Training had been very consistent with 80+mi weeks (and a few 7-day stretches of 95+mi's) with a good balance of climbing, flats, and downs. Mostly tempo-effort/efficiency stuff; I haven't really dove into much intensity yet (trying to time it just right come June 29th!).
Some notable outings leading up:
- An Ashland training weekend with Timmy and Joe back in late-Feb
- River City Marathon (2:45) in early March
- An 18.6mi Green Gate to Robie Point "race" on the WS trail with Mr. Wonderful (Senor Maravilla)...in which he was in "zone 1" the entire time, while I was in the "twilight zone" being woo'd by his El Salvadorian smile:)
- A Michigan Bluff to Pacific Slab Mine & Back (4+hrs, 23mi's, 7.8k' vert) in which I was fueled entirely by almonds and had a historic bonk a mile out from MB (I don't recommend *just* almonds.....)
- A rolling 19mi road run w/ ~1,400' of gain in 1:58 (just over 6min pace) 2wks out
Ok....it's been 8 months since my last serious ultra (Waldo 100k), it's GO TIME!
|Channeling my inner Karate Kid at 5am on race morning. Photo: Joe Uhan|
Joe and I were up at 4:30am, scouring around for our gear, throwing back some coffee, and eating peanut butter (the idea was to trigger the body to start burning fat from the get-go, thus, preserving necessary carbs). I was pretty chipper and filled with child-like excitement simply for the fact that, for me, the 2013 ultra racing season had officially begun. So I wanted to kick-off the morning to this, but Joe had sour memories of it from '12 TNF50, so he protested ....."What a DEHCK!" :)
We rolled into the parking lot/starting area at Lake Sonoma around 5:40am and after a some time of chillaxin', followed by a brief jog, and deuce; here we were, on the starting line of one of the deepest fields ever assembled for a 50-miler (a common phrase now-a-days in this competitive era of ultrarunning).
And then, after Tropical John sent us off, he we were, running the expected 6min+/mi pace up the road. I settled in with Joe and Nick, while a good group of ten or so guys were already off the front not too far ahead. I was interested to see where my legs were for the day and no sooner than that thought had left my mind, that I realized I was already falling back up the first (of a few) long rollers along this 2.4mi pavement section. No biggie, everyone's going out fast (as expected), I'm just gonna hover back here in 20th or so place and let everything warm up.
I let Joe, Nick, Mackey, and a bunch of other guys go while I tried to find a hard, but sustainable rhythm. Eventually, the pavement ended (:16) and we veered right to meet up with some sweet single-track and a fun, twisty-turvy little 800' drop.
Then, almost comically, carnage had already struck (ruh-really, bro??). Not two strides into the descent and I see the heavy pre-race favorite Miguel Heras limping back up (Oh snap! Miguel's already out!). Apparently he (re-?)injured his leg. Bummer dude.
I continued to flow downhill, scooting by Philip Reiter and a few others guys, starting to feel the groove of the trail. That is, until I hit the first (of many!) short, steep uphills. And then, my momentum (and legs) just felt like they hit a wall. No power or umph! on the steep ups, it seemed. And like that, I lost the train of Joe and the boys.
Things would smooth out on the flats and downs, but anything steep just stopped me in my tracks. When something throws a wrench in your race, you immediately go into problem-solve mode: Ok, the steeps aren't feeling good today, I can't control that. What can I control? My stride. Efficiency. Calories. Leg turnover.
So that's what I did. Just focused on the basics. I set my racing mentality aside and made sure that if I was going to do the best I could for what my legs were giving me today, I had to make the most what I could control. And luckily for me, I had some good guys to share this experience with. Yassine Diboun then came up behind me, peppering me with positive encouragement. "You're running a smart race, Jake!"
At that time, I really needed to hear that because it can be disheartening being left in the dust. So Yassine and I pushed together in tandem, mostly chatting and trying to help one another the best we could. Shortly thereafter the first aid (Island View, mi 4.2 - 30:00) we caught up to Gary Gellin and the three of us found a sustainable and fluid rhythm that would carry us through the next aid (Warm Springs, mi 11.5 - 1:26).
|Photo: Willy Onate|
It was here that Gary reassured us that we were definitely running sub-7hr pace and we came through a few min faster than last years group. There was a brief climb out of the aid and it seemed Yassine was intent on making up some ground so he took off from Gary and I, while I tried to latch onto Yassine's stellar pace (and uplifting comments!).
It was not to be (for a while, that is), but I was able to pull away from Gary slightly on some of the flats/downs through this beautiful section. Running solo proved to be mentally refreshing for a bit as I was able to chill-out and take in the scenery. Although, as the trail started to undulate some more, I saw a guy up ahead moving decently well still.
Turned out to be Brian Tinder - who I had never met previously - and as both Yassine and Gary had been for me earlier, Brian proved to be a well-suited running partner as we neared the next aid. Brian was in good spirits, and like me, just soaking in the day and trying to run as smoothly as possible. We chatted quite a bit and I did my best to reassure him that we were moving at a smart pace and to stay relaxed and efficient.
I should mention that before I left Gary, he yelled ahead to me to get to the next aid (Wulfow, mi 16) in 2hrs12min to maintain that sub-7 effort. Sure enough, Brian and I came through in 2:09 and it pumped me up that I had been consistently right where I needed to be. With the elation of such news, the flowy flatness of the trail and throwing down a Gu Roctaine, I felt SUPS' AWES'!
The next aid (Madrone, mi 18.8) was a mere 2mi hop down the trail and soon enough, I came through in 2:25 with the perfect view of Hal-Daddy up the climb ahead. From Madrone, we ran ~1/2mi up this SUPS' steep gravelly road and while I was huffin' up this baby, catching up to Hal was motivation to keep pushin'.
Hal was walking and I asked if he was ok? "Yeah man, I'll be ok. Foot problem." At that moment, I wished that I had some Lithia Water because I've heard, "It can cure a lot of things. This may cure my foot, actually!"
Atop the climb, we regained the trail to the right and it was a pretty sweet, rolling descent down toward the lake. I was solo again and curious who was ahead and by how far? After a weave in/out by the lake, I hit the beastly 800' climb that would take us up to the 25mi turnaround point. As had been my burden to bear all day, the steepness of this climb simply left me feeling like ground (DECAF) espresso beans. I BGD'd MYSELF! (Is that possible?). Therefore, again, I had to keep it simple. Use the butt, pelvis, and arms to get up this thing.
So I pumped away and soon enough, Max King comes flyin' downhill past me. And then, not ten seconds later, Cameron Clayton was in hot pursuit. Wow, what a race! Where's Sage Canaday? I wondered as I knew he was one of the other pre-race favorites. 5min later, He comes flyin' by, closely followed by Chris Vargo.
Then, a few minutes after that, to my surprise, Jorge Maravilla is pounding down the trail, too, in 5th place! I was stoked to see my amigo doing so well and knew that if I only saw the top 5 already heading back, there had to be a slew of guys within minutes ahead.
Not only was I looking forward to the turnaround in order to make the drive to the finish, but Sara would be there waiting. I was eager to see my baby's momma and after some encouragement from Chris Perillo, I shot into the 25mi aid at No-Name Flat in 3:15. Sara was a champ in handing me a new bottle and shoving gels into my pockets (WS crew chief right there!) and got me out of there within 30 seconds.
|Coming into the turnaround. There's my wife (and 11 week old baby!) Photo: Willy Onate|
Alright, moment of truth. Time to get it done. I climbed back out of the aid and was comforted to not see anyone coming in. Chris, again, provided some positive encouragement and I tried my best to work the descent back and get to Madrone again in one piece. The downs continued to feel good and thankfully, once at the bottom of the climb and back onto more flat-ish stuff, I saw Yassine again! Sweet!
I tried to muscle my way over the terrain and over to Yassine, but then everything came to a screeching halt. CRAMPS! Ouch. I began cramping in my inner right thigh. I've never cramped there before and I stopped as the seizing was pretty painful. I was probably stopped for a good minute (thank you to everyone who came by me and was positive) and again, went into problem-solve mode. What do I need to do to keep moving? It then hit me: I've been sweating a great deal today and have only taken 2 S Caps. Therefore, I swallowed 2 in haste and sure enough, the cramps disappeared. Thank you God!
|Pretty sure I was cramping here. Photo: Gary Wang|
While the cramps disappeared, a few still remained mentally. Having never, ever experienced cramps like that in a race before (I've been fortunate in my ultrarunning career to have only had minor blips that have lasted very briefly, yet weren't stride-inhibiting) I was worried that they'd come back. In retrospect, those cramps were probably the best thing that could've happened to me. Why? Knowing that cramps are part salt/electrolyte deficiency and part muscular fatigue-related, I touched up my stride some to make sure that I was as efficient as possible over the varying terrain. Any wasteful muscular energy at this point would be no bueno, therefore, I had to be almost perfect in my mechanics in order to have the best finish possible.
This seemed to work pretty well and for the remainder of the race, I let the cramps be the spokesperson on whether I needed salt again (it worked REALLY well!). As I made it through that rough patch (probably cost me ~4min overall with the stop and the super slow pace I adopted for a good 1/2mi as I was working out the mental cramps), I made it up to the gravelly road again and this time, enjoyed a nice, relaxing descent down to Madrone (mi 30.9).
As I neared the aid, I saw that familiar Salomon racing outfit just pulling in. It's Greg Vollet! That provided some encouragement that even though I was working through some low points, I was still catching people. Greg got out of the aid just before me (4:01), but a few strides along the single-track and I pulled up right behind him. We chatted for a little bit. He seemed to be hurting a good deal and I tried in earnest to encourage him the best I could.
He let me go and I pulled into Wulfow (~mi 33, 4:19), refilled quickly and got back to work. Looking back, this is where I really started to gain momentum. The trail was super fast, rolling, with many stretches of flat running, and I ate it up.
|Cruisin' the bomb single-track that surrounds Lake Sonoma. Photo: Keli Kelemen|
As my confidence grew, I knew that with how fast everyone went out, I should be catching people soon. Sure enough, just ahead up a small climb, I saw 2 people! One looked like Erik Skaggs, but the other made it over the hill before I could get a familiar glimpse. 1/4mi later and I started chatting with Erik. From what I could tell, his racing day was over and it was a matter of just getting to the finish. He was rockin' the NB 1400's while I was wearing the NB 890v2's. "How are the 1400's holding up?" I asked. "Pretty good, I wish I would've worn the 890's though!"
We laughed and I took off in pursuit of whoever was just ahead. After one of the 4 shin-deep creek crossings, I finally saw who it was.....Yassine! This raised the stoke-mometer a few degrees and right before the Warm Springs aid (mi 38.2), a spectator yelled out, "He's only 35 seconds ahead!"
As I dropped into the aid from above (5:05), I saw Yassine just leaving, but to my surprise, there was Rickey Gates still in the aid! Therefore, I yelled out, "Dude, Rickey, this is like '11 North Face 50 all over again!" (We had run a little bit together around the same mileage point that year). I bolted from the aid and prompted him to tag along. He seemed to be in "just finish" mode, which I respected, so I took off to see if I could catch Yassine.
After another creek crossing, I finally started to close the gap as I stuck to my simple plan: Efficient on the ups, push the flats, maintain on the downs. Soon enough, Yassine yelled some positive words to me and it was here that we fell into a really sustainable tandem. Like we had done before, we both knew that helping one another would help our respective races individually.
I'll be honest, though, I'm a fierce competitor and I tried my best to pull away from Yassine, but he continued to stay right on my tail. We both tried to keep the mood light as the temps started to rise (but it never felt that warm) and this stretch was probably the toughest mentally as there was a 7+mi stretch with no aid. Therefore, I gave myself 1hr-1:05 and every 10min, would look down at my watch and mentally reassure myself that I only had :xx amount of time left until the last aid station.
|Trying to *stay forward* and remain efficient. Photo: ?|
Probably 3mi's out from Island View (mi 45.5), Yassine mentioned that Tim Olson was only a few minutes ahead. This came as a surprise to me as I wasn't expecting to come upon Tim at all. Therefore, I kept to my plan and the cramps stayed at bay and I was able to move really well through here.
Sure enough, I saw Tim just up ahead and yelled some good words toward him. He told me that his knee was buggin' him and he was just gonna protect it the best he could. I wished him well, and not a 1/2mi later, there was someone else! Josh Brimhall was walking up a switchback climb and I tip-toed my way toward him as Yassine started to majorly deal with cramps here and fell back some.
I caught Josh and figured that I was now probably in 11th place. So in the last 15 or so miles, I had moved from 17th - 11th. Top 10 sounded really appealing at this point and I tried in earnest to keep the foot on the pedal without overdoing it.
The last :10-:15 before I reached Island View I ran out of water, but actually felt fine as I've been doing the majority of my training without fluids. In fact, on 70+ degree days, I've run 2 hours or more without feeling thirsty. I think without a doubt it has helped me mentally having been training with minimal intake.
I reached the turnoff down to Island View Aid (mi 45.5) and a 1/4mi later I was chugging Coke, drank half a bottle, and refilled my bottle and was off. I then saw Josh and Yassine just before I popped back out on the service road and estimated that I had roughly 4min on them. However, it was a downer that I didn't see 10th place coming out of Island View before I had entered. Had I, I might have made it interesting for whoever the old chap was :)
Nevertheless, having just seen the guys again, this gave me some good adrenaline and I tried my best to push over the rollers to the turnoff which would signal 2.5mi's to go. I wound around the lake, literally counting every minute and estimating what my time would be. I really wanted to be done, but I really wanted to finish well, too.
I eventually made it to the turnoff and thought, OK, it's time to GO! I pushed the pace and dug deep, however, my left calf had thoughts otherwise. CRAMP! Dangit. I backed off the pace, threw down another S Cap and gel and chilled out for a bit to make sure it was ok. Looking back, that cramp was a real drag because I wanted to push as hard as I could, but at the same time, didn't want to risk tying up so close to the finish. So I played it safe and just tried to move swiftly over the rollers.
Eventually, I hit the 1mi to go sign (such a nice touch Tropical John!) and thought, might as well time my last mile. So I picked it up some and was relieved that my calf cramp wasn't rearing its ugly head. After seeing the bridge, I crossed the pavement intersection, and "kicked it" into the finishing chute in a time of 6:57:38 which was good enough for 11th place (8:08 last mile).....4min behind 10th place finisher, Lord Nick Clark of Canterbury :)
|A much-appreciated congratulatory hand-shake from RD Tropical John Medinger. Photo: Mom|
|Phew. What a day. Photo: Mom|
|"So do you want to run tomorrow?" "Sure, I'm down." (We did....11.4mi's) Photo: Mom|
|"Dark Chocolate" is key for post-race recovery. Mi amigo. Photo: Mom|
|It's always nice to sit down post-race. Photo: Mom|
|The three of us. So glad many got to meet this woman last weekend. Photo: Mom|
Shorts - 3" NB split short (modified w/ pockets)
Shirt - NB Momentum Short Sleeve (Cut sleeves off)
Socks - Injinji Trail 2.0's (Green)
EX-Celerator Compression Socks post-race (Black)
Head - Injinji Buff (Soooo Sweet!)
Shoes - New Balance 890v2's (Orange/Black/Grey) - 250mi's on this pair heading in
Calories - ~2,100 (1 gel/:20, 5oz Coke/hr in the last 3hrs)
Water - ~30oz/hr
Salt - 8-9 S Caps
Already, I'm thinking about coming back next year. Thank you Tropical John (and volunteers) for putting on such a high-quality event. Every aspect of this race was dialed. Impressive.
How do I feel about my performance at LS50? Overall, very satisfied. Being a slight perfectionist, I know I could've done better, but I ran sub-7, *almost* top-10, finished strong, and had a strong 2nd half of the race. I did what I needed to do. The focus is WS.
Also, very proud of Joe Uhan and his performance. As most know, he and I have grown to be very good friends and I was so thrilled for him that he absolutely killed it at Sonoma. Watch out. Joe will be a legitimate threat to the top 5 at WS. Proud of you, Joe!
New Balance Roseville continually provides what I need to do what I love. It's been 2.5 years partnering with them and it continues to get better. Thank you Chris Ross and team at NBR.
5th race in a row with no blisters. Continually impressed with the Team at Injinji. Not only do they care about providing the best product for their customers, but they value relationships with their athletes and go above and beyond to meet their needs. Humbled by their support.
What's next? A nice recovery week this week followed by an intense 7-8 weeks laying the finishing touches on my Western States preparation. Very encouraged by what went down at Sonoma. I didn't kill myself out there; ran smart, within myself, and efficient; and am hungry for the big dance and to really lay it all out there.
Thank you friends, family, and loved ones for your support. Above all, I thank God for this gift to enjoy. His love is overwhelming and is shown in so many subtle ways. Sometimes I don't feel worthy to be his child, knowing who I am and what I've done in the past, but then I see what he did on the cross, and am humbled and reminded that his love is unconditional, real, and radical.