Lake Sonoma 50 2016 is in the books!
What a fun weekend in Healdsburg! RD Tropical John Medinger knows how to put on a race, and this year drew the tough competition we’ve all come to expect at Lake Sonoma 50 miler.
Pre-race talk was split fairly evenly between the women’s race, men’s race, and the weather.
Lots of pre-race women’s chatter was about Camille Herron’s trail ultra debut. How would she do? How would local speedster YiOu (ee-oh) Wang handle the distance that’s eluded her up to this point (3 DNFs at her three 50 mile attempts.) Emily Harrison knows how to win on this course, and then there’s a whole slew of other women–from newbies to veterans–who’d be contending for the Western States Golden Tickets offered up to the top two finishers.
On the men’s side, Varner made it clear on Friday that he wouldn’t be contending for the win, and all eyes were squarely on Jim Walmsley to continue his incredible win streak.
I spoke with Jim on Friday night with his buddies from Flagstaff and knew he’d be ready to throw down hard. I met his buddy Tim Freriks at dinner and found out that Sonoma would be his ultra debut. While he trains with Jim, he’d never raced past 26.2. I asked how he thought his 14 minute 5k time would translate to the trails and what his expectations were. “Oh, you know, just to finish strong…”, and upon further questioning, he told me his expectation was to podium. At that point, I’m pretty sure my eyes rolled so hard that I did permanent damage. Mmmm, that crow sure does taste good!
I also met Tsutomu “Tom” Nagata from Japan thru his host (and my friend) Makiko. Tom had just flown in from Japan the previous day and was exhausted, but his 6:30 100k time and 2:22 marathon piqued my interest enough to add him to my list of fellas to watch.
Then there was the weather. Sonoma has traditionally been perfect weather, sometimes a bit warm, but aside from the second year when it was flooded, has been fairly devoid of mud. That all changed as rain hit Northern California Friday and drenched the trails, leaving in question not only the water crossings, but the tradition of course records as well. For me, it meant not bringing out the URP Golden Shower as I have in years past.
Quick notes from Lake Sonoma:
- Jim looked incredible on his way out (mile 18) and just as great on his way back (around mile 32.)
- Tim Freriks ran 2nd place virtually the entire race and showed no indication that this was his first ultra…aside from his shoe choice: Adidas Energy Boost racing flats: Reminded me of Tim Tollefson wearing flats at the wet and wild North Face 2014.
- Dylan Bowman looked good on his way out. Not great, but good and comfortable.
- Speedgoat Karl Meltzer came through behind Camille, and anyone who knows Karl knows that he doesn’t like getting “chicked” so I figured the next time we saw him he’s be ahead of her. One thing that surprises me is to hear people shocked at Karl’s performance. He’s proven himself on every course, distance, and freakin decade and he continues to amaze and inspire me.
- Camille looked rough on her way out, while YiOu Wang had a serious game face going. Kaci Licketig came flittering behind them with a smile and bounce to her stride, followed by Anna-Mae Flynn, and a struggling Emily Harrison.
- URP co-host Sarah Lavender Smith came through Madrone a/s with lots of energy, then attempted to break through a barrier of spectators to run off course. We all helped her out and sent her way down the marked trail.
- Tom from Japan was having a horrific time. Staggering, mumbling and dreary eyes, he’s been spewing barf for a while and looked like there would be no chance of a finish.
- On the way back (again, around mile 31), Jim was on fire, already ahead of Alex Varner’s time the year prior. He showed no sign of slowing and garnered quite a few “Damn, that guy looks like Jurek!” statements from people watching. And yes, he does.
- Mario Mendoza looked solid, Brett Hornig, Keith Laverty, Dan Metzger (all around the top ten in no order) all looked great.
- DBo looked good again, but not as “in the game” as he does on his best days.
- On Camille’s return, she was struggling a bit more and reports were coming in that she was pulling back on the downhills, something sure to add to discomfort over 30 miles.
- YiOu’s face was now dialed into serious mode, and her friend and training partner Devon Yanko said “oh, she’s got this now.”
- Zach Bitter came through Madrone after seeing Walmsley and said “Jim Walmsley! That guy runs with his balls way out ahead of him!” in an complimentary nod to Jim’s aggressive pace.
- Karl had passed Camille and was looking solid. If you want to witness how a crew person takes care of a runner, watch his wife. Fast, efficient, and perfect.
- I found this girl waiting for her dad to come through. All she has was a bottle of ibuprofen, a jar of pickles, and a cowbell. Love it!
- Kaci came through 31 and looked incredible. I called her for the win at that point, as Camille was struggling and my assessment of YiOu was that she wasn’t experienced with running up front. Again, the crow was delicious.
- Tom from Japan came through looking great! He’s been resurrected! Got a brief smile from him and he took off down the course, 18 miles to the finish.
- Now I’m curious about Jim and Tim’s friend Cody. No ultra experience, and though he’s living and training in Flagstaff, he’s from the Bay Area and is anxious to dip his toes into trail ultras. Which race will he choose for his debut?
At that point, it had started to sprinkle just a bit, making the air nice and wet, but with no wind or added mud to hinder the runners.
At the finish, all the talk was on Jim’s time. It was a forgone conclusion that, barring any falls or wrong turns, Jim would break Varner’s CR of 6:07:xx, so the talk immediately and excitedly turned to “holy sh!t, could he break six hours?!?” At around 5:59 on the clock, we could see him in the distance on the final hill, not far from the finish. Though he came in strong, his 6:00:52 will stand as the new CR. Incredible time, but then again, we say that every year! Keep in mind, Jim is still without a major sponsor. Who’ll take interest in him now?
Tim followed 18 minutes behind, followed by Mario Mendoza and a close-behind Dylan Bowman just 15 seconds back. During their hug just past the line, I heard Mario say to DBo “Sorry man, I had to do it” which I assume means there was a pretty good struggle in the past few miles between them.
Western States RD Craig Thornley was on hand to offer the Golden Ticket to Tim (Jim already had an entry…listen to the podcast to hear the awesome report), and Tim will think about it. He’s just been accepted to an accelerated nursing program at NAU and his schedule will be tight for the next year. We’ll see.
Now the focus was on the ladies. Where was Camille, how was YiOu, and how close was Kaci behind? Lake Sonoma RD Tropical John made the announcement that YiOu was leading and had just passed the final aid station and the local crowd went wild.
Kaci followed a few minutes back, then Anna-Mae Flynn, and Camille Herron. Camille looked exhausted and likely earned some additional respect for finishing in her condition. She was wobbly, filthy, and fully bonked, and she quite literally stumbled across her first trail ultra finish line.
One standout performance for the day was from Emily Harrison. Emily won the race in 2014, but struggled this year, finishing two hours off her previous race time for a 33rd female position. But she finished. Emily’s coach and fiancee Ian Torrence shrugged his shoulders and said “yeah, rough day”, but wasn’t surprised one bit that she toughed it out and got the job done.
Sarah had a great run and finished with a smile on her face, and by this time, most of the rain had subsided. Runners, crew, and family were all enjoying the post-race party that’s become famous at Lake Sonoma. And dang, nice jackets this year!
It was great seeing old friends, meeting new ones, and inspiring me even more to get back to racing.
Here are a bunch of pics. Some good, some not so. Feel free to use them, and if you want a HD copy, shoot me an email at [email protected].