The beloved Lake Sonoma 50 is once again getting ready for the sport’s spotlight, and the official race site has selected one ominous word to define itself: relentless.
In and of itself, a relentless race is an intimidating concept. But what truly defines the allure of Lake Sonoma over comparable races is the other word chosen to define this 2020 installment: tie-dye?
Yup, this year’s Lake Sonoma 50 is Woodstock-themed, and participants are encouraged to wear the bright, Technicolor-twisted colors that defined the free-love generation.
“Join us this year with a Woodstock tie-dye theme!” the Sonoma site urges. “The race is held on the trails at Lake Sonoma, about 10 miles northwest of Healdsburg, California. The course is an out-and-back circumnavigation of the Warm Springs Arm of Lake Sonoma. It is 86% single-track trail and 9% dirt fire roads, with the first 2.4 miles on pavement. The trail is relentlessly rolling, with three significant climbs.”
There’s something ironic about the thought of sweating, cramping, physically-stretched-to-their-limits ultra-runners clad in the freewheeling uniform of a generation known for laying down in grass fields and “turn on, tune in, drop(ping) out” while psychedelic substances took them on a mental trip rather than a physical one. But that’s part of the charm of Lake Sonoma, which began in 2008 and has been run every year since — with the exception of 2011, when flooding proved even more relentless than the race itself.
This year’s race is set for April 11th, and according to UltraSignup there are some impressive athletes who will be strapping on their running shoes. Needham, Massachusetts native and Boston Bulldogs Running Club founder Patrick Caron will be bringing his talents to Sonoma after a half-decade of impressive finishes in international races. 2018 Speedgoat winner David Sinclair is listed as a participant, as is Circle the Bay veteran Jared Bassett and the endlessly-positive Scott Trummer.
On the women’s side, Ashley Nordell is a force to be reckoned with (favorite quote: Steve Prefontaine’s “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice a gift”), as is 2016 Western States winner (and apparent PAW Patrol enthusiast) Kaci Lickteig. Ultra-running vet and Vermont native Aliza Lapierre is also slated to run, as is Janessa Taylor and Canadian runner/podcaster Nicola Gildersleeve.
Such familiar names will be competing not only against each other, but also against the course records set by Jim Walmsley in 2018 (5:51:16 for Men’s) and Stephanie Howe Violett in 2015 (7:08:23 for Women’s). Last year’s male winner Jared Hazen (who finished with a 6:08:29 time) is not currently slated to return, but 2019 female winner Anna Mae Flynn (7:25:15) will return to defend her title and hopefully close the gap even further between herself and the women’s course record.
What can these athletes expect? The Lake Sonoma 50 boasts 10,500 feet of elevation gain, offset by an equal amount of loss. Although the course has few rocks and roots, since the trail is infrequently used there are sure to be lots of leaves and sticks. Then there are the dozen creek crossings — not kind to runners who aren’t accustomed to wet, cold feet.
But as relentless as the 2020 Lake Sonoma 50 will be, the counterbalance should make it all worthwhile. “Rule 1: No Littering. Rule 2: Be Nice. Rule 3: Have Fun!” reads the race’s official rules. “Violation of rules 1 and 2 will get you disqualified. If you are observed violating rule 3, we may withhold your post-race beer.”
Although the race requires serious training and flexibility of both body and mind, there is an even bigger picture that remains in focus via Sonoma’s chosen charity: The Children of Vineyard Workers Scholarship Fund. All net proceeds from the run benefit the fund, established nearly 20 years ago by Ken and Diane Wilson to ensure that financial hardships don’t stop the offspring of the wine industry’s workers from achieving their goals in higher education. In the years since, the fund has distributed more than a half-million dollars in scholarships.
So, a good cause, a great event, and a fun-loving atmosphere that will feature tie-dyed runners and a penalty on anyone who isn’t having fun. Although the Lake Sonoma 50 is designed to be relentless, it might be the toughest race of its kind that will showcase equal parts sweat and smiles.