Having landed in Santa Rosa and picked up my rental car, I was driving north to my hotel in Healdsburg feeling kind of numb that this weekend was finally here and all the long training and all the waiting was over. It couldn’t have been a nicer day, a cloudless sky and warm temperatures welcomed me to this wonderful part of Northern California. The Lake Sonoma 50 is a 50 mile ultra trail race that meanders it’s way around Lake Sonoma on trails and jeep roads in Healdsburg California. Rain was in the picture but the week leading up to race day began to favor a dry race, dry as in now rain coming down, the course on the other hand was crazy with huge sections of deep mud followed up with stream and river crossings that would refresh your legs and clean them off just in time for the next section of mud.
I arrived in Healdsburg a couple of days early to allow myself time to get a little accustomed to the warmer climate that felt very foreign to me, Alaska at the moment was seeing high temperatures in the high 30’s and here it was in the 60’s. It was quite a contrast for me and I knew I needed some time to, at the very least get the feel of it.
After stopping off at the local running store to pick up my race bib, it was off with some locals for a short shake out run in wine country to stretch the legs a bit and it was exactly what I needed. Friday is a no run day, I couldn’t tell you how many times I have ran the day before a big race and my legs would feel tired and sluggish during the race and fortunately for me I had a lot on my plate and left me with little time to run anyway. I needed to find food and I spent a good deal of the morning searching out a restaurant that served good vegetarian food that wasn’t a salad or a veggie burger, so over it! I settled on a Mexican deli in the back of a small grocery store that made a killer veggie burrito that hit the spot.
A short drive brought me to the start and finish line of the Lake Sonoma 50 race, in a parking lot well above the shore of the lake and after driving the first 2.4 miles of the course, which is on the main road I realized I was in for quite the adventure! I had to get back to town for a pre race pasta dinner provided by the race organizers and headed to the restaurant to experience a little of the big time world of the elites and middle packers alike. After dinner it was back to the hotel to get my gear together and double check my drop bag to make sure I had all that I needed (I still neglected to throw in a replacement pair of socks) and nothing that I wouldn’t need (most of it) so when I got to the aid station there would be no fumbling around through a bunch of junk.
4:30am and I don’t believe I slept at all, all is normal then. I had 45 minutes to get dressed, get all my gear together and jump in the car. After a cup of coffee, maybe two and a bagel I was driving down the dark streets of Healdsburg heading towards Dry Creek and Lake Sonoma. Arriving perfectly on time I got an awesome parking spot right up front near the finishing shoot, life is good. When I got out of the car I was thrust into a time warp of activity and people running around trying to find other people and the all important porta potty line. So all trail races are the same after all, a local guy is brewing fresh coffee for free and feeding it to us as we head over to the porta potty line, cuz that is what we do.
The Start itself was pretty uneventful, I mean it was nerve wracking waiting to finally get going but once the race began, we just sort of stepped up and slowly ran down the road, chatting about the steepness and should we be running faster? In less than twenty minutes we arrived at the trailhead and the feel of the race changed for the rest of the day. It was unrelenting, never allowing you to get into a rhythm, climbing up gentle grades and mostly speed hiking up steep switch backed trails that sucked the life from your legs. Stream and a couple river crossings would wake you from the pounding of the trail and slapping through the ever present mud.
By the time I got to the Warm Springs aid station at 11.0 miles I was feeling on point, a hair over my estimated time but feeling good. Passing through Wulfow aid station I was still feeling pretty awesome and slightly slower in pace but that was still good, I didn’t want to run the first half to fast. Running the hillside trail was magical as it dipped to the shore of the lake before violently charging back up the sides of the hills and meanders through the small ravines. By the time we reached the Madrone Point aid station around 19.0 miles I was beginning to feel the burn in my quads, the slightest give of strength as we power hiked the steepest parts of the climbs.
I speed hiked a bit more conserving energy I needed for the return trip and having a running partner helped a bunch, Peter was awesome and we ran quite a bit of time together until we hit the 25 mile turn around and the No Name Flat aid station. With the aid of a volunteer I restocked all the nutrition I was going to carry, got my bottles refilled with electrolyte nutrition while I fed on my race favorite canalope, oatmeal cranberry cookies and bean and cheese quasadillas. Heading back out I felt refreshed and light of foot.
I blasted through the hills, still hiking the steep stuff but no longer caring about the time I just ran and loved where I was. I hit the Madrone Point aid station once again this time stopping just long enough to grab a couple pieces of canalope and continuing on. When I finally reach the Wulfow aid station I was gassed by the heat and the distance. I soaked my head in the spring and took off, but the pleasure was soon to be replaced by the dark side of racing, pain.
Just before arriving at the Warm Springs aid station at mile 38 my knees began hurting really bad, mostly from all the aggressive down hilling required here, so I was compensating by braking and slowing down on the descents thus loading up my quads and slowly but surely they went with the knees. I had little strength to run the downhills, but still had all the strength to run the flats and hills, so I planned on hiking the downhills and running everything else I could. It worked, well behind my target time by a couple of hours I began enjoying all the subtle beauty of this place, savoring every thing that I could knowing that very soon it would be over.
When I reached the final aid station at Island View I was having a blast! The trail was still a heartless bastard and my knees were still hurting, my quads were a fading memory but it didn’t matter, the amazing food at the aid station was all I cared about and it was everything I needed to get me home. The last 4.7 miles was crazy hard with over 1,000 feet of elevation gain on technical switch backs and steep stretches of mud and the occasional rocky sections. The finish line was an oasis free of pain and suffering and I wanted so badly to sink my feet in its welcoming waters.
Running up that final hill I felt nothing and as the finishing shoot came into view I felt everything, everything that meant anything to me, I felt all at once in that moment as I crossed the finish line. It was overwhelming and as I wandered away from the finishing shoot I began crying, covering my eyes I stepped into the shadows to be forgotten so I could disappear and savor this moment alone and by myself.
It was four months of training leading up to this one day, a race that I have been dreaming of doing but never thought that I ever had a chance to be a part of it. Now I had done it, accomplished what I thought I wouldn’t be capable of, the unobtainable challenge I set for myself I stepped up to face my fears, insecurities, anxieties, all of it. I knocked every dark, inky fear and thought from my mind and learned more about me than I could ever learn in any other way.
After eating free food and drinking free beer, and getting my bag of free swag I went to my car and set inside for a bit thinking about everything, drinking it all in. I really didn’t speak out loud at all, I just smiled and drove off looking at everything around a lot more differently than I did when I arrived here at 5:30 this morning.