Thursday, April 14, 2016

Lake Sonoma 2016 race report

Warning:  May contain whining!

On the surface, all went well with my race.  I had a good result place-wise (9th, in a very competitive field) and a decent time (8:37) considering how hilly the course is.  Beneath the surface, however, was a disappointing day.  My training for Lake Sonoma carried on from the solid base I had built up for Bandera.  I recovered quickly from Bandera and started my Lake Sonoma training with some nice endurance weeks.  Then it was a couple of speed workouts and two short races.  One of these, a 12k on very hilly dirt roads, was possibly my best short race ever, which was definitely encouraging.  After that I still had time for a couple more weeks of endurance, and I finished off the training period with 29 miles on an especially hilly section of the Appalachian Trail, feeling strong and fast the whole way.  I was ready to race.

Gentle jog on the course with Divesh the day before the race

Race day morning appeared promising, with cool rainy weather, a good night of sleep, and a big breakfast. But just a couple of miles into the race, I began to notice something odd:  I seemed to be running unusually slowly.  As always, I was pacing myself by heart rate.  I wasn't wearing a GPS so I couldn't say for sure how fast I was moving, but it certainly didn't seem to be a particularly quick pace.  I was aiming for a heart rate of 155 to 157, compared to the 150 I use for training, but my race day pace felt slower than a training run.  When I arrived a full five minutes late to the first aid station at mile 11.6, there was no denying that something was wrong.

I started up the hill out of the aid station and tried to convince myself that I just needed an extended warmup and that things had to improve.  But they didn't.  I trucked along at my 155 bpm and arrived at the mile 20 aid station eight minutes behind schedule.  My legs still felt completely fine, it just appeared that my lungs had decided to take the day off.  At this point my limited supply of patience ran out.  I decided that if it was going to take running at 160 to 162 bpm to go the speed I wanted to go, then that was what I was going to do.  I turned the pace up a notch and tried not to think about how I was ever going to maintain this effort level for 30 more miles.

The new pace allowed me to claw back about five minutes on my goal splits, and I arrived at the turnaround in 4:02, only two minutes behind schedule.  Things seemed to be looking up; my legs, and more importantly my stomach, were feeling good, and I was starting to pass a few women.  My morale got a boost when Meghan Hicks informed me at mile 30 that I was now in 10th place.  Maybe this day could still work out okay...

There is that saying in ultrarunning that it never always gets worse.  I would add the caveat that this is true except when it does.  By about mile 35, my legs were thoroughly unhappy with the effort level I'd been attempting to put in for the previous few hours.  I started walking up a few of the hills, then moved on to walking up most of the hills.  I arrived at mile 38 about 12 minutes late and with far too little energy in reserve for that tough last half marathon.  As beautiful as the Lake Sonoma trails are, I have to admit that I was sick of them by a few miles into this last section.  Everything had become an identical blur of rolling hills and curves, with no real way to know how far we had left.  Somewhere in the last two or three miles I asked Loren, a guy who had been alternately in front of and behind me for several miles, whether he thought we would ever get to the finish.  He didn't think so either.

The only thing propelling me along at a pace resembling a run was that I'd seen Anita just a few minutes behind me at mile 45 and I knew it would take a big effort to stay in front of her.  Each time I was tempted to walk an uphill, I'd remind myself that Anita was most certainly not going to be walking that hill, and I'd press on.  Finally I rounded a bend and could see I was about a quarter of a mile from the finish.  I attempted a sprint, which felt suspiciously like the same pace I'd just been running at, but I had nothing left and for a second I actually started walking.  Loren, who was just behind me, yelled at me to get going and not let him pass me.  It was a very welcome push that got me across the finish in a reasonably respectable manner.  Even if, as I suspect, he did let me "win"!

So what went wrong?  It certainly wasn't my stomach, and since my pace was slow right from the start, it can't have been a lack of calories.  It also doesn't seem to have been anything about my training, since I felt so good in nearly all my runs the past month and then had a nice taper.  I did start to feel a bit of heavy legs the week before the race, but that was gone by race day.  My best guess at the culprit for the bad race is either the humidity--I have mild asthma and one of the things that exacerbates it is humidity--or that I was anemic.

To counterbalance the whining, I will say that it was an incredibly fun experience to run an entire ultra with no nausea.  Let's repeat that next time, please!  It was also satisfying to stay somewhat mentally in the race even after I was physically done for.  And last but very much not least, John, Lisa, and all the volunteers put on an excellent event, complete with top-notch postrace food that I was thrilled to be able to sample for once!  I may need to make at least one more trip around that lake in the future.

We got to meet Deirdre and Seth for a postrace dinner--I had to try not to be too jealous of their impending Kalymnos trip!


  1. No nausea!! Yippee!!

    Have you gotten your hemoglobin checked since the race?

    I am impressed with your perseverance when things weren't going to plan and your overall success in the race.

  2. Hey, I've been thinking about you lately! I haven't talked to you in too long. Hope all is well.

    I did realize on Sunday afternoon that I should go get a blood test but by that point there wasn't time before I had to be at the airport, and I've been on vacation climbing and running ever since--error... If it happens again, I will.

  3. You could always get it checked once home - probably best not to wait just in case things are trending down.

    I am doing well - so far nothing broken!! I even signed up for an ultra. Waiting for the weather to warm and trails to dry so I can get back out on them to play.