After making a name for herself in longer, flatter ultramarathons over the last couple of years, Gina Slaby is intentionally racing the hilly Lake Sonoma 50 Mile to spend time on the trails and face big competition. In this interview, Gina talks about her Navy career, her 2018 and 2019 racing plans on the trails, and how she’s strategically approaching this weekend’s race.
Gina Slaby Pre-2018 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar and I’m in Healdsburg, California. It’s a couple days before the 2018 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile race. I’m with women’s contender Gina Slaby. Hi, Gina.
Gina Slaby: Hi.
iRunFar: How are you doing? We’ve talked on the telephone before, but this is my first time meeting you.
Slaby: Yeah, doing great. I’m ready to go and happy to be out in sunny California.
iRunFar: Sunny California where we’re shivering right now.
Slaby: It is a little cold.
iRunFar: But it’s supposed to be warm and really great weather on Saturday. You have come out and visited this course. You’ve run it already. You know what you’re getting yourself into?
Slaby: Yeah, [Steve Slaby and I] ran probably 90% of it. We got to see the rolling hills, got lost a few times. Got to see the stream crossings and how the course runs, so we’re ready to go.
iRunFar: When you crossed over into the sport of ultrarunning a couple of years ago, it seemed like you went for the flatter, faster terrain. Then recently you’ve been diversifying. Is that a fair assessment of your progression?
Slaby: Not really. I’ve always liked the trails the most. My goal last year was to a make a USA team, to make the 24-hour team, so that was my focus for last year. I had a great year last year and now I’m getting back to more of what I’m into doing and that’s the trail running. Not so much the 50k distance because I did a lot of marathons and short, painful, not too… I’m not liking that as much. More the 100k plus is what I really like the most.
iRunFar: We’ve interviewed you by telephone before but this is our first video interview so I’d love to ask you a little bit about you. You’re in the Navy and both you and your husband are Navy folks and ultrarunners. Can you tell me about yourself?
Slaby: I’m a Supply Corps officer. I’ve been in the Navy for 13 years, so I have seven more years left to go. Not that I’m counting. I provide logistics support to the shore and our oceanfront customers up in Bremerton, Washington right now. I’ll be going to Maryland in a couple months and I’ll be learning to run the trails out there with no mountains and just warm weather. Like I said, another seven years left and I plan on retiring and I’ll focus more on trail running.
iRunFar: All right. This year so far, the ultrarunning world has seen you at Chuckanut 50k and now here at Lake Sonoma.
Slaby: Yeah, that’s right.
iRunFar: So you’re trail-focused.
Slaby: Yeah. Chuckanut we weren’t planning on doing that race at all. It that was a last-minute decision. Actually, Lake Sonoma we really weren’t planning on doing, either. We were planning on doing the Barkley Marathons this year and it didn’t work out for a couple of reasons. But I’ve deferred entry for next year so Barkley’s on the plan for next year. Anyway, without doing the Barkley thing we decided to do Chuckanut and then we have Lake Sonoma and then Leadville Trail 100 Mile is the next one.
iRunFar: So you’re going to high altitude later this summer.
Slaby: We’ll see how it is.
iRunFar: Let’s talk about this weekend’s race. How do you feel about 50 miles? Your race results are all over the board. You’ve run 24-hour races, you run marathon-distance stuff. How do you feel about the runnable 50-mile distance?
Slaby: It’s still a bit short for me. I would say my sweet spot is more the 100k distance, or more. It’s a bit uncomfortable at the 50-mile distance. I’m hoping that with the technical running to it and the elevation change, it’ll hopefully help me out with Saturday’s race.
iRunFar: This part of California is known for its sort of buffed-out trails, which might be different from what you’re used to training on in the Pacific Northwest. But there’s a lot of vertical. There’s 10,500 feet of climbing packed into really runnable track for the most part. How do you feel about that?
Slaby: I guess it’ll be a little bit different than Washington, and the weather will make it difficult as well–the warm weather.
iRunFar: You want cold and rainy?
Slaby: It’s the best way to run! [Laughs] We’ll see how it plays out on Saturday.
iRunFar: This is actually going to be my first time seeing you race in person. What’s your racing style?
Slaby: I learn a lot from all the races I run in. The 24-hour has taught me a lot: 1) nutrition and 2) pacing. I’ve gone out way too hard in 24-hour races and had to walk a large portion of it. So now I’m just a steady pace–don’t go out too fast and hope to catch people on the back half.
iRunFar: The race has a couple different parts to it. You start by going around the south side of Lake Sonoma and then whip around the north side. The north side is where there’s a lot of the vertical and the south side is more stutter-stepping, it’s more technical. So you go out, and then you repeat that in reverse order going back. I don’t know your racing style. Is any part of that challenging for your style, or playing to your strengths at all? What are your thoughts on how the course actually flows?
Slaby: I guess I’m going to take it out easy and hope for the halfway point that I go up that last mountain and at the turnaround still have a little gas left in the tank.
iRunFar: Both you and your husband, Steve, have traveled from out of town for this race and you’re both running this weekend. Does that mean you’re going crew-less and depending on aid stations along the way, or do you have crew?
Slaby: We have someone that we asked if he would give us a bottle at the turnaround point, but that’s about it. We’re pretty low maintenance. It was just great to hear [we’d have that degree of support]. Chuckanut was completely unsupported and we actually ran with foldable water bottles, like the camping water bottles in our hand. We had to pop them open and unscrew the top and fill them with water and keep going. I think it slowed us down a little bit, so we’re actually going to put a pre-made water bottle on one of the tables and use that. That’s the plan.
iRunFar: That’s good. My last question for you: the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile is obviously a competitive early-season 50 miler in the U.S. But this place is also famous for its after party–the finish-line food, beer, and then the next day’s wine tasting. Are you here to partake in the local culture as well?
Slaby: Last time we came out here we definitely did. We did the Coppola Vineyard and some other vineyards as well. We’ll stay for the after party, definitely, but we’re going to San Francisco for Saturday night and Sunday to enjoy the local brews and pizza down there.
iRunFar: Fantastic. So you’ll take in the culture in your own way. Well, best of luck to you on Saturday and we’ll see you around the course, Gina.
Slaby: All right, thank you.