2016 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile Men’s Preview

Lake Sonoma 50 Mile runIt’s April and iRunFar’s on its way to California. This means one thing: it’s Lake Sonoma 50 Mile time! An unrelentingly hilly but beautiful course with a sporty 10,500 feet of elevation gain, the likes of Tropical John (Medinger) as your fearless RD and hospitality guide, and not one but two solid post-race parties. It’s not a wonder at all why Lake Sonoma has become one of North America’s most competitive ultras.

Nathan FireballAdditionally, the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile is the last race in the Western States 100 Golden Ticket race series, and this means that the top-two men and women earn entry into Western States.

This year at Sonoma, we’ll see another strong field of men prepared to make the 50-mile, out-and-back, almost-never-flat voyage around the race’s namesake lake.

As you’d expect, we’ll be providing pre- and post-race interviews as well as live coverage on race day.

Many thanks to Nathan for their generous support of our coverage of this year’s Lake Sonoma 50 Mile.

Julbo LogoThanks also to Julbo for making our coverage of Lake Sonoma possible.

Be sure to check out our women’s preview, as well!

Winner Potential

Alex Varner - 2015 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships

Alex Varner

Alex Varner is the defending Lake Sonoma champ (interview). Last year he was untouchable by the rest of the field as he set a new course record by about a minute and a half and finished ahead of everyone else by about 14 minutes. His 2015 trail season was also highlighted by a new course record at the Quad Dipsea last fall. Over the winter, he’s been plagued by a nagging hip injury that’s limited his training. In the midst of this, he squeaked out a fifth place in a competitive 2016 Way Too Cool 50k field. He said on social media last week that he’s going to give Lake Sonoma his best shot anyway.

2015 was quite a year for Dylan Bowman (pre-race interview), wherein he cemented himself as a major player in the international trail and ultra scene. Among his year he collected victories at the Tarawera Ultra (interview) and Ultra-Trail Australia (interview) as well as taking a highly esteemed second at The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships (interview). A month ago, he rocked the Way Too Cool 50k, taking third. He’s been traveling in South America and arrives home a couple days before race day. I say he could go all the way so long as he has no travel-recovery issues.

Little by little, the previously-short-distance trail specialist Mario Mendoza keeps squeaking up in distance, running longer and longer trail races. Last summer and fall, he took fourth at the USATF 50k Trail National Championships, second at the UROC 100k, and won the Moab Trail Marathon. A couple weeks ago, he took second at the Chuckanut 50k. So, he’s already run a longer ultra and held things together for nine hours. Lake Sonoma’s six hours should be a piece of cake! Hah! ;) Longer-distance experience plus his kind of talent, no doubt he’s going to go for it.

Contenders for the Top Five

Jim Walmsley

Jim Walmsley

Jim Walmsley already has a Western States Golden Ticket, which he earned by winning the Bandera 100k in January, so it looks like the guy just can’t stay away from this weekend’s competition. Last year Jim took fifth in 6:41 here, in what was his second 50 miler. Since then and in addition to Bandera, he won the 2015 JFK 50 Mile, his second win there, and the 2016 Moab Red Hot 55k.  I suspect he’ll be in the mix all day.

I think Matt Flaherty has enormous talent on a course and at a distance like Sonoma, and our sport has missed him while he’s been suffering a foot injury and making the journey back to fitness. Last summer, we saw him race to seventh place at the UltraVasan 90k while he was on the upswing of fitness. A few weekends back, he took third at the Chuckanut 50k, about three minutes behind second place Mario Mendoza. Dude’s got wheels, and he’ll enter this weekend as a bit of a dark horse as he’s been off the radar for the last bit.

Zach Bitter - 100-mile American record at the 2015 Desert Solstice Invitational sq

Zach Bitter

While Zach Bitter (pre-race interview) may have earned himself the reputation of being the guy who runs unending fast laps around a track, the guy’s got much more range than that. That said, last fall and winter, he popped off a 5:17 for 50 miles at the USATF 50-Mile Road National Championships and then an American Record for 100 miles on the track (report). And now that he’s moved from Wisconsin to the California’s Central Valley, he’s got the Sierra Nevada foothills and the hilly terrain of the San Francisco Bay Area not too distant for weekend training. Thus, he’s probably well on his way to extending his range into hillier and hillier terrain, too. As a fan of the sport, it’s always a pleasure to watch someone with Zach’s kind of talent diversify.

What’s happening with the development of high-end trail running in the San Francisco Bay Area right now is really cool. Great passels of talented men and women gather together to train together (or together via the numbers kept on Strava), and floating to the tops of these groups are some individuals who have the talent and drive to make impacts on our sport. That also said, there seems to be some unbridled and unsustainable training and racing also happening. Chris Vizcaino, who hails from the east side of the Bay Area, is emerging as one of those talents. It was cool to watch him run to 11th place at the 2015 TNF EC 50-Mile Champs, one of the highest-placing what I’d call wildcard entries of that weekend. A month ago, Chris took 13th at the Way Too Cool 50k, what is clearly not his potential. Chris has raced an ultra something like 10 times in the last 14 months, so time will tell if he is interested a long-lasting, high-level relationship with trail running.[Update April 5: Chris Vizcaino isn’t racing.]

At about 15 months into his ultra career, Dan Metzger (pre-race interview) has already run at least seven of them, including three 50 milers or 100ks. That’s a lot of tough racing miles. Of note in his short career so far is a sixth place at last summer’s USATF 50k Trail National Championships a couple minutes back of fourth place Mario Mendoza and 16th at the 2015 TNF EC 50-Mile Champs. Daniel’s just 21 years old, which means he definitely has some still-developing and probably a whole bunch of already-developed-but-unharnessed potential. From a fan’s standpoint, I hope he finds a sustainable relationship with our sport, because I think he could make a big impact in it.

Lots of Fast Dudes Who Could Go Top 10

  • Josh Arthur — 22nd and 20th at the last two editions of TNF EC 50-Mile Champs, 2nd 2015 Power of Four 50k, 6th and 14 minutes back of winner Mario Mendoza at the 2015 Moab Trail Marathon Update April 9: Josh Arthur didn’t start due to a leg injury.
  • Andrew Benford — 4th 2015 US Mountain Running Champs, 2nd 2015 Imogene Pass Run, will Lake Sonoma be his first 50 miler? [April 7 Update: Andrew Benford isn’t racing.]
  • Jesse Haynes — 15th here last year, 10th 2014 Western States 100, 3rd 2015 The Bear 100 Mile, 2nd 2016 Sean O’Brien 100k, already has his Golden Ticket from Sean O’Brien so I guess he’s looking for the competition?
  • Brett Hornig — Hailing from the Ashland, Oregon trail running talent center, 4th 2015 Lithia Loop Marathon, 21st 2015 TNF EC 50-Mile Champs, and 7th at the stacked 2016 Way Too Cool 50k
  • Ben Koss — 11th 2015 USATF 50k Trail National Championships, 14th 2015 TNF EC 50-Mile Champs
  • Keith Laverty — 7th 2015 USATF Trail Half Marathon National Championships, 6th 2016 Moab Red Hot 33k behind second place Scott Spillman, appears this could be his first 50 miler?
  • Karl Meltzer - 2014 Appalachian Trail FKT attempt

    Karl Meltzer

    Karl Meltzer — 14th and 12th at last two Lake Sonomas, just won his 38th 100 miler a couple weeks ago, one of my favorite people to watch at super-competitive 50 milers like this one because he runs around with a shit-eating grin and chews up those who don’t pace themselves properly as the race goes

  • Scott Spillman — 6th 2014 Pikes Peak Marathon,3rd 2015 Imogene Pass Run behind 2nd place Andrew Benford, 2nd 2016 Moab Red Hot 33k, appears this could be his first 50 miler? [April 6 Update: Scott Spillman will miss the race with a nagging foot injury.]
  • Benjamin Stern — Is he running? He took sixth at Gorge Waterfalls 100k last weekend.
  • Paul Terranova — 10th 2015 Western States 100 (interview), 25th 2015 TNF EC 50-Mile Champs, 3rd 2016 Bandera 100k, already has Western States entrance via 10th place last year so I suppose he’s coming for the wine, I mean, the competition?
  • Jeremy Wolf — 11th here last year, 17th 2015 TNF EC 50-Mile Champs, 5th 2016 Chuckanut 50k, but 15 and 12 minutes distant of 2nd and 3rd places Mario Mendoza and Matt Flaherty

Still More Men to Watch

  • Chris Castleman — 9th 2016 Sean O’Brien 100k
  • Dominic Grossman — 3rd 2014 Angeles Crest 100 Mile
  • Jake Hegge — Has put down some strong trail ultrarunning in the upper Midwest the last couple of years, including a course recordwin at the Minnesota Voyageur 50 Mile last summer and a win of the Superior Fall Trail Race 100 Mile last fall, has he faced the kind of competition he’ll see this weekend in ultras yet?
  • Tsutomu Nagata — From Japan, ran 6:36 for 100k on the roads on the uber-fast Lake Saroma 100k course, 2nd the 2014 Coldwater Rumble 100 Mile in Arizona in 2014.
  • Justin Ricks — Winner 2015 Moab Trail Half Marathon, winner 2016 Run Through Time Trail Marathon, wanted to run here last year but had an ankle injury, is this still going to be his first 50 miler? Update April 8: Justin Ricks won’t be racing for family reasons.
  • Joe Uhan — Is he racing? He’s been fighting plantar fasciitis.

On the Entrants List but Not Racing

  • Ryan Bak — He was on the entrants list but isn’t anymore as he’s nursing a calf injury
  • David Laney — Was on the entrants list but isn’t anymore as he took a tumble and has a rib injury
  • Stephen Wassather — Says he’s not racing because he’s not totally recovered from other races he’s recently run

Call for Comments

  • So, what man will win Lake Sonoma?
  • And who is going to grab the Golden Ticket entries into Western States?
  • Who do you think is primed for a surprise race?
  • Know of anyone we’ve listed who won’t be racing or someone who we haven’t included who you think should be on this list? Let us know in the comments.
Meghan Hicks

is iRunFar.com’s Senior Editor, the author of ‘Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running,’ and a Contributing Editor at Trail Runner magazine. The converted road runner finished her first ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world’s wildest places. For more information on Meghan and her adventures, please visit her personal website.

There are 27 comments

    1. NotSoFlatlander

      I’m gonna second this. The guy has made it look effortless as of late and I feel as though he’s only scratching the surface.

    1. Will G.

      Unfortunately, both of Daniel Metzger’s ITR team mates mentioned won’t be racing, Ryan Neely has a commitment back in VA for his PhD program, and Chris Vizcaino had a temporary change in work schedule (along with a hip injury recovery) that cut his training.

  1. SteelTownRunner

    100K national champs this week too with a concurrent 50K race. A new feature ofthe 50K, the male and female 50K champs will join the US team for the 50K World Championship.

  2. Flaherty

    Jake Hegge should be an interesting one! He and his training partner (Michael Borst) have been tearing it up around the upper Midwest for a couple years now, but usually absent national-level competition. But from my understanding, the LS50 rollers run a bit like the Midwest—albeit with a bit more total vert! :)

    Also, Hegge’s win at Voyageur, while very impressive, wasn’t the CR. That belongs to Scott Jurek from 1998, in an epic battle with Jarrow Wahman. (I just knew that off hand because I wrote a piece about it last year.)

    1. Eric Senseman

      You beat me to the punch on this Flaherty, RE: Voyageur CR! A very solid winning time last year still – it’s not an easy course.

    2. Meghan Hicks

      Thanks, gentlemen. Corrected! I must have translated numbers in my late-night numbers searching last night. :) I’m looking forward to watching Jake race among this weekend’s crowd.

      1. Flaherty

        Well also, not all years of the Voyageur results are up on Ultrasignup.com, if that’s what you consulted. So it looks like Hegge has the fastest based on that. :)

  3. speedgoat Karl

    Pressure is on Walmsley for sure. He’s been on fire. No reason he won’t be in the mix. When the leaders pass me after the lollipop. I’ll throw out my two cents on who’s gonna win. And yah, I”m bringing the shit-eating grin, but not so sure I’ll be mopping up too much carnage. I’m getting too old for this track meet stuff. Good luck to everyone. It’s an honor to run in such a strong field at a great race.

  4. David Roche

    Such a great article, thank you!

    Cinderella story: Daniel Metzger for the golden ticket. He is one of the hardest workers I have ever seen, with a winter of 200 mile weeks (!). He finally got it under control and lowered his volume to reasonable levels, then started popping off great results. WTC50k was good for him, but just 1 week after 200 freaking miles! With one more low week, he finished 2nd at the Marin Ultra Challenge 25k, making up ground on me by the fistful in the last few miles. His training since has been stellar. Diaper dandy upset special!

    1. Will G.

      D-Metz one of the fastest rising stars, no doubt! Most marketable hair in the sport, not ashamed to say, it’s quite pretty!

    2. Matt Laye

      He has an unfair advantage with you as a coach. That sharpness plus his winter of miles could pay huge dividends this weekend. Nice work coach, seems you are molding him well.

      1. David Roche

        You’re awesome Matt! He is the one that does all the hard work. My only goal is to get him to all-caps BELIEVE :)

  5. Andy

    Great preview, as always!

    What I really want to know, though, is if I’m the only one who never recognized the golden ticket-Roald Dahl reference till my son — who is an adamant non-fan of things ultrarunning — mentioned something in jest about a “golden ticket.” (What did you say?!). “Yeah, you know Dad, like from Willy Wonka …”

  6. Quigley

    I think that Zach Bitter will beat out Jim Walmsley for the win. Great preview, but it seems crazy that you didn’t include Zach and Jim in the top tier with winner potential. If Zach doesn’t win, I think it will be because Jim beat him out. I am really looking forward to Zach winning Comrades. I hope IRF gets funding to go down to South Africa to cover that race! Thanks for the great coverage and I look forward to following Lake Sonoma live this Saturday.

  7. Sam in Oakland

    I have to chime in that Andrew Benford is a definite talent. He came within a whisker’s width of nipping David Laney in the last mile of Chuckanut last year. If he’s competing, fit, and can handle the rolling course, he’s a contender for the podium and perhaps the win.

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