Emily Harrison returns to the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile for the second time, following her win of the race in 2014. In this interview, Emily talks about how her health and training have been coming together for her of late, how her winter and early spring of training for the Olympic Marathon Trials and long trail ultramarathons have gone, and what parts of the course will suit her best this weekend.
Read our women’s and men’s previews to see who else is racing this weekend. Be sure to follow our live coverage on Saturday!
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Emily Harrison Pre-2016 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here in Healdsburg, California, with Emily Harrison. We’re a couple days before the 2016 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. Hey.
Emily Harrison: Hi, Meghan.
iRunFar: How are you doing?
Harrison: Pretty well.
iRunFar: You just rolled in.
Harrison: We did—probably about 45 minutes to an hour ago.
iRunFar: You made it a whole family road trip—you, Ian [Torrence], and the dogs. Full shenanigans from Arizona.
Harrison: We did. Yep, everybody’s here.
iRunFar: This is your second trip to Lake Sonoma, is that right?
Harrison: It is. Yes, I ran it in 2014.
iRunFar: You were the women’s champion that year. You had a great day. What brings you back?
Harrison: I like the course. It’s definitely up and down, but it’s nice singletrack, and I think it kind of suits me. So, I like that. Also, the competition—historically it’s always competitive. For some reason this year, it just struck me that I wanted to go back and see what I can do again.
iRunFar: When did that hit you? When did you sort of tune into Lake Sonoma and start training for it?
Harrison: It kind of came on the radar just earlier this year. It really wasn’t too planned out. My first plan was I got into the lottery for Massanutten Mountain 100 [Mile] which is in May. So I started working back from there and was wondering if Sonoma would fit in there or not. I wanted to do it, but I wanted to make sure it fit as well. So I talked to Ian and he figured to go for it. I didn’t start transitioning to trails, though, until February.
iRunFar: Yeah, because you were training for the Olympic Marathon Trials before that.
Harrison: Right, yeah, and that was also a shortened training cycle, so I only had about eight weeks to hit that and try to get ready for a marathon. That was really rushed as well. Everything went well, but I just wasn’t in tip-top shape for that going into it. We found out the standard was changing and everything, and that’s why I got in last minute. I knew that this was on the radar, and I figured it would be good anyway to be working on my fitness. I felt I had more time to transition to the trails compared to 2014 when I was coming off Camusett 50k, so there was a little bit more wiggle room there to get a bit more trail time.
iRunFar: So you kind of have a situational comparable this weekend. Caitlin Smith, who is one of the other women’s favorites for the weekend, she also ran the Trials. You also raced against her last year at the [USATF] 50k Trail National Championships. Now the both of you have transitioned back to trails and training for 50 milers. Talk to me about your training. You’re several years into your ultra career now. There’ve been some pretty high highs and some challenges—let’s call them “lows” for you. What have you taken forward into this training cycle?
Harrison: What’s been nice with this year and the last two training cycles is that I’m feeling good again during them. Last year, even when I lined up for the 50k Championships at Tamalpa, I was kind of like, “Eh, I didn’t really do a lot of specific training for this.” My long runs really weren’t there, so I was a little bit worried about my endurance; I was feeling okay on shorter stuff. Now, I’ve been able to put in a little bit more volume. My volume has been higher. I’ve done some back-to-back long runs. My long runs in general were kind of missing from the plan the past year, so that’s confidence-boosting to me. I feel good. That’s all encouraging. My workout times are getting back into those ranges where I like to see those numbers and feel good and feel strong.
iRunFar: “That is a good number.”
Harrison: Yeah, you start cutting down in your workout instead of being, “Oh, I’m struggling.” All that is positive to me. There hasn’t been a ton of time under my belt with that sort of training system again, but I’m still happy with where that’s progressing.
iRunFar: Let me ask you a little bit about that. As long as I’ve known you as a trail ultrarunner and a road ultrarunner, you’ve been struggling with various health issues like trying to get your nutrition down to putting foods in your body that your body reacts to. Where are you at with that now?
Harrison: Last year was a big turning point. Starting at the end of 2014, I did an elimination diet, so I figured out a lot with that. I figured out corn was a really big trigger for me based on that which is really hard because it’s in basically everything and every nutrition product that you fuel with in long events. That’s been hard. I’d think I’d find a nutrition product I could use, and then I’d find out it’s a hidden ingredient… Darn it! No wonder my stomach is still bothering me! I did a food sensitivity test last spring which was another step in the puzzle. I figured out some more things I was reacting to. Examples… like carrots were on there—I never had a problem, I thought, eating a carrot. Garlic is another big one which is also hard to avoid. There’s a whole list, and they kind of moderate it based on how reactive you are. Some things I definitely knew. That makes complete sense. Corn was on there again. Beef, I’ve known for many, many years I can’t do that. So it kind of reconfirmed somethings, but it kind of helped me dial in where I was headed. I think I’ve finally come out of that slump. My body is finally happier.
iRunFar: You’re not putting things into it it doesn’t like.
iRunFar: How does that inform your race nutrition because those are some fairly basic things found in lots of foods? What are you fueling yourself with?
Harrison: This is still a work in progress like I always say. I’ve been bouncing a lot of ideas around with Meredith Terranova. She’s helped me a lot. We have a game plan this weekend. The Trials were where we first implemented this. Basically I’m going with Honey Stinger Original gels, and the natural sodas that are just cane sugar based. Those seem to sit really well on me. It’s kind of weird. I open a six pack of soda—I’m probably going to drink all this in the race. But if it works, it works. That’s where we’re headed. Then for the 100 mile, we’ll look at adding in some more bulkier foods with a little more substance to them.
iRunFar: Real food? More solids?
Harrison: Real food. More solids. Something like that.
iRunFar: April, and you’re going to run a 100 mile next month. Are you hoping you’ll be able to get through this weekend, bounce back, and get a little bit more training?
Harrison: That’s the plan. I’ll race how I need to race Saturday and see how it plays out. My recovery has been a lot better lately, too. I came off the marathon—obviously it wasn’t a great marathon for me—I still came off that pretty well. I’m hoping that recovery trend still continues. Obviously, I’ll take the time I need, but it doesn’t seem to wreck me as much energy-wise. Fingers crossed. The plan will be hopefully to go out to Virginia early and spend some time on the course over a few days and preview the whole course.
iRunFar: Last question for you, some of these trail-ultra courses in California are really unique in that there is a lot of elevation change, but the terrain is pretty darn runable and not super technical stuff. Watching you race this two years ago, it seemed like you were attacking every time there was an uphill. Now that you’ve had that experience, what parts of the terrain this weekend are really going to suit you? Where are you really going to go for it?
Harrison: I think the uphills still tend to naturally be where my strength lies. If I’m feeling good, I won’t be afraid to use the uphills to make ground. Then, I think the downhills is where I need to focus on trying to make ground because a lot of times I tend to settle and am not as confident on the downhills. I think I lose some time there. I’ve had some good downhill running sessions in general that were kind of encouraging to me in terms of how my body felt and my confidence factor, so we’ll see. Again, I wouldn’t say that’s my strong suit, but I’m trying to work on it.
iRunFar: “That’s where I’ll be the most focused.”
Harrison: I think the biggest thing for me is going to be trying to run that second half stronger. If I can stay on top of my fueling, that’s going to be the key.
iRunFar: Right on. Best of luck to you, and we look forward to seeing you out there this weekend.
Harrison: Thank you. It should be fun.