It’s 5:32am and “MMMBop” is blaring through the speakers of our rental car as we cruise into the Start area of the Lake Sonoma 50 trail race. I survey the cloudy skies upon stepping out of the car- This is going to be perfect running weather!
I quickly head to check-in; grab my designated bib #22; hit the bathrooms one last time, then make my way to the Nike tent. I am excited to finally meet the rest of my teammates and happily relish in the joy that comes with being a part of a team. Today is also the day we get to debut the new Nike Running kits- the men are decked out in bright yellow and the women in magenta. We chat and joke with each other for a few minutes and then disperse for some final focused minutes before the race.
I decide to go back to the car and remove my layers; pin my bib; and sit quietly when I immediately notice I’m being followed by two men carrying a large light and a camera- it’s Nike.
I laugh nervously “Oh hi!” and they excitedly begin asking questions about the race and recovery while snapping away.My heartrate starts to soar as I begin pinning my bib in place, Focus Sally…focus. A few more photos and I’m asked if I’m ready to race, I excitedly respond, “Yes, I’m ready!” I shed my layers then sprint to the nearest bush- nerves! It’s now 10 minutes before the start time so I throw on my hydration pak and walk toward the fast forming mass of anxious runners. I scan the group for the women’s front pack and begin making my way toward them when I’m quickly redirected to gather with my teammates for a picture. At this point, we’re given the 30 second alert and I realize I will (again) be starting front and center with the men- I chuckle at the sight of it and remind myself to not get caught in their start pace. 10 more seconds….a final deep breath….Here we go Sally!
We immediately fly downhill out of the parking lot and onto the highway. For the next 2 miles we’ll descend and climb on the road before hitting the Laughing Springs trail. With no women in sight, I tell myself to slow down; I’m tempted to look over my shoulder but instead wait patiently to be absorbed by the ladies lead pack-and sure enough within a minute they arrive and I take my place somewhat comfortably behind the strong and speedy Stephanie Howie, Emily Harrison, Kaci Lickteig and Jodee Adams-Moore. This section of the race should be breezy but my body is aching and my legs are heavy- I begin to curse Mother Nature for her surprise visit yesterday and then tell myself to “Shut up and run!” I refuse to make this an excuse for a junky run! We hit the final climb on the road and I slow away from the lead pack, frustrated with the overall ache I’m feeling. I had feared that this would happen and for the week leading up to the race made sure to take the proper supplements; eat extra clean; and get extra rest; but despite my efforts I couldn’t alter the familiar merciless symptoms- I start to get angry. Three more women pass me and I don’t like that; and so with just 100 yards before hitting the much anticipated trail, I decide to make an early statement and pass all of them back- “C’mon buck up Sally!!”
Once on the trail, I spot the front women and steadily close in on Emily (the eventual women’s champ)- she looks calm and strong as I pass her on a downhill. Negative thoughts start to flood my mind as I feel my lungs start to tighten; my eyes start watering and I realize I’m having a reaction to something on the trail. I struggle on the next climb and force myself to powerhike and I’m immediately passed by five people, including Emily. We’ve just passed the first aid station (Island View Mile 4.3) and I start considering a drop from the race… Why run if you can’t race to your potential; this is stupid; just drop and focus on WS100; it’s not your day; we all have bad days; you can’t change the circumstances.
I struggle mentally for the next few miles, toiling with the idea to drop. My wheezing breaths have also started to alert runners around me and I again turn to my negative bag of thoughts, Sally you sound like a chainsmoker…are you really going to run all 50 miles breathing like that? What a disappointment. I choose to quickly counter it, “Cmon Sally you trained so hard, you’re still on track to run a sub-8, you’re not a quitter, it can change, keep going!” I choose to slow down a bit and gut it out until the Warm Springs aid station (Mile 11.6). Despite my moment of optimisim, I continue battling negative thoughts, an aching heavy body and restricted breathing.
Happy faces and voices greet me as I enter Warm Springs Aid Station; I pause to put my hands on my knees and attempt two full breaths; I gotta keep moving-screw this! The trail opens up in just a bit; wait for the fields- you’ll be better! I fill my bottle, grab a couple gels and spot my buddy Josh Spector (on duty to film the Women’s Race) he quickly enocourages me, “You look great Sally!” I glance at my watch and realize I’m still moving at an okay pace; I accept his words and hop back on the trail.
The women’s lead pack is long gone; and I settle into a lonely 6th place. Still upset. I spot the ever-steady Angela Shartel- less than 200 meters behind me-and another woman roughly 200 meters ahead. I frog-hop with a few men for the next 5 miles before passing them and the woman in front of me. I’m now in 5th place but still not feeling any better. The trail begins to open into the meadows I had been anticipating- I start to take deep breaths and continue power-hiking the hills. Easy breaths…easy breaths…why didn’t you just take the prescription for the inhaler Sally…you’re so stubborn! Ahhhh! Shut up and run! And so the mental battle rages on.
17 miles in and I begrudgingly start looking for a far-off place to dig a hole; at this point Angela Shartel passes me, I don’t bother pacing with her…I need a place to bow to Mother Nature. A half mile later I find a spot and make my way for some large bushes off the trail. I hear one, two, three, four people pass. Again, I get angry- I jump back on the trail and give chase, passing all of them before hitting Madrone Point (Mile 18.8) I arrive feeling slightly better and brighten up when I notice the awesome Meghan Arbogast is volunteering. She greets me with a smile and she along with another volunteer ask if I need an inhaler; I say yes but stubbornly explain that I’ll be fine. I fill my bottle; grab a handful of gels and head towards another climb. Get to that turn-around Sally.
For the next 7 miles I talk myself through the good reasons to keep running: This is great training for WS100; this is how most races go- expect the unexpected- don’t make excuses- do the best with what you have to work with- take your eyes off yourself…keep your eyes up Sally.
Mile 22 and I spot the 1st place male running toward me; he has already hit the turnaround point at No Name Flat (Mile 25.2). It’s my teammate Zach Miller! And with a huge grin on his face he’s flying downhill…alone. I smile, Look how joyful he’s running! He gets closer and I cheer him on- shortly after he passes, Sage Canaday and Chris Vargo, running strong in 2nd and 3rd, appear. I congratulate their solid efforts and start looking for the first female. I wonder how far I am from the women’s front pack?
The climb to the No Name Aid Station is long and exposed; my breathing has eased a bit- I’m no longer covered in a cave of plants and trees, but I can’t shake how my body is feeling- like someone tied cinderblocks to my ankles and then ran me over with a freight train. I decide to further distract myself with the men’s front pack and cheer on anyone who passes. Just as I hit mile 23 I see Emily Harrison making her way toward me; looking strong and relaxed- we exchange smiles and I wish her well as she passes. A few minutes later I spot Stephanie Howe- again exchaging smiles; and finally I see Jodee in third and wish her well as I begin the 3/4 loop to No Name Flat (Mile 25); I arrive happily- this is the best aid station of the race. Loads of people are bustling around; crew members are rustling through bags; cameras are snapping and I begin to spot familiar faces like Jorge Maravilla and the RD John Medinger. John laughs and snaps a pic of me as I banter with the volunteers about their clever idea to have a community cup for Coke. A few more laughs and my buddy Josh Spector who had followed me into the aid station, is now encouraging me to get out, “Let’s go Sally!!” ha ha! Oh I love the trail community- that silliness was just what I needed.
The next 5 miles became my favorite part of the entire race…I got to see everyone racing and leaving that aid station is the beginning of a long descent. Although it took me almost the marathon distance to accept, I finally chose to embrace the day I was having and just enjoy the journey and push as hard as my body would allow that day. As I made my way down the long winding hill, I was greeted with smiles, cheering and even people who knew my name- I felt grateful, but also ashamed at moments; knowing how much grumbling and complaining I had been doing early in the race. Seeing everyone was such a good reminder to appreciate the journey and the many who share the trails with me along the way; sure it wasn’t the race I had hoped it to be but I also needed to be mindful of the many other reasons I race and this section of the race allowed me to do just that.
I made my way back to Madrone Point (Mile 30.9) and was greeted with Meghan’s cheery voice “You feeling any better?” (so kind) I nodded, “Yes”, filled my bottle and continued on. Okay Sally, just 20 miles…let’s see what you can do. There’s still a race to run and you don’t know what’s happening up front.
I ran hopeful- in hunting mode; doing my best to run strong and steady those final 20 miles; and being at peace that I had to make necessary stops/slow along the way whether I liked it or not.
The end result: I remained and finished 6th female overall in 8:20, beating last year’s time by 12 minutes and noting a top 10 finish in arguably the most competitive 50 mile race of the year. I gained a solid 50.5 miles and 11,000 feet of climbing on my legs- a respectable training experience for Western States 100. And lastly, I was again challenged to remain grateful, persevering, and strong amid disappointment.
I’ll take it all. I’ll use it all and I’ll only get stronger.
Thanks to John Medinger; for once again; putting on an incredible weekend; for giving so much back to charity; for your selflessness throughout the entire race weekend; and for gathering such incredible volunteers to work the aid stations- I will surely be back again next year!
Skirt/Tank: Nike Elite 2014 Race Kit
Shoes: Nike Pegasus
Fuel: Vitargo. (Additionally, gels provided by the race: GU)
Pre-Race Song: “Shine” David Crowder
Huge congrats to the entire Nike Trail Team for placing in the top ten; notably Zach Miller’s incredible performance breaking the course record coming in first place. Both Alex and Zach won spots to WS100! So proud of all of you!
(Zach Miller 1st, Alex Varner 4th, David Laney 5th, Ryan Ghelfi 6th, Daniel Kraft 9th, Chris Vargo had to drop due to an injury.)