Monday, April 21, 2014

Lake Sonoma 50-Mile

Courtesy of Keli_1
Great place to run! Photo courtesy of Keli Kelemen.

As my good friend Bradley Fenner put it, the race is "death by a thousand paper cuts". My Garmin had the total climb at around 11,000' and Stan Jensen's Run 100 site has it at 10,500'—you start and finish at the same place so the feet of total descent is the same. The route is a clockwise loop around the lake followed by a counter-clockwise loop back to the start. Whichever measurement is right it's a lot of climbing but it comes in small doses. It doesn't seem hard at first, especially when the trail is not technical but it wears you down.

It's a road start and we were on the road for about 3 miles—smooth rolling hills that served to stretch out the field before we entered the trails. Asphalt might be tougher on the legs but it sure is smooth and predictable, a great warmup for the day ahead. Once we entered the trails the terrain was a constant up and down trek through tree covered trails with several creek crossings and no big climbs or descents to speak of until we hit "Madrone Point" aid station at mile 18.8. The first real climb of the day starts here and at this point, the course is exposed. No tree cover until we return and get past Wulfow, water only aid, at mile 32.8. The terrain is mostly fire road at this point, all the way to the turnaround and back. Big up is followed by a big down, followed by another big uphill, then some rollers at the top of the ridge before finally arriving at the turnaround at No Name Flat aid station at mile 25.2. It's important to note that the turnaround isn't a straight down-and-back affair, it's more like a lollipop loop. We entered the loop going clockwise, a sign informed us we had three quarters of a mile to go, and after the aid station we continued to go around for what seemed like another half mile before rejoining the section of the trail where we encountered cross traffic from runners still heading out to the aid station. The return to the start is mostly through the same trails except the last 5k where the road section is replaced by single track. It might have been the same trails but it felt harder and more hilly. Was it really like this on the way out?!

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Green dot indicates the start and finish, note the loop at the turnaround point.

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Elevation profile.

Courtesy of Keli_5
Lots of smooth single track. Photo courtesy of Keli Kelemen.

The memory of that awful training run Masha and I had on the course three weeks prior haunted us. We were determined to race smartly and minimize our mistakes. The weather was a big help as not only was it cool and foggy in the morning but the day was cooler overall than expected with the highs in the low 70s. A blessing since we just couldn't fit heat training in our schedule. I started towards the back and once we were on the trails I slowly moved up to where I needed to be and dialed in my pace with the help of a heart rate monitor. The way out was uneventful until I reached Madrone Point at mile 18.8 when Zach Miller came flying by. Coming down the hill not too far behind was the chase pack with Sage Canaday. They all looked so cool and rockin', the peloton chasing hard after the breakaway rider. From this point forward the race got a lot more fun. This was right before the first big uphill on the course and on the ensuing downhill on the other side I saw the first four women led by Emily Harrison. These ladies were cranking the uphill. Seeing a lot of friends heading back got me psyched up for the turnaround—I couldn't wait to be heading home too.

Courtesy of Alviin Lubrino
Masha and I at the start. Photo courtesy of Alvin Lubrino

Courtesy of Joseph Condon_2
I like this picture, how I felt on the first half—calm and collected. Photo courtesy of Joseph Condon.

I hit the turnaround at 4:54 and took the time to drop things off at my drop bag and replenish my gels. My goal for the race overall was 10 hours and while I really wanted to be at the turn around by 4:30, I was still ecstatic to be under 5. As I headed out, I felt renewed and charged up. Slowly my pace increased and it felt natural. After a mile I was bombing the downhills and two things came to mind; first, that I took the first half to conservatively to have so much energy, and two, that I was going to fast trying to make up time. There was nothing I could do about the former but for the latter I made a deal with myself—just make it to forty then slug out the last ten. Secretly, I was hoping of course that everything would continue to be super all the way to the finish. Miles 25-38 were amazing. I was able to catch and pass every runner within my sights. I kept a tally in my head, a mental trick that has helped to keep me motivated in the past—climbing a ladder one runner at a time and doing my best not to slip back down the field.

Courtesy of Joseph Condon_1
At the turnaround, happy and excited. Photo courtesy of Joseph Condon.

Courtesy of Alvin Lubrino 2
Heading home and feeling great. Photo courtesy of Alvin Lubrino.

Courtesy of Keli_2
This is just mean! No sugar coating in this race. Photo courtesy of Keli Kelemen.

I was still moving well by the time I returned to Warm Spring Creek at 38 miles but I downed a half bottle of GU Brew and took a GU Roctane and I wasn't the same from that point forward. I felt bloated and queasy. I didn't have any experience with GU Brew or GU Roctane (only regular GU)but it hadn't bothered me earlier in the day. It seemed like it had come to bite me, it was either that or dehydration. With the weather being cooler and the fog lingering longer than expected, I dumped my second bottle the first time through Warm Springs. When the sun finally did come out and things warmed up a bit I consumed more liquids—the one bottle was not enough. Whatever it was it slowed me down. I also started having this urge to pee but when I did very little would come out. My urine was dark and I had a burning sensation down there. Not good. The only thing in my bottle was more GU Brew and the only thing to eat was more gels but I kept at it not wanting to run out of energy or make my dehydration worse. When I finally hit 40 miles things had stabilized a bit, nothing got worse and things as they were was manageable. A runner I had passed stayed with me and he would be a motivating force for the remainder of the run. The last 4.5 miles was mental torture. I was ready to be done and kept looking at my watch, the distance covered was always shorter than I wanted it to be! Eventually I crossed the finish in 9:47 with a 4:54 split at the turnaround. I negative split by 1 minute. Kind of cool but really kind of not. I should have gone a little harder for the first half then rationed out my remaining energy more judiciously for the second. Still, it was a great experience and I should be lucky with the mistakes I made, chief of which was using nutrition that I didn't use in training. Soon as I finished I quickly got some fluids in me, changed and waited for Masha. I knew shortly after the halfway point that she was right behind me when I didn't see her running to the turnaround as I was coming down—We were both on the lollipop loop at the same time. Knowing she was right behind put some extra wind in my sails.

I'd like to go on record that I was wrong at least three times concerning this race with Masha. Last year we were volunteers and she was so inspired she publicly proclaimed at the finish line that she was going to run the race this year despite having only a half-marathon as the longest event she's finished. I tried to convince her otherwise knowing that it would be a tough first 50. Second after spending the holidays and most of January at home in Russia, barely running, I told her that two months wasn't enough to train and tried to convince her to drop from the race. Lastly, I told her that the shoes she wanted were not the best for the terrain and distance. I was proven wrong on all three. She finished, her two months of training combined with the experience and base she built last year was just fine and she loved the shoes.

For the first half she strove to keep up with me, shadowing me. I remember looking down from a hill at mile 8 and seeing her sucking on a gel, waving back at me. At the turnaround she was only 6 minutes behind. On the second half she lost time as she got tired but kept control of her race. She had no problems with nutrition or hydration. No issues with blisters either. She came across the finish line beaming and proclaiming she would like to do it again next year. Her time was 11:07, a bit disappointed she didn't break 11 but glad to have finished.

Courtesy of Joseph Condon
Having fun at one of the stream crossings. Photo courtesy of Joseph Condon.

Courtesy of Ken Michal
Up, up, up, first big climb of the day. Photo courtesy of Ken Michal.

Back in my bachelor days I would have driven in the morning of the race and drove home after. Masha insisted we make a weekend out of it and stayed an extra night in Healdsburg. The next day we took advantage of the race sponsored wine tasting even at Mazocco winery but not before spending some time in the town square, hunting for a place for a quick brunch.

I took 3 days off running, Masha took 4 and between the two of us she fared the best. The night of and the day after I still felt the burning sensation when I urinated and I had some blood in my urine but this cleared after a couple of days. The day after I felt like I could run but thought the better of it. On Monday I felt just as well but opted for more rest but then on Tuesday I felt exhausted, a deep down fatigue that was hard to shake. I woke up tired and I stayed tired. My appetite was on hyper mode and I craved sugar. Free tickets to the ballet kept me off my workout but on Wednesday night I succeeded in getting seven miles in. While I felt fine during the run, on Thursday I was back to being really fatigued with a hyper appetite. This finally started to taper off by Friday and on Saturday mornings run in the Headlands I felt fine albeit slow. I've never experienced that before, a delayed fatigue and spike in my appetite.

Overall it was a spectacular weekend! Both Masha and I felt like we could have done things better but as is, we were more than happy at how everything turned out. Pretty damned wonderful I'd say. Next year the race will be a lottery and I think we'll put our names in. If she gets in and I don't, I'll volunteer, and she would probably do the same if things were the other way around. If we both don't get in we'd probably both volunteer. Either way we plan to be back.

Courtesy of Keli_3
After Masha's finish, all smiles. Photo courtesy of Keli Kelemen.

Courtesy of Chris Jones
At the finish line tent with Ken and Denise. Denise volunteered, a nurse, she helped patch up a runner who took a fall. Photo courtesy of Chris Jones.