2015 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile Men’s Preview

Lake Sonoma 50 MileThe Lake Sonoma 50 Mile is this weekend and an incredibly deep men’s field will be toeing the line. While a few runners will smoke the course, the course is filled with unrelenting hills that would leave most of us walking while gasping for breath. Whoever wins this weekend will seem immune to such hindrances. Zach Miller certainly seemed to be something beyond human in winning last year’s race.

As with the women, there’ll be notable absences up front with four of last year’s top six not returning. That list of studs includes Zach Miller (1st), Sage Canaday (3rd), David Laney (5th), and Ryan Ghelfi (6th). Once you get to who’s running, you won’t be disappointed!

Julbo LogoAs you’d expect, we’ll be providing pre- and post-race interviews as well as live coverage on race day. Stay tuned. Special thanks to Julbo for making our coverage of the race possible!

For more on the race, check out our full women’s preview. Follow our live coverage of Lake Sonoma on Saturday.

Running for the Win

Aside from the usual wildcard/dark horse caveat, there are three men that look like favorites to win: Rob Krar, Alex Varner, and Max King. Here’s why each can win (and why each might not).

Rob Krar - 2014 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile

Rob Krar

Rob Krar (pre-race interview)… well, he’s only won races like Western States, The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships, the Leadville 100, and the Run Rabbit Run 100… all in the past year and a half. Krar finished second at Lake Sonoma last year a minute behind Miller. Krar’s been spending a bunch of time on his skis this winter, having taken second at the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse just two weekends before Sonoma. That said, he showed running fitness in bagging the third fastest time ever at the Red Hot Moab 55k in mid-February, where he finished second to Alex Nichols.

Why the heck is Alex Varner (pre-race interview) listed before Max King? Well, Varner did run 9 minutes faster than King’s best Sonoma time in taking fourth at least year’s race. Varner also took third at last December’s TNF 50 Mile behind only Canaday and Dakota Jones. Word on the (Marin) street is that Varner is quite fit and ready to go.

Max King  - 2014 IAU 100k World Championships

Max King

Max King (pre-race interview) hasn’t raced a trail ultra since last July. Since then, he’s only set a new North American record in winning the 100k World Championships and qualified for the US Olympic Trials Marathon by running 2:17 for ninth place at the blazing hot Los Angeles Marathon last month. Last year, King did best Varner by 9 minutes in the battle for best 100-mile debut at Western States. King was seventh at Sonoma last year after taking third in 2013, finishing within two minutes of 6:35 both races. Weighing against King is his recent return from Salomon Advanced Week, which tends to leave some runners simultaneously stoked and broken.

Running for the Podium

Seth Swanson

Seth Swanson

Seth Swanson hasn’t won a race against this sort of competition yet. If he had, he’d be on the list above. Over the past year, he’s certainly shown he can run fast. His second-place finish at Western States was a shocker, but he went on to set a big course record at the Cascade Crest 100 last August and took second at the Sean O’Brien 100k in February. This will be Seth’s second big test on the national ultrarunning stage.

Jorge Maravilla is certainly fit at the moment. After taking seventh at the TNF EC 50 last December, Maravilla was second to Dylan Bowman at the Tarawera 100k in February before placing fourth at Way Too Cool in 3:28 last month. What’s more, Mr. Smiley was fourth at Lake Sonoma in 2013, running 6:39. In 2012, he was sixth at Sonoma in 7:04.

Tim Tollefson - 2014 TNF 50

Tim Tollefson

Tim Tollefson is still a newbie when it comes to ultrarunning, having only run his first 50k last September, but talent has it’s advantages! Tim was eighth at the TNF EC 50 Mile Championships in December, which was his 50-mile debut. This year, he took third to a pair of his Nike teammates at the Way Too Cool 50k where he ran 3:20.

Mike Aish has certainly had some blowups in his short ultrarunning career, and such shortcomings tend to be magnified when you come from, you know, a multiple-time Olympian background. That said, Aish rolled out plenty of strong results last year with a second-place at the Sean O’Brien 50 Mile, a second to Rob Krar at the Leadville 100 in 16:38, and a ninth to end the year at the TNF EC 50 Mile (behind Maravilla and Tollefson in 7th and 8th, respectively). Once again, his focus is Leadville, but he’ll be fit for Sonoma.

Wildcards

Jim Walmsley - 2014 Speedgoat 50k

Jim Walmsley

If there’s a wildcard in the race, it’s gotta be Jim Walmsley. Walmsley started running ultras last year and earned a big win at the JFK 50 Mile in November. He also won the Old Gabe 50k last June and took third to Nichols and Krar at the Red Hot 55k this February in an impressive 3:54, just 3 minutes behind Krar. On the other hand, he finished 28th at Speedgoat last July and, if I recall correctly, dropped out of The Rut 50k in September.

Adam Campbell is a wildcard of a completely different sort. We all know that if he’s well trained, he’d be a podium threat at Sonoma. It’s just that, well, he’s been skiing a lot and didn’t run Transgrancanaria earlier this season after being signed up at one point. Anyone have an ETA on Adam’s return to trail racing? If it’s this weekend, it’ll be time to revise this paragraph post haste! April 7 Update: As suspected, Adam Campbell will be staying in Alberta to enjoy some sweet late-season powder turns this weekend.

Jared Hazen’s only 19, but he’s raced a ton of ultras. Still, there’s stratospheric potential for improvement at such an age. Well, when you’ve run a 13:57 100 miler at age 18, like Jared did at Rocky Raccoon last year, that’s pretty scary. He’s since backed that up with a 14th place at Western States last year and a third at the Bandera 100k in January.

Late April 7 Update: Well, although he’s not on the entrants list, Ryan Bak let me know that he’s racing Sonoma this weekend. This will be Bak’s first go at 50 miles, but he’s raced really well at 50k over the past few years. Most recently, he was second at Way Too Cool in 3:10. Yeah, a hilly trail 50k in 3:10. He says he’s put the long training runs in and there’s no doubt that he’s fast on the sort of well-groomed trails you’ll find at Lake Sonoma.

Other Top Men

  • Owen Bradley — Tons of ultra wins in the deep south, less luck elsewhere… except his second-place at the Vermont 100 last year.
  • Tom Brooks — Two wins recently in his first two 50ks.
  • Kris Brown — Ran a 3:31 50k as a 20 year old in 2009; 14th at Way Too Cool ’15 in 3:47. Included as a potential darkhorse.
  • Yew Ferrera — A couple wins at NorCal ultramarathons to kick off his ultrarunning career.
  • Gary Gellin — 11th Lake Sonoma ’14 in 7:05:58; 13th at Lake Sonoma ’13 in 7:06:13. He’s consistent.
  • Jesse Haynes — 10th at Western States ’14; 15th at Lake Sonoma ’14.
  • Mario Mendoza — Although not on the entrants list, he’s scheduled to race. He’s smoked countless trail races up to 50k. He’d be on the Wildcards list, but word is he’s cooked after racing at the Gorge Waterfalls 100k recently. [Late April 7 Update]
  • Ivan Medina — 15th at the TNF EC 50 Mile ’14; local 2:26 marathoner recently taken to the trails.
  • Victor Mier — A darkhorse on the “other” list… because of that 3:37 7th place at Way Too Cool last month for this ultra newbie.
  • Karl Meltzer — I think Karl would say he’ll leave this race to the kids and they’d better leave some beer for him.
  • Jacob Puzey — Plenty of wins at smaller ultras the past few years; 9th at Black Canyon 100k in February.
  • Justin Ricks — Tons of success at sub-ultra trail racing; won the Run Through Time Marathon in March; third at Moab Trail Marathon ’14. Might have been a “wildcard,” but destroyed ankle a few weeks ago while winning the RTT Marathon. 4/7 Update: As suspected, Justin Ricks won’t be racing Sonoma after turning his ankle while winning the Run Through Time Marathon.
  • Jacob Rydman — 8th at last year’s Lake Sonoma after finishing 3rd at Way Too Cool a month earlier.
  • Thomas Sanchez — Relative youngster (26) was 12th at Lake Sonoma ’14 in 7:07 improving from 21st at Sonoma in 2013 (7:38).
  • Ian Sharman — It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Sharman bring his A-game to a trail 50 miler. Top five wouldn’t be surprising, especially considering his 13:32 win at the Rocky Raccoon 100 mile in February. If this were a 100 miler, Sharman would be racing for the podium.
  • Paul Terranova — 3rd at Rocky Raccoon 100 ’14 in 14:05; 13th Western States ’14.
  • Brian Tinder — 13th at Lake Sonoma ’14 (7:22).
  • Joe Uhan — 4th at Bandera 100k; 14th at Lake Sonoma ’14 (7:24); 7th at Lake Sonoma ’13 (6:41); 5th at Lake Sonoma ’12 (6:59).
  • Michael Wardian — If only this were a road (or treadmill) 50 miler, it’d be Wardian’s bread and butter. Like his 5:46 to win the Tussey Mountainback 50 last October.
  • Chris Wehan — 4th at Sean O’Brien 100k in February; 19th at Lake Sonoma ’13. 4/7 Update: Chris Wehan isn’t racing Sonoma so he can concentrate on on Miwok. [Thanks, Ian Sharman!]

Notable Notes

Having seen him run in his native Switzerland, he won’t be on the podium, but the Swiss Machine, Ueli Steck, is running Lake Sonoma. If you don’t know him, well, he’s a pretty darn good alpinist. Also, if you’ve never watched the following video, you should. If you don’t have 5 minutes, watch one minute starting at 2:10 in… it never fails to get me stoked to get out and get after it.

Dylan Bowman was previously registered, but won’t be racing after taking a beating in the heat in a recent race. Word is Dom Grossman also won’t be racing after laying it out at Gorge Waterfalls 100k a few weeks ago.

Call for Comments

  • So who’s going to take Lake Sonoma this year? Could it be someone other than Krar, King, or Varner?
  • Who else do you think could be in the hunt for a podium spot?
  • Know of anyone looking for a Montrail Ultra Cup slot into Western States? Krar, King, Varner, and Swanson all have spots already!
  • We’ve included many runners in our preview. Do you know of anyone we’ve listed who won’t be running?
  • The above not withstanding, did we miss anyone?

There are 30 comments

  1. @bpurcell72

    This should be a barn burner! Expected ideal weather for Saturday, plus today's rain will help remove dust from the trails. I'm looking forward to being smoked out there.

  2. MA_Chris

    Whoa! That Steck climb is unbelievably impressive. Much more so than the El Capitan record set last year. No ropes? Wow. Wow.

    1. rob_up40

      Both climbs are unbelievably impressive, but not really comparable. To put it roughly in running terms, Tommy Caldwell's El Cap performance would be like doing a hundred miler in 20 consecutive 5 mile segments averaging sub 24 minutes each over 3 weeks. Uli's speed solos in the Alps could be likened to finishing top 10 at Western States knowing that anything short of a top ten finish results in falling to his death.

    2. @tradclimbing

      It's really apples and oranges. Both are groundbreaking ascents and equally awesome in their own rights, but very different types of climbs. Tommy and Kevin's ascent of the Dawn Wall was impressive for the sheer rock climbing difficulty of the pitches stacked on top of one another into a single big wall climb. Any one move on the hard pitches could have shut down their attempt. It was a fairly low risk climb in that the falls were relatively safe and there were fixed ropes everywhere if they needed to get down. While there was much more risk with Ueli's ascent, or any type of speed attempts in mountaineering, solos of the north face of the Eiger have been taking place since the 60s. It's Ueli's jaw dropping sub 3-hour time that really stands out. There's no doubt that he must be a cardio monster and would be competitive in ultras.

  3. Sarah

    Great writing, Bryon — thank you! Best line: "Karl Meltzer — I think Karl would say he’ll leave this race to the kids and they’d better leave some beer for him." My two cents: I would move Sharman and Wardian up to podium, or at least top 5. Seems to be a big range in the "wild card" category; might be fun to guess top 5 or top 10, with such a deep field.

  4. sharmanian

    Wardian's done a lot of amazing stuff, but getting a top 10 (gold medal) at Comrades isn't (yet) on his resume – I believe the last American man to do that was Alberto Salazar when he won around 1994.

    1. iRunFar - Bryon

      Thanks for the catch, Ian… just a little sleep deprived here. (Per you comment on the another article, don't worry, I got tons of sleep during my recent high-mileage training push. ;-) )

  5. mjlaye

    There is a possibility that the no montrail ultra cup positions could come out of this race with a Varner, Krar, King, Swanson, Sharman, and/or Haynes top 5 (in no particular order). Seems unlikely with Jorge and Tim, but could lead to some interesting tactics.

    1. sharmanian

      A lot of the WS top 10 men will be there, but the real battle will be Bay Area v Bend (I'm caught between the two currently), especially with Ryan Bak entering the mix. This one should be so much fun!

      1. mjlaye

        Could it be Bend (do we give them other OR runners like Joe U) v NorCal (is Sacramento in or out?) v Flagstaff (Do they have 3 to score?).

        Sorry Ian, but you still have to run for team NorCal until you officially move, we haven't given you a release to compete for that silly little town up north yet.

  6. astroyam

    With regards to Max King getting 9th at LA Marathon, he was 5th American, and within a minute or so of being 2nd American, so he's got to be in ~~screaming~~ flat speed shape.
    But nonetheless, I'm predicting 1.Krar 2.King 3. Varner because Krar is just too good in the hills –

  7. tahoepete

    Sounds like you can add Ryan Bak onto the list of people running for the win. Just saw he is now running this weekend. He just broke Max's wtc 50k record last month. Looked as fresh as a daisy at the finish to!!!!

    1. iRunFar - Bryon

      Hey Tahoe Pete,
      There's certainly a chase Ryan could win. I included him in the wildcard category as he's certainly got the potential, but this is his first 50 miler and is on a course that likely has way more vert that Ryan's raced before. Just a bunch of new territory for Ryan. :-)

Post Your Thoughts