Lake Sonoma 50 Mile Preview

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?

There are 25 comments

  1. Jeff Faulkner

    I'll likely never be a contender for the big money, but it is exciting to see it being there at the big events. And with the newer races offering big purses maybe it'll draw enough people away from WS100 so that others (me?) can have better than a snowball's chance in h#ll of getting a slot.

    Hey, it could happen, right?

  2. Frenchy

    Susan Brozik is a fantastic lady/runner. I will take age/experience over youth any day of the week. Got a chance to talk with her at Palo Duro and was impressed with her humility and willingness to chit chat after her race. I'll take Nick and Tim taking first and second.

  3. Bryon Powell

    Dylan, for a second, I thought you'd written "enjoy the snow" and I was about to shake my fist at you and the inch we got overnight. ;-) Wish you'd be at Sonoma to make the Bandera rematch complete, but who can say No to racing in Central America?!

  4. John

    Thanks for heading out to provide commentary Bryon. I'll make sure to take my phone along on my Saturday run. Pretty much the only thing I use it for now when I'm out running is to take photos and check race coverage!

  5. footfeathers

    Gotta go with Mackey. Leigh has been sharp with his training. it'd be nice to see him top 3. Caren Spore is in shape and has been hungry for this specific race for months.

    Regarding the transient competitiveness in big races. The sport is growing and changing. States has only recently become a truly competitive event ('10-'11) and seems to be waning already.

    1. Roland

      Agreed, 6 of the top 10 performances for men are from 2010 and 2011:

      Top Performances

      '84 Jim King (27) 14:54:00

      '10 Geoff Roes (34) 15:07:04

      '10 Anton Krupicka (26) 15:13:52

      '11 Kilian Jornet (23) 15:34:24

      '04 Scott Jurek (30) 15:36:27

      '11 Mike Wolfe (33) 15:38:29

      '97 Mike Morton (25) 15:40:41

      '84 Bruce Labelle (28) 15:47:00

      '11 Nick Clark (37) 15:50:23

      '91 Tom Johnson (32) 15:54:05

      and 5 of the top 10 performances for women are from 2009, 2010, and 2011:

      Top Performances

      '94 Ann Trason (33) 17:37:51

      '11 Ellie Greenwood (32) 17:55:29

      '07 Nikki Kimball (36) 18:12:37

      '92 Ann Trason (31) 18:14:48

      '02 Ann Trason (41) 18:16:26

      '11 Kami Semick (44) 18:17:34

      '11 Nikki Kimball (40) 18:17:39

      '11 Tracy Garneau (42) 18:22:15

      '82 Bjorg Austrheim-Smith (39) 18:23:00

      '09 Anita Ortiz (45) 18:24:17

      I expect we are only seeing the beginning of such performances. The extent to which a given event ensures that the best competitors are present will determine the eventual importance of a given race. UTMB has already shown what can happen when you focus on making the event the most competitive. Hopefully States will realize that it is no longer 1980, and that they should reconsider their selection process. Otherwise the race will likely fade into irrelevance for the sport, although still being a "milestone" race for the ultra community (the separation of the "sport" and the "community" is intentional, and real). I hope that States does not go down the road to irrelevancy as it could become, with very little modification in the selection process, a race as competitive as UTMB and therefore maintain its stature as a premiere event for the sport.

      1. Bryon Powell

        Undoubtedly the competition at Western States has been improving, but it's also important to remember that the 2010 and 2011 courses were significantly faster than the standard course. On the other hand, the early course was quite short, so the '82 and '84 times are irrelevant.

        1. Alex from New Haven

          I know by "irrelevant" you meant that the order of times is not the same as the order of "performances" as distance, temperature and trails have all fluctuated. But for people who don't know, both Bjorg (3x champion, 11x finisher(?)) and Bruce (2nd to King in '84, 9x finisher going for #10 in 2012) are staggering athletes and people and Thornley mentions them both as some of the greatest performers of all time.

          To you other point: WTC/AR/Miwok being out of MUC is a bit of a shock. But it does make sense for a couple of reasons: 1) Other than tradition there is no reason a 50k should be a qual for a 100 mile 2) Sonoma is much more like WS than AR50 (and Medinger is on the board of WS) and 3) I'm sure Montrail wanted to have MUC be more of national race series than a NorCal supercup.

          UROC/RunRabit: While they will be interesting, they will also be a DNF-fest. Why finish 100k/100miles if you're not going to get paid? I suppose no one remembers who DNFs NF50 and that has produced amazing races and stories.

          I think zero men will qualify from Sonoma and 1 women (as a 3rd place finisher) but I'm just throwing darts.

          1. Bryon Powell

            I'm pretty sure the removal of Way Too Cool and American River were due to the race director's choice of sponsors.

            Also, none of the 50ks in the Montrail Ultra Cup qualified folks for Western States.

            1. AJW

              I feel the need to weigh in on the comments about the fast times in 2010-11 at WS. Yes, indeed, the fields were more competitive in those races (as the 66 minute gap between 1st and 10th suggests from 2011). However, the courses in both of those years were not the same as even 2006-2009 and it has not been hot on Race Day since 2006 (Al Gore be damned!). Let's see how things play out on the Real Course this year and then we can speculate a bit more on how much "better" today's runners are than those from the old days. And, just for the record, I still think Morton's 15:40 in 1997 (you can look up what the course was that year) is the best run ever!

            2. Roland

              Good points about the course vagaries, which sort of undermines the concept of a "course record" for an event where the course changes (not to mention the impact of the weather). Not sure why a "course record" is even noted. As AJW noted, there will be reasons for one time, although slower, to a greater accomplishment than a faster time depending on the course and the conditions.

              So… let's look at percent back from winning time (which takes account of the course and the conditions) with the following format:

              year/ # of competitors within 10% of winning time/ number of competitors within 20% of winning time









              If one uses the number of competitors within 10% of the winning time as a metric (a value that is commonly used in other endurance sports) then you might conclude that 2011 was the most competitive year of the group. This is reinforced by the large number of competitors within 20% for 2011. 2005 comes close but 2011 really stands out from a statistical perspective. Of course much of this can be challenged since WS does not allow all elite runners into the race on any given year. This means that the true potential for measurement of competitiveness is compromised as perhaps the "best" runners at the time of the race are not allowed to compete. As the sport matures this will become a more prominent issue for WS with the advent of "come one…. come all" races which have the capability to truly test the best against the best, particularly if there is a prize purse.

  6. NickP

    Thanks for heading to the race Bryon! Will provide for some nice Saturday morning entertainment.

    Are you just going to be tweeting, or will there be a full webcast here on the site?

    1. AK

      Considering that Geoff, at this very moment as I'm typing on Friday morning, is slogging up the wind-ravaged slopes of South Arapahoe Peak, I highly doubt he'll be toeing the line tomorrow morning. Nice and warm here in New Moon Bakery in Ned, however.

      Oh yeah, dog-fight between Dave and Dakota. Clarkie to round out the podium. CO boys all day!

  7. Gretchen

    Look for Jenelle Potvin to make a solid placing in the top ten for women.

    Also, do you have chains for the Prius? You're going to need them over Donner Summit … be careful! Look forward to seeing you Saturday.

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