Lake Sonoma 50 Mile Preview

A preview of the 2012 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile.

By on April 12, 2012 | Comments

Lake Sonoma 50 MileI’ll admit to having had the itch to cover this year’s Lake Sonoma 50 Mile in, uh, Sonoma, California for a couple months now. The entry list has been killer, but with the other half of the iRunFar Headquarters team racing in Morocco, it was gonna be tough to pull this off. Then, yesterday afternoon, I said screw it, so early this evening I’ll hop in the iRunFar Car and make the 800-mile drive west. I am certain that this year’s Sonoma 50 will make that drive worth it. Why? Well, I’ll tell you why.

… and, for once, I promise to keep this short. It’s already late Wednesday night and I’ll be driving well into Thursday night/Friday morning.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, I’ll be livecasting the race on iRunFar’s Twitter feed starting 6:30 am PDT on Saturday.

Lake Sonoma 50 Women’s Preview

I think that the women’s race is going to come down to who’s been healthy out of ladies who could win Sonoma of which I think there are four: Darcy Africa, Krissy Moehl, Tyler Stewart, and Joelle Vaught. Darcy is as tough as they come, but she’s been battling painful injuries for quite some time and, back in January, they lowered her fun-o-meter enough that she dropped from the Bandera 100k. Krissy was out running at the UltrAspire team summit a few days ago, but she battled an ankle injury earlier in the year and she’s not raced since The North Face Endurance Challenge (TNF EC) back in December. Tyler is a triathlete turned ultrarunner who set the Way Too Cool 50k course record in March and finished fifth at the TNF EC ’11 in her 50 mile debut. She’s been battling plantar fasciitis ever since Way Too Cool and already missed the Chicago Lakefront 50k two weeks ago due to the injury. As far as I know, Joelle is healthy and ready to go. That alone makes her the favorite going into this weekend.

Rory Bosio was originally on my “could win it” list, but I do think that one of the four women named above will best her on Saturday. That said, she has a good shot at being in the top 3. She tends to be very selective in her racing and performs well when she does race. She ran quite well in finishing fifth at Way Too Cool. Stephanie Howe has won both the 50ks she’s run in the past seven months and has beaten the likes of Krissy, Jenn Shelton, and Pam Smith in either a trail marathon or 50k in the same span. She will be making her 50 mile debut at Sonoma. Jennifer Pfeifer has been winner ultras since I was a freshman running collegiate indoor track, which is to say awhile ago. In the mean time, she’s won more ultras than I care to count, including all four 5oks she’s entered in the past year. Last year, she was third at the American River 50, a race at which she has three wins, three seconds, and two thirds! Caren Spore has the second fastest women’s time at Sonoma (2011 – 8:41:51), but has only raced once since last July. That race was a 50k win three weeks ago.

Other top women include Denise Bourrasso, Susan Brozik, Gretchen Brugman, Kiera Henninger, and Kelly Ridgway.

Lake Sonoma 50 Men’s Preview

Just like Chuckanut, there are so many top guys at Lake Sonoma this year that it’s a bit of a fool’s errand to try and “organize” a preview of the men’s field. One easy place to start is who’s not running. Mike Foote, Nathan Yanko, and Jon Olsen are all out, so none of them will be a factor on Saturday. There are also rumblings that Leor Pantilat is out, which is a shame as he’s not lost an ultra in three years and crushed the course record at the only 50 mile he’s run (Quicksilver ’11 – 6:01:45).

Alright, if I’ve got pick another subset, let’s go with “locals,” by which I mean anyone who lives in or has lived in the Bay Area recently. Although once again living in Boulder, recent Bay Area resident Dave Mackey is the sub-10o-mile yin to Karl Meltzer’s 100-mile yang. Both are master’s runners who regularly school young studs at their respective distances. If Mackey’s own school work hasn’t kept him from training, he will challenge for the win. Gary Gellin set the Way Too Cool 50k course record a weeks back, so he’s in top form, but he doesn’t have the same level of experience or success at 50 miles as he does at 50k. When I lived back East, Leigh Schmitt was THE 50 mile guy. He rarely lost. He won’t win this weekend (and top 3 would be a stretch), but he’ll race well. Jorge Maravilla is a name you should get to know even if top five would be a great showing from him this weekend. If Leor DOES run…. oh baby!

Team Pearl Izumi has the best chance to put two runners on the podium in Saturday with Nick Clark and Timothy Olson. A fresh Nick Clark is a dangerous Nick Clark; so is a focused Nick Clark. While he impressed with his back-to-back third places at Western States and Hardrock early last summer, he over raced. Not so this year. As for young Mr. Olson from Oregon, he continues to impress… and I’m not just talking about his hair! His sixth place at Western States last year and win at the Bandera 100k in January over Clark, Mackey, Joe Uhan, and Dylan Bowman shows he can beat anyone. Scott Jaime will also be joining his PI teammates in California.

Olson is joined by a slew of Oregonians invading California this weekend. Hal Koerner, the current Lake Sonoma course record holder (2010 – 7:08:20) and defending champ, will be looking to hold onto that title amidst much stiffer competition. Joe Uhan impressed at the Bandera 100k, the previous Montrail Ultra Cup race, with a third place finish behind only Olson and Mackey. Guys like Dan Olmstead and Jeff Browning should also perform well as they head south.

Dakota Jones. Well, he gets his own paragraph… mostly because he’s the only guy in the race living in a truck. Dakota took most of the winter off from formal training, but is now back at it and with a coach, no less.

Other top men include Dan Barger, Thomas Crawford, Topher Gaylord, David La Duc, Joel Lanz, Erik Skaden (just coming off American River), Todd Walker, Scott Wolfe.

Timothy Olson Dave Mackey Joe Uhan Dylan Bowman Nick Clark

The band is back together. Out of the Top 5 at the Bandera 100k pictured here (l-to-r & in order of finish) - Timothy Olson, Dave Mackey, Joe Uhan, Dylan Bowman, and Nick Clark - only Bowman won't be racing the Lake Sonoma rematch. Photo: Bryon Powell

Please supplement my commentary with the one and only Karl Meltzer’s Odds.

A Bit of Late Night Commentary

It used to be that the Northern California trio of the Way Too Cool 50k, American River 50 Mile, and Miwok 100k were THE races of the spring season. They kick things off, gradually bumped up the race distance, and got you ready for Western States. It was a no brainer that these were the events you went to if you wanted to face top competition. The days of those assumptions are over.

With no disrespect meant to those venerable (and still wonderful) races or their fields, this spring the deepest race fields are found elsewhere. Just a week after Way Too Cool, the Chuckanut 50k drew a noticeably stronger field. Similarly, just a week after AR, there’s a more talented 50 mile field to be found just a few hours drive away. Regardless of race distance, Miwok once stood unrivaled as the King of May. This year, there’ll be a more notable field of Americans toeing the line half a world away in Spain’s Canary Islands for TransVulcania.

Of course, there is a fourth race in that natural-progression of NorCal I-80 races:

  • March – 50k – Way Too Cool
  • April – 50 mile – American River
  • May – 100k – Miwok
  • June – 100 miles – Western States

As of this year, Western States is still the Emperor of June and, at least on paper, seems to have the best 100 mile field in the world this year. However, its once unquestionable dominance is no longer that. Each of the last two years, there’s been chatter about whether The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc had the stronger field. Now comes Steamboat Springs, Colorado’s Run Rabbit Run 100 with its $30,000 (and growing) prize purse and growing list of top tier entrants. Again, there’s no question that Western States is currently the favorite for Hundred of the Year (at least in terms of depth), but that’s now a title that’s up for grabs in any given year… and that’s a change.

What am I trying to get at? Nothing in particular other than our sport is a-changin’ and fast. I think it would very hard for any of these races can ever regain a decades-long run at the top. Why? Because I can’t see ANY race doing so without very strong challengers. Not with the money that’s entered our sport. That money enables new races in awesome places to ramp up rapidly (see, TNF UTMB). That money funds purses that influence where top competitors race (see, TNF Endurance Challenge, UROC 100k, and Run Rabbit Run 100). That money allows those same runners to travel around the world seeking out the best competition. As a result, that money allows us to see some ridiculous match ups in fantastic settings in a way that wasn’t imaginable just a few years ago. Whatever happens, we should remember the past, enjoy the present, and look forward to the future.

Happy trails,

PS. Sorry for not keeping this short!

Call for Comments

  • Who’ll take the men’s and women’s races at Lake Sonoma? Any big surprises behind the winners?
  • Out of the Top 5 at January’s Bandera 100k, four are racing Lake Sonoma: Timothy Olson (1st), Dave Mackey (2nd), Joe Uhan (3rd), and Nick Clark (5th). How will that group shake out in this rematch?
  • Lake Sonoma is a Montrail Ultra Cup race with its much sought after Western States 100 spot available to the top two (or three, if one of the top two already has a WS100 spot) men and women. In a tweet, Dylan Bowman pointed out that it’s possible with Clark, Olson, and Mackey already in States and with Koerner and Jones running Hardrock soon after States that no men’s qualifier will come out of Lake Sonoma to run States. Still, the Ultra Cup WS spots sets up an interesting dynamic like Joe Uhan and Dylan Bowman’s race for the third spot at Bandera, the previous MUC race. If they’re interesting in running WS, the likes of Schmitt, Maravilla, and Olmstead have a little extra impetus to run top three. Do you think any men at Sonoma will qualify for Western States? Would you agree that its more likely a women will use a Sonoma MUC spot to race WS? If so, who is it going to be?
  • What are your thoughts on the shake up atop the traditional March-June racing schedule?
Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.