Friday, April 18, 2014

2014 Lake Sonoma 50 - Fearless, Free, and Full of Faith

Just before the turnaround. Photo: Myles Smythe/UltraSportsLive.TV

At the beginning of the year, I sat down and wrote out goals for 2014. Ever since my '13 Western States meltdown, I had a hunger and thirst to be intentional and purposeful in the most important areas of my life, for the sake of being fruitful in my life. Therefore, I asked myself, "If I could have a fruitful year, what would I need to be DOING?" And wrote down goals accordingly - beginning with my relationship with God, my marriage, as a father, coach, co-worker, runner and so on. Like I've mentioned before, last year, my priorities were completely unbalanced .... and it showed. This year, I really wanted my priorities in line - to be fruitful, purposeful, and intentional - for the betterment of others and for my own personal growth as a man.

Running has taken a back seat, to an extent, but so far this year, I've had more joy, blessing, peace, and faith than maybe I've ever had. And I believe it has manifested itself in my running, despite running significantly less miles compared to previous years. A win and CR in my first ultra this year, followed by an unexpected 3rd place podium position at the always-competitive Way Too Cool 50k, and as I prepped for Lake Sonoma, this mantra was at the forefront of my mind: Run fearless, Run free, and Run full of faith.

I felt that if I could do that, I would run really well amidst an assembled field that quite possibly may be the most competitive 50mi field we see this year. With that framework in mind, this was a race to remember.

After my excited nerves finally subsided and I caught some winks, 4:20am came quickly and both Joe and I were up and about doing our usual pre-race rituals. On the way to Lake Sonoma, Joe was clutch in his choice of music - some 2006 Red Hot Chili Peppers - which set the chill vibe.

To further add to the ambiance, once we got to the start/finish area, we were greeted with a serene marine layer of chilly fog. Perfect. Let's do this.

Joe: "Why do my legs look so tan but not my upper body?" Photo: Meredith Stevens

Run Fearless

Tropical John blasted the horn and it was off to the races. I shot off hard down the hill, hung a right, and settled in with the front group of Vargo, Sage, Varner, Krar, and Max. Then, that little voice began to nudge me mentally, "Dude, what are you doing up here?...You don't belong up here, you're not fast enough!" Run Fearless. The mental nudging stopped.

It felt comfortable, so I went with it. Without Cam Clayton's presence, the pace was not as ferocious as last year, but it was still honest (Varner's STRAVA stats has the effort at 5:49 pace for the opening mile).

Eventually, the trio of THE Vargo, Sage, and Max pulled away, while I still hung in with Varner and Krar as we peeled off the road at the 2.5mi mark (16:00), and began the twisty 800' drop onto the beautiful single-track that traverses and weaves around Lake Sonoma. I hung on their heels, but meter-by-meter and seemingly effortlessly, they began to put some distance on me. I kept my head in the game and refused to back off and just focused on running smart, but competitive.

Eventually, we bottomed out by the lake and from there, it's a non-stop charade of 50'-100'+ steep ups and downs. Last year, these hills owned me, but this year, I came prepared and trained specifically for them and it paid off.

Krar and Varner finally got out of sight and then a train of Bob Shebest, Thomas Sanchez, Ryan Ghelfi, and Dan Kraft went by me. Luckily, I was able to hang onto the train of Thomas, Ryan, and Kraft, and it helped to have folks to run with who were running about the pace I wanted to.

However, it became quite clear that Ghelfi, Thomas, and Kraft's anaerobic-strength skills are far superior to mine. I'd lose them on the ups, but then regain them on the flats and downs. This yo-yoing continued on for a good 5+mi's, until they finally got out of sight on a section that included a bunch of steep uphills.

Nevertheless, I came through Warm Springs Aid #1 (11.6mi's) in 1:26+ and started to feel fatigued as I climbed out of there. What I forgot to mention was that for breakfast, I had peanut butter, coconut oil, and half of an avocado; and it sat in my stomach for the first hour - super heavy. I didn't take my first gel until ~1hr 15min and it seems my body was a little peeved that I wasn't feeding it consistent calories, given the pace I was running. Thankfully, I threw down a gel and that seemed to perk things up.

Now that I was truly alone, I was able to just be at peace and run my own race. Over and over, I thanked God for allowing me to take part in this sport, to run these races, and to push myself, for His glory. It's humbling how good He is.

A few miles out from Wulfow Aid (16.9mi's), I caught a glimpse of Thomas Sanchez and just focused on keeping the pedal pressed and him in sights. I thought for sure I'd reel him in shortly, but man, this kid is TOUGH! I couldn't catch him, but then told myself that there was plenty of miles left.

I pulled into Wulfow real quick and it was cool to see Chris Wehan there helping at the aid. A few more ups and downs, and it's a quick 1.9mi hop to the next aid at Madrone (mi 18.8). With how fatigued my climbing was starting to get (in retrospect, I was still way behind on calories), I was sort of dreading the 2nd biggest climb of the course (~600' in ~3/4mi). So as I pulled into the aid, Meghan Arboghast asked me, "Jake, how are you doing?!" I don't even know if I responded as my eyes were locked forward, sort of dreading this climb for some reason. "Sigh. Uh, Ok."

And yeah, it wasn't a pretty climb for me, but I could see Thomas ahead and that motivated me to not let up…..Then, all of a sudden, around a bend, Thomas was sitting on the ground.

"Dude, you ok?"

"Yeah man, blisters! Got my pit crew here!"

"Well alright, see you later!"

And with that, I crested the climb, and started to bomb downhill. I threw down some more calories and my energy levels started to come back (as my heart-rate dropped as well). You can definitely fly through this section and my watch was reading 6:30 mi's which was cool.

Next up was the biggest climb of the course up to the 25mi turnaround. Last year, I was in rough shape coming up this and like the previous climb, was not looking forward to it again. Run Fearless.

I'm not sure if it was a sense of Thomas' presence behind me or the hunger for those ahead of me, but I ran up this steep climb strongly. It felt good and I was thankful.

I ran into No-Name Flat Aid at 25mi's (3:16), talked some smack to Mr. Maravilla for being at a Giants Game all night, and got out of there. A few min up the trail and Thomas was on his way in so I knew I had at least 4min up on him. And it was here, that things got even better.

Run Free

I had my I-Pod tucked in the side pocket of my PI Ultra Shorts and now it was time for the tuneZ. I put the budZ in and by chance, this song was first on my shuffle list. Hillsong United's, "Oceans" has been on my mind for awhile because I think it speaks deeply to the desires of my heart.

                                                                       "Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)"

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You've never failed and You won't start now

So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

I will call upon Your name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine

I know, for me, I desire transparency, trust, intimacy, and a free heart. To not be bound or burdened by life's circumstances. To look beyond the trials in front of me and to have faith that will endure. I remember, at the age of ~19, trying to find purpose and freedom in drugs, sex, girls; you name it. More and more, I "needed it", but more and more, I felt empty. It wasn't sustainable. It was like always eating, but never full; always drinking, but never without thirst. Then I met Christ and my heart exploded - my life was turned upside down - light was finally shined into the darkness of my heart and it radically transformed me. I'm so so so thankful for what God has done in my life. Seriously. 

So I had this song blaring in my ears, a smile on my face, and a green, misty landscape to enjoy. I was at peace.

As I meandered up and down back to Madrone Aid (mi 30.9), I was getting SO into the music I had blasting (Luke Bryan, Randy Houser, One Direction, N'SYNC, Mumford & Sons, Of Monsters and Men) that I found myself singing at the top of my lungs to the oncoming array of runners. Most shook their heads with laughter, some gave me funny glances, but all seemed to reflect on their faces the reality that I was having fun, singing, running, and being free. Run Free.

Just as N'SYNC's "It's Gonna Be Me" was ending, I spotted a runner just ahead leaving the aid-station. Shortly thereafter, I pulled up behind Bob Shebest - who was having a stellar day and running strong - he wished me well and he stayed pretty close all the way up to Wulfow Aid (mi32.8). 

Up to this point, I was shocked that I hadn't cramped yet (last year was a total cramp-fest). Then, of course, they hit in full-force. Right quad/inner-thigh, same spot as last year. I stopped. Flexed the quad (which made it worse). Walked and just focused on positive thoughts and popped a gel in order to put the brain at ease. It worked like a charm. Last year, the constant cramping put me in such a mental funk. This year, I embraced it, worked through it, and continued on running strong. Run Free.

"Baby when you fi-na-lyyyy, get to love some-bod-yyyyy, guess what?! IT'S GONNA BE ME!" Photo: Gary Wang

Then, another minor blip occurred. Literally right before Warm Springs 2 (mi 38), as I was descending, I whipped around the corner, hit some loose dirt and my legs went straight up in the air. I landed HARD on my right shoulder/back/leg. It scraped me pretty good and stung like a mother, but I had to ignore the pain. I had to keep moving, not sinking, but keeping my eyes above the waves like the song says.

I rolled into Warms Springs to a cheer from Joe's Mom and crew - took my first salt tab of the day just to be safe - and had an intent focus on finishing strong. I was still running hard and well on the flats and downs, but the ups were pure survival. I had no more power or strength and had to hike more than I would've liked through here.

Just before I reached Island View 2 (mi 45.5), I saw another body! It was Dan Kraft. I chatted with him for a bit and it seems his butt was cramping and he was working through some issues he had earlier. We both rolled into the aid together and neither of us were rushing to get out of there. We took our time. I pounded coke, grabbed 3 gels and got out of there a step ahead of him.

Just before we popped back out on the main trail, I glanced back and saw Dan a few meters behind. I knew I had to surge up the next hill and hammer downhill to try and get some distance and get out of sight. Sure enough, I tried to muster up any strength I had left and it seemed to be working.

This last stretch is brutal. It's starting to get warm, there's some decent climbing sections, and you just want to be done. I kept looking down at my watch every few minutes: "2.5mi's to go…Now 2mi's to go…Now 1.5mi's to go" ….. "WHERE is that 1mi to go sign?!?!" I thought in my head :)

And there it was. And there *they* were. I cramped again! I stopped, thought about Dan catching me, and shuffled so awkwardly until they went away (it was like a side-shuffle). I've GOT to keep moving! 

Thank goodness they went away and from there, I counted every tenth of a mile until I could see the parking lot. Ah, finally! I made it! I popped out off the trail, put a fist in the air, and a smile on my face, and crossed the finish line in 8th place with a time of 6:52:06. My first top-ten at a majorly competitive 50-miler.

I did it. Thank you God. Photo: Rachel Ekberg

Full of Faith

Like 2012's Way Too Cool 50k and last years Lake Sonoma 50, I faced a lot of the same trials and challenges this year in both those races. But unlike the previous two attempts, I'm a different person this year - spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically - and have handled the trials that have come this year with more faith and action as opposed to crippling fear. Last year, it seemed, I was shaken much more so - things during a race would get to me mentally and bog me down temporarily. This year, while I haven't been perfect - and there's always room for more growth and learning - I've kept my eyes forward more and my feet have followed. I even had a reminder "tattoo'd" on my forearm.

Hebrews 11:1

As I mentioned in the intro, heading into 2014, I wanted to be healthy in all areas of my life. I was tired of being a roller coaster, feeling inadequate and like a hypocrite. I wanted to be steadfast, disciplined, and consistent in the way I lived my life. I wanted to be a husband who was consistent in loving his wife, a father who was steadfast in taking care of his daughter, and a follower of Christ who had a consistent heart-to-heart connection with God and the fruit to show for it by loving others. I'm thankful for the man God is continually trying to grow me into being. He's got A LOT of grace and patience for someone like me :) I need it.

Daddy's Girl!

Mine and Joe's family/crew

-- Lastly, I want to thank my wife Sara for her constant sharpening and support. She challenges and encourages me daily and I've said it before: I am the man I am, largely due to the woman she is. A true blessing and gift from God.

-- A big thank you to my family who comes to every race! Wow. They've been doing it my whole life and that kind of love and support makes a difference. I can't thank them enough for their sacrifice.

-- The William Jessup Cross-Country/Track Team and Coach Parker Daniells. We are family. Their prayers, encouragement, and community they provide has played a huge role in my growth. Thanks guys!

-- Joe. That picture above in the beginning captures it well. Truly a great friend who I am so thankful for. He's done so much for me and been there countless times. We both desire to continue to grow into better men and try to help one another along that journey as well. #BFF

-- Tropical John and Lisa for their genuine hospitality, time, and sacrifice. This race is the standard for all other 50's, on all levels. Thank you both!

-- My sponsor Pearl Izumi. All I need is a pair of shorts and a good pair of shoes and I'm set. The PI Ultra Shorts speak for themselves - the pockets I need and the comfort I desire - can't go wrong. I also ran in the N1 Trail shoes. Enough said, you guys know how solid this shoe is.

-- Friends who supported near and from afar, thank you! Especially my co-worker Jackie who came all the way with her mom to come watch and support. She is intrigued by ultra running which I think is so cool.

Results w/ Splits


  1. Congrats Jacob. Only good things come to those who are patient. Sometimes you have to fall before you are rewarded. Family first is my motto.

  2. Thanks Eddie. That is a great motto ... Definitely need to hit up a run soon.

  3. Anberlin- "innocent"- "Born to Run Carefree...- Love it Jacob!!! Have a Happy Easter!

    1. Good lyrics, thanks man! You too, enjoy it! Thx for reading

  4. Love reading your posts Jake! You are such a good writer and an amazing runner! I am so glad I got to be there supporting you! Thanks for the shout out! :)

    1. Thanks for all your support and for being such a good friend!

  5. Awesome report Jacob! Keep shining HIM in all you are truly inspiring!

  6. Jacob,

    Congrats on the Top 10! More importantly, thank you for the super-encouraging testimony to the faithfulness, sufficiency, relevance, grace and beauty of Jesus!

    Jon Gaus, pastor & ultrapodcast listener

    1. Thanks for the encouragement! Super thankful for what God has done in my life ... Who I used to be and who he's transforming me to be are worlds apart. Thankful for His grace and love! Thanks Pastor Jon!

  7. Hey Jacob! Awesome pics you got there. Made me miss crossing the line with my family and friends cheering for me. You just need to push and push and push. We all have no limits and have endless potentials. It's just how a person will respond to any hindrances. How we take on the challenge with make or break us. Keep your eye on the prize! Good luck! God Bless!