A large number of high-profile withdrawals leave the women’s field wide open at this year’s Lake Sonoma 50. The podium could be filled better-known runners, but there’s a chance for an up-and-comer to really make a name for herself with a win here this weekend.
Favorites for the Win
Call it a hunch, but I can see Keely Henninger (pre-race interview) crushing Lake Sonoma this year. Sure, Keely’s had some strong results for a few years now, such as her seventh- and eighth-place finishes at the 2015 and 2016 TNF 50 Mile Championships, respectively. However, last year she was second at the Way Too Cool 50k and had a strong fourth-place showing at the CCC. What’s really telling in my mind is that last month she won the Chuckanut 50k in 4:07 compared to her fourth place in 4:26 just two years ago. Not only did she massively improve her time and move up for the women’s win, but she moved up from 23rd to 16th overall and ran the second-fastest women’s time ever in race that’s been competitive for decades. (The course has varied a bit over the past decade, but times should be roughly comparable according to race director Krissy Moehl.) Keely DNFed her only go at Lake Sonoma back in 2015.
Gina Slaby (pre-race interview) seems to be drawn to ultras of all sorts. Just in the last year, she’s run the IAU 24-Hour World Championships (fourth with 154-plus miles), the difficult Plain 100 Mile, a 12-hour on the track, and the Chuckanut 50k (she was third) among numerous other finishes. Word is that she’s focused on Lake Sonoma, having traveled to Lake Sonoma to train on the course.
It’s been five years since Amy Sproston last ran Lake Sonoma. Back in 2013, she took third before taking third at Western States two months later. Over the past two years, Amy’s had top results like a second place at Western States in 2016 and eighth at last year’s UTMB. On the other hand, she’s also DNFed more frequently than she has in the past, dropping from UTMB in 2016; Diez Vista, Western States, and the Cappadocia Ultra-Trail last year; and Transgrancanaria this February. Still, if Amy’s healthy and focused, I can easily see her running her way into Western States this year.
Women with Top Five Potential
I’d keep my eyes on Amy Leedham to surprise the broader ultrarunning community this weekend. She’s had some great success in northern California (and Nevada) races over the past three years and has built a collection of results that suggest a breakout might be in order. For example, she’s been sixth, third, and fourth at the past three Way Too Cool 50ks, eighth at last year’s Broken Arrow Skyrace 52k, and, perhaps most impressively, 10th at last year’s TNF 50 Mile Championships.
Still relatively new to the competitive trail racing scene, Taylor Nowlin is showing some good range. Over the past two years, she’s been third and fourth at the Kendall Mountain Run in Colorado, been second at The Rut 28k last year, won the Under Armour Copper Mountain 50k, been third at the Sean O’Brien 100k in February, and just won the Behind the Rocks 50k a couple weeks ago. In taking third at Sean O’Brien, Taylor was nearly an hour behind women’s winner Courtney Dauwalter… but, at the same time, she was seventh overall.
You can also count Camelia Mayfield amongst ultrarunning’s up and comers. After taking fourth at last year’s Bandera 100k, this 25 year old won the Peterson Ridge Rumble 20 Mile, Under Armour Mt. Bachelor 50k, and Waldo 100k before finishing off her season with a 12th place at the TNF 50 Mile Championships last November. Camelia kicked off this year with an eighth-place finish at the Chuckanut 50k.
Last year, Ashley Nordell (pre-race interview) made her Lake Sonoma debut, placing seventh in 8:20, before going on to win the Minnesota Voyageur 50 Mile and taking second at the Cascade Crest 100 Mile. Last month, Ashley won the Three Days of Syllamo outright for the second year in a row.
Meghan Laws is an ageless wonder… but the fact that she’s still crushing it in her late 50s (she just turned 57) makes her performances all the more wonderful. She has three Sonoma finishes, going fifth in 2013, seventh in 2015, and eighth just last year, when she was also ninth at Western States. Laws kicked off her 2018 with a 15th place at the 125k Transgrancanaria in February.
Abby Mitchell’s ultra results are all over the board. There are solid results like winning the 2016 Silverton Alpine 50k, taking sixth at the 2017 Moab Red Hot 55k, and winning the 2017 Austin Rattler 66k. There are subpar results like 43rd at last year’s Leadville Trail 100 Mile (granted, her 100-mile debut) and 32rd at February’s Transgrancanaria. Then, there’s her standout seventh place at last November’s TNF 50 Mile Championships. It’s that result that suggests she has the potential to run her way into the top five.
The trend is not in favor of Kerrie Wlad, who’s dropped from fourth to seventh to 13th over the past three years at Lake Sonoma. Hopefully, Kerrie is healthy and able to train and race at her best.
Other Women to Follow
The men’s field for Sonoma isn’t as strong as it’s been in recent years, but it’ll still offer an exciting battle at the front of the field.
Favorites for the Podium
Realistically, Jim Walmsley comes into this race as a pretty strong favorite. While he’s notably stumbled at the 100-mile distance, he’s repeatedly and consistently crushed 50 milers. Offhand, I can only recall one 50 miler–Lake Sonoma in 2015, when he was fifth—where he didn’t have a great run at the distance. A year after his subpar Sonoma, he came back, took 40-plus minutes off his time, and won the race in a blistering 6:00:52. Personally, I’d love to see Jim just cruise with whomever else is running strong before taking off with 10 miles to go… be we all know that’s not Jim’s style and with his Ultra-Trail World Tour entry into Western States, he’s got nothing to lose by going for a freakishly fast time. To my knowledge, Jim’s only raced once since dropping at the Diagonale des Fous last October, winning the Carrera Alto Sil 44km in Spain in mid-March.
Behind Walmsley, there are four guys who are most likely to fight for a spot on the podium and, for some, Altra Golden Tickets into Western States.
Leading that charge might be Mario Mendoza (pre-race interview), who’s recently racked up wins at Moab Trail Marathon last November and the Bandera 100k in January, where he earned a spot into Western States. Since then, he did drop out at Transgrancanaria in February. In his last go at Lake Sonoma, Mendoza took third in 6:30. While Mendoza was a DNS at Sonoma in 2014 and 2015, he’s confirmed his intent to race this weekend.
Matching Mendoza with a previous third place at Sonoma is Jared Hazen, who ran 6:31 at the race in 2015, before going on to take third at Western States that year. Hazen battled injury last year, but ran a strong 3:18 to take second at the Way Too Cool 50k early this March. With so much success already, it’s hard to remember that Jared’s barely 23.
By most anyone else’s standards, David Laney (pre-race interview) would have had a strong running season in 2017 with a sixth at the Chuckanut 50k, second at the Broken Arrow Skyrace 26k, and 14th at UTMB. But, when this directly follows a year and a half when he took third and fourth at UTMB as well as third at the TNF 50 Mile Championships, it looks like a bit of an off year. Laney did finish 2017 with a win at the Lithia Loop Marathon. Laney was fourth at Chuckanut last month, about 10 minutes off his fastest time at the race. Back in 2014, he was fifth at Lake Sonoma in 6:34.
Over the past year and change, it appears that Eric Senseman’s (pre-race interview) stepped up his game. Last February, he took third at the Black Canyon 100k and he was seventh at the Ultravasan 90k in August. Then, he took 15 minutes off his best JFK 50 Mile time to win the race in 5:46. In search of a Golden Ticket, Senseman dropped from this year’s Black Canyon 100k due to illness.
Men Fighting for the Top Ten
While I don’t think it’s likely that Ryan Ghelfi will be on the podium at Lake Sonoma, he’s likely to be not far off. He was ninth at the race in 2013 and sixth at the race in 2014. Ghelfi wasn’t far out of a Golden Ticket back in April of 2016 when he was fourth at the Gorge Waterfalls 100k. So far this year, he’s been second at the Sean O’Brien 50k and fourth at the Way Too Cool 50k, one of his better performances in recent years.
Taking third at the Sean O’Brien 100k in February, Tyler Green just missed out on a Golden Ticket. It looks like he suffered the same fate last year when he was third at the Gorge Waterfalls 100k. Last year, he was also 17th at the Leadville 100 Mile. In 2016, Tyler won the Waldo 100k and was 24th at the TNF 50 Mile Championships.
Ben Koss made his mark last year in earning a Golden Ticket by placing second at the Gorge Waterfalls 100k. Last year, he was also 10th at Way Too Cool and third at the Cascade Crest 100 Mile. A year earlier, he was seventh at Sonoma in 7:01. Presumably taking a stab at a Golden Ticket in February, Ben was 33rd at the Sean O’Brien 100k.
California speedster Chikara Omine returns to Lake Sonoma after placing seventh at last year’s race. Later last year, he went on to win the Ruth Anderson 50 Mile (5:58), Silver State 50 Mile, and Tamalpa Headlands 50k, while also placing second at the Miwok 100k.
Looking back at Zach Szablewski’s six years of ultrarunning, his fourth place at last year’s Lake Sonoma in 6:53 is easily his best race performance. Other solid runs from Zach include a seventh at the Gorge Waterfalls 100k in 2016, a 19th at Western States last year, and a third at the White River 50 Mile last year. Earlier this year, Zach was 16th at the Black Canyon 100k.
Someone like Dmitri Journist flies just under the radar. Last year, he was sixth at the Sean O’Brien 100k and fourth at the Squamish 50 Mile. This year, he’s been eighth at the Black Canyons 100k. While it’d be a surprise to see Dmitri in the top five, it wouldn’t be one to see him racing his way into the second five on Saturday.
Colton Gale has improved rapidly in recent years. While he won both the Waldo 100k and Vermont 50 Mile in the second half of last year, that improvement might be better shown in his 21st at the TNF 50 Mile Championships last November and his ninth place at Way Too Cool this March. Cole did run Lake Sonoma back in 2014, when he was 118th in just under 10 hours. With his recent rapid improvement, he should fair far better than that this weekend.
Like Gina Slaby above, Steve Slaby seems up for any challenge. It appears that he particularly excels on flatter courses. For example, last year he was 13th at the IAU 24-Hour World Championships (157 miles) and ran 14:41 at the Run4Water 100 Mile. Last month, he placed 19th at the Chuckanut 50k.
At 24 years old, Jeff Mogavero already has four years of ultrarunning under his belt. Some of Jeff’s highlights from recent years include taking third at the Never Summer 100k in 2016, finishing 10th at the Broken Arrow Skyrace 52k last year, and winning the Marin Ultra Challenge 50k this March.
Drew Macomber is a youngish runner with plenty of wins at California trail races. On bigger stages last year, he was 10th at Lake Sonoma and 14th at the Broken Arrow Skyrace 52k.
Also entered in the race is one Shadrack Kipkosgei of Kenya. If this is the same Shadrack Kipkosgei who ran a couple 2:14 marathons in 2014 and 2015, then he’d certainly be a wildcard, but that road speed is not necessarily a recipe for success in a trail-ultra debut.
Other Men to Follow
Previously Entered, but Not Racing
A video interview (with transcript) with Sébastien Spehler and Thibaut Garrivier after their first and third-place finishes, respectively, at the…