While the men’s field was sick with competition for Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, the women’s field was nothing to shake a stick at. I studied the entry list on more than one occasion, and felt that top 10 was not a given, but on a good day I might make 7th, and an awesome day, a top 5 spot. Being distracted by the beautiful vineyards, the quaintness of Healdsburg, and the stunning accommodations provided by John and Lisa’s friend Mary Prschal, served to keep me relaxed the day before the race.
Race morning was calm – coffee, oatmeal, liquids, plus a prerace interview conducted by Mary.
Shortly after, I made the 30 minute drive to the race start. I picked up my reusable cup – a great alternative to paper cups at the aid stations – and then left it in the car where it would serve no purpose to me at all. Thankfully I was carrying a full bladder of water.
Warming up away from the hubbub of the race, I saw another lone runner escaping, and was pleased to see it was fellow Scott-Sport athlete and young phenom, Sage Canaday. We introduced ourselves and wished teammate luck, and gradually made our way back down to the start line. Here I was greeted by my friends and competitors – Denise, Amy, Jen, Bree, Kathy, Joelle, Cassie, Rory, and many others.
Dawn broke before the race started, and as RD Tropical John advised to “have fun” he sent us down the road for the crowd separating first couple miles. I ran a bit with Denise, then with Jen, then with Kathy, and a little with Bree. I checked in a few times with myself, trying to figure out how hard to go, since I would be going about 8 hours. The pavement ended, and the single track was welcome. I fell into place with Kathy, she and I exchanging positions over the next few miles, but staying fairly close through 6. As promised, the course was relentless in nature – up, or down, or straight, or curved, or shady, or sunny – but all beautiful as we traipsed on said trail around the lake.
If I was correct in my assessment, I was in 5th or 6th position. I knew that Cassie, Joelle, Amy and Rory were ahead, but not sure who else besides Kathy who was basically with me. But by mile 10, she had faded, and I was working on leap frogging the men around me. True to form, I would nip their heels on the descents, and turn into a old truck on the climbs, but I was truly feeling strong and having fun! It was sunny, mild, and verdant. Weaving in and out of each drainage, I glanced back and saw Denise “Little D” Bourassa, and wondered if she would catch me soon, but with some easy terrain, I appeared to hold my position. Finally reaching the aid station at mile 18, I mentioned I didn’t have a cup, and one of the nice young girls offered me an entire can of coke – I gratefully downed about half, and told her if she kept it aside, I would drink the rest when I came back through. Then I began up the next very long ascent, gently trotting the entire length up the gravel road, before hitting the single track down hill, where I opened up my stride. Finally, the front runners began to come towards me – first Max King, then Cameron Clayton, and finally Sage. It was fun to encourage and be encouraged. And the course began to thicken up with runners coming back – Tim Olson, Joe Uhan, Dave Mackey, Nick Clark, Jacob Rydman, and more, all helping distract me from the fairly relentless climb. Just before I reached the lollypop section, RD Tropical John greeted me with his camera. Then I saw Joelle and Cassie in contention, but no other women. I hit the loop section, and saw Amy just before I got to the turn around aid station. It was a festive, hopping aid station, and they had me fluid filled and pumped with enthusiasm in very short order.
Heading home – only 25 miles to go! I fairly galloped down the long hill I had just climbed up, and was greeted and cheered by the folks on their way up. Many reports were coming back to me, such as I was 5th place woman, and Rory and Amy were only a few minutes ahead. That sounded like striking distance, but there was a lot of time for things to go badly if I wasn’t careful. It was heating up a bit, but I remained comfortable, pushing myself on the climbs, recovering on the downs. Hitting back on the single track after almost missing a sharp turn, I kept after it. I reached the horse watering hole once more, and was told by Greg Lanctot that Amy and Rory were still only a couple of minutes ahead. I had no company here, and just worked at working and at not getting in too deep.
Andy Jones-Wilkins came into view, but only after I heard his booming, ever positive voice rattle in the hillsides back to me. Wow. AJW was going to get “Queened” for the first time ever. A runner had just passed him, and then he caught me out of the corner of his eye. “Is that Meghan?” he shouted back. I affirmed and was soon on his heels. We exchanged some fun barbs, and he told me, again, that Amy and Rory were about 2 minutes ahead. I reasoned to myself that I only need to continue doing what I’m doing and eventually I’ll pull them in. Wishing each other luck, I passed by and continued my effort.
The climbs began to wear me down again, nevertheless I had this undying thought repeating mantra-like in my brain – “I love running!” Inching my way to the next aid station up a switchback trail, a volunteer shouted to me “They are only 1 to 2 minutes ahead! DO THIS!” Motivated by her confidence in me, I used a little to much turbo fuel before my descent into the aid station, grabbed gel, drank coke, and began the last 12 or so miles.
Up, down, up, down. Each climb was short, so I looked at the top of each one and asked myself, “can you run to the top?” and invariably, I would answer “why, yes I can!” Completely smoked legs by the time I reached the top, I struggled to unwind my legs, trying to gain back momentum, and eventually ran myself into a cramp fest in my quads. I took more S!Caps and they relaxed. My eyes would strain ahead looking for runners, and my neck was getting sore from turning around looking for Denise to come storming up. But I was alone, and saw no one until the short out and back to the final aid station, where Rory was just coming back up. She wasn’t about to have a repeat of the Way Too Cool finish, so I didn’t expect to catch her, and Amy was long gone by now. I got down to the aid station, filled my bladder, and then trudged out. Hitting the trail with 5 miles to go, my legs were a bit fried, and it was challenging to keep going. I was hoping for a low 8 hr time, and I could see it slipping away. I kept up on the gels and fluids, but was really finished before the finish line. Below the trail, boaters were enjoying the sunny weather, hanging out, partying, and I looked forward to being in the party mode. One stray party-er made his way up to the trail, beer in hand, started to jog with me and asked if I wanted a pacer, but before I could accept he thought better of it.
Wow, the climbs just kept coming, and what else could I do but keep running. After what seemed like 5 miles, coming toward me on the trail I met Ken Sinclair on his way out to encourage Denise in. “You look strong! Only a couple miles to go!” Shoot. I wanted to hear that the finish was around the corner, and now I knew low 8 would be a stretch. I kept running as hard as I could, and finally hit the only flat section of the course – the last 50 meters, cruised into the finish to the warm hoots and hollers of the happy crowd. Time, just under 8:16, 5th woman. I was satisfied with my time and place, and left everything on the trail that day.
Post race activities were nothing but fantastic – tamales, beer, sunshine and friends. Thanks to John Medinger, Lisa Henson, and Mary Prschal, and all the volunteers, to Scott-Sports, Injini, Garmin, and to coach Ian Torrence for bringing it all together.