Thursday, July 24, 2014

Lake Sonoma 50M (4/12/14) Race Report

I had worked hard physically and mentally for at least the previous 3 months, so I felt ready and confident going in to Lake Sonoma 50. More confident than I've ever felt before a race. I had done speedwork at the track, on the trail, tempo runs, pushed myself up hilly roads and trails to the point of grimacing and grunting. I ran when I was tired, when my legs hurt, when I didn't want to. I also rested hard when I was supposed to, so my body would grow stronger and not continue to deteriorate. I had started daily positive affirmations. I did not feel any sense of desperation or panic like I often have. I was completely calm and relaxed. The afternoon before the race, I drove out to the finish and walked back up the trail about ¾ mile to see what it was like, and to envision my race finish.

The alarm went off before 4am on race morning. I had gotten perhaps 4 hours of sleep, but I felt good. I had made a comprehensive list of everything I needed to do that morning, from what I would eat to applying sunscreen, filling my hydration pack reservoir, and the specific places to apply Body Glide so I wouldn't forget a spot. As I checked items off my list, I drank a bottle of kombucha, ate 2 slices of apple-cinnamon bread, 2 boiled eggs, and a banana. I left my hotel room right on schedule at 5:10am and arrived at the race start area just before 5:30. There was some fog (they called it a “marine layer”) and some light moisture was falling out of it, which could be seen in the dark with the headlamp.

Oddly appropriate sign just after the start. Photo: Chihping Fu
Just after it got light out, the race began at 6:30am. I had lined up no farther than ½ way back and didn't see anyone I knew. Suddenly, people were off running, and so was I. The first 2.4 miles are on pavement so folks can get spread out before hopping onto the trail. Those 2 miles are much like the rolling hills through Tetherow, only bigger. Someone I thought I recognized passed me. Jim? Yes, it is Jim, who I see a couple times a year at races. We chatted for several minutes, but finally I had to let him go as his pace was too quick for me.

We hopped on the trail and I came alive. I felt very good, I was rested; positive thoughts were going through my mind. I was running in a gorgeous new area. Temps were cool. I was on my game. I jogged the smaller hills, hiked the larger hills, and picked up the pace on the downhills. I passed several people on the downhill in the first miles. Seemed to me that they were putting on the breaks. I let it go and ran the tangents, passing them on the inside curve on switchbacks.

I began taking gels every 30 minutes starting at 1 hour in. My Garmin is set to buzz at me every 30 minutes so I remember. I skipped my gel at 2 hours because I was still full from breakfast, but other than that, I kept on pretty close gel schedule.
Lots of Oak trees. Photo: Chihping Fu

Though it was cool out, for some reason, I was sweating profusely and my clothing was dripping wet. Or was I collecting moisture out of the atmosphere? I didn't know, so I started taking salt (an S!Cap) every hour starting at 90 minutes in. Seeing drips of water/sweat falling from the brim of my cap reminded me to up my water intake. I felt like I was drinking a lot. More than my training runs anyway. (A hill— drink! Another hill— drink!) But my longest training run so far this year had been less than 4hrs 30 minutes. I can make hydration and nutrition mistakes in a run that short and get away with it, but I expected to be out close to 3 times that long today, so had to be on top of my fluids and nutrition, or else those mistakes would be compounded.

The first creek crossing came at 6.4 miles. A smile lit my face. I LOVE creek crossings, and this one was beautiful. Wet feet for the next 43 miles! I am thankful I have no issues running with wet feet and don't get blisters. Part of it might be that I'm lucky, and part might be that I practice running with wet feet during summer trail runs: hop in a creek and purposely get my feet wet. Keep running. Repeat. I'm not afraid of water. It buoys my spirits.

Around 9 miles in, I had the same thought I do during almost every race I've done that's marathon distance or longer: “Why do I do this? I could just quit at that aid station up ahead and get a ride back to the finish and enjoy the festivities the rest of the day.” But I am not a quitter. I know I would be disappointed and that feeling would linger. The pain it takes to finish only lasts a few hours or a few days. Being a finisher is forever. I'll be done in ½ a day, then I'll forever be a Lake Sonoma50 finisher. That questioning feeling soon went away, and by mile 15 I felt like I was settling in for the day, and happy. I actually was happy to think “I'm ONLY 10 miles away from the turnaround!” Hey, whatever makes you happy!
Water fun about 11-13 miles. Photo: Nate Dunn for

At mile 19, near the start of the 3 biggest climbs, I put on my iPod to start the party in my head. I sang, played air drums. I was happy and grateful for this experience, the beauty, the other runners, the awesome volunteers. By 11:30am, the skies had cleared, and it was now sunny. This middle third (or more) of the course was more sun-exposed than the first and final sections. I was thankful that I got to run under cool, clouded skies for nearly 5 hours. I felt really strong coming in to the turnaround at mile 25. There is a 1-mile loop at the end to the aid station and I ran that downhill really strong. As I did, I made a list in my head of what I needed to do here: take off hydration pack, get it filled with ice & water, remove my shirt, wipe down with icy-wet towel in my dropbag (ahhh!), reapply sunscreen, change shirt, reapply body glide, get rid of trash, restock gels, eat applesauce. As I sat down on a tarp with my drop bag, someone appeared to help me. I looked up, and it was none other than 14-time WS winner Ann Trason. What an honor. She helped me with everything I needed, and then I was off, nearly ½ an hour ahead of the cutoff here.

Leaving the turnaround, I felt cool and refreshed. Some of the downhill was quite steep here and I wasn't moving as fast and taking short, quick steps, but now I was putting on the brakes. I passed a couple people in this section though. One fellow said, “you're still able to run downhill, that's good.” He was walking. My heart went out to him. There were several people still approaching the turnaround. I loved-on and high-fived every one of them with encouraging words.

At mile 31 aid, I was still feeling quite good physically and mentally, but recognized I was slowing down more. The Queen said to me, “this is when you just keep moving.” This, along with advice from a friend who ran this race last year but didn't make the mile 38 cut-off: “Hike the hills with passion and you will be OK” kept me focused on staying ahead of the cutoffs at miles 38 and 45.5.

Photo: Chihping Fu
I had decided to count the number of people I passed during the return trip. That number was 3. But as I slowed over the continued hilly miles in the sunshine and fatigue set in, more people passed me. It was only 2 miles to the next aid, a water-only stop at mile 32.8. As I walked up the hill into the station, I sang along with Kanye: “I'm amazing, yeah I'm all dat...” The two gentlemen there bowed to me. I felt great and happy to be here. One asked if I'd like water poured over my head. Yes, please! He poured an entire pitcher of ice-cold water over my head and neck. Orgasmic sounds ensued. “You needed that,” he said. “Your whole body needed that.” Agreed. I had been able to hold off a gal behind me, but soon, 72 year-old Eldrith Gosney passed me. Damn. Maybe I can be like her in 27 years. And she went on to run Miwok 100k just 3 weeks later. (I’ll be running Waldo 100k three weeks after Siskiyou Outback 50M, so I won't have to wait to be like her!)

Somewhere in the 5 miles to next aid and my last drop bag, things began to slowly change. My shins began to ache a bit. I was slowing down appreciably overall. I couldn't think about how far I had left to go. I could only think about running to the next aid station the best I could to beat that cut-off time. I did not look at my watch all this distance; just run the best you can. Several times as I was hiking uphill, my friend's advice went through my head and I asked myself, “Are you hiking with passion? No? Well, pick it up!” This worked for me. Finally I arrived at mile 38. I was excited that I had beat the cutoff by 7 minutes, but was told that the cutoff was really 30 minutes later than I had thought. Excitement to be 37 minutes up! I grabbed a headlamp from my dropbag “just in case,” downed some applesauce, and got out of there. 7.5 miles to the next aid. This was a VERY long stretch. My shins and calves ached. Not bad, but noticeable. The rest of my hips and legs felt fine. My Garmin died at 41.2 miles.
A bit earlier I had noticed my breathing becoming labored. Now it was even more so. I could not do much more than a slow jog even on the downhill because I would be breathing so heavy. I wondered if this meant my heart rate was high as well. This has never happened to me before. So I took it a little easier on the climbs, jogged what I could of the downhill. And I took advantage of the creek crossings. I stopped and splashed water on my legs and hair, doused my kerchief and tied it around my neck. The rivers were so pretty. There was one especially that appeared to have cascading pools down to where I was. I wanted to stop and sit and have a picnic and check them out. But I must keep moving. At the last creek crossing, which I knew was around 6.5 miles from the finish, I sat in the middle of the river up to my waist. I felt I had to. Maybe I should have done this earlier. I got teary-eyed. This is damn hard! I sat in the river until I began shivering, then got up and moved on. The cold water made my legs feel better and cooled off my thigh chafing. Now I was actually able to jog up some of the smaller hills.

Now, not even knowing that I had less than 10 miles left excited me. I couldn't believe that earlier I was excited to be 10 miles from the TURNAROUND! I just needed to make it to the next aid station. But I didn't know for sure how far away that was 'cause my Garmin had died. I'm sure this threw off my gel schedule too, since I now had nothing buzzing at me every 30 minutes to remind me. Being deficient in calories doesn't make things any better. Things got damned hard. I had to focus just to keep running. It was hard to start running again after walking. I was so very tired and just wanted to be done and hug somebody.

Such brilliant colors! Photo: Chihping Fu
I realized my inner dialogue had changed over the last 10 miles. No longer was I thinking positive things about myself as I was earlier when I felt good. It was a challenge just to make myself jog on the downhills. I was mostly just thinking about keeping moving. I did know however, that I would finish. My inner finger pointed at me: You've worked so hard lately, you should have done better than this! How can everyone be so much better at this than you? But the positive mental work I've been doing kicked in: HEY! If you hadn't worked so hard lately, been so prepared and felt so confident coming into this, you wouldn't have even finished. And you're finishing today. All these people work hard too, and many have been working for a lot longer. And the number of people in front of and behind me doesn't tell the entire story. Many people got sick or injured and couldn't even show up. Then there were those that started but didn't finish. (I later found out that 26 people who started the race did not finish.) Though I didn't want to finish at the back of the pack, I had stepped up my game with this race, my most difficult 50-miler yet:10,500 feet of gain in the form of relentless rolling hills as advertised. I was going to meet my single goal for the day: finish.

When I saw the sign “1/4 mile downhill to last aid” I was thrilled! I got down to the aid station, chest heaving, breathing still labored, and broke into tears. “Don't worry, you're going to finish,” a volunteer said. I replied that I knew I would, that I was just a little emotional right now. He also said that it was only 6:30pm. I said, “no way!” shocked that I was now an hour ahead of the cutoff. I sat here for a few minutes to get my breathing under control, ate some chips, drank some Coke, and found out that these volunteers had camped here at this boat-in campsite to be ready for the runners early in the morning and as they came through all day. What dedication!

Photo: Chihping Fu
So now with a little less than 5 miles remaining, I had to focus completely to just keep moving: barely jog the downhills, and hike the rest. Did I say how hard it was? I was looking forward to seeing that damn “1 mile left!” sign. Finally, I saw it. Shortly after, I recognized the spots I had visited the day before the race when I walked backward from the finish to check it out. I was glad I'd done that. Those flowers, that bush, those rocks, that view, bend in the trail. Look over there, there's the finish line! Cross the road, round the bend. Into finish line chute. It was nearly dark. 5 minutes more and I would have needed to pull out my headlamp. There were like 3 cars left in the parking lot, and one was mine. But I was finishing, running as fast as I could down the grassy chute edged by multicolored flagging. I immediately doubled over, hands on knees. A volunteer asked if I was all right. “Yes. Can I hug you?” I asked her. “I've been waiting to hug someone.” We shared a nice hug. Then someone stood up from the timer's table, and I got a hug from LB too. “That was so hard!” I said. “You're the only one to say that,” he joked. I didn't hang around for long, since I was beginning to shiver uncontrollably. I grabbed my race swag, a slice of pizza, and was driving away within about 15 minutes. One day I will finish these things early enough to hang out and enjoy the festivities while it's warm and light out and there are people still around.

Finish line chute in the daylight.
I finished just as the last light was leaving the sky.
Wore new Salomon S-Lab shoes that I've been trying out for a couple months. The longest I'd run in them before race day was less than 20 miles. I took a risk and it went fine (but had a pair of my tried-and-true road shoes in my turnaround dropbag just in case). Mistake?: I did not have any protein or Recoverite at the turnaround. Usually on these longer races I have. I wonder if this contributed to my fatigue. Hydration could have been better. I was shocked at how much water it really takes. I peed 3 times during the race. The second time urine color was not good, 3rd time it was much better. I had pouch of applesauce at each dropbag. I continue to not be interested in chewing any food other than potato chips.

Garmin had died, which I'm certain totally threw off my gel consumption. When I unpacked my Garmin at the hotel it was on. I think when I'd repacked from the previous night, it turned on and was on for several hours during my drive to the race hotel. In the future, I will always bring my charger. When fully charged, my Garmin lasts 17–18 hours, which would have been more than enough today. I reached the race turnaround in 5:58. In comparison, last year I finished the Eugene Marathon in 5:07. It kicked my butt. I was done at mile 8 and just jogged it in to get it finished. Today I had, in 25 miles, run one mile less but about 5,000 more gain in less than an hour more. So I am really happy with that progress.

I didn't think I would slow down the second half as much as I did (I have no idea how the final 5 miles took me more than 2 hours, when I felt like I was working hard). And the whole labored breathing thing was new. Not sure what caused that. Maybe it was just how my body dealt with the fatigue that day. I'd also had some mild pollen allergy symptoms both at home and down there, so perhaps that was a contributing factor? My neck, shoulders, and arms felt relaxed though. I did start telling myself “I am relaxed and breathing easy,” but it did not seem to help. It was just my chest that felt tight/tense.

I really enjoyed the course. It was gorgeous! I actually liked the rolling hills. At least the climbs did not go on endlessly for miles and miles and miles! I ran some, I walked parts of some, I hiked all of some. But the trade off is no miles and miles of downhill to bomb down. Everything was beautifully green. Someone said that in 2 more weeks, it would be “California brown.” I loved the creek crossings! I loved the color contrast: blue lake, rich brown dirt above the water, green grass, blue skies. Volunteers awesome, runners awesome. Everyone (well almost), seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Even when I was not having such a good time later on, I asked myself what 3 words would best sum up my Lake Sonoma experience, and quickly came up with: Love. Service. Gratitude.

Just awesome, I'm so thankful I got to experience this! Big smiles still...

A postlude, so that no one worries:
A couple weeks after the race, I had blood-work and an echo cardiogram stress test done, just to be safe. After all, I have some strikes against me (former obesity and smoker, family history). I ran on a treadmill and got my heart pumping really hard and they used sound waves to check my heart function. All tests came back normal. My electrolytes and iron are fine, my heart is working fine. So I have no excuses.

A couple weeks after this, I was reading a book where a runner told of a similar situation he had in a race soon after he had gotten a bad bug (spider?) bite. This made me remember that the week before my race, I also had a large bug bite on my left arm. To this day I can still see where it was. So maybe this insect or spider bite had a negative effect on my body when it was put under stress. Who knows. But I am fine now and carrying on as planned.