race report

Leadville 100 mile

Photo by Glen Delman Photography

Photo by Glen Delman Photography

"I have one goal" I told my husband before this past Saturday's Leadville 100. "I want to be the happiest person out there."

And while I will never be able to statistically analyze that goal compared to the field, I am certain that I was my happiest, best self out there. That to me is the greatest victory of all. Actually winning the race is just a sweet sweet bonus.

As I have reflected in many of my recent blogs, I have been all aboard the struggle bus for a while. I have been rumbling and trying to rise strong. There have been many false starts, many dead ends, many setbacks in this process. I feel like over the past few years I have no been able to be the version of myself that I want to be. I have not been able to find my own joy, grace and calm. My mind has been turbulent, the waves of emotion not easily quelled, I have been hurt, I have been humbled, I have been embarrassed and I have evaluated and examined everything. When I signed up for Leadville 100, after an unsuccessful run at Silver Rush 50, also in Leadville, I was starting to feel like I was on solid ground, but I knew that running 100 miles strips you raw. I knew I needed to have my mind, heart and spirit right. In past 100 milers, my emotions have played a large part in my experience, each time I had to pull myself out of a very dark place that largely existed only in my own mind. In the end, triumphant sure. But it still made me wonder, if I could spare myself from such torture and flagellation. Was the deep dark actually necessary? At Leadville, I resolved to find out. I feel like prior to the race I was a version of myself that I was proud of. Perhaps kinder, less intense, more joyful. The world seeming so dark, I wanted to be part of the light.

Keep perspective pre-race. 

Keep perspective pre-race. 

Leadville has been on my bucket list since before I even began running ultras 11 years ago. Over the years, my obsession with running the race has grown and grown. My willingness to sign up always tempered by the respect I had for how difficult of a race it is. Running at over 10,000 feet should be respected. The course which combines elements of speed and climbing is hard to get right. Ann Trason's record of 18 hours is no joke and was achieved only after she ran it numerous times in the 20+ hour range. If Ann Trason is running mid-20 hours, then I am sure as hell only attempting this race with total respect. Last year, I was signed up, but after trying to turn around from Western States and get acclimatized to the altitude, I realized I was digging myself into a deep hole and decided not to race. When I came out to run Silver Rush 50 in July, I didn't come to earn a spot in Leadville. But after not finishing the race due to a bum ankle I twisted prior to the race, I couldn't shake the intense desire to run Leadville. Thankfully for me race sponsor, as well as my source for optimal in race fueling, GU Energy had one sponsor spot left and were very kind to give me the spot. 

I got to work. I had less than 6 weeks to prepare for the task but I was up for it. And I was realistic about where I was too. In good shape, but having not raced on trails for over a year. Healthy, but nearing the end of a few months of lots of racing and traveling. I also knew that my foot, which has been through a lot over the last year with injury and recovery, was suffering from some post-trauma (from the tarsal coalition) arthritis. My foot has hurt most days since about 10 days before Comrades. But it was pain, not injury and was manageable. I knew going in to Leadville that pain in my foot was probable, but that it would not stop me. Pain is inevitable, suffering is option. I accepted it and did not fear it. In those 6 weeks, I got myself ready as I could. Not perfectly prepared, not the fittest I have ever been, but definitely the most up for the task I have ever been. I assembled an amazing team of crew and pacers and made my way to Leadville. I could not have made it to the finish line without Nathan, Rebecca, Amy and Braden.

IMG_1503112886000.JPG

I made a choice to run this race with joy, grace, love and gratitude. I reminded myself again and again before the race that I was racing for "a big ass belt buckle and a finisher's sweatshirt", that these were the stakes and so what really mattered was enjoying myself. And I did. In fact, I would say that mentally, it is the best race I have ever ran. From the start gun at 4am, I ran calmly and easily and according to my own plan. I ate, I drank, I said thank you to every volunteer, I smiled at everyone, I gave hugs to friends. I was in my element, I was happy.

Leaving Twin Lakes out bound at mile 40, with HOKA teammate Mike Wardian. Photo by Amy Leedham.

Leaving Twin Lakes out bound at mile 40, with HOKA teammate Mike Wardian. Photo by Amy Leedham.

And that never changed through the whole race. I weathered the highs and lows with calm. I worked the problems and kept coming back to simply being happy. I didn't pay attention to the race ahead of me, I focused on my plan: getting through the early miles, conserving energy, running in control. I arrived into Twin Lakes at mile 40 with good friend Brett Rivers, who had an amazing day ultimately finishing in 6th! I was feeling good, despite some pain in my neck (turns out I had some vertebrae out of place) and prepared to take on the most difficult section of the race: double Hope Pass crossing. A daunting climb in both directions, deep into the race day, going up to high elevation. I have run it numerous times and knew it was going to be incredibly tough. But again, I was happy for the challenge and knew it would be hard but I would get through it if I just continued to move forward no matter what. I also knew mentally, it had the potential to be the darkest time. After grabbing my poles and gloves from my crew and restocking supplies, I headed out. 

2598cc_7efd1895cc74fd4089586-post.jpg

About a quarter mile up the climb, after Brett and Mike Wardian had disappeared from view I hit my first real deep bad patch. I got really dizzy, my energy dipped dangerously low. I basically felt like I had got smacked in the face with a shit stick. But as AJW says, "shits gonna happen". And instead of getting upset that I felt bad, I thought of the above image. I raised my hands above my head and yelled "plot twist" outloud and immediately started laughing hysterically. I was able to feel bad and not go dark, not go negative. I just kept on climbing towards the oasis of the Hopeless aid station in the basin of Hope Pass, where I would see llamas (how they get supplies up) and smiling faces. I eventually made it, in great spirits and entertained all the volunteers by professing my undying love for Coca-cola during ultras. 

Nearing the top of Hope Pass on the return

Nearing the top of Hope Pass on the return

I soon made it to the turnaround and was joined by Nathan as my pacer. He was full of energy and I was excited to have the company. Because the race is an out and back, I no longer could remain blissfully unaware of my position in the field. Yes, I wanted to be happy and enjoy my experience, but I am also competitive, I also wanted to perform and compete if my body was capable. At mile 50, I was still feeling on the good side of the spectrum having taken the early miles so conservatively. I discovered as I ran into Winfield that I was just over 10 minutes behind the race leader, Simona Morbelli. I knew I needed to get back over the even tougher second climb up Hope Pass before even considering trying to hunt her down. I know got to enjoy the energy of my pacer as well as the energy of the other runners on the out and back course. The single track was buzzing as people headed towards the turn around. I made a special point of encouraging every single person. The most dramatic moment of the race came a few miles after the turn around before reaching the climb up to Hope. I stepped to the side to allow outbound runners to share the trail and when I stepped back into the middle of the trail, I caught a toe on a rock, did a perfect pirouette and slammed into the ground, my head hitting a rock, the sound so loud my husband could hear it. I jumped up quickly, suddenly angry with myself for making the mistake, declaring "I just want to keep going". I had really hurt myself but didn't want to lose momentum. Nathan grabbed me by the arm, stopped me and bear hugged me. "Its ok if you want to cry. Just take a minute". At first I protested, I had resolved not to cry in this race! But then I realized, you know what, crying when you crack you head and destroy your arm is appropriate. I shed some tears and as was Nathan's intent, the emotional intensity went away. I felt it and moved on. It was just another "PLOT TWIST!", not a day ender and it was not going to be my undoing. 

We kept charging. Every step closer to the top. Every step more joyful. I smiled at every runner and kept encouraging every single one. At one point Nathan commented, "they all know your name!" and it was such a cool thing to have so many people say, "Devon, you inspire me". I climbed ever closer to the top. I got hugs from friends Billy and Eric. And finally, I had made it. I was over the top of the most daunting part of the course. I flew down the other side, feeling amazing, ready to chase. I had been told by at least 150 other runners that I was closing on Simona and that she looked like she was hurting (at least hurting more than I was- since at least 20 people told me I was "having way too much fun"). I didn't push down Hope, I just continued to float along and stay within myself. Less than 2 miles after the top, I was told by a hiker "she just went around the bend". A moment later, I saw her. Nathan and briefly discussed how I wanted to do this. I wanted to make a definitive move, but I wanted to also show her the same grace and joy and encouragement I had to everyone else. In a moment, I was upon her, gave her a few encouraging words and then accelerated. I pushed more than I had all race to put myself out of sight, to create a gap. When I arrived at Twin Lakes, 1.5 miles later, I had apparently put 8 minutes on her.

SO HAPPY! Excited to see the Oiselle Volee. Photo by Rebekah!

SO HAPPY! Excited to see the Oiselle Volee. Photo by Rebekah!

Entering Twin Lakes in the lead was an electric moment. There were huge crowds, I got the most amazing tasting popsicle and my Oiselle teammates from the Colorado Volee where there. I was out of my mind happy!!! I moved through the aid station quickly, determined to use the energy to get me up the climb immediately after the aid station. Nathan took over carrying my pack, as Leadville allows muling. This made a huge difference as carrying the pack was making my neck pain worse and causing my hands to go tingly. My pacers literally took the weight off my shoulders. 40 miles to the finish line. It was time to grind.

And work and grind we did. Relentless forward progress. Focus on nutrition, focus on my breathe. Running in the lead can be stressful, so I fought the urge to play out "what if" scenarios. What if nothing, what if I just keep running my race and focusing on my joy and gratitude. And that is what I did.

Smiling happy girls rocking Oiselle skirts. Photo by Sufferfest Beer!

Smiling happy girls rocking Oiselle skirts. Photo by Sufferfest Beer!

Nathan handed me off to Rebecca who was going to take me the remaining 27 miles to the finish line. I was feeling good, I had legs, I just knew we had to keep grinding. And we did. We powered up powerline as fast as I have ever done in training. We dance partied into the night to a most excellent playlist she had created. We sang Rebecca's jingle about not tripping repeatedly. "We didn't trip. We're doing so great. We love our joints. We didn't trip." Soon it was dark and we were descending into the final aid station at Mayqueen with 13.5 miles to go. There Rebecca restocked her pack with an inhuman number of water bottles for one person to carry and all the GU and candy she could carry. Nathan asked me if I wanted to know what was happening the race and I did, so he told me that as of the previous aid station, I was only 18 minutes ahead. Simona had rallied after Hope Pass and continued on. 18 minutes is not a lot with 13.5 miles to go. A lot can happen. But then Nathan said the most important thing, "So you've gotta run hard. But this is your thing. No one closes like you do". And just like that the fire was lit. Rebecca and I headed back into the dark around Turquoise Lake. My legs were tired, but I was determined. I started running everything, I pushed the pace at one point joking, "it feels like I am moving fast, like I might be running 12 min pace!". At that stage of the game on the rolling terrain, that is pretty darn fast. Rebecca looked at her watch and she laughed, "we are running exactly 12 min pace!". I thought about the day, how much joy their had been. I thought about my team and how I couldn't have done this without them. I thought about what this race has meant to me. I thought about how I could leave everything out on that course because for the first time in my career, I hadn't already planned the next thing. I had only planned for an off season. I was going to leave it all out there. I had run conservatively all day and now I was just going to push.

The last 4+ miles are uphill, including the worlds' longest stretch of uphill fire road. When we hit this section, I knew that I wouldn't be walking like we had discussed. I just ran as hard as I could. I took deep breathes. I soaked in the darkness. I felt my body move. I appreciated that my foot had not hurt all day (#miracle), that I could feel no trouble spots in my legs, that my feet felt great in my HOKA speedgoat 2s, that I was tired but so so strong. 

Pure joy. Photo by Mario Fraioli

Pure joy. Photo by Mario Fraioli

In the blink of an eye, we arrived at the road with one mile to go. My crew was there to run me up and in. I pushed up the hill towards the red carpet and the finish line. It was only then that I believed that I was going to win. I crested the hill and could see the red glowing clock of the finish line up ahead nestled amongst the quiet sleep streets of Leadville. I savored the moment. I ran this race in the way I wanted with joy, grace, flexibility and gratitude. I shared this experience with amazing people who kept me going. I could be a version of myself that I am proud to be and win the race at the same time. I broke the tape for the win, in 20:46. And while I may have had races that were faster or physically better, Leadville is my proudest moment. I would say my best race. I did everything I could with what I had, I retained the spirit that I intended to and I accomplished my goal of being the happiest person out there. To do this, in a race that has meant so much to me and means so much to Leadville, is everything to me. It is something I will savor and appreciate for a very long time.

I want to say thank you to my amazing crew and pacers again. Nathan, Rebecca, Amy and Braden. This was a true team effort. Thank you for helping me be my best self. Thank you to the Leadville Race Series. It was an honor to become a part of your family. Thank you to all the volunteers out there. You guys rock! Thank you to GU for giving me the opportunity to race. Thank you to HOKA, Oiselle, Ultimate Direction, Psoas Massage and Bodywork, Nuun, Hypoxico and Mammoth Lake Cribs! Thanks to my awesome coach Ian Torrence! Thank you to everyone reading this and following my journey.

So what now? That is always the question. Right now, I am enjoying my off season. I am taking time away. I am relaxing, recovering and absorbing a very intense and difficult year. And I am taking a break from social media for a month. Call it a social sabbatical. I will be off social media starting tomorrow (wednesday, Aug 22) for a month. If you need me, you can find me. 

Thank you for reading!

Learning to Race again: Tale of Two Oceans 56km

I never really thought it was possible to forget how to race. Once I started ultrarunning in 2006, I raced so frequently that it was a skill sharpened and refined often. Between 2011 and 2012, I frequently nailed A, B, and C races. It felt good to know how to push, how to plan a good race for myself and how to get the most of out my body on race day.

My last big A race I completed was Comrades Marathon in 2012. That is nearly 3 years ago and it didn't go as well as I would have liked but it was an amazing experience. Since then, I have completed a lot of marathons. Some even could be considered "C" races, like Napa Marathon last month which felt perfectly executed. I thought after that race that I still knew how to "race", but really, as I learned over the weekend, it is a skill and sometimes being out of practice in its subtleties will stop you in your tracks from having the race your fitness might warrant.

Doing airport laps in Heathrow on my 5 hour layover. 1.5 hours walked in my fresh Oiselle styles and HOKA Cliftons!

Doing airport laps in Heathrow on my 5 hour layover. 1.5 hours walked in my fresh Oiselle styles and HOKA Cliftons!

Last week, I flew half way around the world to take on my first ultra for the first time in two years. I was excited to return to Cape Town, South Africa for my second attempt at the Two Oceans Marathon 56km event. It is the second largest ultra in the world with 11,000 entries in the 56km distance. That is insane compared to any US ultra. I love the event, the energy and the insane competition. I had goals for the race which thankfully didn't need modification when the course was rerouted due to wildfires in the cape. The reroute meant doubling the size of the first climb and the outlook for weather was extremely windy. I wanted to "race" this but didn't feel any pressure internally or externally to perform. I've fallen off most people's maps in the last two years and it puts me in a nice comfortable dark horse position. My racing this year has all been training so the efforts don't really reflect the kind of shape I am in. Going in to Two Oceans, I felt fit enough to win if I ran a good race. I feel strong and good on the hills. My goal however was to be smart and use this race to prepare for my big goals at Comrades. Comrades is THE race I am focusing on and I would give up everything else for that goal. I wanted to use Two Oceans as a solid lead up for Comrades, remember how to get my legs under me while traveling so far and make sure I still know how to race.

Live streaming of the televised coverage of the race

Live streaming of the televised coverage of the race

I flew to Cape Town on Tuesday, arriving on Thursday morning after 30+ hours of travel. My body was ok, I had slept enough (more than I usually do, ha!) on the plane, I was tight but thought I would be fine. Thursday turned out to be quite hectic and I was unable to get anything to eat until almost 2pm after eating nothing since the evening before. It was a product of being in a group of people and having to go with the group (picking up everyone, picking up the van at the airport, going to the expo) I believe this underfueling was the root cause of some of my energy issues on Saturday. Thursday to me is the most crucial day of fueling for a Saturday race and I barely ate that day, let alone ate enough carbs. This will be one of the main things I focus on for Comrades.

Ultimately, a few things leading up to the race including tightness and bad fueling lead me to not have the race that I wanted. A few mistakes on race day further held me back. I don't think that my fitness was accessed at all due to these mistakes. I could be disappointed about it, but I am not, I am thankful for the opportunity to learn them now so that I can better prepare for them next time.

Photo by  4OMTOM .   Used with Permission.  Finishing kick. I came from very behind this lady to beat her by 1 second at the line.

Photo by 4OMTOM.  Used with Permission. Finishing kick. I came from very behind this lady to beat her by 1 second at the line.

I flew halfway around the world and lined up with some incredible talent. The gun went off and I had the day that I did. I fought the 30 mph headwinds, the hills and myself. I battled to the finish line and was incredibly proud to finish strong passing two women in the last 1000 meters, including one woman at the line. I finished 7th place in a stacked field on a really off day. I am pleased with my progression even if at times it seems to be incredibly slow. 

Photo by   4OMTOM  . Used with Permission. Happy to be done; with Nedbank Team Manager Nick Bester

Photo by 4OMTOM. Used with Permission. Happy to be done; with Nedbank Team Manager Nick Bester

I am working on coming back. I am working on regaining and surpassing my former fitness and taking on big goals. That is not easy, it is not glamorous and it doesn't always go to plan. If the journey were easy, it wouldn't be as worth it to undertake. I absolutely love Two Oceans Marathon and I will go back again, and as often as I can. I really appreciate being a part of the Nedbank Green Dream team. I am so happy I had the opportunity to put myself out there on this big stage and begin to learn to race again. It makes me even more excited and dedicated to what is to come.

 

Comrades Marathon Race Report

Ever since I began running ultras, I have always said that the things I truly love about running ultras is the spectrum of factors that can affect your race, the variation of emotions you can experience and the extreme highs and lows you can weather.

Never have I experienced those things so completely as I did at Comrades marathon. If you asked me how I felt.....

At 30k into the race, I would have described the race as surreal, I was leading the race, joking to the motorcycles that they should find a better way to radio back about me other than "the tall one". It was truly surreal. I was leading the biggest race of my life. I was telling my bicycle escort, this wasn't exactly where I wanted to be right about now, pushing to the front of the pack towards the first hotspot (a Bonitas money mid-race cash prize).

At 45k, I was devastated and debilitated by abdominal cramping. 

At 60k, I was on the verge of quitting, tears streaming my face, being convinced by Nedbank handlers, strangers I didn't know to continue. Just to keep going.

At 75k, I refused to quit.

At the the finish, I would have described myself as relieved.

The day after, disappointed.

Today, proud.

There came a point during Comrades where I cursed the race, wondered aloud why the HELL anyone would want to run the damn thing, let alone over and over again. But now I know; it captivates you. And now I feel like if I could only ever do one race ever again (or over & over again) it would be Comrades (preferably paired with Two Oceans) .

Comrades is everything I love about running (except for the lacking trails part), it is intensely challenging, competitive, supported by the entirety of not just the community itself but the nation and absolutely embodies why I even bother to race at all. I did not have the race I was capable of fitness wise. But I didn't quit. I did not have the race I wanted mentally- I struggled to enjoy it. But I realized now, sometimes gritting your teeth and bearing the extreme pain surpasses the experience of simply enjoying every step.

Last night, I fell asleep on the airplane disappointed, frustrated I didn't have the race I know I am fit for and without answers for why I cramped so bad. When I woke, the whole race experience seemed to slip away, like it never happened, with each passing mile I flew away from Durban. Then, in one conversation, my entire experience truly set in.

Although I'd had many conversations about the race from the border patrol agent who recognized me from being on TV to the extra chatty seatmate on my flight from Durban to Joburg, all of those conversations did little but remind me of my own disappointment. This morning was different. The conversation itself was not much different than the others I had had about the race. He'd run the race 4 times before, although not this year. But something triggered inside me.

I realized the true depth of my experience. I realized that I had accomplished something incredible, even if I hadn't had the result I wanted. I was a part of something special. They call it "the ultimate human race" and it truly is the ultimate human experience. After that conversation, I went from disappointed to feeling like the member of an exclusive club.

Those who know what it is like, KNOW. I feel inducted, in the club. I have NEVER been more proud to cross a finish line and that is regardless of position, time or even the struggle to get there. Comrades is truly, incredibly special. There is just no other way to describe it.

I know I usually write complete blow by blow recaps, but I feel, for maybe the first time ever in my short running career, that words can't even begin to capture my experience. I cam to South Africa to run an epic, classic race. I left with an epic experience. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity.

I truly appreciate my sponsors, Nedbank and North Face for making it possible. 5th place in 6:39 in the biggest ultra (and one of the biggest races in the world, period). First novice, first American. It doesn't matter, what matters is entering that stadium to the deafening roar of the crowd held held high, tears on my face and crossing that finish line. It is unlike any other experience I've had before and I will return time and time again.

Check back for photos and videos soon. I am not home from my journey yet!

Lake Sonoma 50 mile Race Report


Course Profile: 10,500 feet of ascent

After being very sick a few weeks ago and unable to race Napa Valley Marathon, Lake Sonoma 50 mile became my first race of the season. I have been training really hard and was excited about the race. I was also confused a bit. I had signed up for American River 50 miler, which is on April 10th long before I signed up for Lake Sonoma. Therefore, in my mind, AR50 was my focus of the two. 

A few weeks ago, I was really thinking about it and wondering why I was focusing on AR. My real goal of the first part of 2010 is Western States and trails. Thus, AR was losing its grip on my motivation. Lake Sonoma seemed to make more sense. It is brutal, rugged and hilly. 10,500 feet of ascent. On top of that, the entrant list was looking pretty stacked. I could feel myself being magnetically pulled towards Lake Sonoma over AR and no matter how many times I told myself that I would, could or might run controlled and easy in spite of competition, I really wanted to let it out a little bit more. American River has only 3,000 feet of climbing and is a good deal of road. While I feel that I could totally rock out on a course like that, right now that is not my focus.

The gangs all here (and goofy) ready to race. Photo by Kevin Luu

I made the decision that I would run comfortably and in control and if that put me in the hunt as the race unfolded that I would go after it, AR be damned. Part of me, okay most of me, decided along the way that I would rather kick ass and take names at Lake Sonoma than at AR. Why? I don't usually take much stock in what people say, but for some reason in the ultra-community I don't get much respect when it comes to really hilly races. Before TransRockies last year, one of my competitors was quoted as saying that she didn't know if I could handle the hills. During that race, I proved that I could run up well enough to keep up with my super uphilling teammate Caitlin and win. But it seems like my reputation is for fast and flat, not fast and trail and hill. Thus, it crossed my mind that racing LS as a trainer and AR as a goal (potentially placing lower at LS and winning AR) would simply bolster that appearance. 

Racers take your marks! Or kinda stand there-ish. Photo by Kevin Luu

Do I really care? No, in fact I find it awesome that after 3 years on the ultrarunning scene, I might be able to fly a bit under the radar (not off, but under just a bit). I find it even more hilarious since, when it comes to the 50 mile distance, almost all of my races have had more than 9,000 feet of climbing and some brutal terrain. Furthermore, when it comes to LS vs. AR, LS was looking to have a much more competitive field and I would rather test myself against some premier talent than have to test myself against myself and the course. And appearance aside, I have proven to myself that I can excel at the road 100k and other less technical "fast" races. Right now, what is the purpose of running another? 

All of that was pre-race theory. And then there is the reality...

I went back and forth about strategy all week before the race. But I never really felt pre-race nerves. Instead, I felt deadly calm. Much like before Vermont last year and even JFK, I felt more ready to be done tapering than being hyped to get racing. I guess I save my adrenaline for race day. I put together my plan, ate well and healthfully over the week and wrote down some splits for a goal time of 8:30. Nathan insisted I could run faster than 8:30 but the female course record was 8:43 and done by a runner, Suzanna Bon, that I respect as an intelligent, fast, strong runner. I don't balk at her course records, even when she admits them to be "soft".

Night before the race, we dug into steak, white rice with flax oil and some spinach. Got our stuff together and went to bed as early as possible. When the alarm went off at 3am I didn't have any trouble getting up and moving. I felt a bit better than I had the previous day. By Friday, I was fully feeling "taper-ish" i.e. sore, tired, fat and slow but thankfully by race morning at least I wasn't feeling tired and sore. Nathan made me a cup of coffee and we tucked into our respective toast (mine being gluten free english muffins, his being the superpowered bread he bakes) with peanut butter and a banana before jumping in my car and heading north. I actually didn't mind the 2hr drive up to the race start. It gave my body a chance to digest breakfast and get fully awake by the race start. We got to the start, chatted with friends, acted goofy, did our last minute preparations and lined up to start.

Lake Sonoma from Wulfow aid station miles 17.4/32.7. Photo by Stan Jensen

Much like I felt before Vermont 50 and JFK 50 last year, I didn't have any nerves before the race. That is not to say I was stepping confidently to the line, but I didn't have the sense of "I am racing NOW" internalized. My taper for this race amounted to really about a week, with the previous week being a bit of a cutback mileage wise (Salomon Advanced Week) but an increase in intensity. I felt rested enough, but not overly stir crazy from taper, as I mentioned above, it took me until Friday to really feel it. RD (and editor of Ultrarunning Magazine) gave us a quick debriefing and reminded us that at mile 4.5 we had to do a little out and back to the aid station even if we didn't want aid. Then we were off.

Photo by Kevin Luu

A few guys took off ahead, very quick off the mark, including Jady Palko and Hal Koerner. Jady is known for doing that and had said before the race that he wanted to run really hard for about an hour than cruise in. He did just that. I surprised myself by going out pretty fast. I felt really comfortable and just went with it. Nathan was right behind me as were my training partners Joel and Brett, along with Joe Palubeski and Jonathan Gunderson. I had written down Joe's splits for an 8:30 from the previous year as my guide and had to laugh when he told me what a poorly paced race he ran the year before. I kept asking the guys if anyone wanted by me, as I wasn't that comfortable being in front of all these fast guys. I just felt like I was slowing them down, even though I wasn't going slow.

After the first aid station at mile 4.7, Nathan took off ahead of me in hot pursuit. We all thought he was sprinting ahead to use the "bathroom", but we never saw him again. He told me after the race that he was trying to break up our small little train of people and wanted me to follow him, but he ran by me so dang quick I didn't even have time to think to try and hang on. Not that I could have.

The stretch from aid #1 to aid #2 is 7.4 miles and I finally asked Joel who was right behind me if he was planning on staying right behind me the whole race. It made me nervous to feel so responsible for 5 peoples pace. He said because it was his first 50, he would love to just stay behind me and pace off me. I said, "but you are way faster than I am!!" (which is true) but that I also understood wanted to take it out conservatively. 

So the "D-train" rolled on. I paced us steadily through the rolling, unrelenting miles up to aid station #2. We went through deep creeks, nearly lost our way and clipped along. I was feeling good and things felt extremely comfortable. I was running well within a comfortable pace and the only annoyance I had was that the waterbottle I chose to use wasn't staying in the waistpack (fanny pack for those in my running crew)  I tried to put it in. Thus I had to carry my Gel-bot in my hand with no hostler until mile 12.1 where I had a drop bag with the holster, which actually had the waistpacks proper waterbottle in it. I had planned to pick up a second bottle for the last 12.1 as it would be the hottest part of the day. I kept the Salomon Whisper waistpack on sans waterbottle, as I had my gels and Vespa and salt in the pocket. It was extremely comfortable, so it wasn't a problem.

When we pulled into aid stations #2, I took the opportunity to step off the lead. I didn't want to jump back in front and then have to pull off the trail in a 1/2 mile to use the bathroom which was exactly what I needed to do. I hoped on the back of the guys and ran for a bit until I had a spot to stop. It was nice to finally be alone and running so I could concentrate on my pacing and my race. I figured I was a good 10 minutes up at this point and wanted to stay very controlled until the turn around. That said, we had arrived at the aid station more than 6 minutes ahead of Joe's split from last year.

Photo by Chihping Fu






The big climbs start after aid station #2 and I was eager to test my legs on them. I didn't want to hammer the climbs but I wanted to test out my hard-earned climbing legs, born out of trying to keep up with the likes of Nathan, Joel, Brett and Zach a few times a week. They felt good, I cruised up them, powered hiked when the grade became ridiculous and generally just worked my way up them. Before I could think about it, I was cruising into aid station #3 and saw Peter Defty of Vespa. He gave me a Vespa Jr and the aid station crew filled me bottles and I was happily on my way. I really was enjoying the beautiful rolling green hills around the lakes and even enjoyed the cold creeks we got to splash through. I could tell my Drymax Socks were working because my feet were repeatedly submerged and were having no problems what so ever! Thank goodness for that.

I kept on my nutrition plan, doubled up on my salts and drank water like crazy as it was starting to really get hot and after that aid station it was really exposed. Nearing mile 19ish, I saw Joe, Brett and Joel on the rigid above me, maybe 2-3 minutes up. I was satisfied with that and decided if I was feeling feisty after mile 25, I might go after them. Jonathan had disappeared ahead of them. I just cranked up the long gravel hill to the top of the first major climb and hit aid station #4 feeling good. I was stoked to be almost  to the turn around and I filled up my bottle and headed out of the aid station. I followed the flags down, and started weaving my way closer to the lake. I suddenly could hear guys voices and I wondered if someone was catching me from behind (I would later realize it was Joe, Joel and Brett). I went for a few minutes without seeing flags but then saw one and some chalk and started heading along the trail weaving back in the general direction I had just come. I figured it was just a windy road. Until I saw Bev running towards me. Bev wasn't racing due to her knee problem, but was running the 25 miles out to the aid station. She said, "you are the first one coming back...??" I responded that I shouldn't be and it began to sink in that I had gotten off course somewhere but ended up looping back on course. I could see 10 feet away where I had gone down a different trail and the pink flag hanging right at the junction. I cursed, freaked out and turned around. I asked Bev and another guy what mileage they had and it was just slightly over 20 miles. My watch showed over 22 and I had lost nearly 10-15 minutes. 

So much for a lead. Bev assured me that I had a huge lead but I wasn't quite as sure. We were only 20 miles into the race (well 22 to me) and I didn't think I had gotten much more than a 20 minute lead over 2nd place. I figured 2nd place was Caren Spore who is a very very good climber and we were about to go up the biggest climb of the day.

I got stressed and started hightailing it. I was mad. Mad at myself for getting lost and blowing it. I was just pissed and anxious. I tried to shake it off but couldn't. A million things flashed through my mind. Would she catch me? Would I lose? I have never lost a 50 miler, did I want it happen like this? Am I going to be pissed off all weekend if I blow this and ruin our fun in Sonoma? How can I find a way to get the hell over this? It took me a while, admittedly to not feel like I was about to be caught. I had thrown my nutrition and hydration plan out the window for a while in my freaked out panicky state. I had to choose to run harder or possibly surrender to my fate if I chose to stay at my same pace. 

Climbing up the big hill to the turn around I could see Caren along the lake a few minutes back. The first guys started flying back and I was stoked to see Nathan coming back running strong in 3rd place. We exchanged a few words as he flew downhill, most of which we complain on my part for getting lost. I pretty complain to everyone for the next however many miles. I saw Joel, Brett, Jady, Joe and Jonathan all coming back as well as a few others. I was still in the top 10, but could see how much time I'd lost on the guys I'd run so much with. 

Returning to Wulfow, mile 32.7.Photo By Sten Jensen

I wish I could have laughed it off, but when you've been running well and hard, it is hard to find a sense of humor. I got to mile 25, told them what had happened, filled my bottle quickly and took off. I was not excited to see how close behind Caren was. Close she was, about 3 minutes. I knew that I was the superior downhill runner and that there was only one large climb left back to the mile 20.2/29.8 aid station. I figured if I could hammer the downhills and stay strong on the uphills and arrive to that aid station first that the rest of the race could and would be mine. The last 20 miles are rolling and mostly runnable, even if it is very hilly. I told myself that and ran as hard as I could back down from mile 25. It was pretty brutal, as the descent is decently steep. I finally started to take in calories and hydration again as I could definitely feel the affects of being freaked out. I had expended so much energy being mad and was not staying on top of my plan. I knew that that would not help me stay in front. I had to get back on my plan and execute it. I had to make her run me down instead of just feeling resigned to being caught. My legs were feeling great and I felt really strong and I was running strong. 

Returning to Wulfow, mile 32.7. Photo by Stan Jensen

I began to talk myself out of it. I went through mile 29.8 ahead but still not feeling confident. I cruised down to mile 32.7 where Caren's crew told me I was 6 minutes ahead. He told me I had nothing to worry about but I wasn't really ready to believe him. I was still trying to get my head back in the game. I had put my headphones on at the turn around and the music helped calm me down and put me back into a rhythm. Between the turn around and mile 37.9, much of the course is very exposed and I stayed pretty conservative on my pace as I was feeling the heat. I started changing my self-talk to more positive words and instead of thinking, "she's going to catch me" I started to think, "I am going to make her catch me and I am not going quietly". I pushed where I could and started to go outside of the comfort zone I was able to enjoy through the first 20 miles. And my legs responded brilliantly, "really?" they said, "we get to go faster? SWEEEETT!" 



Leaving Wulfow, mile 32.7.Photo by Stan Jensen

I survived the hottest portion of the race back to 37.9. I had been passed by David La Duc who had been ahead of me earlier in the race and had also gotten lost. I passed Jady Palko and Jonathan Gunderson. I hit the aid station at mile 37.9 grabbed my second bottle which I put in my waist pack, filled up my water and took a swig of coke. I felt like a million bucks. The last 12.1 are more shaded and very runnable if you have legs. We had made it 1:39 on the way back and I was hoping to be around 2 hrs for the way back or thereabouts.  I looked at Joe's splits and saw I was about 9 minutes back from him pace from last year and decided that I would run hard through the remaining miles. 

This was the moment of a bigger decision. I knew that running hard could brutalize my legs. I knew that it could mean a longer recovery. I knew it meant I was choosing Lake Sonoma over American River. At that moment, I decided that AR was out and I was going to use this experience, this race to its fullest. I just started going. I was giddy at how my legs responded. They churned and worked and didn't feel sore or tired. At 37.9 I was still 6 minutes up, but I knew as I hammered along, feeling like I was flying, that no one could catch me running like that. And no one would.

I arrived at the little out and back to the final aid station and returning to the main trail, I saw no sign of Caren. With only 4.7 miles to go and over a half mile (at least) lead, I knew (running the way I was) that she wouldn't catch me. I checked my time against Joe's splits. I was now 3 minutes UP on his spilts. I had run the previous 7.4 miles 12 minutes faster than he had last year. I realized that not only was the win mine to take, but I still had an excellent chance at the course record.

I bounded down the trail, giddy, playful, fast. I giggled as I was still able to run up the hills which were still constant and unrelenting. I danced to the music from my headphones. My nutrition, hydration and salts were on point and everything was firing. My legs didn't feel heavy or tired. I let out whoops of joy and laughed out loud thinking, "I am really glad I didn't blow this, I would have been a real pain in the arse for the rest of the weekend".

Photo by Brett Rivers

Finally I saw it: the 1 mile to go sign. I felt myself get choked up. I wanted to cry, but ran faster instead. I  pushed and pushed until I could see the cars on the rigid and the finish. The last mile is not a friendly one and I thrashed my way up the hill, crossed the road and emerged on the rigid less than a 1/4 mile from the finish line. I just wanted to cry and laugh and sigh with relief. It had been an emotional race. I ran across the grass and Suzanna and Lisa held up the pink finisher's tape for me. I crossed the line first woman, 10th overall in 8:26:53 with more than 2 miles bonus. A new course record.

 Calculating how many minutes I lost getting lost for RD John- 20minutes.
Photo by Brett Rivers

John congratulated me, it was nice to be done. But surprisingly I felt great! I could have just kept going! Nathan was waiting for me and I ran over to him and gave him a big kiss asking him how it went for him. He had ran amazing and came in second to Hal. He was well under the old course record and ran a blazing 7:24:15! What a stud. All of my crew: Joel, Brett and Joe had all already come in and posted fantastic times. Larissa would run a great race and it was awesome to see her finishing strong! Complete results HERE. What a day! I was so pleased in the end of how things worked out. And even more stoked that everyone had such a great day. I was awarded a huge bottle of wine as my trophy and we all tucked in to some fantastic fresh handmade tamales while we cheered our friends in to the finish. 

I experienced a lot during this race and I think it serves me well. Experiences like JFK taught me that I can run for 50 miles and feel great and never experience any adversity. This race threw a lot more at me. I had to battle my head and fear and emotion. While physically I was grand and probably would have made a go at a sub 8hr time, I realized how much it can take out of you to let your head get away from you. I am so glad that I decided to race this race and challenge myself.

Post-race was fantastic. We stayed at Boon Hotel and Spa and ate a fantastic dinner at Boon Eat+Drink. On Sunday, Brett, Larissa, Nathan and I met up for morning pastries at Downtown Bakery in Healdsburg (thanks for the recommendation Suzanna!) and then headed out to some great wineries and lunch in and around Sonoma! What a fun weekend. Great running, great race. Amazing friend, food and fun. I couldn't ask for more! I look forward to next year and the possibility of racing Lake Sonoma again!

My gear:
Shoes: Salomon S-Labs 2
Socks: Drymax Trail Running Socks
Apparel: Salomon Trail III Short Tight
               Salomon Impact II Twinskin Tank
               Salomon XA Cap
Waterbottles: Salomon Whisper Belt
                      Gel-bot handheld

My fuel:
Gels ( about total 700 calories, mixed brands, all but 1 non caffeinated)
FRS chews
Saltstick Salt Caps