Race Report: Lake Sonoma 50
PSA: If you’re not *really* into running, this may not be for you
As I pondered writing my very first race report, one question kept coming up — who am I writing this for? Is it for me, to re-visit these thoughts before my next race? Or is it for the curious runner, to get inside the mind of a front-pack runner? I’m hoping it’s a little bit of both because if we aren’t learning from these races, why even bother toeing the line in the first place?
THE WEEK BEFORE
- My taper. First real taper of the year saw my mileage drop significantly — less than 40 miles in 5 days! Nice to have a week where I wasn’t chasing a mileage target (I didn’t even hit triple digits!).
- My pre-race workout. One of my favorite training additions I picked up while working with David Roche is the “Power Hour” — a comfortable but intentional hour of running 4 days out from a race. For this particular effort, I covered 10.5 miles (5:42/mi) — by no means a record for an hour of running, but I believe the furthest I’ve run during a Power Hour. Yay!
- My first pre-race interview! The blog has been a great channel for sharing a bit of the Mocko personality, but much like Emma Stone in La La Land, I’ve always dreamed of my one big shot in front of a camera. Shameless plug to boost YouTube numbers:
- My last long run. I registered for a local 35k the Sunday before Sonoma as a supported long run. I instead chose to chase the course record and added an extra 5 miles by getting disastrously off-course (documented here). It’s not uncommon to feel a little extra pep when a taper has begun and it is all-too-tempting to let loose in your final efforts. Advice to my future self: don’t!
- My Wednesday. Three days out from the race, I lost all focus. I missed my morning run window, participated in 2nd and then 3rd breakfast, snacked through the lunch hour, and remained inside all day. Like, alll day (until after sunset). The issue here is less with the poor eating decisions (one highlight was a Costco-sized bag of CT Crunch) and skipping my run, but the lack of focus. I don’t need to be thinking about the race 24/7, but I should keep in mind that the decisions I make throughout the week will have an impact. I could spend an entire post on maintaining focus during pre-race week and I probably will — stay tuned for that one!
THE DAY BEFORE
Nothing too crazy to report in the 24 hours leading up to the race. I packed my gear bag a day in advance (I always forget something when I wait to pack the morning of departure). I drove up on Friday and even picked up my bib along the way (one less thing to worry about on race morning). My dinner was basic and avoided fiber (still working on my race-day stomach) — pasta, sardines (an experimental pick-up during my last Costco trip), garlic bread and a PB+Banana+Cinnamon+Honey sandwich for a post-dinner snack. I watched a fantastic movie (the new Wolverine movie— I HIGHLY recommend it!). And even went to bed before 9pm. I did everything possible to eliminate pre-race stress. A+ for you, Mr. Mocko!
- 3:50a Woke up (2hrs 40mins before start)
- 3:52a Drank 20oz of water (not 200 z’s, but rather 20 ounces)
- 3:55a Jumped in a very cold, very brief shower to wake up
- 4:00a Prepared oatmeal + almond butter + banana and a tall cup of coffee
- 5:10a Left for race (80mins before start)
- 5:25a Arrived at start line (65mins before start)
Everything here went smoothly (even snagged a great parking spot since I arrived so early!). I generally go for a second or third cup of joe but decided to stop at one to see if that would help settle my stomach (spoiler: it did not).
I feel like Michael Bay directing Transformers when he took 45 minutes to introduce the hero, Optimus Prime — apologies for taking so long to get to the “Race” part of the “Race Report”! And. Here. We. Go.
The race began as one could only hope — with a sharp descent on not-so-warmed-up legs. We proceeded to rapidly climb 2 miles of beautifully paved roads (oh, how I’ve missed the roads!), throwing in a 5:41 mile to make sure the legs were awake. We finally entered the single track and the race officially began. Much to my dismay this meant wiping out on the first muddy patch…and having it captured on film (great start, Chris!).
I soon realized that the narrow, muddy, undulating single track was not my forté. I had no issues on the flat sections and actually handled the descents quite respectably, but could not keep up with the lead pack on the climbs. By mile 5, I was on my own. And the doubts started creeping in.
By the first aid station at mile 11, I was all sorts of negative and several minutes behind the leaders. My thoughts: “I’m barely a quarter done with this race, I’m in sixth place, I feel terrible…what’s the point?” And soon after the darkest of thoughts: “I should just drop out of this race.” But before I did anything too drastic I told myself, “just get to the next aid station.” And when I got to the mile 16 aid station, I repeated the mantra — “just get to the next aid station.” Two miles later, I would see my friends Brian and Jessie who had graciously volunteered to crew at the last minute — they provided encouragement, assuaged some lingering negativity, and offered an authoritative butt slap to propel me up the climb.
“Just get to the next aid station.”
Having survived the second of three major climbs in the race and nearing the turnaround point, I noticed some tingling in my quads — my legs were approaching the Point of No Return and we weren’t even halfway through the race! I eased up on the gas a bit and settled into more relaxed running, knowing I had more than 3 hours of running remaining (woof!).
And then something crazy and unbelievable happened — I passed a runner. When you get dropped as early in a race as I did, you immediately assume you will never see those runners again (despite my previous writings on this very subject). But a crazy thing happens in ultrarunning — they always come back. With 5+ miles in front of me of very runnable fire roads, I knew this next section would be critical for making up time. As I made the return journey, I began passing runners on their way out, who provided updates on the ever-shrinking gap to the next runner. I soon moved into 4th position, and started channeling my inner-McConaughey…
I got wind of another athlete dropping from the race (#SonomaCarnage?) — I was now sitting in 3rd place, ~5 minutes off the leaders (alright, alright!). The news on my new position got me all sorts of fired up and I continued to press on, repeating a favorite Jack Sparrow line that he exclaims while battling through an ocean squall — “We’re catching up!”
And catching up I did…for the next few miles. Until suddenly I wasn’t. You see, 50 miles is a rather long way to run and when you add in 10,000 feet of climbing, a hard early pace, and a 10-mile adrenaline-induced surge in the middle, things will inevitably unravel a bit. And unravel they did — once I returned to the single track, I suddenly lost my climbing legs. A slow shuffle turned into an alternating hike/jog which eventually was reduced to a full-on power hike. I reminded myself that the next hour would be great conditioning for the latter stages of States. And it was time to transition to my Rocky mantra — “One step, one punch, one round at a time.”
As far as unexpected occurrences, I had just a couple. My stomach began acting up around the halfway mark but the endorphins from chasing the front pack helped distract me. As Forrest Gump foretold, “Sh*t happens,” and I finally succumbed to the mounting pressure in my stomach. At mile 46 and change, something rather peculiar happened. This guy recounts it best:
If a broken shoe lace and a few bodily incidentals are my biggest concerns, I’ll survive, I will survive (hey hey). I crossed the line in 6:24, good for 3rd place overall. Was it a perfect day? Far from it. Did I meet my expectations? Not quite. Did I gain some valuable race experience? Absolutely.
- Always say yes to having a crew. If you can convince friends to make the trek to your race and put up with your race day grumpies, some friendly faces and words of encouragement can go a long way.
- I’ve never regretted carrying an extra bottle. If you’re ever considering a second bottle for a race, do it — having the extra fluids will give you peace of mind (and keep you hydrated!).
- The week before race week matters. My race day legs felt a bit of the previous week’s big mileage. Two weeks out is when the taper should really begin (perhaps even sooner for the most important races!).
- Get out of the house. Less time running during a taper means more idle time. It helps to stay off your feet, but it’s equally important to stay sane. Go for a walk, get dinner with friends, see La La Land (again)—anything to keep your mind (and stomach) distracted!
- I’ve got climbing to do! Since moving closer to the trails of Marin, I’ve doubled my weekly elevation gain. I thought that was enough. It isn’t. Competing against the best runners quickly exposes your own weaknesses, and I clearly need to get better at going up.
- There’s always something left in the tank. It’s amazing how your effort can suddenly change once you believe that the finish line is imminent. Figuring out how to tap into that extra gear when your mind is telling you that there’s nothing left is no trivial task, but figuring out how to trick my mind into believing it’s almost done even earlier is a massive opportunity for shaving off minutes in the final stages of the race.
- Remember the aid stations. I’m always convinced that I can memorize the mile markers for all aid stations. But whether it’s bad memory or just race-day fatigue I always seem to mix up the numbers during the race itself. For future races — invest in a Sharpie and just write down the aid station mile markers on my forearm.
- And in your first shot at a post-race interview, be sure to say something memorable enough to elicit this reaction from the interviewer: