In 2013, Stephanie Howe finished third at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. Last year, she took second. This year, she won… and she made it look easy along the way. In the following interview, Stephanie talks about what her race felt like, what her take is on fueling during training, and why she’ll take some down time while feeling so fit.
For more on the race, read our 2015 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile results article.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Stephanie Howe, 2015 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Stephanie Howe after her win at the 2015 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. Congratulations, Stephanie.
Stephanie Howe: Thank you.
iRunFar: You were third two years ago, second last year, and now you win.
Howe: It’s about time.
iRunFar: Was that kind of your plan going in?
Howe: It was definitely the hope. It’s a tough course and a tough race. I didn’t think it was going to come easy. I definitely wanted to get my double magnum from Wilson Winery.
iRunFar: It’s some good wine.
Howe: It is some great wine.
iRunFar: Today we’re at Pezzi King Vineyards.
Howe: Yeah, this doesn’t stink either.
iRunFar: You’re celebrating a good win that really speaks very well of your fitness right now. It was another course record for this course in a fantastic time, because Emily [Harrison] had a spectacular race here last year.
iRunFar: Did you think you could run as fast as you did?
Howe: No, I was hoping to repeat last year. I felt I had a good race. I thought 7:30 was attainable for me. It was 7:33 last year. It honestly didn’t cross my mind until probably about 30 miles in, really until the last 10. I just thought, Wow, if I can just run 10-minute miles, I’m going to have the course record. That would be really cool.
iRunFar: If we could convince Tropical John to make a course-record bonus… another double magnum?
Howe: Two double magnums? I asked him if I could have the puppy. He found a puppy out on the course trail marking. It’s the cutest little pointer mix. I kind of want to keep her.
iRunFar: That would totally fit in a duffle bag.
Howe: Yeah, I know.
iRunFar: Or are you driving?
Howe: I’m driving… just saying… just saying.
iRunFar: John and Lisa, you’re screwed. So, how are you feeling the day after? Are you feeling pretty strong?
Howe: I feel pretty good. My legs are destroyed. I put myself under yesterday. I feel worse than I did after States.
Howe: I just haven’t had the same training going into it. I didn’t spend a lot of time seasoning my quads, so they were pretty shot at mile 30, but I knew I could finish. I’ve run 20 miles on shot quads, so I’m just paying for it today. It was worth it.
iRunFar: It looked like during the race, maybe you were hurting yourself physically, but you had maybe an easy mental time? You were smiling and laughing going uphill at mile 30.
Howe: Yeah, I felt good. The energy was never low the entire race. I had trashed quads, but I was fine other than that. I was feeling good. There were so many people out there. It was cool to have the out-and-back where people are cheering for you. I don’t know. I was having a good time.
iRunFar: You definitely were. It was a really nice day weather-wise. It got a little warm in the afternoon. Did your stomach ever go at all?
Howe: A little warm. No, I mean, I trained and practice taking fuel, so I’m pretty good during the race. I just took three gels an hour—constant fuel. Clif Shot gels, just mixing up the flavors so I didn’t get sick of them.
iRunFar: You do have to do that.
Howe: You do have to do that. That’s all I did. It was great.
iRunFar: That’s interesting because these days there’s sort of a branch of ultrarunners who race with gels or nutrition products but they definitely train very low or not at all. With your background in nutrition, what’s your take on that?
Howe: The science behind that is not very good—that training without carbohydrate. The thought behind it is that it produces more stress on the body so you adapt. While that may be true, you aren’t as used to processing carbohydrates. You have less ability. You down-regulate your receptors. If you don’t need them, your body is not going to use the extra energy to keep them. When you get into a race situation and you’re trying to take in carbohydrate, you just can’t use it as well. I know people believe different things. That’s what I’ve stuck to with my background, and it’s worked well.
iRunFar: So to split that a little finer, you work on these receptors in terms of dealing with carbohydrate digestion, there’s some ultrarunners who not only don’t do the carb thing in training, they don’t do it at all. What about the people who mix, you say, don’t do it during running but then they do it during every day life? Would that hinder their receptors and all that?
Howe: I think a little bit. I think it’s okay to stress your body out a little bit. When I go out on long training runs I don’t always fuel properly. Maybe I’ll take one gel/hour and maybe I’ll wait until I’m 90 minutes to two hours in. So, I’m behind at that point, and it’s good to practice bonking. But I think if you deprive yourself of it in training, but you eat properly in your day-to-day life, you still aren’t optimizing your nutrition.
iRunFar: You kind of, just as in training the various physical elements (legs, cardiovascular system), you sort of vary your approach to nutrition during training.
Howe: Exactly. Yeah, it’s not black and white. There’s a lot of grey area. I try to, for the most part, like 80%, do well. Then there’s 20% of the time where it’s like, “Well, that was probably stupid.” It’s good for your body to practice those times but just not have that be the majority of your training.
iRunFar: So you said in our pre-race interview that you were looking to improve upon last year. You did that by quite a bit. How many minutes were you faster this year?
Howe: I was 7:08 this year… 22 minutes? 18 minutes? It was about 45 seconds per mile.
iRunFar: That’s quite a lot. What does that have you thinking about Western States?
Howe: I feel good about my fitness right now, but I also feel like I’m fit and I need to come down before I go back up. Western States is 10 weeks away? I actually plan to take a couple weeks to recover, relax, reset, lose some fitness so I can build back up.
iRunFar: So what does that look like for you? This week it’s recovery. Next week what are you doing in that planned down phase?
Howe: A lot of cross training, a lot of yoga, walking my dog, spending time with friends, just not training and following a plan. I’ll be getting out for runs but just kind of what feels like, maybe just 30 to 45 minutes. I’ll just kind of play it by ear. When I get back into training, I won’t just hit it hard. I will add in some cross training. I usually try to cross train once per week even leading up to a race just to keep my body from falling apart.
iRunFar: Any races between now and States?
Howe: Not planned. Actually, I take that back. I’m doing the Boston 5k.
iRunFar: Oh, that’s right.
Howe: A big, big race for me. But I might do a half marathon, just a local race, if it fits into the training block. I don’t like to race that often.
iRunFar: For what you’re focusing on, those aren’t really races. They’re more like training runs.
Howe: Exactly, they’re just to get a hard effort in.
iRunFar: As opposed to an ultra where you’d be more tempted to…
Howe: To throw myself under. Really, it’s so tempting. I’ve had these races I want to do and they fit in but they don’t fit in. I could get myself there, but it’s just not smart. I’m holding myself back. It will be good for me.
iRunFar: You had a great run here.
Howe: Thanks, yeah, I was not expecting that. It was crazy.
iRunFar: Congratulations, Stephanie.
Howe: Thanks. Cheers.
iRunFar: A bonus question for you. You’ve gotten to try a bunch of good wines these last couple of days. Have you had a favorite?
Howe: Oh, my gosh, yes. We just tried the Reserve Cab here and that was pretty good. I think Zach and I are going to buy a case.
iRunFar: A nice Pezzi King?
Howe: Yes, they convinced us. We’re going to continue on our wine tour this afternoon. We brought our bikes. We actually biked here which is great except for that uphill.
iRunFar: That driveway is wicked.
Howe: It’s about a mile. I didn’t know that. Yeah, we’re going to bike down and taste a few others, but we definitely loved the Cab here.
iRunFar: You’re on bikes. How are you going to…?
Howe: Oh, Zach has biked with crazy things before.
iRunFar: He’s just going to like carry it?
Howe: I’ve got a bag. Maybe we’ll stick it in there and put it on his back. We’ll see. We’ll be creative.
iRunFar: Awesome. Well, enjoy.
Howe: Thank you.