Lake Sonoma: When "Going Big" isn't smart and "Going Home" is not an option.

If you know me, I'm a big fan of the motto "Go big or go home". I do love my home because obviously that's were my bed is and the best place for sleep. But when I think of that motto I think of the opposite of everything in moderation. In ultrarunning, there is no real moderation. Everything is extreme, as is everything I do in my life. 

Buy a bag of cookies, eat it all. Buy a bag of chips, eat all the chips. Resting is doing long hiking miles instead of "runnning". Watching Stranger Things is watching the entire season in one sitting. I have no self control- give me all the Thai food, please. So when I found out I got into Lake Sonoma exactly 30 days before the race I was hesitant on how I would perform with limited amount of running since The Coastal Challenge. 

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Well those 30 days turned into an incredible learning experience; a huge practice in self control, acceptance and learning the act of rest. The days leading up to Lake Sonoma were spent, no not in the mountains where I yearned to be, but in bed with the flu and then with laryngitis. Sawna's caught the plague yet again. 

I spent days in a drunken slumber, unable to work because of my lack of voice, unable to eat because I was too tired to do anything. My darling Juniper stuck by me as my little spoon as we slept the day away. She never begged for food or to be let outside- she rest her head on my chest and we just slept in unison. It would've broke my heart if I thought of how I was dismissing her needs, but I was too tired to realize anything. I watched as friends trained, ran, climbed, and posted their incredible feats unable to even fathom walking down the stairs. My body ached, my breathing weezed, my cough rumbled deep in my soul, demanding more rest. It was completely impossible to work, I was off work for 12 days and still my voice lingered to fully return. 

The idea of racing Lake Sonoma wasn't a question, it was out of the picture. Let's be honest, was I really going to run hard anyways? Probably not, but there was no doubt that I'd still go and experience the weekend. Lake Sonoma 50 miler has always been a prestigious race that drew some of the elite of elite athletes, not only a high profile race among the entry list but the course itself is just one for the books. This book was not one I could put down. Now, lets turn the page. 

I was lucky enough to have the support of Gu Energy when it came to the race, lodging and all the logistics. I was a lost puppy that they cared for and it was nice to know that I would have friends there. The airbnb was located on a beautiful winery just 20 minutes from the start line, shared with Rebecca, Gabi, Elan, and a couple from San Francisco. After work Thursday I was frantically trying to pack, clean my apartment and prepare Juniper for her stay with her grandparents before I set off early Friday morning at 6am. 

One would normally know where the race they signed up for would be located. Well, that person was not me. I had no idea where Lake Sonoma was until I plugged it into the map Friday morning. Let the adventure begin as the 8 hour quest lays ahead. 

The city of Healdsburg is a small, tight knit community right along the cusp of Lake Sonoma in Sonoma County, about an hour and a half from San Francisco, given no traffic. I arrived right around 1pm to the Healdsburg Running Store where packet pick up is held. Don't let the small location fool you, its not only filled with some awesome running product, but even more incredibly nice and welcoming people. My normal nervous and hesitant emotions were quickly pushed aside when I realized how welcoming this community is. I spent a few hours getting to know Rebecca and hanging at the Gu tent while runners trickled in for packet pick up. Fellow Coyotes and socal badass babes Vanessa and Brianna came and said hello as we chatted with excitement about the next days adventure. The evening was spent packing race gear, catching up with Elan, Rebecca and Gabi and just enjoying the idea of spending a nice long day on an unknown beautiful course. 

I'm not going to lie, I was nervous. I had butterflies in my stomach as I hung around the start line, butterflies or it was the several Trail butter banana toast I ate for breakfast. It's funny, I've worked with several high profiled celebrities over the last few years and never did I get nervous around them like runners I respect and look up to. LS50 has several of them, so at any given point I could've just hurled my breakfast from those butterflies. Other than that, I had no doubt today would go smoothly. With zero expectation on time and my goal to only have fun and take it easy, other than pet all the dogs, I didn't have the anxiety that I had to perform, leaving only room for enjoyment. What a concept. To have fun! 

I don't know how to put into words the next few chapters of this book. My feelings were just constantly in awe, my emotions were relatively of joy with minor disappointment in my lack of fitness, my feet continued forward as the lush singletrack opened up to meadows of wildflowers and views of the lake in the distance. I found myself, sitting on my thrown in Lala land, a place I rule over when I'm running, located off in my head and far from the actual place I'm running when I finally come back to reality and notice I was head of a kongo line of a few runners.  "Let me know when you want to pass" was the first thing I said but when the girl refrained, we began to chat. She quickly offers up a game of Lake Sonoma Trivia. This rad girl, whom I later learned is named Zuzu and her friend Justin and I played trivia, then we played guess our birth city/profession from just mere little hints. A few miles into it, Sarah, a nurse by profession who born in Maine joined in the game. Those 11 miles flew by without a hint that we were in the beginning of a race and not a fun trail run with friends. I learned all about these three, their birth city, their profession, where they lived and yet I never knew what they looked like. Not waiting too long at the next aid station I continued forward, now with new opportunity to mingle with other runners and make more new friends.

The miles came easy but slow, I couldn't help but feel disappointed on my bodies lack of ability to run faster at an effortless pace. feeling as though there was no ink in my pen, the gas on empty in my car, I was running on fumes. I could feel the tightness in my hips and hamstrings reminding me that these last few weeks were spent horizontal on a bed instead of putting in hard efforts on the trails. With Cascade Crest 100 being my A race this summer and Squamish, Hardrock, and Sierra running adventures before that- I didn't want to risk the possibility of injury. "No way Jose", I tell my fiesta shorts wearing legs to simmer down. "Have fun, Sawna" I tell myself. "Use this as a training run, see how your body reacts and gage your next few weeks of training from what you learn today" I continue telling myself. 

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At mile 31 aid station, I lingered longer, casually chatting to friends volunteering and fully enjoying the wide selection of snacks. I chugged my last cup of coke and prepared to run off when I noticed Bri was running into the aid station. As I cheered her in, the look of despair covered her entire face, she didn't look like she was having fun. She quickly explained how terrible she felt, the idea of DNFing and asked if I would wait for her. A sudden flashback of Fatdog 120 reminded me of how I felt running into a majority of the aid stations, hoping to see someone I knew, feeling awful to the point of meltdown given my body were hydrated enough to produce tears and wishing I had a friend. I, without hesitation, told her of course and reassured her that we had all day if she needed to walk the next 20 miles. We stayed at the aid station long enough for her to snack and drink plenty of fluid before heading back on the course. The next few miles we chatted about the beginning of her race, how she felt, what she ate while switching between walking and running. As we continued forward, she pressed that I could run ahead of her if I wanted to. Honestly, a phrase I use a plethora of times to other runners but when I say it I really mean "please don't leave me". I had no intention on running faster, heck! It was nice to have a running partner in general. If you don't know Bri, she is a fire cracker, fierce and fast runner, even at this low moment she was having we were still cruising the miles. Knowing she'd run the downhills, I attempted to see how far I could push her on the accents, jogging the uphills as much as possible and giving her target points to run to before inevitably hiking. Slowly but surely she was coming back around, I could tell in her voice and our conversation that she was feeling a bit better. The moaning and grunts were becoming less of a background noise as we chatted the miles by all while our pace grew faster. Bri and I have ran together maybe once or twice during Coyotes but this would be our longest run together and longest time in general hanging out. We talked about both our 100 mile races coming up, how we got into running, future goals and just life. As our pace continued to get faster, her excitement seemed to grow and she finally admitted she was confident in finishing, not just finishing, but with a 50 mile PR. 

With the pressure off the race and performing, I realized how good my body felt. The miles were effortless and my body was using the Gu fuel beautifully, definitely feeling better at this point than I did during Fatdog. The way I felt, I could've continued running, and that right there proves that the day was successful. With zero aches and pains I could continue running this week and hopefully start building the miles once I fully recover. I was excited, but the race wasn't over. Bri and I continued to push forward and with only two miles left, I cheered her on every ascent, motivating her to run it in. We crossed the finish line with the time of 10:04, giving her a 20 minute PR! 

The rest of the evening flew by. Once I crossed the finish line I was made aware that finishers received a jacket, mind blown right there. Before making my way over to the swag bag table, I made sure to say hi to the plethora of dogs hanging around the finish line. Was this heaven? This is this fiesta I was looking for! Endless food, beer and all the cute dogs to say hi to. I only had to run 50 miles to get here- shoot sign me up every weekend! After retrieving my incredible swag bag, I made my way over to the array of food booths, ordered a personal cheese-less pizza and a veggie tamale. All food in hand, beer in the other, dogs surrounding me, and tired legs- life was good. 

 My race goal: Pet all the dogs was a success! Thanks for the pawsitively lovely photo Howie Stern!

My race goal: Pet all the dogs was a success! Thanks for the pawsitively lovely photo Howie Stern!

The next day runners and friends gathered at a local winery for some wine tasting and celebration. In the morning the sky gave a spectacular array of bright clouds that once the wine tasting started was dark and gifted us with a light shower. I don't think anyone really cared. The entire weekend was spectacularly well put together, the race organizers are professional in their kindness and charm (they even donate all proceeds to children scholarships). When I initially signed up I didn't realized how incredible this community was going to be, how well put together the race is, how many insanely talented and wonderful human beings it attracts and just how gosh darn nice everyone from the athletes to the organizers to the volunteers are! What else can I say to praise this race a bit more? Um, the signs along the course were awesome, and did I mention the tamales? 

So, this pretty much sums it up: Everything was great, I felt great, the people were great, the course was great, the food was great, the weather was great and the dogs... they were great. 

Before going back to the hectic long hours of running around work like a stressed out mad woman begins again, I was able to spend some quality time out on the trails with Juniper, giving me the opportunity to test the body for any kinks or pain. Each day was successful except maybe my body going with the flow a bit too much on top of Baden Powell, oh the perks of being female. Get it? Get it? Flow! Either way I'm taking it easy, recovering and indulging in some treats and beer before I stop drinking for another month or so... who knows. What's next? Gosh, opportunities change daily. Seattle in a few weeks for Orcas 50 miler? Squamish in June, Colorado in July, Cascade in August... the summer will be full of adventure and the stoke is HIGH and preferably I will be high as well- high on mountain tops that is. 

Till next time!