I’m still pinching myself trying to wake up from the dreamy blur that was yesterday.  I am still smiling, and when friends and family ask how it was, all I can muster is “it was SO fun!”.  If you asked me a year ago if I’d ever run a 50-mile race, I’d probably have fallen over laughing.  I  started trail running because I was burnt out and tired of stressing about speed and training for races.  After a handful of marathons, I’d become more worried about getting stronger and faster than doing it because I really love it.  Race day was always the end goal, the reason for running.  With Lake Sonoma, the race was a celebration of  many months of really fun trail running.

Pam, Erin, Aron and I headed up to Healdsburg on Friday night.  After a quick drive, we stopped for dinner in Santa Rosa at LoCoco and checked into the hotel.  I laid everything out, stocked “the box” (thanks, Aron) with all of my gear and supplies, and tried to fall asleep.  I slept HORRIBLY.  My heart was pounding and it was impossible to contain my excitement, so I woke up on race morning with a splitting headache.  I hydrated, got dressed, took some advil for my headache, and we headed to the start.

The infamous box.  Aron used it at AR50, and lent it to me to pack everything I could possibly need for race day!

I grabbed my bib (#25!), hugged by crew, and started running just after sunrise.

Within a half of a mile, I spotted Ed, a really cool runner I met up in Chico a few months ago, we chatted for a mile or two and he went shuffling along ahead of me.  At around mile 2, we got onto single track trail, and I set into a pace with the group in front of me.  For the first 10 miles or so, I just let the other runners around me set the pace, walking a couple steeper uphills and trying to take it easy.  By Mile 11, I was warmed up and ready to see my crew!  I came around the corner and heard them yelling ridiculous things but couldn’t see them.  Then I spotted Pam’s green jacket and realized they surprised me by wearing huge wigs, amazing.

Laughing through the Aid Station at my wigged crew! They were lookin good!

I restocked my pack and continued on my way, meeting some really inspiring and chatty runners along the way.  We crossed about 3-4 ankle or knee deep streams, so my shoes were soggy and heavy.  By Mile 16 it was heating up and I knew I’d need to really focus on hydration, so I was making a point to drink a few sips of water every half of a mile or so, taking my salt tablets, and fueling early on in the race.  I got to the next aid station and the girls were still hollering in their wigs, so I said hello, slurped down some GU Brew and kept going.

Driking as much GU Brew as possible at the Aid Stations. AND one of the many scenic photos from the race!

The course was exactly as I’d expected, rolling hills, absolutely gorgeous, with a few monster hills in the middle of the race.  The first serious, steep, long climb came at about Mile 18/19, then another at around 23.  Since I wasn’t even half way, the heat and major hill made me cautious about pushing too hard.  I still felt strong, but this was a tough climb.  When I finally got to the top, I was rewarded with the most gorgeous view of the lake on both sides of the trail and the next Aid Station!

I got to Mile 25 a little bit ahead of schedule, and was excited to see the girls again.  I swapped out my Cascadias for my Mizuno Wave Ascends because after all of the streams, my shoes felt pretty stiff.  My feet immediately felt refreshed!  As I was refilling my pack, I turn around to see Peter!  He’d tricked me into thinking he was going to LA this weekend and surprised me by showing up to the race. :)

The course is an out-and-back, so after No Name Flat Aid Station, I turned around and headed back in the same direction I’d come.  There was a lot of mud splashing and hill climbing to get back to Mile 30, and by that time it was really starting to cook on the exposed parts of the trail.  My stomach was sensitive from all of the water and liquids, so I dug through the box to get some new fuel and grabbed a ginger candy to suck on.  From Mile 30 on, the trails felt pretty empty, so I zoned into my playlist and just kept a happy pace.  It felt like one of my training runs in my happy place in the headlands, with all new scenery! It was like I was running through a movie set, the lake and trees were breathtaking.

My next crew sighting was Mile 38.  At this point, my stomach was a little up and down, so I tried to carry more fuel options with me so that I could still get some calories down.  I still felt strong, but I was starting to get tired.  Running away, Aron said “next time I see you…” and it put a huge smile on my face.  EXACTLY what I needed to hear- just 12 more miles to the finish line!

Not too much later, I hit a bit of a low point mentally.  Somewhere around mile 41/42, I was a little dizzy from the constant up & down of the hills, my legs felt heavy, and none of my fuel sounded good.  I started sucking on Jolly Ranchers and forced myself to keep drinking.  The stretch between 38 to the last Aid Station (Mile 45/46) felt really long.  As I ran into the Station, the volunteers were cracking jokes and trying to keep me motivated.  I couldn’t decide whether to cry or laugh, but I left with a smile on my face knowing that 4.5 miles was totally doable.

Those last few miles were a gradual incline to get back up to South Lake Trailhead.  I assumed we would get back on the pavement and run on the road, but we took a different route on the trail, and at this point I could feel that I was dehydrated and nauseous.  I spotted Peter about 1/2 mile from the finish line standing up on a rock and yelling.  JUST KEEP MOVING.  I ran the last half mile with a smile on my face, waiting to see Pam and Aron.  I spotted them, and in my groggy daze, I assumed they were the finish line.  I smiled and ran towards them, tears welling up, and slowed down.  They were yelling and then redirected me, pointing to the finish line a couple yards ahead.  And just like that, it was over! 11 hours and 11 minutes of stunning trails.

Finish line!

My crew!!

Team SFM at the finish line!

At the finish line I grabbed my t-shirt, jacket, beanie and bag (amazing schwag!), a 7-up to calm my stomach down, and a coconut water to rehydrate, tore my shoes off, and sat with my crew.  It was a long day for all of us, I can’t even put into words how thankful I am for their support.  I couldn’t have picked a better group to share the day with, these are the runners who inspire me and share my love of the trails.

Just a LITTLE muddy!

It’s hard to believe the race is over, but I really do feel like this is just the beginning.  Peter has been telling me over the last 4 months how he sees me “light up” now when I talk about running.  Lake Sonoma was the perfect setting for a victory lap, a day to just do what I love.  In this journey, the one thing I’ve learned is that if you love the training process, Race Day is just another day for a great run.