Tuesday, May 12, 2015

3 2 1 Lake Sonoma!

Photo: Billy Yang
Lake Sonoma was my first 50 mile race ever. In 2012, I was a newbie runner, with three 50k races under my belt. I was [timidly] ready to make the jump to the 50 mile distance. I did my best to prepare, including some great tutelage from my good friend Meghan Arbogast. I was as ready as I'd ever be...except I got the stomach flu a few days beforehand. Not the best feeling going into your longest race ever. Anyway, I still raced and finished third. Far from an ideal race, but I was just happy to cross the finish line in one piece! Back then, only the top 2 places earned Western States spots, which I was a little bummed about. BUT, honestly that was the best thing that could have happened to me. After one 50 mile, I was no where near ready for 100 miles.

Photo: iRunFar
2012 Lake Sonoma Podium. Joelle, Tyler, and I.
Anyway. Back to Lake Sonoma.

So the first year I raced I finished third. In 2013, I was planning to race, but was forced to sit it out due to injury. 2013 was a big year for learning. I was injured almost more than I was running. I learned the hard way not to do too much too soon. Looking back now, I'm like what were you thinking?!

In 2014 I returned to Lake Sonoma, healthy and ready to run. It was a cool day and I felt much better than my previous attempt. Emily Harrison took the win and course record that year in 7:26. I finished a several minutes back, in 7:33 for second place. I cut off nearly 45 minutes from my previous time, which I felt good about. Plus, Emily is a runner I really look up to and was psyched to not get totally annihilated :)
Emily and I, Lake Sonoma 2014
I decided to run Lake Sonoma again this year because I hadn't felt that I nailed the race yet. Sure in 2014 I ran well, but the last 11 miles ate me alive! There was still a lot of room for improvement. Maybe not so much in my time or finish, but in the way I ran the race. I wanted to still be pushing at the end, not merely trying to survive the last couple hours.

If you would have asked me my goals going into LS this year, I would have said that it was a bonus race for me. I wasn't targeting it nor did I feel that I had really nailed my training leading up to the race. I simply wanted to get another race start under my belt for the spring and to run the last 1/3 of the race better. My goal that I didn't really tell anyone was to run around 7:30. I thought that was attainable if I had a great day. I thought 7:33 that I ran the previous year was pretty darn fast under ideal conditions. I also wanted to finish on the podium. I knew there were quite a few women capable of that feat, and I wanted to be among them. irunfar Pre-Race wine tasting Interview

Photo: iRunFar
Turns out someone lit a fire under my ass.

I don't know what got into me. Somewhere around 5-6 miles into the race I decided it was my day. It was my f$%^& day to run this race. I wanted to lead wire to wire and if I couldn't, well at least I'd put up a good fight. That doesn't mean that I went balls out from the gun. I still paced myself early on and had some good chit chat with Cassie Scallon early on. Once we crossed the river, around 11 miles in, YiOu Wang, Topher Gaylord, and I grouped up and ran for the next 10 miles or so. It was pretty comfortable and I was enjoying their company.

I look cold. Gary should have shared his blanket!
There are basically three big climbs on the LS course, and they all occur around the halfway point. I look forward to those long hills because I can finally get into a groove. All those quick spicy hills don't suit me very well. It was on the first of the three long uphills that I kind of went for it. Again, nothing crazy, but I just got into a groove and let my legs do their thing. On the downhill side, instead of holding back, I pushed the pace. Why not give it a try?

Early on
Photo: Chris Jones
I was definitely having fun, pushing the pace on the uphills and letting my legs roll on the downs. After a brief moment of panic at the halfway point: someone stole Brian Tinder's weed!! JK- that is a joke....he made a funny at the aid station, I was excited to start the trek back to the finish. I really was looking forward to the turnaround for two reasons:

1. I'm halfway (duh!)


2. To see and cheer for other runners passing by running outbound. It boosts my mood to see other racers, especially some of my good friends!

Somewhere around 30 miles in, I sort of paid the price for all the "fun" pushing the downhills. My quads were trashed. Oh well. I knew I could run 20 miles on trashed quads, it was just a matter of keeping my energy levels up. I continued to fuel well (3 Clif shot gels per hour) and tried to run as smooth as possible.

Photo: iRunFar
I can't say that I really enjoyed the last 11 miles, but I was able to keep pushing forward. My legs hurt pretty bad, but I kept a good attitude and tried my best to not let the wheels come off.

When I race I normally don't look at my watch at all. I like to just go off feel. I do keep tabs on the miles though, and when my watch buzzed at mile 44 I looked down at the time. "Holy crap- if I can just average 10 min miles for the last 6 miles I'll have a course record!" That was actually the first time that thought crossed my mind. And as I neared the finish, the course record became a more tangible prospect.

The last mile of LS is killer. If anyone tells you different, they are lying. It's mostly uphill and there are some rocky sections. It's seems to take an exponentially long time. In the past years I've fallen in the last mile because I just couldn't pick up my feet enough. No falls this time, but plenty of fatigue.

Photo: Chris Jones
I made it to the finish line in 7:08!! Which surprised the crap out of me! I didn't think I could run that fast, especially on a course like Lake Sonoma. No one was more surprised than me. In a good way :) I did put myself under pretty good, but it was worth it because I really wanted that double magnum of wine that had eluded me the past few years!

irunfar Post-Race Wine Tasting Interview

Ultra Sports Live Interview

Thanks Wilson Wine!
Photo: Billy Yang
I've had lots of time to process my race at Lake Sonoma, and I'm still not entirely sure how I pulled it off. Comparing my race from 2014 to 2015 (I'm not a data geek, but this is interesting), I thought I'd see similar splits for the first 30-40 miles, then a much better pace for the last 10 miles. Not exactly. I actually just ran about 30 seconds per mile faster for the entire race. Interesting....does that mean there is still room for improvement over the last 10 miles? Haha. I don't know, but I'm pretty content with my race. In fact, it may have been one of my best races ever......

(2014 Lake Sonoma Strava)

Of course, I couldn't have raced so well without some great support. I am the luckiest girl alive to have THE BEST crew on the planet! Thanks Elisa Cheng and Brian Carroll for being awesome. And a special thanks to Zach, who not only crewed for me, but also put up with my pre-race shenanigans and drove me to the start at 5:30am.

And another big thanks to my sponsors: The North Face, Clif Bar, Flora, Nathan, and Julbo. Their support and products make it possible for me to race!

And finally, (is this the academy awards?!) thanks to my coach Ian Torrence for preparing me to kick ass and to Burke Selbst at Focus Physical Therapy for keeping me healthy.

It takes a village.

Post-race wine tasting with the Cheng's


  1. you rock!! i bet that is one heck of a feeling knowing your crushed your goal time but 20+ minutes

  2. Congrats on an awesome race and this is a great report. I love how you put it in context of your previous attempts at this race.

    I have a question. I have run 16 marathons (one at 2:57) and 2 50Ks (including Ice Age last week). I tend to use 1 gel per hour and am wondering what you are getting from 3 per hour and if your stomach is okay later in the race with so much gel in there. Thank you.

    1. Yes! You need about 300 calories per hour to optimize your nutrition. Your stomach will have less GI issues if you take in enough!

  3. 1 gel per hour is no where near enough! I have no stomach issues with 3 gels per hour, but I have fine tuned my fueling over the past couple years. If you are interested in learning more I offer sports nutrition consults!

  4. Phenomenal race Stephanie. Seriously should be considered one of the performances of the year when it's all said and done. Congrats again!

  5. Simply awesome performance. That last 12 miles is awful for everyone, even on a good day. But did you know your time for that section was faster than 50% of women on mountain bikes in the SoNoMas 34 mile mtb race a week earlier. Wow.

  6. Great, thank you for this article!
    I hate injuries. I suffered from shin splints for a long time. So bad I remember standing at the sink (on New Year's Eve) and sobbing because of the pain!
    Do not recall how I got them, though it was likely from to much tennis. Lots of contrast soaks (hot tub of water, towels in the freezer) did the trick. I found this useful trip at never-never-never-give-up.com It is worth it!