, I tore open a new packet every 20-30 minutes and forced myself to ingest at least a gulp or two of the slimy stuff. I figured that I was starting to get dehydrated as well and instantly regretted that my handheld wasn’t full of water for the 7 mile stretch to the final aid station at mile 45.5. My pace slowed and all I could think about was just trying to “hold it together.”
5:35. That was what Dakota Jones split at the 45.5 mile aid station en route to his 6:17 course record run. It was exactly the time that read on my watch at that final aid station. With my stomach feeling better (and knowing I had at least a 5-minute lead) I was able to ramp up my effort again for the final miles of climbing. Sneaking under the course record was the main thought on my mind and every mile that clicked off on my GPS was a huge relief.
During the final mile I was able to enjoy feeling full of the run and reflect on the support of my family, my girlfriend, my sponsors, and the running community that made this opportunity for me to race in Lake Sonoma possible. When I crossed the finish line in 6:14:55 I was greeted by RD John Meddinger and awarded with an over-sized 3L bottle of wine from a local vineyard. Not ready to pop open the cork yet, I immediately downed a couple beers instead. [My parents who crewed for me while filming the race deserved this special bottle anyway and I assume they drove it back home to Oregon to age). I’d like to give a special thanks to the support of all the volunteers, local sponsors and John for putting on a great race and also allowing me to perform at my best on an amazing course against great competition. The camaraderie of the ultra running community was also very enjoyable around the finish line after the race!
Video footage of the race (thanks mom and dad!!):
Overall, I felt very fortunate to be able to run in such a scenic venue and execute a race according to plan without getting lost, breaking a bone or epically bonking. It was an effort that I’d like to compare to the White River 50 (as I ran similar time there), although the continuous bombardment of hills at Lake Sonoma proved to be a very difficult and different challenge. I look forward to racing at new venues and learning more about the sport this year.
3 weeks until Transvulcania!!
Thanks for reading and I wish you the best with your running,
Blatant sponsor/gear/nutrition plugs:
Shoes: SCOTT Sports t2 Kinabalu trail shoe
Socks: Drymax maximum protection running
Shades: Smith Optics Pivlock 2
Hydration gear: Ultimate Direction
Nutrition: Flora Health/Udo’s Oil
Beer to fuel training: Avery Brewing
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
- Sage Canaday Transvulcania Race Report | May 16, 2013
- UROC 100km Race Report: “Just Finish” | Sage Canaday: Mountain-Ultra-Trail Runner | October 1, 2013