Lake Sonoma 50M Preview: Insomnia-Fueled Thoughts on Life and Ultra Adventures

Friday, eight days before the Lake Sonoma 50M

It’s 3:30 a.m. and I’m eating a spoonful of peanut butter while toggling between our online calendar and an email to the dog care guy, piecing together a memo about when we’ll be on the road between now and July.

This can’t be good. I’m supposed to be sleeping well and tapering for a race next weekend that I care about.

The schedule makes my insomniac brain spin. Eight weeks of Bay Area  > Southern California > Colorado > Bay Area > Southern California > Colorado. Deadlines. Coaching and clients’ plans. Three-day Board meeting, chairing Development Committee. (Note: Must get on top of agenda items. Shit, have nothing suitable or seasonal to wear. Cannot wear sandals because of toenails.) Fundraising and outreach to do. Daughter’s high school graduation, my 30th high school reunion. (Note: Must not get as sauced as at 25th five years ago.) Doctor and car service appointments. Organizing and packing. New home setup in Colorado.

A few months ago, we dug into savings and leveraged equity to buy a jewel of an undeveloped parcel in the San Juan Mountains, with aspen groves, mountain views and a falling-down 19th-century barn we intend to restore. My brother lives across the road; my dad and grandpa’s spirits fill the mesa—it’s a place with family history, where we decided to put down roots for our kids and their future kids. Then we bought an Airstream and a 14 x 16 canvas tent (online, sight unseen), so we have something to live in while taking time to plan a cabin.

Tent and trailer will go there in the middle. I look at this photo to remind myself why we are doing what we're doing and how fortunate we are to have this opportunity.

Tent and trailer will go there in the middle. I look at this photo to remind myself why we are doing what we’re doing and how fortunate we are to have this opportunity.

That's me checking it out and pondering the future.

That’s me checking it out and pondering the future.

Somehow, in the next few weeks, we’ll get someone to dig a trench to hook up water from the new well, to run utility lines, and to build a platform for the tent. (Note: Must email the thistle-abatement guy.) We’ll pray to the Wi-Fi gods that we can get Internet service to this almost-off-the-grid place and that it will be powerful enough to allow us to work remotely there.

Somehow, I will settle my two teenagers and husband and me into the trailer and tent for the summer without neglecting the projects and clients to which I’m obligated. (Chickens and horses may have to wait ’til next summer, kids.)

This is what keeps me up at night—this, and a calendar note on Thursday, June 23, which makes my heart flip-flop: Get Kyle from airport in a.m., drive to Squaw, check in for WS100 weekend. Two days later, Saturday, June 25: WESTERN STATES 100.

I nurse some peanut butter on the tip of the spoon.

I have been so good with training, sleep and nutrition since new year’s, building up to what I hope will be a Lake Sonoma 50 that boosts my confidence for Western States 100 two months later. And now stress threatens to blow my taper. I worry the same thing will happen during the third and fourth weeks of June, when I face a race that I want to focus single-mindedly on. My brain will spin in different directions and wake me up in the middle of the night to get organized, then leave me feeling all day as if I’m bonking at mile 80, craving carbs and caffeine.

My sleep-tracker mocks me.

sleep log showing insomnia

See in that graphic on the bar for “Today,” where little blue and purple vertical lines intersect the bar? The first set of lines indicates when I woke up and lay in bed. Realizing I couldn’t fall back asleep, I decided to read. My novel The Girl on the Train is such a page-turner that I didn’t want to read it, thinking it would keep me up rather than induce sleep. So I reached for the other reading material on my bedside table: the 2015 Western States Endurance Run official guide, a publication that has all the details about the course, its history and its sponsors. Bad idea.

For the next half-hour, I studied the aid station chart and elevation profile while making mental notes of what I’d need from my crew chief The Rocket and pacer Clare (thank God for The Rocket and Clare).

Errol Jones

Errol “The Rocket” Jones and me in the East Bay

Clare and me last summer, when she ran Hardrock 100 and I paced part of it.

Clare Abram and me last summer, when she ran Hardrock 100 and I paced part of it.

I will need to explain to Morgan and the kids to do X, Y and Z and be at certain places at specific times during Western States because we’re making a family weekend out of it, gosh darn it. (Kids, don’t give me that look—you really will find it interesting to hang out at the track in Auburn at dawn to see all the runners finishing while waiting for me—and it means so much to me to have you all there.) And yes, I must log many miles to train, which I will, I will. But now I must sleep and get ready for the April 9 Lake Sonoma 50M, trusting in my training and having faith, come June 25, that my crew and family will help make everything OK, and for sure I will achieve my dream of reaching the finish in under 24 hours….

I put away the Western States 100 program and settle into sleep. I lay very still and breathe deeply, starting to drift off (indicated by the section of blue bar between the vertical lines in Today’s log in the graphic above).

And then, ping—a little reminder, a mental tap-tap-tap—makes my eyes open just after 3 a.m. It hits me: I’ll need to find dog care for Western States weekend. Of course. Can’t bring dogs to aid stations or finish lines.

Which gets me thinking: I can’t bring our dog to my daughter’s graduation or my reunion or the board meeting, either. I managed to completely overlook the logistics of dog care. I must get out of bed and email the dog sitter guy RIGHT NOW.

Later that day

I get a 9-mile run in, in spite of feeling bone-weary tired. It makes me feel better and more confident, as always.

I think about my hopes for Lake Sonoma 50 and beyond. I remind myself that over the past few months I’ve had many solid, high-quality weeks of training with total weekly mileage in the 60 – 70 range, and I ran well at two 50Ks in February and March. I ran Lake Sonoma three years ago (race report) in 9:36, so I’d like to go sub-9:30 this time.

On my run, I realign and soften my goal. A better goal, I decide, is to use Lake Sonoma 50 as a dress rehearsal for the execution of Western States 100. That means that this coming week, during the final days of tapering, and on race day:

  • I will focus on wellness, sleep and get everything ready several days in advance;
  • I will travel to the race and go to the pre-race dinner in a very calm manner, and not get all swept up and nervous by the pre-race hullabaloo and big personalities there;
  • I will be relaxed and friendly at the starting line;
  • I will run my own race and not feel competitive toward others, because this event is out of my league competitively, and my only competitor is the clock;
  • I will run happy and stay positive;
  • I’ll shift into high gear, dig deep and work my ass off in the final one-third.

That’s it. (Easier said than done.)

Something else comes to mind and reassures me: I’ve been through this kind of big transition before, the “what have we done, how are we gonna do this …” state of excitement mixed with anxiety. I got through it, and it was all worth it.

Seven years ago. We upended our regular life during the first half of 2009. Morgan left his job, we raided our savings, rented out our house, pulled the kids out of school. Decided to travel around the world on a budget with minimal stuff.

Back at home, I click on the mothballed family travel blog that I haven’t looked at in years—it’s weird how it lives there on the Internet, like a box in an unlocked attic that anyone can rummage through—and I reread my first blog post.

It’s me, just turned “only” 41, my kids just 11 and 8, losing sleep over planning itineraries and packing up our house. I wrote things that apply this very day:

“I thought that making lists would foster a greater sense of control and well being. Instead, more often than not, I wake between 3 and 4 a.m. envisioning cross-referenced and overlapping lists with bulleted points that feel like they’re firing at my brain …”

“We’ve thought long and hard about the concept sometimes called ‘repotting’ — of needing to uproot, replenish and settle into new circumstances enriched by that change …”

And it hits me, this is what ultras are all about — this process of making life an adventure. Because really, running is just running. The Lake Sonoma 50 and Western States 100 are just races. They may live up to their reputation as “epic,” “prestigious,” “old school” or “hard core,” but they’re just one day.

The value of training for and racing in ultras, while great, is limited, unless you can extend that mindset — the part of you that yearns to push limits, explore places, go wild, feel extremes — into real life. That is what all these plans for our upcoming transition are about.

On my old blog, I discover a minute-long sentimental sound clip I produced to hear my son describe our plans for a year-long trip. It’s like finding an old letter tucked in the back of a drawer. I hear his 8-year-old voice—the little boy who could not articulate his R’s, so different from the deep, masculine teenage voice he speaks in now—and tears spring to my eyes when I hear his last line, “It feels actually kind of scary, but it’s gonna be really cool and exciting.”

Here it is. Here’s to exploration and adventure.


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7 Responses to Lake Sonoma 50M Preview: Insomnia-Fueled Thoughts on Life and Ultra Adventures

  1. Steve Pero April 3, 2016 at 3:48 am #

    What a great decision to move to the San Juans to the old family grounds…I am uber jealous.

    Best of luck in your races..

  2. Jana April 3, 2016 at 6:03 am #

    Great post. I love how adventurous you have always been–two kids and all! The new property looks gorgeous. This will all be worth it and, one day, you’ll re-read this post and smile. Until then, go with the insomnia and whatever else hits you. So much is going on for you. If you didn’t feel some effect, it would be unnatural.

  3. Brian April 3, 2016 at 4:59 pm #

    Thanks for sharing a nice post about how life can really pile up before a race. It is amazing how often that kind of stuff happens, but it always helps me to read about how others deal with it.

    I’ve been following your blog for a couple months now, and it is excellent. But I just spent the last 90 minutes reading about your family’s travels around the world. That is amazing! Thanks for sharing that (and tell your daughter her 17 hr. bus post is the best).

    Cant wait for more. And have fun at the race next weekend.

    • Sarah April 3, 2016 at 5:16 pm #

      Oh my gosh, thank you so much — it means a lot to me that you checked out our old blog and liked it. I had not read my daughter’s bus post in so long; I went back to it and it cracked me up. She hates that blog now because it captures her 11-year-old awkward phase, but I love her perspective on the world. Here’s the link if anyone else want to see it (the link to her own blog, not our family one)
      Thanks for making me go down memory lane!

      • Brian April 3, 2016 at 6:01 pm #

        I suppose she is in her late teens now, so it makes sense she doesn’t like it. But I was shocked at how articulate she was for 11. Maybe when she’s in her 30s it will make her laugh!
        Brian recently posted..747My Profile

  4. Mike April 4, 2016 at 10:01 am #

    Great post Sarah. I love reading about your adventures. You are consistently inspiring. Good luck this weekend!


  1. Ultramarathon Daily News, Mon, Apr 4 - Ultramarathon News, Podcasts, and Product Reviews - April 4, 2016

    […] Sarah’s Lake Sonoma Preview is unlike other previews, but we can all relate to what’s going on with scheduling. […]

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