Sunday, April 22, 2012

Lake Sonoma 50 Race Report

First shot in the Sunsweet Duds.  Photo: Bob/Drymax

Before the race, Timothy Allen’s wife, Krista, asked me if I had a goal for the race.  My response, was, “No.”  This was due to a couple factors:  firstly, my fitness and mechanics were so inconsistent that it kept my expectations low.  As such, my only two goals for Sonoma are the same for most races:

1.) To take only what the course will give me.
2.) To take only what my body will give me.
Beyond those, I had no lofty performance goals for Sonoma – neither time, nor place truly loomed large.  But deep-down, my primary goal was to find and maintain efficient mechanics – the ones that allowed me to run fast at Bandera – that I seemed to lose over the winter.

The other factor driving my relaxed approach was logistical: The weeks between Chuckanut and Sonoma were tumultuous; I’d been so busy over the past month, I was truly living day-to-day: just trying to get through the work day, get in my run, and hope the rest falls into place.  I got huge help from Tim and Krista, who generously allowed Britt and I to travel with them for the weekend, thus avoiding having to engage in such fundamental race tasks, such as getting a hotel room, or…figuring out where the starting line is. 
As such, when Tropical John Medinger sounded the start-horn, it was the most relaxed I’d felt in weeks...

Race Day
It was a perfect day: cool, but not cold; a very light breeze, and darkness that ceded to twilight just as we arrived.  I did a light kilo jog into the woods to warm-up (running into Fast Ed in the process!), strapped on my gear and toed the line.  The field was relatively small in number, but stout up front.  I nestled between Clark Bar and Mackey while Tropical John gave us some final instructions.  And, characteristic of the entire day and event, the sun rose precisely when the horn sounded to start the race - perfect execution.

The 2011 course took us on 2.5 miles of rolling pavement in order to let the field disperse.  As such, with no reason to hustle, the guys up front kept it very easy, as if the day was merely an enjoyable jog in the woods (aren’t they all?).  Mr. Palko took on the rabbitting duties, per usual, and gapped the field over those first road miles – the steep, paved downhills having seemingly no effect on his legs that covered 50 miles at American River just a week prior.
The road helped me concentrate on the “Tall-Arms-Hips” mantra, and the stride felt its best in weeks.  And with the relaxed opening miles, I found no problem rolling up front with 2012 WTC Champ Gary Gellin, while the rest of the field hung behind.  I took what the course gave.  When the road ceded to trail, I felt reasonably comfortable as we descended lakeside.

The Sonoma course is a majority out-and-back (other than the tail-ends) along the mountainous reservoir, known for being up-and-down and packing a stout 10K of vertical gain.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to find several stretches of fairly flat running over smooth singletrack.  It was a beautiful course.  Gary and I traded off the pacing duties, including leading the pack into a 4-foot deep creek crossing, before finally reeling in Jady to take the lead, out-right.
Despite the easy pace and forgiving terrain, I was a bit uncomfortable leading.  With the talent behind me, I knew it was only a matter of time before things heated up.  It began slowly; first by Jorge Maravilla coming up from behind to help out, around mile six or seven.  I hung in behind him for a bit as the course pulled away from the high-and-tight banks and inland. 

After a good hour-plus of running and the field inching along in a conga line (or as Hal put it, “The Pain Train”), Tim gave us a solid Killian impression by charging out front to take the lead.  And just like that, our leisurely Saturday run became a downhill stampede: within a mile, I went from first to twelfth.  But I was insistent on sticking to “The Rules”, and my body made it known it was far too early to be pounding down the jeep road that led to our second creek crossing, and first aid station at Warm Springs Creek (Mile 11.5). 
After an aid fill, it was a majority climb upward over the next 4.5 miles.  It took no more than that aid fill to completely lose sight of the entire lead pack, save a few: Gary and Dan-O, and Fast Ed in the rear.  I worked a bit to reel in the pack, but once there, I settled in.  There was no use in hammering; instead, I devised a new goal: to run the second half as hard as I could to pace it as evenly as the outbound. 

Gary helped that a ton.  Wearing a heart rate monitor, he kept things very chill on the climbs, so an efforted pace became total relaxation as the four of us chipped along, chatting and otherwise enjoying the sunny morning. 
Before we knew it, we were within meters of the Wulfow AS (Mile 16.8)  But I had an issue brewing; so I stepped off trail and took advantage of lush grasses for my “business”.  Shortly therafter I rolled into the AS and got a quick bottle exchange from Britt and Krista, and I was down the trail. 

I thought the fellas would be right ahead, but it took me a good two miles to catch up, on the first of three substantial (>500’) climbs of the course.  We climbed along a gravel road up the bank away from the lake, the four of us rolling into Liberty Glen AS (Mile 19.6) together.  Another quick fill – this time from “Royalty” (The Lord and The Queen) – before descending once more to the lakeshore.
Gary and the crew kept things sane on the descent.  As we bounded down, I noticed some discomfort in my left foot – a blister?  Since using Drymax socks, I haven’t had a single blister – that’s nearly a year of racing.  But the issue laid more in the fact that my shoes, saturated for over two hours, had loosened in the toe box and my left foot was sliding around.  It was tolerable, but I knew I would have to address it somehow. 

We descended within feet of the water’s surface, before the course took us up yet another jeep road to start the largest climb of the race to the turnaround.  I was beginning to feel good, to “get warmed up”, as I seem to do after 20 miles in an ultra – and wished to push it a bit,  but when I began to pull away, Gary said, “Piano!”  He explained the meaning to the rest of the group, but my music background knew what he was saying: “Quiet!”, “Easy!”.  Perhaps an odd command to say – or heed – in a race, but I did, knowing that at the turn around, I wanted to go “Forte”, and have saved enough to go “Fortissimo” in the last ten miles. 
We hiked several segments and crested several false summits as we neared the lollipop turnaround.  Gary posited that we shouldn’t see the leaders come back on us – given that the lollipop was over a mile long.  But no sooner the utterance did a kid in a blue TNF Montrail jersey come flying down the hill toward us.  Dakota! 

We were at least 2K from the turnaround when he blew by, and not a minute later was Tim, followed by Jorge – the former two looking solid, the latter looking a bit cooked.  Seeing those guys so far out front (“20 minutes?”) got me antsy, so as the course leveled out, I pumped the gas out front of our group and rolled into No-Name Flat AS (25.2).  I got the bottles filled, a ton of gels and, most importantly, I stopped to lace my shoes tighter.  I gave Britt some instructions to ready the Cover Roll and Leukotape at the next AS, in the event the blister worsened. 
I grabbed a handful of gels and bolted from the AS, pushing the pace up the singletrack, back to the Jeep road with Mr Tropical was manning the lollipop.  To my dismay, I found out that both Gary and Dan-O had gotten far past me in the AS, so I pushed first to get to Gary.  He and I ran down the long descent to the lake, and when we got to the flat, my stride was a bit longer than his (how could it not be? Is he even 5-foot? :p), so I pulled away.  Down in the valley, it had begun to heat up – and the fatigue of the day began to sink in on the climb back to the 20/30 mile AS.  Over that climb I saw two guys up front – Leigh Schmidt and Thomas Crawford(?) -- and over the course of our climb to the AS, passed them both, before setting eyes on Dan-O, who was ahead but clearly moving well. 

Dan-O and I rolled into the AS together.  I got a quick update from Mr. Media Mogul on how we were doing, and were dismayed to find we were still losing ground to Mr Jones and the other fellas.  Damn.  It was now legitimately warm: I got a double bottle fill and reluctantly gave-up my newly-acquired Sunsweet jersey to LB.  Being a darker color and somewhat heavy, I was desperate to lose any heat or weight I could -- like John Candy and "The Barnacle" in the 1980s movie, "Summer Rental" (Anyone out there remember that? When he raced a boat-restaurant versus a yacht, and they were throwing frozen dinners overboard to speed up?)

(L to R) Dan-O, OOJ and Fast-Ed manning the ship around Lake Sonoma (Gary in the rear!)
 I caught up to Dan-O again after handing off my shirt, and we descended the Jeep road once more back to the single track.  We came across the remainder of the field -- I think this is really great, to give each other encouragement, especially when there's room for both parties to run!  Back on the single track, I nestled in behind Dan-O. He offered to let me past, but I said, "I need to get comfortable". I felt a little taxed and, given that there was 19 miles to go, wasn't ready to push hard.  So he and I rolled along.
Within a mile of the Wulfow II AS (32.9), we came up on...Dave Mackey?  He looked a little off; I asked if he tweaked something, but he said his stomach was having a bad day.  We passed him just before rolling into the AS, where I again got bottle fills and gel refills from Britt.  Going into the AS, I couldn't help but jam to this song in my head, given that I was rolling into the AS, shirtless!  (Does PI make "Animal Print Pants"?...)

Though still 18 miles from the finish, I felt stronger and more aggressive.  I took over pacing duties from Dan-O and pushed it down to Warm Springs Creek. 
The stride mechanics felt awesome.  Between Chuckanut and race day, I realized I had totally locked up my pelvis and wasn't using my hips at all.  And more recently, I wasn't using my arms to propel (rather, they were twisting wildly!).  Heading back to the finish, I had it all honed: good trunk and hip lengthening, and using my shoulder blades to drive up hills.  Moreover, I was doing an excellent job of getting my foot beneath my body and avoiding braking.  This was huge on the downs, as I was able to let go and really fly. 

Dan-O's a great downhill runner, too, so he stuck right with me as we descended to Warm Springs #2 (38.2). I had started to get my usual "pre-cramp blips", so I was certain to get full bottles and lots of gels, especially knowing this was a 7+ mile length between aid.  
We crossed the creek together and began the gradual, rolling ascent from lake level, climbing the Jeep track where we'd stampeded down hours before.  The pace was much lighter on the inbound trip; though fatiguing and pre-cramping, I had no issue with the climb and the effort felt measured.  However, once we leveled off my body turned: little sprinkles of gut rot and bonk haze appeared.  Thankfully no pit-stops were required for either, but I slowed and let Dan-O pass while I fumbled in my tiny Zip-Loc for a couple S-Caps.  I wasn't sure how "down" I was, so I put one in each cheek and continued down the trail.  I bit into one and downed half of it with a bottle pull.  It tasted good, and within minutes I was feeling better.

The Jeep trail ceded to single track, which opened into sunny, warm clearing through which Timothy Allen had first broken things open.  Dan and I shuffled up the wet, muddy footing that led back into woods to drier, cooler singletrack.  However, the cramps-blips continued, so I went to down the remaining half-S-Cap when disaster struck: as I tried to gulp the half-cap in my right cheek, the full S-cap, which was nestled in the left cheek, got loose and burst wide-open into my throat - coating every surface of my throat, including the top of my trachea.  HIUUUUUGH! 
It stopped me dead in my track, like being choked, or punched.  I coughed and wheezed for several moments before taking a bottle pull.  This helped it wash down, and I was able to begin shuffling down the trail.  I coughed and coughed, shuffling and shuffling, slowly recovering enough to reel in Dan-O after a good mile. "Welp...THAT PASSED!"

"...IIII think I'm gonna barf!..."

"...Welp...That PASSED!"

I coughed up salty phlegm for a while as the course climbed up the high banks overlooking the southern shore of Lake Sonoma.  After expelling the irritant and feeling better (and, of course, now fairly-well salted!), I took over pacing duties from Dan-O and forged ahead.  
My watch split read about thirty minutes into the 7+ mile leg.  Based on our collective fatigue and struggles, we couldn't have been more than halfway to the AS (and likely 8 miles from the finish), but I shifted into "Get 'Er Done Gear", which meant running aggressively.  I grunted out the climbs, with quick feet, saying aloud, "Killian Butt!" -- harkening imagery of Killian's tighty-whities floating up Escarpment.  I pushed the flats, lengthening the stride with cues of "pelvis and hips", getting the arms into action.  On the downs, I asked myself, "What would Tim do?"  He wouldn't pussy-foot down these declines!  I leaned into the downs, and worked quick turnover, getting my feet quickly beneath me to avoid any braking.  And so it went, skirting through the horizontal canyons and along the elevated shores, with just enough clearing (and just enough good footing) to sneak a peek at beautiful blue water below. 

I made good time, managed cramping with ample S-caps and fluid, and generally enjoyed myself, seeing no one save a couple hikers, until approaching the sidebar trail for the final AS at Island View (45.5).  As I past, one of the hikers yelled, "You're in 3rd!".  I thought this was erroneous...but perhaps someone dropped? 
The final AS, unused on the outbound, involved an extra quarter-mile+ running downhill to the aid, then back up to the main trail.  Just as I was turning off, I came upon Hal, who was exiting.  We exchanged brief pleasantries.  I felt a drive to get after him, but I knew he had at least a six or seven minute lead (given the downhill/uphill half mile, +aid time) over me.  But as I rolled down to the aid, up came Jorge Maravilla, looking a little haggard.  I flew past, and into the aid -- gulping three colas, "Super-Trooper Style", and getting the bottles topped off before rushing out.

Hal might've been too far up, but Jorge was in my sights.  I ran all the uphill out of the aid, back onto the trail heading east.  It wasn't long 'til I saw him ahead, and since he was walking the hills, I was able to get around and past him within a mile.  He's a great guy, and very positive, even in the depths of late-race suffering.  I implored him to hitch a ride to the finish with me, but he fell back as we once again climbed higher along the steep lakeshore.
The finishing four miles were rugged, hilly trail -- as opposed to the rolling pavement on the outbound.  I dreaded this section, fearful of major climbs and rollers.  I was pleasantly surprised to find good, runnable terrain.  I ran all but maybe twenty seconds of this section, pushing and pushing the flats and downs, repeating my new mantra:  "Downhills are a gift!  Thank you!" and flying down, making the most of my gift. 

Then, out of nowhere at a trail fork, appeared Britt!  She was running, carrying white cloth. "Craig wants you to put this shirt on!".  "OK!".  It was a whiter, lighter Sunsweet jersey.  "How far to the finish?"  "Two-and-a-half!" 
"Two and a half??" 

I took the jersey and threw it on, rolling down the trail.  I reminded Britt not to run with me (as no pacers were allowed) and pushed along. 
A few more rollers before the wooded canopy lifted to young growth and sunny skies.  I could hear some commotion - I was close.  Then, a sign: "ONE MILE TO GO" (another perfect touch by Mr Tropical and Co).  I looked at my watch: 6:52:30ish.  "Push it!"

I've had a fun habit of incorporating my favorite LMFAO tunes into my "Brain iPod" over the past few months.  My favorite end-of-race tune is this one, my new blog namesake.  it'd been playing for several miles with enjoyment.  Now, I sang a bit, and turned my "shuffle" into a hard run, pushing the climbs hard to the road crossing and final trail segment, within meters of the finish.  
I was gonna be close, so when I approached the parking lot for the penultimate turn, I hammered like mad -- legs driving, arms pumping, high-school sprinter style.  As I turned to the finish, I saw 6:59:4x, and threw it all down into the finish, punctuated with fist-pump! 

Final time: 6:59:55, good for 5th place.  I consider myself "3rd Human", with Dakota - and his blistering 6:17 - being quite machine-like, and Tim being, well, "half-Vulcan".  That leaves Clarkie (6:52), and Hal (6:57) in 3 and 4.   

Kicking it into the line.  My arms were pumping like "The Bushwhackers"! Photo: Bob/Drymax

It felt great to be on the fun side of seven hours.  "They give out a lot less 6:59s than 7:01s!  It's NOT a time they like to give out!"  Also, I feel great to have finished "como NEEEEK, como HOOLLE...".  Heavy company, indeed.

Right behind me was Jorge and Dan-O to round out the top seven, all of which snuck under Hal previous CR. 
It was a terrific atmosphere post-race: hanging out, cheering in the other finishers, and basking in the sun.  Mr Tropical had some incredible post-race refreshment, and the bulk of folks hung around until the early evening, before cleaning up and reconvening at various tap rooms in downtown Healdsburg. 

On Sunday morning, some sore ankles/shins and a sound mind prevented going on a beautiful ten-miler with LB, Queen and Nick.  Instead, I hung out and stretched in the hot tub with Timothy, before packing up and heading out for one more stop: a wine-tasting at Wilson Winery.  There, we were treated to lavish sunlight, views of the surrounding vinyard and hills, and generous "tasting" pours of some excellent fare.  What a great punctuation on a terrific weekend.
I must say: Tropical John Medinger and Company nailed it for this race.  Nailed it.  Everything was perfect, from the race field size (not too much traffic on the trails), to the start time (a luxuriously 6:30 AM in the sunrise!).  Trail markings were impeccable, and aid stations seamless and helpful.  Post-race had the best atmosphere of any ultra I've run, yet.  The weather helped, but so did a certain, how does Dan say it?  "IBU-ey-ness". 

I will definitely return, hopefully in '13.  And next time, I'll stay an extra day to enjoy more wine and sun!
Race Highlights (for those who don't want to dissect all that prose)

  • Traveling down and back with the Olson, including having a great pre-race run in Ashland with Tim on Friday.  Thanks again for your generosity!
  • LB asking me to be a part of Team Sunsweet!  (More later...)
  • Impeccable planning and attention to detail by Mr Medinger and his crew, starting with the 6:30 start time and ending with the Winery tour on Sunday!  Top notch!
  • Enjoying a beautiful and consistently runnable trail along Lake Sonoma, on a gorgeous April morning.
  • Cool, refreshing creek crossings!
  • Running with a few terrific masters:  Gary, Fast-Ed and Dan-0
  • Excellent crewing from Britt and Krista
  • Running hard with Dan-O in the second half
  • Making a strong push over the last six or seven miles to the finish.
  • Sneaking under seven hours with a high-school caliber sprint!
  • Post-race hang-out in the sun, with some suds, and some great folks.
  • Sunday afternoon at Wilson Winery -- one last bask before returning to The Grey!

Split Analysis:

AID                                      Outbound          Inbound
Start to Island View*              31:42                 43:30
IV to Warm Springs**              56:24                 1:08:47
WS to Wulfow                       49:14                  45:54
Wulfow to Liberty Glen^        18:50                  21:56
LG to No Name Flat                44:33                  39:06

*Outbound was road, inbound was trail
**Inbound included extra 1/4 mile to AS; choked on S-cap!
^No idea what happened here (poor split?) - Out was uphill, In was downhill...


Pacing:  A-. Pretty damn good.  I felt I was even most of the day, even when leading, even when hanging back with the "Masters".  I'm a little dismayed at my inbound Warm Springs split (68 vs 56, outbound!), but I also nearly choked to death.  As Nick said in his blog, I felt this effort to be more akin to a "hard long run".  My body agrees: post-race, I was not super-fatigued, and I had an energetic week of work -- both rarities after a 50M+ race.

My next, maybe ultimate, goal is to learn how to really push.  In those final miles of the race, when I thought I was moving quickly, it occurred to me that I was completely aerobic, no more.  Yet I felt I couldn't get into a simple "tempo" gear unless I was climbing.  I feel that's really what separates me from the guys who are beating me by 45 minutes in 50 milers...

Nutrition: B+.  Had gels at :25 intervals and good hydration, probably in excess, as I peed a good 6-8 times.  I took only a few pieces of fruit, and no other solids. Negative points for choking on the explosive S-cap. I took a TON of S-caps at the end, fearful of the cramps -- too many, I think, as I held onto fluid for at least a day after that.  That's another goal: to not be afraid to be "low"...or to better titrate early so I'm not overloading, trying to right the ship late-race.

AS transitions were solid, but again, Tim is my superior -- he literally doesn't stop, only slowing to grab bottles and gear from Krista.  Is this feasible for me?  We'll see...

Mental Toughness: A-/B+.  Strikes and gutters.  Strikes for a strong push over the second half.  I don't know what it is -- but around 20ish miles, I sort of just "numb over" and can really start to push.  But before that?  It's really a struggle to run aggressively. Gutters: I came in with pretty low confidence in my fitness; as such, it was not an option (mentally) to be aggressive early and run with the front pack (this ultimately was a good thing, as I felt I "left some in the tank" for the next nine weeks).   It felt great to push the second half  (post- S-cap choke) and, once again, finish feeling like I could go several miles (or hours more). 

Mechanics.  A-.  At Sonoma I "nailed it" more than I ever have: I climbed really well, was able to push the downs ("getting the foot beneath"), and felt like I was really using my pelvis and hips to get more speed and power from my stride, especially at the end.  My lateral shift was minimal (indicative by only a slight amount of R adductor pre-cramp).  NO soreness in either the quads or calves!  Awesome!  And best of all: I was super-super-sore in the gluts, which is a great indicator of efficient running. 

The negative: I developed some R shin/ankle pain mid-race that was significantly painful - and remained so, this past week.  It's better now, but I essentially have a defacto ankle sprain + tib anterior tendonitis.  I'm not sure where that came from...but I do recall some symptoms there in the week preceding the race.  I hope it gets better very soon...

   Check it out!  Long-lost finishing footage of me at Lake Sonoma!


  1. "Their unorthodox style might be to their benefit, don't you agree?!" Color Commentary from Rowdy Roddy Piper.

    As usual, great report. Funny, random, witty, detailed, honest, and entertaining.

  2. Great report and even better race Double OJ! Sure is fun running with you, Dan, and Gary. Just wish I could have hung on a little longer. I developed shin pain after the race as well, must have been the wine...

    PI SHOULD make leopard print, I'll get you a prototype to wear in the next race to match your red Sunsweet shirt.

    btw - Dakota is Montrail not TNF.

    Hope to see you at WS! (me crewing)

  3. FastEd:

    Definitely had an excellent time -- hope you survived Leona to run another day!

    Those darn're right about that wine...think of how much worse they'd be if you didn't have that Ninkasi! :)

    See you in Squaw,