2014 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile Men’s Preview
April 7, 2014 by Meghan Hicks · 24 Comments
The sixth annual Lake Sonoma 50 Mile will be run this Saturday through the hills above Lake Sonoma, just north of Healdsburg, California. The course is a rough out-and-back with a couple deviations that sports 10,500 feet of total climb. The dudes’ field is absolutely stacked, close to last December’s The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships. Who knew ultramarathon racing in April could be so darn good? Turns out, our sport no longer has an on- or off-season.
We’re covering the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile live on Saturday. Tune in!
If you’re interested in the women’s race, check out our women’s preview.
Top Talent Returning from 2013
Sage Canaday is Lake Sonoma’s returning champion and course-record holder (post-race interview), having put down a 6:14:55 last year by running a controlled effort early and taking over in the race’s second half. He’s fresh back from New Zealand where he defended his Tarawera Ultramarathon title (post-race interview). He’s trained well over the past few weeks and looks primed.
I suspect that Max King (pre-race interview), who took third last year, is back to find a little revenge around Lake Sonoma. At last year’s race, he suffered in the closing 15 miles or so, yielding his hard-earned lead to eventual winner Sage Canaday and second place Cam Clayton. In the end, he finished a full 19 minutes behind Sage. Recently, he told us he’s on the hunt for one of the Western States slots offered via the race’s inclusion in the Montrail Ultra Cup. Max is fresh off a win and course record at the Chuckanut 50k (post-race interview), another race where he had a couple tough gos ahead of this success.
Jorge Maravilla has twice run Sonoma, finishing fourth last year and sixth in 2012. It seems like this guy just runs either real hot or a little chilly when he races. Case in point for this year so far: he won the Bandera 100k and finished 18th at the Transgrancanaria 125k in January and March, respectively. Jorge’s been amping up his cross training, doing CrossFit in recent months, so I’m interested to see both if he’s as on fire this year as he was at Sonoma last year and if he’s bringing new strength to town this time around. [Update 4/12: Jorge Maravilla did not start the race.]
Chris Vargo (pre-race interview) finished sixth last year, but I suspect we’ll see him a fair number of places higher this year. Two Decembers ago, Chris ran to 17th at the 2012 TNF EC 50-Mile Championships. Then just a couple months later and in rapid-fire succession, he burst onto the national radar with a second at the 2013 Way Too Cool 50k and then his sixth at Sonoma. It’s been almost nothing but rainbows and butterflies for this guy’s running ever since (with the exception of a drop due to illness at the 2014 Sean O’Brien 50 Mile). Chris is right now amidst a move from Colorado to Flagstaff, Arizona, which is quickly becoming a mecca for trail runners. As long as he isn’t sore from moving boxes, he’ll contend for the podium.
Last year Joe Uhan (pre-race interview) finished in seventh about a minute behind Chris Vargo, and I don’t think he’s forgotten that minute this whole year. There has been a load of smack talking on Joe’s part of late, referencing him beating Chris across the line this year. Joe has run Lake Sonoma twice, his seventh in 6:41 last year and a fifth in 6:59 in 2012. He’s had a rough go of things in the last nine months or so, dropping from Western States last summer due to multiple physical issues and dropping from the Bandera 100k in January because of the flu. Though I’m not sure if he can beat the Chris Vargo of 2014, he’s due for a good race.
In ninth last year, Ryan Ghelfi is a guy who seems to be on an upward trajectory with his running. Last year, he finished fifth at the UROC 100k and tenth at the TNF EC 50-Mile Championships. Last month, he ran to fourth place at the Chuckanut 50k, finishing about 12 minutes behind winner Max King.
Nick Clark rounded out the top 10 at Sonoma last year. A year prior, Nick finished third, but with an almost identical finishing time. He’s coming off his very big 2013, including racing Western, Vermont, Leadville, and Wasatch. He’s had some good training so far this year, including the week-long stage race, The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica, where he came in fourth. In March, he took second at Salida, Colorado’s Run Through Time Marathon, just a couple seconds back from winner Josh Arthur. Reports are that Nick will use Sonoma as a training effort ahead of racing Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji less than two weeks later.
Additional Podium Contenders
It would be hard to bet against Rob Krar (pre-race interview) in any race he starts right now. His 2013 was truly remarkable and it earned him the distinction of UltraRunning magazine’s 2013 Ultrarunner of the Year. His year included an off-the-hook new Grand Canyon R2R2R FKT, a second at the 2013 Western States 100 (post-race interview), as well as wins at both the 2013 UROC 100k (post-race interview) and 2013 TNF EC 50-Mile Championships (post-race interview). He’s just had one hitch in his giddyup coming into this year’s racing season, as he recently bowed out of the Tarawera Ultramarathon in New Zealand due to an injury he suffered when he fell running. So long as he’s got things tidied up from that incident, I’m going to call the podium: Sage Canaday, Max King, and Rob Krar, but who knows in what order!
I’ll bet Jason Schlarb is looking for a good race. We last saw him excel with a win at last September’s Run Rabbit Run 100 (post-race interview). But last December, he couldn’t start the TNF EC 50-Mile Championships or finish the Lantau 50k in Hong Kong due to an Achilles injury. In early March, he DNFed the Transgrancanaria 125k due to illness. He has had one successful outing amongst these tough times, an FKT of the O and W circuit at Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia. It appears he’s been training hard on the hills ’round Missoula, Montana with the likes of some other really fast guys. A good sign for Saturday? [Update 4/7: Jason Schlarb withdrew to focus on Transvulcania in May.]
Okay, why don’t we just roll out the rest of the Nike team together here? The new Nike Trail Team is going to be fully present at Sonoma and it’s looking like they want to say hello to the trail and ultra community in a strong way. David Laney is just one of several Nike dudes who have the talent to compete for the podium. In January, he ran to second at the Bandera 100k, about five minutes back of winner Jorge Maravilla. In March, he took a real strong second to Max King at the Chuckanut 50k, finishing about three minutes behind (post-race interview). The year before that, he won the 2013 Chuckanut 50k and set a then course record, which both he and Max surpassed this year. At this year’s Chuckanut, David held his own with Max on everything but the technical sections of trail, so when he gets that figured out, I think he’ll be an even bigger force to contend with.
I believe Lake Sonoma will be Alex Varner’s 50-mile debut. He’s been a rockstar at shorter-distance ultras since his arrival on the ultra scene last summer. In that time, he managed a win at the 2013 USATF 50k Trail National Championships at the Bootlegger 50k, beating such strong men as Mario Mendoza, Jason Wolfe, and Zach Miller. Then, last month, he and Chris Vargo dueled from wire to wire at the Way Too Cool 50k before Chris outkicked him in the last couple hundred meters. Alex comes to trail running from collegiate running at Davidson College and road running (PRs of 29:53 in the 10k and 2:21 in the marathon). My only question is, does Alex have beating Chris on the brain or just doing well in this race? My guess is both. It’ll be interesting to see how his legs hold out through 50 miles.
While Mario Mendoza is also debuting at 50 miles this weekend, he, too, brings a wealth of shorter-distance speed to the Sonoma table. Just a couple weekends ago, he won the Gorge Waterfalls 50k. He was named the 2013 USATF Trail Runner of the Year because of his wins last year at the USATF 10k Trail Championships and second place at the USATF 50k Trail National Championships, among other 2013 success. He’s had additional success since running his first ultra in 2012, including wins at the 2013 Peterson Ridge Rumble 20 Mile and the 2013 Angels Staircase 60k. [Update 4/7: Mario Mendoza won’t be starting due to a calf injury.]
Everyone knows Zach Miller as the cruise-ship kid. He was the young buck who pretty much stepped off his full-time work on a cruise ship to win the 2013 JFK 50 Mile in the third-fastest time in the race’s long history (post-race interview). (By the way, if you haven’t read our interview with Zach after his win at JFK, I recommend it. The kid is hilarious.) Prior to his JFK stunner, he’d only raced two ultras, one being the 2013 Bootlegger 50k, where Zach told us he kind of got things handed to him by the five men in front of him–including Alex Varner, Mario Mendoza, and Jason Wolfe–but where he also said he learned a lot. Well, Zach is fresh off the cruise ship again, just 10 days or so before Lake Sonoma, so that seems about right for another stellar performance.
You can’t say Nike hasn’t chosen their athlete demographic, twentysomething guys with a background in collegiate and/or road racing who’ve toyed a bit with ultrarunning. And Daniel Kraft is another fella’ who fits that mold. Daniel debuted as an ultrarunner with a seventh place at the 2013 Moab Red Hot 55k, finishing 38 minutes back from winner Rob Krar. Since then, he’s taken fourth at the 2013 Chuckanut 50k behind winner David Laney and second place Max King, won the super technical Bridger Ridge Run, finished fourth at the 2013 TNF EC 50-Mile Championships behind winner Rob Krar and third place Chris Vargo, and took third at this year’s Chuckanut 50k behind winner Max King and second place David Laney. If these results are predictors of future success, I’d say he’ll finish within the top five on Saturday.
Jason Wolfe is a guy who seems to slide just under everyone’s radars, but who also has solid results to his name. He was sixth at the 2012 TNF EC 50-Mile Championships, seventh at the 2013 UROC 100k, and third at the 2013 USATF 50k Trail National Championships behind Varner and Mendoza. He won and bettered his own course record at the 2013 Imogene Pass Run, too, beating Daniel Kraft by just over a minute in the process. I’m fully expecting this guy to run a breakout race against top competition sometime soon. [Update 4/7: We just heard through the grapevine that Jason Wolfe has pointed his ship toward the Ice Age 50 Mile, and won’t be running Lake Sonoma this weekend. Thanks, Justin Mock, for the heads up!]
If I were Ian Sharman, I’d still be riding my 2013 high from setting a record in the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (post-Slam interview and report), wouldn’t you? Earlier this year, Ian went to the Rocky Raccoon 100 in Texas in hopes of having a go at his own North American 100-mile trail record, but the conditions were too humid for record paces and Ian wasn’t feeling 100%. Despite this, he still managed a super strong 13:38 for second place. He’s a fun guy to keep tabs of on Strava, and it appears that he’s pretty fit right now. He seems to be focusing on making himself a downhill expert by running sub-5:00 miles off Mount Diablo in San Francisco’s East Bay. All that said, Ian’s focused on a training block that’s heavy on racing in preparation for Western States with no intention of bringing his A-game to the hills of Sonoma.
Additional Podium Contenders Who Aren’t Running
Timothy Olson is still on the entrants list, but he’s decided not to run due to recent travel and wanting some down time.
Other Men to Watch For
- Josh Brimhall — 12th here last year and just shy of 50 minutes back of winner Sage Canaday, 11th at the 2014 Sean O’Brien 50 Mile
- Gary Gellin — 13th here last year, will be hunting the masters win
- Jesse Haynes — Ninth at the 2014 Sean O’Brien 50 Mile, seventh at the 2013 Western States 100, second at the 2013 Waldo 100k behind Daniel Kraft but ahead of Joe Uhan
Korey Konga — Third at the 2013 Coldwater Rumble 50k a few minutes behind second place Brian Tinder[Update 4/12: Korey Konga did not start the race.]
- Marc Laveson
- Jacob Rydman — 11th here last year
- Bob Shebest — 20th last year
Paul Terranova — Second at the 2013 Nueces 50 Mile which served as the 2013 USATF 50-Mile Trail National Championships, eighth at the 2013 Western States, fifth at the 2013 White River 50 Mile, and fourth at the 2014 Bandera 100k behind winner Jorge Maravilla and second place David Laney[Update 4/7: Paul Terranova is out with an ankle injury.]
- Brian Tinder
Ian Torrence – We hear he’s on the fence as to whether he’ll run this weekend or crew his girlfriend Emily Harrison in the women’s race.[Update 4/12: Ian Torrence did not start the race.]
- Michael Versteeg
Christopher Wehan — 19th here last year[Update 4/7: Christopher Wehan is not racing due to shin splints.]
- Nathan Yanko — Nathan started his own business last year and has taken time away from racing. Is this his ultrarunning comeback?
Call for Comments
- Can Sage Canaday successfully defend his title given the full tilt of talent that’ll be breathing down his neck?
- Who do you think will fill the men’s podium?
- Which of these guys is primed for a breakout performance?
- Any other men deserve mention ahead of the race?
- Tell us if you know anyone above who won’t be racing this weekend.