Keely Henninger, 2018 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile Champion, Interview

To put it frankly, Keely Henninger made winning the 2018 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile look easy. In this interview, Keely talks about what it was like racing out front of the field all day, how she tried to keep the effort moderate and comfortable from start to finish, how she went for the course record but was forced to ease off the gas late race when the temperatures rose, and where else she plans to race in 2018.

For more on how the race played out, read our 2018 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile results article.

Keely Henninger, 2018 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile Champion, Interview Transcript

iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m with Keely Henninger. She’s the 2018 Lake Sonoma Champion. How does that feel? Congratulations!

Keely Henninger: Thank you. It feels pretty good. It was a fun day out there. I’m happy with it.

iRunFar: Did you literally have fun?

Henninger: I literally had fun. Yeah, I’d say aside from eight miles toward the end when it was pretty hot, I was kind of laughing to myself and whooping and really happy the whole day. It was such a beautiful course and a lot of cool people to run with. The out-and-back was really fun, because I love cheering everyone else on. All in all, I had a blast.

iRunFar: You’ve been here before. Your race here last time didn’t quite go as good as today. It must have been nice to be here and feeling good.

Henninger: Yes. I’d say my number one goal was to not fall and have a repeat of that year. I didn’t fall, so that was great. Yeah, it was great to come back and feel good and know how I could run if I wanted to. It was fun to push the pace a bit and see what I could do.

iRunFar: Let’s talk about pushing the pace a bit. You were off the front from the start.

Henninger: Yeah, I definitely wasn’t planning to run off the front from the start. Lately I’ve just been running a pace I know I could hold. If that meant I was in the front, I would have let that happen, and if it meant I wasn’t in the front, I would have let that happen, as well. I kind of like running within my own bounds instead of running against someone else and trying to race their pace. That was my goal, but it just happened to be off the front. That pace felt really easy.

iRunFar: Were you running by effort or heart rate?

Henninger: Definitely effort. I’d say it was a moderate effort the whole time until the heat was kind of miserable, and then it was still kind of moderate effort, but I couldn’t push much faster.

iRunFar: You ended up spending a lot of time with dudes.

Henninger: Yeah, it was awesome. The dudes were great. We had a train going for probably 25 miles. That was really cool. Then, all the sudden I looked back and they weren’t there anymore and I was really lonely. So the whole time towards the end I was just looking to find someone, and I couldn’t find anybody.

iRunFar: Excuse me, does anybody want to be my company?

Henninger: Yeah, I was like thinking of random things and making myself laugh to try and distract myself. Yeah, I missed the company towards the end.

iRunFar: Stephanie [Violett] Howe’s7:08 course record was on your mind today?

Henninger: Definitely, yeah. I thought about it in the beginning, but I told myself I wouldn’t consider it until maybe mile 25-30, and I’d see how I felt then. Yeah, at that point, I felt pretty great, and, then, the wheels kind of fell off with the heat. I’m just not accustomed to it yet with all the Portland rain. Yeah, it was definitely on my mind. It would have been pretty cool to get. I’m definitely happy with the effort. It still went pretty close to as good as I wanted it to.

iRunFar: Interesting environmental trade-offs—the course was in relatively decent condition, I think, but the heat took its toll the last couple hours.

Henninger: Yeah, definitely. I think the course was perfect. There was a couple sloppy sections, but from Portland, that’s totally normal for me.

iRunFar: Actually this is not sloppy at all.

Henninger: Yeah, it was pretty great. I think pending the heat, it would have been perfect conditions to try to get that course record, but it’s fine. It’s a stout course record which is awesome. She’s a gifted runner.

iRunFar: Is your next race Lavaredoor do you have something else in between?

Henninger: Yeah, my next race is Lavaredo. I’d love to race something in between, but I’m getting sent to China for work, and they’re not 100% sure when I’m going, so I can’t plan anything before that.

iRunFar: What’s the rest of your 2018 going to look like? That will already add up to a lot of race miles by the end of June.

Henninger: I’m doing Lavaredo. I kind of picked that because it seemed so cool and totally out of my comfort zone.

iRunFar: I think it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. I haven’t done the race.

Henninger: Then I’m doing TDSas well—part of UTMB. I just have to go back. CCCwas so incredible last year. The community there is so contagious and fun. Hopefully, I’ll be ready for The North Face [50 Mile Championships]—the end goal would be to be healthy for North Face. I love that race. I’d like to go back and see how fast I could run that course.

iRunFar: TDS—you’re ticking off all the races in the UTMB series, or you’re working your way up towards the 100-mile distance?

Henninger: I’m not… I kind of want to do UTMB one day, and I know if I get enough points, I could plan to do it in a couple years if I still want to. But I just love the vibe there so much that that’s why I’m doing it.

iRunFar: Go be a part of that community for the week or long weekend.

Henninger: Yeah, the week is amazing and everyone on the course is so nice. The competition is great. Competing internationally is always really fun, because I feel like you’re kind of part of a team with all the other Americans who run. That’s really fun. Yeah, I love going to Chamonix, so it’s a no-brainer for me.

iRunFar: Quite the destination locales for you this year.

Henninger: Yeah, I love traveling, so I try to pick races that really appeal to me instead of races I’m supposed to do or my sponsors want me to do. Lavaredo seems really cool, and TDS seems really cool, and they’re kind of out of my comfort zone, so that in itself is kind of fun.

iRunFar: Really? Is it the length or?

Henninger: It’s totally different than what I normally train for or train for in Portland. It’s kind of fun to take on a different challenge. Last summer when I trained for CCC it was just a totally different beast.

iRunFar: Do you mean stacking multi-thousand-foot climbs?

Henninger: Yes, the long climbing and the use of poles, and… really, it’s a lot of grit, and that’s appealing to me. You just have to learn to suffer and really just keep moving. It’s never that you sprinting in those races, whereas some of the races in the States are more appealing to me sometimes and are just faster. I think it’s kind of fun to dabble in a little bit of everything just because it’s interesting. I think that that’s what makes running so fun—doing stuff that makes you happy.

iRunFar: What is it about suffering? Everyone in ultrarunning seems to like to suffer a little.

Henninger: I don’t know. Yeah, I think so. I think we all have slight amnesia, so we forget how bad the suffering can be. Yeah, suffering is what makes it so cool because it’s cool to push your body to its limits and see what you can tolerate. Yeah, I think the hardest races sometimes where you suffer the most—for me it was Worldslast summer—those teach you the most. I think that’s really unique about trail running. You can’t be 100% prepared because there are so many things that could go wrong. That’s kind of fun.

iRunFar: Perpetual multitasking and adaptation. Congrats to you on your win today. See you in Europe this summer.

Henninger: Thank you. Thanks for coming out and supporting the race. It was fun to see you guys.

iRunFar: Whoohoo, it was fun.

Meghan Hicks

is iRunFar.com's Managing 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 trail ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places.

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