Ultra Runner of the Year Michelle Yates, course record holder Cassie Scallon, seldom-defeated Jodee Adams-Moore, super-fast Emily Harrison, consistent front-runner Stephanie Howe and an absolute deluge of other ultrarunning elites are slated to compete in the ladies field at Lake Sonoma on April 12 [Note: Michelle Yates and Cassie Scallon are no longer running. For further entrants updates see iRunFar’s women’s preview]. Whatever happens, it’s going to be one heck of a fifty-mile slugfest/track meet. It’s certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that the already stout women’s course record could go down. Assuming everyone shows up, this kind of women’s field is a rarity and I’m just thrilled to be a part of it. Most US races don’t get a lot of fanfare, but this race is proving to be an exception, with planned coverage by iRunFar, Ultrasports Live, UltraRunner Podcast and UltraRunning Magazine. The men’s field is also stacked, but that’s a more common occurrence than the depth we’re seeing here on the women’s side. I only hope this exceptional women’s field receives the media attention it deserves.
As for me, I’m especially eager for the big day to arrive because Lake Sonoma has a special place in my heart, quite aside from the race’s world-class athlete field. This will be my first year running it, but my second year at the race. Last year, on the morning of the race, my husband and I ran a local Sonoma County trail half-marathon, since we lived in the area at the time. I was just a “regular” runner then, and had never run more than 14 miles in one go. The half-marathon was my focus race after a series of injury setbacks had marred my first dedicated and, undoubtedly, over-enthusiastic, year of running — everything from a partially torn Achilles to stress fractures in my left fibula and heel bone. I wasn’t especially fit, but had a decent and satisfying race nonetheless. For an additional shot of inspiration, we decided to head up to see the Lake Sonoma finishers come in. The idea that I would be running the next year’s race would have quite simply blown my mind; I was in awe of the fitness and toughness of these ultra racers. By the time we arrived, we narrowly missed seeing Sage Canaday take the win and the set the new course record. Still, seeing finisher after finisher planted a seed and made me realize that this seemingly impossible distance was maybe not so, you know… crazy. Now that I’m running it this year, and, as it has turned out, with Sage as my coach, Lake Sonoma feels like coming full-circle on my journey to committed running and racing the ultra distance.
I’ve done just about everything I can to get ready. There’s always a fine line between being optimally trained and over-trained and I’ve been dancing right on that line with the hope of a big fitness pay-off when the big day comes. Now, with less than two weeks until race day and no serious pre-injury niggles to worry about, it’s time to back off and let my body repair and recover. To avoid taper madness over the next ten days, I plan to do lots of yoga, engage in plenty of race visualization and take a few daytime cat-naps.
Here’s a little of what my training has looked like. After a solid marathon race at the Napa Valley Marathon, Sandi and Sage had me ease back into hard training despite my eagerness to jump right in — in hindsight, a smart move as the training cycle was tough (that’s why they’re the coaches!). The week after that we started ramping things up. I’m lucky that the Temecula area has a number of challenging trails to train on and since we’re new to the area I had a lot of dirt to explore. At the end of a ramp up week in both miles and elevation gain, I raced and won a San Diego St. Patrick’s Day 10k, despite feeling pretty sluggish and not being exactly thrilled with my time (40:00). The next week was a 100 mile week, a milestone for me. It included a 28 mile run with 5,000 feet of elevation gain up to an 8,700 foot mountain peak, as well as a weekend away at elevation with several runs up to altitudes of around 9,000 feet. Here are some pics from those adventures, including some cat tracks on a very isolated trail:
Anyway, the following training week wasn’t much easier, with 92 miles and a similar amount of elevation gain, putting my total elevation gain for the two week period at over 37,000 feet. Throw in a few tempo runs and crushing hill repeats during the period. To top it all off, I even managed to get out for a 27 mile run (with ~6,660 ft elevation gain) on the Lake Sonoma course while visiting my parents over the kids’ Spring Break.
Since I was just there, it warrants a mention that despite the unusually dry season the course is a bit wet at the moment. When I ran from the South Lake side on March 29th, Warm Springs Creek was up to the bottom of my shorts with a decent current due to recent rain. I’m pretty tall, so no big deal for me but if it gets any higher they may need a boat to ferry some of the more petite runners across! I was in the area again on Monday 31st (long story but not technically on the course because I got horribly lost from the No Name Flat side and didn’t even make it to Bummer Peak… oh, the irony). Conditions then were much worse, with a big storm front moving through. This first week of April is set for even more rain in the forecast. However, race week looks like it’s going to warm up considerably, with highs predicted in the low to mid 70s. Given that, I think it’s quite unlikely that the race will be cancelled due to flooding, but take note: creek crossings will probably still be on the high side. [NB: an email from race director John Medinger states that the creek crossings are actually pretty low now, so they must have receded after the rains]