This race, which had the theme of “Dirt Disco,” has a Spotify Playlist, courtesy of the Race Director, in case you need some tunes while reading: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/247ka1ou7JovSMXSb5fjZl
On Saturday, I ran the Lake Sonoma 50, a 50-mile running race in Northern California. It’s a very well-established race, having been around – and run on the same course – for about 15 years. It’s a bit of a challenging one – 10.5k of elevation gain (which is on the higher side for a 50m), and a couple of pretty brutal hills, but the scenery is classic NorCal, with rolling landscapes and single-track trails covered by shady trees.
I signed up for this race because two of my friends wanted to run their first 50, and another one of my friends was already signed up for it. I’m very much moving towards the “run races with friends” paradigm of race selection, so this definitely fit the bill. Additionally, my coach, Emily Torrence, won this race a few years ago, so she was able to give me some great insight about the course ahead of time.
I was looking forward to the race because I knew I would get to see lots of friends from the NorCal sporting community, including some friends from swimming, some friends from local Bay Area races, and some friends I had met at Way Too Cool a few weeks ago. So overall, this thought this would be a fun and very social race.
On Friday, I drove up to Sonoma with Cyndi, for whom this was her first 50 mile race. We picked up our race bags and bibs at the Healdsburg Running Company, a pillar of the running community in the area, and the group who had organized the trail preview a few weeks ago.
After a snack and a photo, Cyndi and I headed to our AirBnB, a super cute barn on MoniClaire Vineyards. The best part were the vineyard guard cats. When Alex arrived, we headed in town to a dinner of pasta, and went to bed quite early.
The morning of the race, I headed over to the start line fairly early, and I got a great parking spot right at the finish line (friends weren’t as lucky and were shuttled to various other lots). I sat in my car with the heat on for a while, ate breakfast, applied sunscreen, and texted people. After a while, I wandered around to say hi to folks, and soon the race started.
First ten miles
My biggest worry going into the race was that I would get so excited by hanging out with friends and feeling fresh from a taper that I would take off too quickly at the start. Knowing this, I intentionally I took it very easy for the first ten or so miles. The first two miles were on a road, of which some was uphill. Most people ran up a lot of those hills, but I walked them instead, which didn’t cost me much in terms of time and saved a lot of energy.
At one of the first hills, I ran into a new friend – Katie – who I first met while running Way Too Cool, although we didn’t figure that out until the course preview a few weeks later, where we met up again and ran some miles together. It turned out she was staying at an AirBnB in Sonoma right next door with us! It was great to see her and get to run a bunch of miles together – we basically kept trading places for the whole race. She was much better on the uphills, and I was faster on the downhills, but we were almost always within a few minutes of each other.
The course headed onto the trails around mile 2 or so. I was worried that, because most of the trail was single-track, we would get stuck in “conga lines,” e.g. getting stuck behind people or having to do a lot of passing/being passed. However, everyone was very polite and not jockeying for position. I think we all knew it would be a long day, so there wasn’t a huge point in shuffling around a lot at this juncture.
The first aid station isn’t until mile 12, so I ate a Gu around mile 9, which I was very proud of from a nutrition perspective. Overall, I felt like I ran this part of the race very smartly.
The next five or so miles were more of the same – rolling single-track hills. I picked up the pace a little bit since I was feeling pretty good.
The first big hill is around mile 18 – it is about 500 feet of climbing over a mile on a service road. When I encountered this hill during the course preview run, I had been keeping up with a few other runners – including Katie – for the prior few miles, and they left me in the dust on this hill. It was very intimidating, so I was a little worried about how I was going to handle the hill on race day. It turned out to be just fine – I took it easy, and my legs were actually fresher on this hill on race day than they had been on the course preview day, likely due to the taper and some additional hill work in the interim.
After that, the course descends again, then hits the second big hill. It was around this time that I started seeing some runners returning, which was very cool – I love getting to see the fast folks. I also saw Eric and Chris at this point on their way back from the turnaround as they were descending that hill.
I got to the halfway aid station at just under 5:30, which meant I could possibly have made a sub-11 finish if I kept the same pace. I thought it was potentially possible, but wasn’t anchored on it, mainly because I knew there was at least two other hills, one of which was towards the end.
I filled up my water bladder for the first time here, drank more electrolytes, and grabbed a pb&j quarter.
After the the aid station, I kept up a pretty good pace down the 2nd hill, and then walked up the third hill.
Around mile 32 I realized that my legs were actually feeling really good, and I had a lot of energy. Likely this was due to the easier pace at which I took the first ten miles, as well as thoughtful nutrition up to this point. In any case, I was able to pick up the pace fairly substantially here. I was flying down hills, and I started running up some of the easier hills, which I hadn’t been doing before. It felt great. I realized that if I could get to the 45.2 aid station before 10 hours, I had a decent shot at finishing under 11 hours- the last 4.8 would take me at least an hour even if I pushed.
I filled up my water bladder again around mile 38, because it was getting much warmer and I didn’t want to risk running out of water. I had also been putting loads of ice into my hat starting around mile 25, and I think this helped keep me much cooler in the medium heat (although I do think I got a bit of a brain freeze at one point – I got a little dyslexic reading race numbers off of runner bibs coming from the other direction).
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to the 45.2 aid station until about 10:10 or 10:15, so I knew an 11:00 finish was out of the question at that point. I left the aid station a little disappointed, but I also decided I would take the last 4.8 miles a little easier.
The field was pretty spread out at this point, so I saw almost nobody for the last stretch. It was a nice meander with beautiful views of the lake, and nothing really hurt physically, so I enjoyed it quite a bit.
Around 11:25, I saw a guy standing on the side of the trail. He said that it took runners about three minutes to get from where he was standing to the finish line, so I picked up the pace a little bit so I could finish under 11:30. I came in around 11:28, so he was both right, and I had room to spare for that secondary goal.
Eric and Chris stuck around to see me finish, which was awesome – they had been planning to leave exactly at 11:30, so I barely made it. Susan and Patrick were handing out finish line awards – in this case, wine! so I got to see them too. Cyndi and Alex finished about 15 minutes after me, so I got to see them at the finish line. I also got to see Leng Lum, one of the Coastal Trail Runs race directors, which was a wonderful surprise. Katie and I exchanged numbers too, and I’m looking forward to running with her again.
While I was generally fatigued, nothing really hurt physically after the race. This is probably the best I’ve felt after a 50-miler, which I’m very pleased with. I slept well the night after the race, my muscles were only a normal (or less) amount of sore, and nothing seems injured (including old injuries). So, that’s all great.
I don’t feel one way or the other about my time. I was pretty sure I would end up in the 11-12 range; Emily was more optimistic and thought 11 (or even, if it was a perfect day, as low as 10). I think 11 could have been possible if I pushed a little bit harder in the middle section (e.g. leading into the halfway point, and right after). I definitely lost 15 minutes on the last 4.8 miles, but that was more of an intentional choice rather than a physical limitation. Overall I felt very good throughout, which was a win, and I finished right about in the middle of the pack, which is on par for me for a 50-mile race.
I also liked running with my cool silver disco skirt, which I sewed myself! I got lots of compliments on it.
Overall, I really enjoyed running this race. It was great to get to spend some time with both old and new friends. There were some folks I expected to see, and some who were surprises. Even my banker was at one of the aid stations, which I didn’t learn until he emailed me later! I don’t think there’s a race I’ve run where I’ve known quite so many people either running it or supporting it, and it was really fun to see everyone.