It’s clear from this year’s field that the Lake Sonoma 50 in California has become one of the world’s premier 50 mile races along side Transvulcania and The North Face Endurance Challenge championships. If last year, RD John Medinger raised the status of the race from a regionally competitive race to a national level race, it’s now on the verge of being a full-on international showdown, with Salomon bringing a healthy international component to the race. So who’ll be among those in contention this weekend?
[Editor’s Note: We’ve now published a 2013 Lake Sonoma Women’s Preview and will be covering the race live on Saturday.]
While defending champ Dakota Jones is skipping Sonoma in hopes of finding improvement elsewhere, the next five finishers from last year’s race will be looking to improve on their performances. in 2012, Timothy Olson‘s counted Sonoma among his great tune up efforts before setting a new Western States course record. This year, he finished strong at New Zealand’s Tarawera Ultramarathon (post-race interview) nearly chasing down Sage Canaday for the win at the 100k event. Mr. Consistent, Nick Clark finished third at Sonoma last year more than half an hour behind Jones, but still ahead of a slew of talented runners. So far this year, he’s not be challenged in an ultramarathon with only a hardy win at the Fuego y Agua 100k in Nicaragua in February. Last year, Hal Koerner sandwiched a fourth at Sonoma between wins at the Rocky Raccoon and Hardrock (post-race interview) 100s as the three highlights of his 2012 campaign. Koerner has run fine, if unspectacularly, at the Ray Miller 50 Mile and Gorge Waterfalls 50k so far this year. It’s worth noting that Koerner set the Lake Sonoma course record in 2010 before seven runners, including himself, lowered the standard last year. With his ticket already punched for Western States after a third place at the Bandera 100k in January 2012, Joe Uhan logged another strong Montrail Ultra Cup performance, finishing fifth at Sonoma before going on to take ninth at States a few months later. With the field’s expansion and his focus firmly on States, placing in the top five again this year would be a reach for Uhan, who’s not yet raced an ultra this year.
Also returning from last year’s top ten are Jorge Maravilla (6th, 7:04), Gary Gellin (8th, 7:15), Dave Mackey (9th, 7:21),
and Leigh Schmitt (10th, 7:28). (Leigh was struck by a car while cycling over the weekend. He’ll be ok, but he isn’t racing.) Out of those four, Maravilla has the best chance to break into the top five this year and not merely because he was the top finisher from that group last year. Over the past year, Maravilla’s confidence has steadily increased thanks, in part, to his eighth place at Western States (post-race interview) and third place at UROC (post-race interview) last year. The other three in this group – Gellin, Mackey, and Schmitt – are masters runners with tons of experience. So far this year Mackey has the best showing at a competitive event amongst this trio thanks to his second place at the Bandera 100k in January. Lets also not forget that he was fourth at last year’s Western States en route to setting an incredible master’s course record of 15:53!
After the string of ultra success they’ve been seeing, I probably should have opened the preview with Max King and Sage Canaday. They’re simply crushing it and surely go into the race as the popular favorites along side Miguel Heras, who’s discussed below. In little more than six months, King has won the USATF Trail 50k national championship, the UROC 100k (post-race interview), JFK 50 mile (course record – race report), and Way Too Cool, before finally taking a second at the Chuckanut 50k last month. We’ll see if King, an admittedly frequent race, can bounce back from that Way Too Cool/Chuckanut double on back-to-back weekends. Canaday’s past year is on par with King’s, although King did best the newcomer at UROC last September. Otherwise, Canaday set an American record in winning the Mount Washington Road Run, placed second to Adam Campbell at Chucknut after getting lost, set a course record at the White River 50 Mile, won the Bandera 100, and won the Tarawera Ultra (post-race interview). Not a bad stretch for someone with barely a year of experience in the mountain and ultra scene!
The NorCal crowd knows Leor Pantilat deserves mention among such studs even if he’s not as well known outside the area. That lack of widespread notoriety is understandable give that Pantilat has run only one ultra outside of California, and that was Cle Elum back in 2007. On top of that, it’s arguable that the only California race with national level recognition that he’s run is the Way Too Cool 50k, which he’s won twice and placed third at this year. Needless to say, many were excited that he signed up for The North Face Endurance Challenge last December and a bit bummed when he didn’t start due to course changes that didn’t appeal to him. Thankfully, we’ll get to see how he performs on a big stage this weekend. (Pantilat is out with an Achilles injury.)
Two more wildcards, both from Oregon, are Erik Skaggs and Ryan Ghelfi. Skaggs hasn’t raced an ultra in the past year, possibly due to school commitments (correct me if I’m wrong), but he’s usually very well prepared when he does hit the starting live of the race. Proof? Take a look at his Ultrasignup page… out of more than thirty listings, he’s finished third twice… he’s won or been runner up at everything else! While Ghelfi doesn’t have Skaggs’ credentials, the 24-year-old has four wins in five ultra finishes. In his only non-win, he was 13th at TNF last year. Having seen him at the Antelope Island Buffalo Run 50k, the guy certainly has wheels!
The Colorado wildcard might be Chris Vargo who just finished second at Way Too Cool (ahead of Pantilat) and 17th at last year’s TNF. With only three ultras to his credit, he’s certainly on the steep part of the learning (and improvement) curve.
Well, the fact that Salomon’s Advanced Week, which gathers many of the brand’s top runners together for a week-long product-development summit, was held in Moab, Utah this past week sure changes the dynamic of the race as it looks like six men’s contenders for the top ten will have attended the summit. Leading that crowd is Miguel Heras. Over the past two year’s he’s had more than his share of injuries, but he’s demolished fields when he’s been healthy including a huge win at The North Face Endurance Challenge last December (post-race interview), a race he also won in 2010. Can he make it three for three in major US 50 milers? We’ll find out this weekend. Chasing him will be teammates Cameron Clayton and
Adam Campbell (Campbell has withdrawn in order to let his ankle heal.), who finished third and fourth,* respectively, behind Heras at The North Face race. (*Campbell went off course during the race, but was awarded fourth after making up the distance mid-race.) A former University of Colorado runner, Clayton’s success at TNF followed three months after setting a course record that the Run Rabbit Run 50 mile, his ultra debut. Campbell has established his leg speed in short ultras with wins last year at a hotly contested Chuckanut 50k (post-race interview) and the Arc’teryx Squamish 50 mile. Oh, and his fourth at TNF was no fluke – he finished third at the race in 2011. Rickey Gates has the ability to win any ultra on a given day, but I think he’d admit that he’s not quite figured out the whole ultra thing. He’s got a course record at the Canadian Death Race (his ultra debut) and the win at last year’s Speedgoat 50k, while placing 34th and DNFing his two attempts at The North Face 50 Mile. Young German runner Philipp Reiter has run quite strong in Europe and took sixth at Speedgoat last year, so he’s someone to watch out for now and in the future. Although Greg Vollet has rabbited a few US races over the past few years, he finished fifth at the Pike’s Peak Marathon and 14th at the TNF Endurance Challenge last year. However, as Salomon team manager, he’s bound to be a bit tired after leading Advanced Week along with running all its miles. In fact, the miles and schedule of Advanced Week could affect much of the Salomon team – I mean who doesn’t want to keep up with his buddies on every run.
As with most ultras of this stature, there’s a core of strong veterans of mixed backgrounds running the race. For example, Karl Meltzer would say he won’t be in the mix at such a “track meet,” but his resume is huge and he’ll certainly be looking to get those legs moving ahead of States as if that 14:34 100 miler last month (post-race interview) wasn’t enough! Ryan Burch has been running fast in a pair of marathons and a short ultra – third at the Moab Red Hot 55k in February, two spots ahead of Karl – in the past year and 50 miles seems to be his bread-and-butter distance. Dave James is at the start of a ton of big races with a wide range of results. Having raced three ultras in March, including the Fort Clinch 100 just two weeks before Sonoma, it’s hard to see this as being one of his days. While probably best know for his many podium finishes at Badwater, Oswaldo Lopez has placed third at Rocky Raccoon (14:30). Still his most recent runs at The North Face Endurance Challenge and American River suggest that Lopez would need a great run to go top ten. OK, so it’d be a stretch to call California’s Jacob Rydman a “veteran,” but he’s run well enough over the past few years to seem that way at only 28 and with less than three years of ultra experience. His 15th place at TNF in 2011 and third at American River last year speak of his ability.
Mike Wolfe is signed up for the race, but won’t be running due to a minor injury.
There are a ton of strong runners in addition to those discussed above. They include:
- Victor Ballesteros
- Dan Barger
- Josh Brimhall
- Galen Burrell
- Yassine Diboun
- Bill Fanselow
- Topher Gaylord
- Jonathan Gunderson
- Andy Jones-Wilkins
- Bob Shebest
- Erik Skaden
- Brian Tinder
- Scott Wolfe
- Nathan Yanko
Call for Comments
- Who do you think will win this weekend’s race?
- Who’ll be the big surprise at Lake Sonoma?
- Know of anyone on our list who’s definitely not running?