|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|
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.
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)"