Location: Lake Sonoma, CA
Distance: 50 miles (watch recorded 49), 10,200ft elevation gain
Date: April 9th, 2021
Time: 9h 16min
Result: 8th Female, 2nd Age Group, 29th Overall
Weather: Sunny (low 40F, high 75F), some breeze.
Course: Trail except the first 2 miles on the road. Mostly single track
Support: Aid stations every 5-8 miles with drop bags at three location (one aid twice), lots of opportunities for crew (though I didn’t have one), no pacer.
This race brought a roller coaster of emotion that mapped really well the roller coaster trail with all of its ups and downs! Contrary to roller coaster rides though, it finished on a much higher point than it started. I learned and had a lot of fun in the process (and have been recovering as hard!).
My amazing coach, David Roche, sends a prep email before major races and it did so much to carry me on this 50 mile journey with 10,000+ft of elevation. Focusing on the celebration and the memories no matter the results, knowing that I had put the work and that the outcome of the race didn’t change that, preparing for a bad day and deciding in advance how I would respond.
Pre-race: Strong winter training but unfortunate banging of the knee on the corner of my bookshelf a week before the race
This was my second 50 miler after American River last year. With double the elevation, I was quite intimidated but I felt strong with the ramp up to this race. I used every weekend as an opportunity to go down to Auburn or Reno to run on the trails and get some elevation. From getting really sore from an easy 14 miler with less than 2,000ft of vert in early January, I ramped up to a back-to-back weekend of 20 and 16 miles totaling 8,000+ft of vert, sprinkling some fun shorter races and a strong performance at Way Too Cool 50K where I beat my time from 2020 by over 40 minutes.
With just a week before the race, I banged my knee on the corner of my bookshelf. It really hurt at the time but I didn’t give it much thought until my run the next day. I did 12 miles on course and there have been few runs that I so wanted to be over. My coach suggested I take a couple of days fully off. I still did a shakeout the day before the race, which felt fine but I woke up on race day with the knee feeling sore. I had been playing all scenarios in my head over the past days and my mind was going back and forth with some dark clouds as I was trying to keep the positive narrative. If I had to drop at the first aid, I’d party at the aid station and cheer Ryan on his race (he was running the Marathon) that started a bit after mine.
The Race: Roller Coaster of emotions
Warm-up: I didn’t feel like doing a warm-up. If the knee wasn’t feeling good, shouldn’t I minimize the total amount of running I did on it? Ryan nudged me a little and I trotted a bit around the parking lot. I was holding back tears but then thought about all the energy around me. The #dirtdisco that was about to start, all the runners about to push themselves really hard, and I decided I should at least give it a try.
Mile 1-10: The first 10 miles ended up being the hardest as I was feeling tense and fighting with the dark clouds! Then I was feeling tense about feeling tense and the fact that it was using some precious energy. I eventually exclaimed out loud about the views and the sun cheering us on which got me to start chatting with a friendly woman (Jacklin you are amazing!). I saw the amazing Makiko around a switch back, and got my mind focused on other things. First aid station was coming up and I could definitely keep going. Next goal, half way point! I was gaining a bit of confidence and just enjoying being on the trail.
Mile 10-25: I saw Gina who was amazing at Madrone, then the cheering crews a mile further up. I crossed paths with the top runners on their way back with Vince killing it in 6th. I was feeling strong, the downhills were starting to feel a bit smoother and the uphills felt powerful. Half way point was coming up, and I also didn’t have reasons to drop. Let’s go!
Mile 25-38: I was regularly passing people, which is definitely a mind booster. Back at Madrone Aid, Gina said the knee isn’t going to get worse by now, which I acknowledged as likely true and added a bit of positivity. It’s not that the knee wasn’t bothering any more but it was more lack a background playlist that is part of the ambiance but you don’t have to listen to. It was getting warm (especially being used to my morning runs in the 10-20F!) but I welcomed the breeze and any shade.
Mile 38-40: Back to Warm Springs Aid with 12 miles to go. By then I trusted that I would finish. It was warm and legs were starting to tire but I still felt pretty good and so happy about having made it so far. The river crossing was also coming up which means an opportunity to cool down a bit. Even with the water level only being at ankle level, I splashed water all over myself before continuing. At another creek crossing, a couple of people were carefully crossing while avoiding to get their feet wet. I took my hat and used it as a bucket then continued crossing while splashing myself. I continued the splashing at every single creek crossing. I was starting to see a few marathoners and it felt great to have a bit of mutual cheering after the quiet miles on my own.
Mile 40-48: With 10 miles to go, my stomach started to rebel from eating all the gels, drinking all the sugary water while having limited energy since so much was already being used to move my legs up and down the trails. I thought that if I threw up that would just make me even more of a trail runner. I was hiking more but the hiking still felt strong and the running felt good when I was.
Mile 48-49: Familiar features started to appear… Only 1.5 miles… the power line… the road crossing… then views of the finish area… I got a magical energy boost that got me to “sprint” (or whatever sprint looks like after 9+ hours of running!). I had made it. Ryan had finished hours before and I fell in his arms, so happy, so exhausted! The results also turned out better than I would have hoped on a great day, without the knee thing. I finished in 9h16, as 8th Female and 29th Overall! My A dream was a top 10 (✅) close to 9h (✅)!
Post-race: Recovery and celebration
I found a FatBoy bean bag in the shade and literally collapsed there, trying to process all the feelings and the exhaustion that was suddenly infusing my body. Ryan was (as always!) the most amazing, bringing me water and giving me all the love and attention. We ended up meeting Laura who finished a bit after me and enjoyed sharing all the emotions from our respective adventures. After cooling down for a bit, we made it back home, I managed to drink a protein shake, had a nice Tecnu rub to try to clean some of the poison oak, a thorough tick check, shower and relaxed with the legs up the wall. We went down to Corner Project and I managed to eat a surprisingly large amount of food even though my stomach was still not the happiest (I still had to get a banana and peanut butter at 3am!).
As usual, I slept terrible the first night and was hobbling around with my knee retaliating the next day. I’ve been recovering hard and the knee is slowly but steadily improving. It seems like a bone bruise from knocking it on that bookshelf… which obviously didn’t exactly improve from running 50 miles on it! This is bringing a bit more biking in my life (likely a good thing and I’ll try to keep it up!) though I am also looking forward to getting back on the trails and longer runs.
Gear, nutrition and hydration:
I wore my Salomon pack with two 0.5L bottles. As usual, I had all my nutrition from gels and Roctane. Besides a few gels that I had brought with me for the first 12 miles, I ate and drank what was on course. I was trying to go through at least a bottle every hour and a gel every 30-40 minutes. Given the amount of calories in Roctane I was definitely close to 300 calories / hour. After several hours, I find it hard for my brain to keep track of when I last had a gel. For example, I want to eat a gel at 5h45 into the race, I look at my watch and it’s been 5h53. Did I just eat a gel less than 10 minutes ago or has it been close to 40 minutes already?? I have no clue!! Is it better to skip one or take an extra and risk upsetting my stomach??
I am running the Laugavegur Ultra Marathon (55K) in Iceland on July 16th! Looking forward to a great adventures among Geysers, snow fields (and thigh high river crossings!)
More than ever, I would not have done this without the support of Ryan. He was the most supportive before the race, without ever showing a doubt of me finishing (even if he may have had some). After the race, he took care of my recovering body. He patiently waited for me as I was limping around and slogging up or down the stairs.
My coach, David Roche, was also an essential part of this journey: giving me confidence in my training, even though I felt like I wasn’t doing enough vert; helping me have the right mindset when there was already a kink in the plan before the race started; and overall being part of my journey for the past 2.5 years!
The incredible running community of DPMR who inspires me with all their welcomeness and incredible adventures. And the SFRRC trail runners who got me started on the trails a few years ago, and continues to be super supportive even if I don’t get to share as many miles with them anymore!! Special mention to Gunnar, who mentioned he was planning to sign up for this race and planted the seed in my head (which didn’t take long to germinate!)