I promised you some details on my last “race,” the Rocky Peak 30k in Simi Valley. I put that in parenthesis because when it came to setting goals for the day the only one I set was to enjoy the company and the trails. That sounds a little corny and maybe even disingenuous if you are the suspicious type but that’s all I wanted from the day.
“You could have done that with a nice long training run,” you might say. Well that’s true but I wanted to get out there and have more of an experience.
I knew I was undertrained and that it would make for a tough day. With thousands of feet of race elevation gain and temps in the 90’s “tough” is an understatement.
Have you ever gone to do a race and doubted that you would be able to finish it for any reason – too much elevation, running hurt, not enough long runs, too friggin hot, etc.?
Well, that’s what I did so I didn’t expect to finish the race. That thought wasn’t even in my head.
But, through the first aid station I felt really good because I was taking it nice and easy. I had my trekking poles and was eating and drinking water. After leaving the aid station it was a big downhill section and I love downhills and can make up a lot of time.
But I still took it way easy and hiked down. That’s where the heat started getting to me and just before the second aid station I was already way behind on calories and hydration. When I hit the street portion I was nauseous and almost upchucked on someone’s nice BMW.
When I got to the second aid I was feeling lousy and had half a mind to quit there. But I still had something in the tank and figured I’d see if I could make it to the next aid station and fold there.
As I made the long trek up the back side of the mountain I was hiking just in front of Patricia Devita. “We’re not going to make the cutoff at this pace,” she said with concern.
“Yup,” I replied.
“We only have a couple of hours and still have some big climbs,” she continued.
“Yup,” I repeated. I didn’t want to get into the whole subject about being out there for the fun of it because the idea of it was starting to sound stupid and I was pretty tired.
Patricia started digging in, passed me then continued to put a gap on my snails pace. At this point I figured I’d be all alone but 50k runners were still behind me and were pushing hard to make the same cutoff. Most of the 50k runners were in the hurt box but they pushed on. That was inspiring but it still didn’t make my own pace push any harder. In fact, I was thinking that I should just give up trailrunning since I’m not even motivated enough to train for the frigging races that I enter.
Then the big climb began and a Sheriff ranger truck pulled up on the way down. He asked how I was feeling.
“I don’t think I’m going to make the cutoff,” I told him, looking into the truck and wondering if the AC was as marvelous as I had imagined it.
“Don’t worry about the cutoff time.. these are big mountains and there is still a lot of climbing to do. If you keep going and feel like crap just stop by the big oak tree and I’ll get you on the way back,” the Sheriff dude said. He also mentioned something about a water drop then drove off.
“Wait a minute, “ I thought to myself. “ I know how big these mountains are, I climbed the other side of this thing four hours ago!”
Yeah, that pissed me off and then I started digging as well to make it back up The Big Mountain. 50 k runners kept coming and were were all pushing. One mile down. I kept going at it and I could see Patricia up ahead again. She was still working hard. Two miles down.
Then the truck came back up the mountain and drove next to me and instead of trying to zoom into the truck for comfort I kept pushing. The truck caught up to Patricia who had just stopped momentarily in a downed tree to catch her breath. The truck slowed and Patricia waved him on to go about his business. TOUGH AS NAILS.
I kept going then pulled over to puke my guts out but I didn’t have anything in me except a little pink bile from when I tried to eat a couple of licorice sticks.
I continued on and finally made it to the top of the hill – but whatever motivation I had to prove to the Sheriff dude that I could make it up the big mountain waned and I basically walked it in to the aid station, 3 minutes after the cutoff and my race was over. I had set another goal, reached that small goal then tapped out. I wish I had wanted to finish the race as much as everyone around me did.
When I got back to the finish line after getting a ride down I saw a few of the runners who had hauled butt to make the last cutoff finish the race just in time. I knew some of them from following their Instagram accounts.
I think Patricia had already finished by then. Patricia is 83 years young and knows how to get the job done.
Thinking about the day has inspired me to build my training and look at setting specific goals.
I didn’t mention it at the beginning of this post but leading up to the race I had been struggling to rekindle the training fire. I think that problem has been fixed for a long while.
With dizziness and super bright vision I knew it was time to call the race.
This was my fourth time running the Bulldog 25K at Malibu Creek State Park and I know what it takes to get it done. This time a finish was not in the cards. Had I made it out of the Corral Canyon aid station there is a possibility that I could have stumbled about along the trail, as I have done in other races that I got done, but this time I felt the chances of getting hurt or causing an extraordinary burden on rescue workers was too high.
Going into the race I knew I was undertrained. Add in heat and a tough course with the Bulldog Road climb and that’s a recipe for an ass kicking, which is what I got.
It’s not much consolation but I certainly wasn’t the only one that had a tough time out there with the heat.
I don’t feel bad about the race and I’m not hurt. The vision and dizziness issues cleared up a few hours afterwards and I was OK to drive home. I was pretty depleted but once I got home and took a shower a ham sandwich, lovingly made by my wife, helped get me back on track. I took a big nap and felt better.
There were some race highlights. I was glad I didn’t get stuck on Bulldog Road. Although once I got to the end of Bulldog a cramp set in and I let out big yelp.
Also, I finally introduced myself to Pat DeVita who is a SoCal legend as she’s run over a hundred races, many of them ultras, and happens to be 83 years old. Also, I finally met Jennifer Wilson @lasocialkarma who I’ve been connected with via social media.
I need to get back to consistent running before I sign up for another race. I love running and hitting the trails and I need to make room for it in my schedule.
Runner and coach Megan Roche and her husband David Roche were on the Ginger Runner YouTube show a couple of weeks ago. Megan is also in medical school. She mentioned that she manages her busy schedule by only focusing on three things. If something doesn’t fall within those three things then they don’t make it onto her priority list. I think that’s a good approach and when opportunities come up I need to be more discerning on where my time and attention go. Running is one of those key areas for me.
Waking up on Monday morning I all of a sudden felt a rush of memories from the Leona Divide 30K race. The high heat and carnage out on the trails led to many adventures and acts of courage and stubbornness.
I must admit that once again I was physically under trained for this race and knew that my penance would be a day of suffering. You may think that this reality would have been enough reason for me to stay home that day but after dealing with stressful life stuff for the past few months my mind was calloused and tough enough to meet the challenge. That’s what life challenges do, right? They prepare you to take on tougher challenges.
A couple of days before the race I heard that race day was going to be hot. Since I mostly train along the coast in the Santa Monica Mountains I’m used to shoreline weather so heading into desert territory with some elevation amplifies the effects of hot weather and it sneaks up on you.
I had a heat plan. Last year I had probably my best race ever at the Leona Divide 50K. The biggest obstacle to an even better day would have been a better hydrating strategy. I kept running out of water so that reduced me to a power hike the last couple of miles from aid stations. This year I was determined to fix that problem.
I stayed up late before race day to do laundry and get all my gear set up. I had already gone to the bib pickup so I didn’t have that extra anxiety of getting there extra early. I got up, showered, fed the dogs, grabbed my pb&j from the fridge and headed out the door. I wasn’t hungry at all and didn’t drink my usual coffee. I don’t like breaking my morning routines but tried not to make a big deal about it.
The drive to the race was uneventful and I nibbled on half of the pb&j and left the other half in the car.
Pre-race selfie with Raul
I made it to the Green Valley community center in time to see the 50 mile/50K race start. Ran into to friends and chatted for a bit before I filmed the race start. The race started a bit late because the porta potty lines were very backed up. Here’s my video of the Leona Divide 50 mile and 50K start from my YouTube channel.
Finally the 50 mile/50K race was underway and a few minutes later the 30K race was toeing the start line and ready to go. During the bib pickup the previous day, I had driven the first mile of the course which is all on an asphalt road. I counted the number of turns to get to the top and I counted 12 turns. I wanted to use this so that I could keep track during race morning when I started to ask “when are we going to get off this dang road?” During the race I got to turn number 7 then didn’t notice the other turns, distracted by the beautiful morning views then shifted onto the Spunky Edison trail.
Leona Divide 30K Uphill
Leona Divide 30K Uphill Views.
Part of my heat plan was to carry an extra handheld bottle, wear white sun sleeves and a white bandana that I could use to stuff in some ice if need be. I only carried half of the water during the first 3 miles since it was a short stretch and was all uphill. That would reduce the weight and I wouldn’t need that much water with a cool morning start.
When I got to the Spunky Edison aid station I loaded up the two bottles but decided to still not load up the handheld bottle. It was still relatively cool and the way out to San Francisquito was the cooler part of the race.
After leaving the aid station, I ran the flats and the downhills and felt pretty good. After a mile my lack of training started to kick in so I resolved to power hike the flats as well. The next few miles clicked by and the world was good. Eventually the super fast marathoners started to come towards me on the trail and then some fast 50K runners passed me from behind.
I couldn’t remember if the San Francisquito aid station was at mile 9 or 10. The last two years I ran the the 50K race so the mileage had been different. Towards the end of that stretch, I caught up to one of the zippy runners who had passed me but he had slowed down quite a bit. His body was not happy and it looked like it was starting to shut down with either cramps or just exhaustion. I gave him some salt pills and didn’t really see any water on him so gave him my water bottle which still had about 10-20 ounces of water left. I told him to drink the water and take the pills and suggested he stay on the up side of the mountain since he was walking very close to edge of the trail where there was a big drop off.
Heading towards San Francisquito aid station.
Amazingly when I left the runner I was only a few hundred yards from the big downhill into the aid station. I actually got there faster than I thought. This is amazing because that trail out to that aid station has been a torturous path the last couple of years.
At the aid station I loaded up the handheld with ice and water, loaded up the other bottle with electrolyte but knew that my hydration plan would not include that third bottle. I didn’t want to wait for the runner to come in because that would be at least 15 minutes so I put some ice under my hat and headed off.
I ran into the runner and he was still moving slow but looked happy to almost be at the aid station. He gave me the bottle back and I can tell he hadn’t really drank any of it.
The climb out of the aid station is the last long climb of the entire race. I took my time but it was still a lot of work to get to the top.
About 2 miles into the run back I started feeling the heat and my water supply was quickly dwindling. The wheels were falling off the wagon. My vision started getting impaired where everything was becoming super bright. When I tried to run I would look at the trail and it would be glowing white and that would make me stumble around some which is not safe given the narrowness of that part of the Pacific Crest Trail. One wrong stumble and that that could shoot me down a 50-100 foot section of the mountain.
Shorty after this span, a group of runners sped by and one of the runners was the fellow who was in bad shape earlier. It looks like he got things sorted out and was back in action and had a couple of people to run with him.
My slower speeds meant more heat exposure and less water. Around that time I started shade hopping and when I found a good patch of shade to sit in, I did. A lot of runners passed me going both ways and they would ask if I was OK. I told them I was just taking a break and was fine. Some runners said that it actually looked and a good idea but decided to continue on.
Shortly after my shade hopping a runner came towards me and said to watch out for a couple of rattlers that were up the trail near some bushes. Yeah, I didn’t shade hop for another mile and when I did I made sure there were no slithery fellows around.
I got to the point where I started asking people for water which I didn’t want to do because I know others were also concerned with the heat. Thanks to all who shared water.
Leona Divide Sign on the Pacific Crest Trail.
I finally made it to the bench by the Leona Divide sign and it was divine. A big bench and beautiful shade. The only thing missing was a water spigot. I saw a runner zooming towards me and he actually stopped and sat with me. I am Facebook friends with Sergio but hadn’t met him in person before.
“Hi, Jesse?” he asked. “We’re Facebook friends.”
“Sorry, what’s your name?”
“Oh, yeah, good to see you.”
I shared some water with Sergio and then after a couple of moments he picked up and started running again. He went on to crush his 50 mile race with a top 10 finish.
After the bench break I felt rested and energized to tackle the last part of the trail. I knew that a few hundred yards down the road I’d hit the dehydration wall again but it was time to press on. A half mile down the trail I saw a tiny creek. Water was tricking down and if you took on step you’d be past it. I wet my cap and bandana and loaded up my handheld water bottle with some of the precious liquid. It was more of a trickle of water than anything but it wasn’t murky or anything. Still, I would only use it to douse myself and didn’t drink from it.
I wet my shoulders and back from the handheld and it felt glorious. At that point I knew that I would be alright and having that bottle of creek water made me feel abundant and shortly after that I was at the aid station.
I found a chair in the shade and made that my home for a few minutes. The volunteers were awesome and I chatted with other runners. One guy, McKinley, was doing the 50 miler a week after doing the Boston Marathon. We had a good chat and laughed. Another runner was doing the 50 miler race but was super happy to know he could drop down to the 50K. I got up to fill my bottles and saw my friend Adriana there. She was doing the 50K and this was also her last aid station before the final 3 miles.
Miles 16-Finish (19.5)
After I loaded up I told the volunteers that they brought me back from life and it was time to get this thing done. I took off down the trail and shortly thereafter ran into Steve who was driving a truck on the trail. There was a trail runner who was lying on the side of the trail with an ice pack.
“I promise, I didn’t just run him over,” Steve joked to me.
“Can I help? Need help getting him on the truck?” I asked
Steve had a couple of helpers already and they were good. Steve is an EMT so the runner was in good hands. I continued power hiking down the trail when my friend Christina passed by (she has a great trail running blog that I follow, “A Running Mess“) She was finishing up the 50K race and looked strong, moving much faster than I was at the time so she went on. Shortly afterwards a couple of Wild Mountain Running guys caught up to me and encouraged me to basically get the lead out and press on. I guess I looked fresh enough to give it more gas but they made their comments in Spanish and my brain wasn’t quick enough to give a good retort as they continued on. I thought I was moving plenty fast for someone who had just come back from being ready to quit.
I could see the final road section up ahead when Steve pulled up in the truck and started joking that the AC was too high in their truck and it bothered him.
A few moments later I heard some clicking noises behind me and it was none other than the runner who had been lying on the side of the road, powering on with trekking poles.
“Hi there,” I said. “Aren’t you the guy that was down back there?” I asked a little perplexed.
“Yeah, the heat got to me and next thing you know I had passed out. But I only have another three miles to the finish.”
I sort of chuckled at the absurdity of our sport. I thought he was going to be driven to the finish line and instead he had a miraculous recovery and was motoring along with me.
We got to the paved road, the last mile of the race.
“Well, you were in good hands. Steve, the guy who was helping you, is an EMT and knows his stuff.” I told him.
It turns out that the runner, Michael, had met Steve many years before across the country. We went on to chat about that story for a bit. We power hiked and ran some together. He was still in recovery mode so we didn’t run too much. I knew I was in last place by a bunch so didn’t have any nearby “targets” to try and pick off to get a better place. After a bit we ran into a group of three folks who were cheering us on and telling us to give it some gas, once again in Spanish.
“I think we’re being taunted in Spanish,” Michael said.
I think that as a Latino I am used that kind of stuff. Remarks like that are usually inspiring and I feel that the person in being encouraging but there is definitely a macho aspect about those types of encouragements which I rarely hear from non-Latino runners. Although I did have an Anglo female aid station volunteer at the Sean O’Brien marathon race a couple of years ago who tried to get me on my way by saying that a woman had just left the aid station and was doing the same marathon race had just left. That didn’t light any kind of fire under me. I still stayed a bit and grabbed a cup of chicken soup before I did the last half of that race.
Back to the Leona Divide race, I started running some and the little group cheered. One of the group peeled away and it was Michael’s lady friend and she was carrying a folding chair for him. We ran the rest of the way to the finish line and I was glad to be done.
After crossing the finish line of the Leona Divide 30K race.
After the race I was pretty spent. I leaned up against the side of the Green River Community center and gave myself a couple moments to recover. I wasn’t sore or anything. I had been dehydrated and that had thrown off the day. I didn’t have an appetite but I did grab a cup of beer then headed to my car to get my folding chair and cooler of soda so I could chill at the finish line and greet other friends as they came in.
The car was parked much farther than I remembered and almost a mile later I had finally reached the car. It took me a few minutes with the AC blasting before I decided to just call it a day and head back. I saw Adriana doing the same long walk and gave her a ride to her car then made the drive home.
I think it’s obvious that I need to carry way more water with me at future Leona Divide races. My legs still felt good at the end of the race but my vision was still jacked up and things were super bright. I don’t regret sharing water with people who needed it but I should have had at least a 2 liter pack with me. I also could have carried more real food and I should have taken some candy with me like red vines or gel blocks or something else that could give me some energy and wouldn’t make my stomach feel bad if I ate them without water.
Of course I need to train more to avoid being on the trail for that long a time.
Here’s my video of the Leona Divide 30K race on YouTube.
In Memory of
I dedicate this race to my friend and former colleague Sylvia Ramirez who passed away a week before the race. She worked with us at the union after she retired from working at the County of Ventura. I used to share my running stories with her and her son came out to run a couple of races that our union had helped sponsor. We had a lot of adventures together working on campaigns to help our workers and to get strong candidates elected into office. I miss her dearly.
I’m walking in a room and it’s filled with mud. There are walls everywhere but I know that somewhere there is a door. I just have to keep moving and walking until I find it.
No, it’s not a bad dream. That was my Sean O’Brien Marathon race on Saturday, February 4th at Malibu Creek.
I knew my training was at best lackluster in terms of miles run but I’ve been going through some trying times and that was my strength.
The day started with a foggy, then rainy, then cloud filled drive to Malibu Creek State Park. I had managed to get up on time, beating my alarm and was right on time. I stopped by Starbucks to get a juice and take a pit stop before heading to the race.
Early morning at Malibu Creek State Park
By the time I got to the park entrance the 50 mile race had already begun and people were mulling around. I spotted some friends and chatted for a bit then checked in with the timing folks to let them know that I was doing the marathon, not the 50k. “And just like that you already saved 6 miles,” said the guy at the timing table. Yeah, I did feel a bit relieved.
Always great running into friends. Selfie with Adriana Zapata.
Race Director Keira Henninger did the race start and told us that the 50k and Marathon races almost didn’t happen. We were glad she fought to get us out there and then we headed out.
Two years ago as I did the marathon race I found myself running next to Timothy Olson and stayed close to him most of the way over the first little climb, the Angry Chihuahua. This year I decided not to run my fastest mile split on the same portion and knew that people would be bunched up at the stream crossing.
“Conga line” before getting to the creek crossing.
As Keira had said, the stream was roaring and we had to stay upstream of the crossing rope. The water was thigh high. A lot of people were changing out of their socks and such just after the crossing. I just kept on moving.
By the time I got to the top of the big climb I was pretty much in last place with the exception of a couple who were leapfrogging me. I finally caught up to the again at the bench and asked them how far they were going. “We’re going all the way, to Kanan, ” they guy said. I didn’t see race bibs on them so I wasn’t sure if they were actually racing but it didn’t matter too much since I was running my own race. But it was nice to pass someone.
They climb to the Corral Canyon aid station seemed tougher then before. At the race start I lined up next to someone who said this was his first ultra and mentioned that they was tougher than the Bulldog because of the continuous 4 mile climb. Another person agreed with him but I’ve always thought this direction was way easier than 3 miles on the Bulldog. Anyways, the person’s opinion must have stuck in my mind because the climb seemed tougher than before. By the way, the guy said he recognized me from my blog post on the Bulldog race and that is how the topic came up.
At Corral Canyon I took a few goodies then made my way down the Backbone Trail. I was eating a Gu every 20-30 minutes and that was working alright but then I started to get fatigued and by mile 8 I felt like I was starting to hit the wall. It wasn’t a full on bonk but I started feeling crappy. My stomach felt bloated and I was moving slow. I was wearing a waist pack and it felt like it was making things worse.
This first three miles is a big descent but then there is a good sized climb. That climb section felt super long. I remember doing that section with my nephew and niece a couple of years ago during a training run and it was kind of hard then an now it was draining me. One high point happened when I saw my friend Chris Pavlakovich cruising up the trail. He was doing the 100k race and looked full of energy as we high fived.
Another mile and half or so and I finally hit the next aid station at mile 11 and change. The aid station had these awesome rice balls and musubis. I took down one of those chubby wonders and felt better after I reloaded with water.
But a mile later I realized that I made a mistake in that I was running off the food from the two previous aid stations and wasn’t taking down my regular GU’s which through me off some.
With a mile left to go before the Kanan aid station turnaround point, I ran into a mud puddle from hell. This was a big turnaround point for a lot of folks and they kept coming at me and I’d step off to the side so that people wouldn’t slide into me. Some people said that it was way better than it was two hours earlier.
I wasn’t too far from the turnaround when I ran into Luisa Rivas and she gave me some encouraging words when I finally got to the end of the mud section.
I was ready to head down to Kanan when I saw a guy with a big smile and a styrofoam cup. I knew what that was. The first thing I did when I got to Kanan was to ask for some yummy noodle soup. “It’s super hot,” the aid station volunteer said as I waited anxiously for the healing soup. “That’s OK, I’m going to add some water to cool it down a bit.” I told her.
After digging into the aid station goodies including taking a couple of gels, I headed off with full water bottles and a nice hot coup of noodle soup. After about a half mile up I ran into the marathon couple and told them to keep an eye out for the soup which is not offered to everyone. They thanked me and headed down to towards the turnaround.
Even after only about half an hour, the mud situation was much better. The sun had peaked out for a bit and baked the mud enough that it wasn’t like a Slip and Slide still.
Even though I remember there being an uphill section going down to Kanan now everything seemed to be going uphill on the way back.
It wasn’t going so well. The next few miles to the aid station were long and slow. I finally found a nice dead branch to stip down to a walking stick. It was heavy from the morning rain but I needed something to help me keep moving. I really wish I had used my trekking poles that day.
I made it back to the next aid station but passed on the musubis this time. Ray Barrios was helping to run the aid station and I realized that I had called his brother Gerardo “Ray.” Ray laughed and said that happens all the time. I met the two of them at the Fortius aid station when I volunteered for the Bandit Ultra a couple of years ago.
A little after I got to the aid station, John Vaderport pulled in and took a chair. He didn’t look wrecked or anything but I thought that when I got to Corral Canyon I’d do as John did and sit for a while to get thing together.
These next miles were tortuous. My quads were shot, and not in the good Starbucks kind of way, and my shoulders were aching from carrying around that heavy walking stick. You can see the Corral Canyon from miles away and it is perched high up on the mountains. “There’s no way that’s two miles away,” I thought to myself.
For the past few miles I had been trying to figure out mileage and times. Don’t try to do math late in a race. I started to realize that I was getting dangerously close to moving at a pace that would not allow me to get the marathon done within the 14 hour cutoff time. If I did under 30 minutes per mile I’d be Ok. My mile 16 split was 40 minutes and then the sub 14 hour finish started to disappear.
I kept moving and finally made it to Corral Canyon at mile 20.5 or so.
I asked a volunteer if they had any Ibuprofren and she said they couldn’t dispense that but that I might want to ask other runners. A kind woman overheard and asked if I wanted an Aleve. I said Yes and took a couple.
I took the Aleve and took a chair for a couple of minutes. I took a photo of this low point then ate the aid station pretzel and peanut butter cookie, trying to relax my back and shoulders.
Sitting at mile 21
Miles 21 – Finish (27+ miles)
“Beware the chair” is an old ultra running saying because the chair will eat you up and make you want to quit. I gave the chair my tired body but it did not take away my “ganas.” Before I got up I saw a new trail running friend, Tam, and she was stretching to get ready for the final segment of the race. She was doing the 50k so she had already run 6 miles more than I had. She headed out and I followed shortly afterwards.
The first little climb up the moon rock ridgeline is fairly short but it’s always been draining for me. I usually leave the aid station feeling good then Wham! I start to feel like poo. This time I told myself that the climb isn’t as gradual as it looks and this time I didn’t shoot down the other side as I usually do. For some reason I always smash my foot going down the other side and that slows me way down for a mile or so. I crossed gingerly this time but with purpose.
Tam was up ahead, running alongside with my Aleve angel. I kept them in sight and had picked up my overall pace. When downhills came I ran them.
I ran with a couple of 50 mile guys and a couple of 100k guys for a bit. That was fun. I had stopped looking at my watch and wasn’t concerned about the cutoff time because I felt good and even if I took too much time I would have been Ok with it. No one was out there trying to sweep me off the course and if they did they’d have to drag me off the course.
I was moving well as the sun started to set. After Corral Canyon there are still a few climbs but I felt so good that I didn’t mind them and my back and quads felt fresh. I took out my headlamp and was ready for the big downhills. When the big downhill came I took off down the hill for about a half mile then it was pretty much pitch black except for the small headlamp glow and I almost took a header on the rocky path. I slowed back to a power hike and enjoyed the night.
As the sun sets a new door opens
My breath would shine bright under the headlamp light and every now and then I’d hear some heavy breathing then see a light approach. By the way, I need a headlamp with more lumens because the approaching lights always let up my path much more than my mine.
I finally got to the creek crossing and the cold water felt good. I slipped for a bit even though I still had my walking stick but I managed not to fall all the way in the water. It was getting cold so I finally put my jacket shell back on. I had only been wearing a technical t-shirt for the past 15 miles after the rain stopped. Once I crossed I noticed another headlamp and I stayed around to help light the river for the upcoming runner. Once he crossed I let him pass and he was thankful that I helped out with the light.
There were two miles left and it was a beautiful night. The stars were bright and there were interspersed clouds. The cold air felt good even with wet feet. As I made my way to the Angry Chihuahua I heard something scramble nearby. I turned and there was a big beautiful sandy colored deer about 20 feet away. I could barely make out the shape in the darkness but her eyes were shining. I called at it and it didn’t move. I remembered hearing that deer get jittery when someone gets between them and their little ones so I looked around and decided I should keep moving.
I got to the Angry Chihuahua and a few more people passed me. I had an easy pace and still felt good. I’m usually wrecked by the time I get to this point in the race but not this time. I could hear the cheers from the guys playing basketball at the nearby detention facility. I finally got to the downhill portion and when I got to the edge of the gravel road I ditched my walking stick and started running.
There were volunteers standing along the path and you couldn’t really see them until you got right next to them because they didn’t have headlamps on or anything. “Good job, just keep going straight!” they’d cheer. The race course was brilliantly marked. There were glow sticks along the course and whenever there was a big turn there’d be a big red glow stick and sometimes a flashing pink one to make sure one was on the right path.
I finally got to the last turn and I was still running and came in for the finish and my medal.
My watch had started bleeping that it was low on battery at mile 21 so I had started up Strava on my cellphone. When I got to the finish line I took out my phone and tried to get to the Strava app to stop it but then my phone battery died as well. When I got to my car the battery was dead but I ran into 100k runner Greg who got me going again.
I want to thank Keira for another great race and to all the volunteers and friends who came out to support runners. You are all the reason I come out to these races even when I’m a bad boy and don’t train as much as I should.
When race director Keira Henninger sent out the 30K race email and said that the expected high for the day would be 70 degrees F I knew that I had a chance to get it done at the Ray Miller 30K race. After last year’s crash and burn, a finish would be huge.
Leading up to the race I knew that my training had trailed off so I switched from the 50K race to the 30K race about a month ago. It was the right decision. With tons of election work and three active bargaining campaigns at work I was scrambling to get in workouts and ended up doing a lot of very short treadmill sessions. Having to do a lot of work work and meeting strict deadlines can also be an ultra endurance experience and I used that as part of my mental training.
I woke up an hour before the alarm time I had set on my phone. I had my now usual breakfast of a big cup of coffee and a banana. I fed the dogs and played around on social media for a few minutes then showered and was pretty much ready to go. Today’s attire would be, from top to bottom:
Black Dirtbag Runners hat
Patagonia Leona Divide 2016 singlet
Dirtbag Runners “Bandito” wrap
Garmin 235HR watch
Custom made wrist bracelet by my grandniece
Patagonia Strider Pro shorts
Osprey Talon 6 2-bottle waist pack
Target store ankle height running socks
Hoko One One Cliftons 3
It was nice and chilly as I made my way to the race sign in table. One person asked how I could stand it since I only had on a singlet up top and no sleeves or a jacket. I didn’t think it was that cold and didn’t want to wear any cover to get ready for the race start. I find that I use changing out of warmer wear as an excuse for taking a long stop along the way just after a race start and I didn’t want to do that. With a “shorter” race I wanted to keep up the intensity as long as I could.
Pre-race selfie with Jackie De Luna and Baldemar Caldera, Jr.
I ran into Balderama and his training friend Jackie while waiting to sign up. We had all bumped into each other during one of the Ray Miller training runs. It sounds like they both had a great day out there and crushed the course.
The 30K race started at 7am, 30 minutes after the start of the 50K race so I had a chance to take some video of the 50K race start.
Race start to Mile 5
Keira did her race intro then we were off. I settled in way towards the back and still had a few people behind me as we made our way to the Ray Miller trailhead. It was about half a mile before people started passing me but there was still a bit of a conga line on the single track. I felt good and knew that I was pretty much going as fast as I could with the power hike. By the 2 mile mark pretty much everyone who was behind me had passed me up. I kept a steady pace and with half a mile to go the last few people who were still behind me passed me. By the end of the Ray Miller trail segment there were only one or two people behind me. I was Ok with that and knew I was pretty much close to my ascent PR so I wasn’t slacking off.
My legs and breathing were good and it was cold so I wasn’t drinking much. Leading into the first Hell Hill aid station (we would hit that same aid station three times today) I had taken down two GU gels and was doing well. I ran into the one person who was behind me on the Ray Miller but had passed me on the way to the aid station. She was still at the aid station when I left and figured she’d catch up soon.
Miles 5 to 11
Beautiful view around mile 4.
After the first Hell Hill stop, I made my way onto the La Jolla loop, made my turn towards La Jolla Canyon and ran some, then power hiked some. I was still feeling pretty good. The woman who was at the aid station caught up to me around mile 7 as I expected. She was glad to
see someone else out there. At the same time, we ran into a 50K runner. He said that he had done a lot of Ray Miller races in the past. About a mile up from that point I took a nature break and noticed one person running back the way that I had come from but couldn’t see a race bib. I figured it was just another person doing a run in the area, not a racer. As I made my way up the big Mugu Peak trail climb, a couple of more people raced down and they had 30K race bibs. I was confused because this was not an out and back part of the course.
I didn’t ask about trekking pole for this race but the Ray Miller trail is not a good place to have pole when racing because it is single track and there are steep drop offs. But, I do like the help they give me on climbs so I found a dead branch and broke off a couple of little branches then used that for the Mugu Peak climb. This segment is about half a mile on a 15% incline with sections closer to 40%. I kept a steady power hike pace and then two more 30K racers came down. I asked if there was a course change and they said no and that they had taken a wrong turn. Another volunteer fellow who was up at the top of the climb came down and explained that I was good. The other runners had gone the wrong way and were doing the loop the opposite way. I don’t think they were the only ones to do that. When I was making my way done to Hell Hill at around mile four I took a picture and had noticed that it looked like people were running down the La Jolla Valley Fire Road beyond the turn off point. I thought that maybe they were just day hikers and not racers. But maybe there were a bunch of others who had also missed the turn?
The bracelet my grandniece made me.
When I finally got to the top portion of the Mugu Peak climb I started to run and then the pin pricks started on my calves. Dang it, I could feel that I was getting ready to cramp up. Then I noticed that my right foot was hurting. The one thing I forgot to pack was electrolyte pills. I slowed down, then ran again and the jabs to my calves started again. This segment is usually pretty fun because it is steep and I dig running steep downhills. I ate some dried mangoes and had another GU to see if some nutrient in either of those would help but I could tell that I wasn’t going to be able to run without being in major pain and possibly aggravating things even more.
This is where the mental part of running kicks in. I felt bummed that I couldn’t run so I touched the little bracelet that my grandniece had made for me and thought to myself that I could make my body reverse the pain. Then I thought that by doing so I could also help send healing thoughts to her and her mom who have had bad coughs the last few days. This feeling of gratitude kept me from getting in a down mood. I could have started getting bummed about my time and how I would miss a finish time that I had in the back of my mind but I stopped myself and instead focused on being grateful that I could be
I only had two and a half miles back to the Hell Hill aid station so I kept and even power hike pace and the time went by faster than I thought it would. I just kept moving and when I got to the little but steep climb back up to the Hell Hill aid station I was trudging a long. I knew that when I got to the aid station I’d get this all sorted out.
My bud Steve Acciarito was working the aid station and I told him that I was “crampy”. He asked if I wanted pickle juice and I told him that I need a salt pill. He pulled out some Salt Sticks and poured some onto a cap. I downed two of them and I thought I packed three more for the next miles. I took some peanut butter filled pretzels, a few salted nuts and refilled my two bottles. I loaded one of my bottles with CarboPro which I have never tried and the other bottle with water. I usually keep my electrolyte drink on the left side of my waist pack but I mixed up the bottle and couldn’t tell which was which. CarboPro is colorless and tasteless so I figured I would just have to take both at the same rate. The only part I worried about was that I usually drink water only after I down a GU to avoid overdoing the nutrients at one time. It didn’t end up being a problem though. Before I left the aid station I took a few chocolate covered espresso beans as rocket fuel. I downed two of them.
Before I shoved off to do Guadalasca loop I heard someone at the aid station say that the cut off was 12:00 p.m. then someone else said that it was 12:30 p.m. I kept this in mind but worrying too much about time can get me into a negative thought pattern. Plus, I had already decided that I was going to finish the entire course even if I didn’t make a cutoff time. If they had to remove or “X” out my bib I was going to finish. This is a public set of trails so they weren’t going to be able to keep me from hiking to the end, even if I didn’t get an official race finish.
Miles 11 to 16
The climb up Guadalasca was uneventful and that was great. I felt good and didn’t have the desire to flop down for a break at the top like I did last year. I had a feeling that my cramping had been addressed with the salt pills and continued to take down GUs. On the big descent which I was able to run some I was surprised to run into another racer. I figured that with my long hike on the downhill after Mugu Peak that everyone had already pulled away. The person was a 50K racer and had started the race late. We checked in with each other then I pulled away because the cutoff time came back into mind. Sure, I would keep going no matter what but it would be nice to actually make the cutoff. At one point is seemed unlikely and I started doing math in my head and I though that I at least had to do the next couple of miles in under 15 minutes each. “I can do 15’s,” I thought. Then I would tackle Hell Hill.
One of the best thoughts I have heard this year is “Things don’t always get worse.” This is a strange bit of advice but if one stays focused and works on solutions there are few situations that can’t get better along the way. The cramping jabs had let up and the pain in my right foot had completely gone away. I guess this is a lesson that I should have applied after doing boogie boarding as a youth. I used to be fearful of the ocean after a near drowning as a child but then I learned that the best way to avoid lethal situations is to stay under water and being patient and not panicking whenever a wave took me down. Sometimes staying under water longer was the best way to go.
One of the most crucial points in the race was the last mile and a half leading up to the start of the Hell Hill climb. Last year I had a couple of course sweepers with me and I wasn’t forceful enough to tackle things in my usual way and that threw me off. This year I knew what I had to do. I took down a GU, the other chocolate espresso bean and looked around for another salt pill. I had taken the two salt pills at the last aid station and one more but I couldn’t find the other two. That worried me some but I didn’t think it would be that crucial for the Hell Hill climb.
I searched around for another dead branch to use as a trekking pole and found one. I had to break off a lot of little branches and managed to do so without cutting the heck out of my hand. It was a little short but I didn’t want to spend too much digging around for fallen branches so I used it. I got to the bottom of Hell Hill and went for it. The day was started to heat up a bit but there was some great shade for the first bit of the climb. I don’t really remember there being that much shade last year. I think that having the race a bit later in the month and Daylight Savings time helped with that.
I analyzed my form and it was awkward since I only had the one pole so I hunted down a second fallen branch and now I had my “two trekking poles” for the rest of the climb. The shaded area finished and I was in full sun on this 16% grade climb and I kept a steady but super slow pace. I stopped once or twice when I did hit shade but remained standing for those brief 2 second stops. Last year I had flopped on the mountain slope and that’s when I got in trouble. I kept trudging up the hill. The two branches were largely psychological because they were really thin and if I had used them the way I use real trekking poles they both would have broken immediately. I was barely putting any force on them but they helped me keep a rhythmic pace. About half way up I heard a truck and saw race c0-coordinator Sarah Mistah drive up. She said “great job” and I have a thumbs up and kept going. At the bottom of the hill I had checked my time and I felt good that I could get to the top before 12:30 p.m. As I got to the top I had 20 minutes left but the top of the hill was still out of sight. I kept my steady pace and eventually got to the top with 15 minutes to spare.
When I got to the aid station there were about 15 people there and they cheered. I told them that I was glad because last year I had to be picked up on the hill. Sarah was there and she remembered that she had picked me up then another volunteer also remembered and I asked if she was one of the people dressed as a bag of Skittles and she said yes. We laughed.
I was glad that they hadn’t run out of goodies at the aid station. I loaded up on water and Coke with lots of ice. A few dark clouds had rolled in and covered the sun and that cooled the temperature for the final stretch. Steve let me know that I had about a mile climb and then it would be all down hill. I’ve done this climb a bunch of times so I knew it was closer to 1.5 or 2 miles of climbing but it was nice that he was mentally gearing me up for a good finish.
Miles 16 to 20.7/Finish
Seconds after leaving the aid station for the last time, I heard some cheering and was a bit surprised because I thought it was only me and the 50K runner still left out there and I thought she was a bit behind. I looked back and there was a racer who was dressed mainly in hiking attire. About a half a mile up the climb he caught up to me and we chatted a bit. He asked which race I was doing and I told him I was doing the 30K and he said, “So am I.” He commented that this was the longest “30K” race since an actual 30K race is around 18.6 miles and this one is 20.7 miles.
He didn’t have a visible race bib then I thought back and figured that I might have seen him on the course but had mentally screened him out since he wasn’t showing the bib. “Ok,” I thought. “If I still have legs it’s going to be a race to the end.” I had the feeling that he had hiked the entire thing so far so I didn’t worry too much about finishing before him because I could pass him on the descent. There were a few downhills along the last climb and I ran some to stay somewhat close to him but I was still behind.
You may be wondering why it took me 17 miles to start thinking in race mode but at this point avoiding finishing DFL (Dead F*cking Last) is a bit of an ego thing for a back-of-packer. But in a race like this it’s actually tough to know who is where in the pack or final placement. I figured there might be some 50K runners who dropped down before or during the race so they had a 5oK race bib or some other variation. In those situations the runners may have a faster finish time but they are considered having no race place and they don’t quality for any kinds of awards like getting a podium spot overall or age group awards. I don’t know what the race rules are but those folks who went the wrong way might even be scrubbed from contention for a placement. I think doing the La Jolla loop the way they did it is easier even though the start and finish point is the same and the elevation gain is the same. But that’s neither here nor there.
As I approached the final 2.7 miles of the race at the Ray Miller trail I saw other racers come up from Overlook Trail and shoot up the initial Ray Miller trail climb. When I got to the climb and didn’t attack it and gave myself time to mentally prepare for the intense descent. A 50 mile racer and a 50K racer passed me then I got to the top of the little climb and knew it was time to dig deep to take advantage of my downhill running strength. I was still crampy so my strategy would be to run at a high pace the back off a bit if I felt the drumbeat of crampy calf jabs. As soon as I crested the climb I saw the hiker racer and he was stopped and had his shoe off and was shaking it out. Was he switching shoes so he could get ready to run the heck out of the last big downhill? Or was he just clearing out his shoe? Either way I was going to get down the hill as fast as I could.
Finish! (Photobomb courtesy of Cliff Torres)
I started with a consistent run pace and caught a couple of other racers then the cramping kicked in and I had to throttle back for a bit then carried on running. This went on for about a mile and I finished mile 20 at a 12 minute pace. I saw another 30K racer down the hill and he wasn’t moving that fast. It looked like he was cramping some as well. With about half a mile to go I passed him and maybe another runner or two and I got down to an 8:45 per mile pace. My heart rate was redlining at 195 bpm then the cramping got worse on both calves. With only about 200 meters to go I had to slow down. One 50k runner caught me and said “I’m going to pass you.” I didn’t say anything back since she wasn’t asking me anything. On the final little turn and descent I tried to run it in as fast as I could and with 50 feet to go my left calve twitched into full cramp mode and I temporarily buckled but stayed upright. A few more steps and I crossed the finish line. Success!
I was a little anti-social after the race finish and didn’t walk around much. I had half a sandwich and took down some electrolyte drink. I really like doing races like this where there are different race lengths because you see people who are way more fit who are coming in after you because they are doing the longer races. It is a good “equalizing” feeling and reinforces the fact that we were all out here doing our thing.
All of the volunteers were awesome and they really helped me with the finish. This is one of the best things about Keira Henninger races like this and the Leona Divide where volunteers help out in as many ways as possible to keep you on track and moving strong.
I signed up for the Sean O’Brien 50K race on February 4, 2017. It should be a great day as my buddy Chris is going for a Golden Ticket to Western States.
How about you, what’s in your race horizon? Were you at Ray Miller this year as well? If so, how did it go?
I don’t usually have guest bloggers but it’s good to get different perspectives on topics related to fitness and adventuring. Walter Rhein is an author of several books including, most recently, “Reckless Traveler” which is an autobiographical work on Rhein’s travels and adventuring in South America. We crossed paths online when we were both quoted in a Classpass.com article on what it feels like to finish one’s first marathon. Walter was kind enough to share his book “Reckess Traveler” with me so while you read his post below I’ll be digging into his book.
Adventure Vacations for Marathoners
When you’re compelled to run marathons, few days go by when you don’t think about your upcoming race. Whether the event is twelve months or twelve days away, your schedule is influenced by the upcoming test. Every waking moment is dominated by thoughts of the food you eat, the hours you sleep, and the arduous training that never seems to be enough. In the midst of all that intensity, it can be difficult to find a way to spend quality time with the people you care about.
Vacations are important for the body and the spirit, but once in a routine, athletes are sometimes reluctant to change. Fortunately there’s no reason to give up your training routine for the sake of breaking out of the doldrums of your everyday life. An adventure vacation is the best way to integrate your need for travel with your rigorous training schedule.
Several years ago I accompanied Olympic athlete Roberto Carcelen on a ten day training camp in Peru’s Sacred Valley. Roberto was preparing for the Sochi Olympics by doing a hike through the Andes from the ruins of Choquequirao to Machu Picchu. During this trip, my eyes were opened to how perfect the terrain of the Sacred Valley is for an intense training camp. We all have to do our 20 mile runs, why not do them in the shadow of ancient Incan ruins?We stayed in tents and although the views were spectacular I’d recommend staying in hotels if you decide to target the Sacred Valley as a family getaway. The hotels of Cusco and the surrounding cities are wonderful, and they afford your non-marathon running companions opportunity to relax in comfort and style while you’re out hammering yourself in the morning.
Cusco is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and the dining is delicious, affordable, and elegant. As a training destination, Cusco has the advantage of being at 11,000 ft of elevation. Doing any kind of physical activity at that kind of altitude is going to take its toll, and I highly recommend that athletes allow themselves a bit of time to acclimate.
Most tourists who visit the region sign up with bus tours to see the local sights. However, if you’re there to train you can easily hike or jog to the areas of interest. Hiking at Cusco’s altitude provides plenty of activity to prep you for any upcoming race.
There is a beautiful set of ruins called Sacsayhuaman which is about a forty five minute walk from the city center. This is a great activity for your first day as it allows you to test how your body reacts to the altitude. The roads leading to Sacsayhuaman are well-used and it’s easy to flag down a taxi back to the city center if the effort proves to be too much.
After a couple nights at Cusco, you can begin your descent through the sacred valley towards the ruins of Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is much lower than Cusco, so it’s best to save your most strenuous training days for the end of the week to give your body time to acclimate.
Pisaq is a city about an hour away from Cusco with the opportunity for a very challenging hike. Most tourists take a bus to the upper ruins and hike down into the city center, but if you want to challenge yourself, start at the city center and go up. The two to three hour hike is almost all climbing, and leaves you exhausted at the end of the day.
From Pisaq, you can head down to Ollantaytambo. The ruins of Ollantaytambo are spectacular, but only take about an hour to hike. However, there are many trails leading out from the city into the surrounding mountains which are endless, challenging and beautiful.
From Ollantaytambo you take a train to Aguas Calientes, the city at the foot of Machu Picchu. Most tourists purchase bus tickets to take them to the ruins, but there is a very beautiful foot path that winds up the mountain and takes one to two hours to traverse. All of these training opportunities are hidden in plain sight, but the majority of the tourists who visit the area are seeking relative comfort so the “adventure tour” has the added advantage that it helps you avoid the crowds.
I recommend that people spend a minimum of two days hiking Machu Picchu. On day one you can see the regular ruins and get your facebook profile picture. Day two, however, is the hard day where you climb up Machu Picchu mountain. This is a very tough climb that takes about three hours from the entry gate to the park. If you add in the descent to and from Aguas Calientes, you could be looking at a five to six hour hike.
Throughout Sacred Valley, but particularly at Machu Picchu, the trails are not for the faint of heart. Much of the time you’re walking along very steep cliffs which plummet away into equally spectacular and terrifying vistas. Machu Picchu Mountain peaks at about 8,000 ft of elevation. After having spent a few days at Cusco, you feel like you’re bathing in Oxygen.
A trip to Peru’s Sacred Valley can be as challenging as you want it to be. The terrain is difficult and there are trails which crisscross the landscape in every direction. Also, Peru’s Sacred Valley is extremely safe as tourism is such a major revenue generator for the country. I’ve seen pro athletes wear a heart rate monitor and then record the time spent over 145 as their “training block” for the day. This is a little bit less regimented approach for a week, but every time I’ve returned from the Sacred Valley I’ve experienced a speed burst in my training runs. Our regimented training schedules keep us fit for when we’re balancing fitness and work, but adventure vacations give you the opportunity to train like an Olympian.
About the Author:
Walter Rhein is the author of “Reckless Traveler” a novel dealing with the 10 years he spent living in Lima, Peru. The book features several chapters on his Inca Trail adventure with Roberto Carcelen and world champion cross-country skier Martin Koukal. He blogs about Peru at StreetsOfLima.com, and can be reached for questions or comment at: WalterRhein@gmail.com.
The Bulldog race at Malibu Creek State Park is not easy, whether you attempt the 25k or the two-loop 50k ultra. If you do things right you reach a certain level of pain as you negotiate the seemingly interminable Bulldog Rd. that goes on for 3.2 miles and nets you over 1,7oo ft of elevation gain for an average grade of 10%. Basically, Bulldog Rd. haunts my dreams and it’s because of that that I always look forward to the challenge of taking it on during a race.
This year I took a look at my training buildup and it was as flat as a pancake in the weeks leading up to the race. That was not good. If I’ve learned anything about trail running this year it is that if you don’t put in the work you shouldn’t expect improvement. I originally signed up for the 50k race a few months ago and when I re-assesed my training a few weeks ago I dropped down to the 25k knowing that it would be super challenging to get in anything more than meager miles leading up to the race. The spirit was willing but training miles don’t lie.
So far this report might sound like a bit of a downer but one always has to assess and create new goals to stay motivated. The 50k was out but I was determined to have a good 25k race. I broke the course down into chunks and my strategy to finish strong was to take it super easy at the start, intermittently hammer the downhills, run walk the flats and have enough strength for the last part of the race and for it not to be a soul-crushing slog.
This was probably the calmest I’ve ever been on race day. The night before I took about an hour to clear out my waist pack and get it ready with GU gels, Cliff bars and some SaltStick caps. I usually use a hydration pack but by the time I load it with water, gels and extra goodies it ends up being pretty heavy. I chose to use the waist pack and it probably saved me a couple of pounds of weight. The morning of the race I got up at 4:15am, fed the dogs, took a shower and was ready to head out by 5:05. I had connected with a couple of people on the Bulldog Trail Run events group and was going to meet up with them to carpool and I forgot how long it usually takes me to get to the Malibu Creek area. Was it 45 minutes or 1 hour 15 minutes? Either way, I made good time getting there and even though there was major construction right at the Las Virgenes Rd. exit, I got there in plenty of time.
Before race I usually have a pb&j sandwich and coffee to get my system going but I didn’t eat a thing this time before leaving the house. On the way to the race I had half a Cliff Bar and when I got to our carpool site which was at a Starbucks, I had a few sips of coffee as I waited. I met up with Simon who was in the carpool and we waited for a while. I made use of the Starbucks restroom facilities and that saved me probably 20 minutes of standing in the restroom line at the race. Our third person in the carpool group was stuck in traffic so Simon and I headed off to the race. We still
As we headed towards the race check-in we saw that there were a ton of people at the starting line. It was 6:43am and the 6:30am 50k race hadn’t kicked off yet. We later learned that there was some crazy traffic situation and it warranted starting things later.
You can find the 50k Race start video below.
Besides getting in a good hard run around Malibu Creek State Park, the other reason I love doing trail races is that I get to meet friends and make new ones. Before the race I ran into Christopher Pavlakovich who has been kicking butt on the ultra scene and taking on some tough races. I also ran into high school classmate Aleni Sunada and chatted with Adriana Zapata who I met while doing the Sean O’Brien marathon in 2015. There were over 100 volunteers at this year’s Bulldog and I briefly chatted with Naomi Ruiz and Lori VanLuven who were volunteers at the shirts table.
Because the 50k race started at 6:45am, the race director Nancy move the start of the 25k race to 7:45am instead of 7:30am. I did some little warm up trots and minor stretching then was ready for the starting line.
I lined up towards the back of the pack and kept a very conservative pace for the first 3 miles. I kept a steady low intensity running pace. It usually takes me a few miles to warm up and I was trying to avoid early cramping. With just the waist pack I felt a bit lighter than I do when I run with an over the shoulder hydration pack. I kept it comfortable and didn’t push too hard on the early little climbs. Once I crossed the bridge and went onto the fun little single track I got a little more energy and picked up the intensity some. I love that section that leads into the M*A*S*H site. I was way towards the back of the pack but I never looked back to see if anyone was behind me. I had my containment strategy and I was going to stick to it.
At the first aid station I was surprised to see that there were actually people behind me and a couple caught up and passed me.
As I mentioned before, it’s hard to say that Bulldog Rd. is fun. If you’re fit you can run up the darn thing but most people power hike it. Some try to run and it has gotten the best of people. Today there was a beautiful cloud cover that last almost until noon. I’ve done 5 races at Malibu Creek and this was the best weather I’ve ever experienced there. My moderate pace and the cloud cover actually made the climb fairly bearable and I never had to stop to take a don’t-pass-out break on my way up the mountain. Shortly after leaving the first aid station I heard the cheers for the first place 50k runner. He was breathing hard but his effort looked sustainable. It was a good number of minutes before the second place 50k runner came up and then the third place runner.
Towards the top of Bulldog I heard someone speaking in Spanish in a loud voice. I wasn’t sure what was going on but it sounded like he was telling someone that he was heading up at 30 minutes per mile. After a couple of switchbacks I caught up to a man who was pushing a bike up the mountain. I chatted with him a bit as he pushed on. He was waiting to see his son who was running the 50k race. He asked how much further he had to go up and I told him he was pretty close and that it was only a couple more switchbacks. I told him that I was going to keep on that I hoped he enjoyed the way down.
With a little to go on the Bulldog Rd. climb I saw two men coming down the mountain.
“Buenos dias.” I greeted them.
“Ya casi estas alli,” they both replied. “You’re almost there.”
“There” being the end of this crazy mountain climb. I recognized one of the men as Adalberto “Flaco” Mendoza who is a Badwater 135 finisher. In case you’re not familiar with the Badwater race it is one of the most difficult road races in the world. I got chills knowing that awesome runners like Flaco were out there casually running the course and helping racers out.
One of the reasons I wanted to take the first half of the race at a moderate pace is that I often bomb out just after the Corral Canyon aid station. A fast race start plus the Bulldog climb usually taxes my system so much that I don’t have a lot left for the race. With my low training miles that could mean a no finish so I didn’t want that to happen. But still, I took advantage of the big first downhill after finishing the Bulldog climb. Just as I started down the first place woman 50k racer blasted by and down the hill and looked super strong.
I’m usually out of water by the time I get to Corral Canyon but this time I still had a good bit of water. One of the volunteers helped me top off and I grabbed some chips and a cookie and I was off. It was nice seeing Randy Shoemaker who was at a volunteer tent just before I headed off. Randy is a race director for some great races in Simi Valley.
I left the aid station feeling good and didn’t try to strain myself too much going up the first little moon rock climb. Last year I had only taken a few steps and it felt like all my energy was zapped. I think that happens there because I usually check my watch to see what my time is and it’s never what I want to see. I still looked at my watch but didn’t care too much and carried on. As I was about to crest the last of the moon rock section there were photographers there and I had to at least look like I was running uphill so picked up the speed. One year I tried to ham it up and stepped wrong and rolled my ankle so I didn’t push too hard.
If you’ve made it this far in the race report you may have figured out that I wasn’t exactly taking a Zach Miller balls-to-the-wall kind of a day. I was trying not to blow up and make it to the end.
Shortly after the moon rock a curious thing happened. I actually caught up to someone. Two someones. We ran together for a bit and they asked if I had run the race before. I told them that I had and then they said “Hey, did you do the 2015 Bulldog video?” I smiled and told them that I had. They said that they had watched it before the race. That was pretty cool. This was a flat section and they pushed on and left me behind as I stopped to take some pictures and video.
By this time tons of 50k runners were passing me on their second loop. I told them “good job” and they wished me luck. I kept looking back whenever I heard someone approach because I knew that badass ultra runner Catra Corbett was doing the 50k and I wanted to say “Hi.”
The beautiful cloud layer was still out.
Once you get down from Bulldog, there are a few more little climbs before you hit the big downhill. The little climbs can seriously zap one’s energy. A lot of the 50k runners took those easy and did some power walking there. I just focused on something different and kept moving.
This is yet another reason I love trail running. The worries and stress of my work week melted away with each bit of sweat that rolled off my brow. Life gets reduced to “take that next step” and that is beautiful simplicity.
Finally I got to the start of one of the big downhills. This is also the trickiest part of the course because if you miss the turnoff you will go down the wrong trail running gleefully and end up at Pepperdine University and then the Pacific Ocean. I made a wrong turn there on a training run and it turned a 10-mile run into an 18 mile run.
When it comes to running downhill sections, I’m kind of a madman. I’m a Strava freak and I use the site to upload all of my training and to see how I do on different sections. On most segments that are major climbs I’m usually towards the bottom of the pack but when there is a downhill I am usually in the top half of stats. I can usually pick off a few runners on those segments. I still didn’t want to fry my quads so I ran the downhills in intermittent bits. This is also where people from different races will start to have a tough time. I handed out Salt Stick caps to a couple of runners who were having major cramping issues and caught up to other 25k runners who were having a tough go. I eventually caught up to the two Bulldog video watchers and they wished me luck. I knew that I was going to easy up on the single track part of the Backbone trail at the end of the downhill and that they would eventually catch up to me again. That’s just what happened midway through that section. One of them had a slip and I kept on going after I saw she was OK.
The other tricky part of the course is the section right before the creek crossing. If you take a wrong turn it’s really easy to end up in the back lot of the Las Virgenes Water District parking lot, which is the wrong place to be. The course was very well marked with ribbons so it was not an issue. But if you come out to do a training run and there are no ribbons it’s easy to get lost. That day of the 18 mile oops training run that I mentioned earlier I couldn’t for the life of me find the right path to get back to the main parking lot and had to take the street which is super dangerous.
Miles 13 – Finish
The last aid station for the 25k is at Tapia Park. This is always a very festive stop and it is easy to get caught up in the fun and stay too long. I partially filled my bottles and took a selfie with one of my heroes Alison Sunshine Chavez, who recently finished a crazy list of ultras including the Western States 100 mile endurance run.
By this time in the race I am usually totally spent and basically stagger the flat section leading up to the final climb, the Angry Chihuahua. This time I didn’t feel that bad so I run walked it. The Angry Chihuahua started and I thought of this last miles as a lap around one of my favorite training locations, Arroyo Verde Park. I kept on moving and tons of 50k runners passed me and finally the two video watchers caught me again and passed. The two people who I had supplied with salt tabs passed by and thanked me for getting them going again.
I usually sit my butt down on one of the rocks on the way up the Angry Chihuahua. This time I just kept plodding along one step at a time and didn’t stop. Finally I got to the top and intermittently ran down the hill. The next thing I know I was off the hill and running on the last gravel patch.
I checked my watch and I had just over 12 minutes to run somewhere between half a mile and a mile in order to make it in under 5 hours. I forgot to mention this earlier but this year the Bulldog race course changed. The final run did not use the main Park Entrance road but instead came out through a back trail near a parking lot. I hadn’t studied the new segment so I wasn’t sure how long that part was. The RD Nancy said the course was “shorter” but I didn’t know by how much.
Before the race I had talked to Aleni about one of our high school classmates, David Walker, and how he had paced me in junior high as I tried to complete the running part of the Presidential Fitness Award requirements. I had to run 3 and 3/4 quarter mile laps in 6 minutes and we did it but I stopped there and didn’t go on to continue the full mile. David’s PR had been 6:14 and we would have both broken that but I stopped since my goal was the Presidential award, not an almost 6-minute mile. That still bothers me to this day. Even though I had hit my goal I didn’t pick the additional goal of running my fastest mile. Had I continued on I would have run just over 6 minutes, shaving off way over one minute from my mile PR.
I still had some gas in the tank and I ran as much of the last part as I could, trying not to trip on the unfamiliar segment. I could hear people at the finish line but still could not see it. There was a final little hill that was probably 10 ft high and I shook my head when I saw it. As I came over the top some race finishers cheered me on then also shook their heads and made a comment about that dastardly last tiny hill at the end of the race. I looked at my watch and I was going to make it under 5 hours. I heard a group cheer “Go Jesse!” from the side and I think that was Adriana Zapata’s race crew.
If felt good to finish and although last year was a lackluster performance I shaved off around 25 minutes off that time. Because this is a new course with the finish line change, this is a new PR. 🙂
I’m going to feed off this race and see it as the kickoff to my Ray Miller 50k training. The Ray Miller is in mid November. By then I should be able to get my training back on track and be race ready.
Did you do the Bulldog 25k or 50k this year? Have you done either one in the past? How did they go for you? Leave a comment here or Facebook.
Here’s the quick version in case you’re reading this at a stop light or something dangerous like that. I got it done and finished my first ultra, the Leona Divide 50k!
Ok, here’s the long version.
I did something that I did at the very beginning of my fitness journey and I chose to actually follow a training plan. I chose the Relentless Forward Progress 50k plan and stuck to the approaches and philosophies espoused in that book. I did this because I can easily get overwhelmed with all the different training theories and approaches and I wanted to simplify things this time.
The plan calls for a peak of 50 miles but I pretty much knew that would be difficult to attain since I’m pretty limited on how long I can get out on weekends for very long runs. In fact, that’s the one area where I fell down on, I didn’t do the amount of long long run that I should have done according to the plan. But the consistent miles and tough long runs that I did really helped build my strength and I had more and more good runs. Feel free to follow me on Strava if you’re on there and you can see a huge difference between my previous training and the miles that I put in the last three months.
There are a few beautiful moments in one’s life when things just seem to be humming along and we are in synch with our environment. The Leona Divide 50k race day was one of those rare instances where everything seemed to click. Just like we have good hair days or an I-fit-in-my-skinny-jeans-days, this day just worked from the start.
I woke up at 2:59:10am, right before my 3am alarm. I had planned to be out the door at 4am and was able to eat breakfast, get ready, feed the doggies and head off right on time. I had already packed up my drop bag and set aside my post race gear and had my day’s gear at the ready.
I figured that I’d need to get to the race 45 minutes before the race to find parking, try out the port-o-john and chat with friends before the race. I had seen at early big pickup that the latrines were really there unlike last year when they showed up minutes before race start or I would have shown up an extra 15 minutes early to take a nice hike in the wood to water some trees.
Alan (right), Laurence (center) and their friend (Cindy?) at the starting line
I ran into Alan and Laurence who were going for the 50 miler and with Aleni who is another Pasadena High School Bulldog grad. I also ran into Lizette who was my running buddy for a good number of miles at last year’s Leona before I crashed and burned at mile 21. I had fun taking photos and meeting people I knew from Instagram or Facebook but hadn’t met IRL (in real life). Everyone was a lot taller than their avatars.
Aleni at the starting line. Go Bulldogs!
It was pretty crowded at the start line so I wasn’t able to get around as much as I wanted but was feeling pretty social. I wasn’t as intimidated as I was last year because this year I had no expectations except to keep on moving.
I was lined up towards the front of the pack when race director Keira Henninger started making race announcements and I heard her say that we were doing a “silent start” since it was 6am and there were homes very close to the starting line. I moved to the back to avoid getting trampled by or blocking the speedsters.
Scene at race start
The first part of the course is a run up the steep road for about a mile then another climb onto Spunky Edison Road. I felt good and did a run-walk during that portion. My hill repeats up Hospital Hill in Santa Paula really helped there. My theme for the day was to run within myself. I tried not to allow other runners to impact my running. But, occasionally I’d see someone slow down and I tried not to equate their slowing down with my slowing down so I pushed a little bit when I saw that I was being drawn into their pace.
At mile 2.8 we hit the Spunky Edison Road aid station and I topped off my water and added a little bit to my electrolyte bottle. I took a cookie and a banana and was gone. The next portion of the course goes onto the Pacific Crest Trail heads up to a mountain peak. I was power hiking and enjoying the crisp morning air. As I approached the peak there were several runners ahead of me and you could see the sun coming up just beneath their feet. It was a beautiful sight and it was good to get to the top.
Top of big climb
Once you hit the peak you can bomb down most of the way to the Bouquet Canyon aid station. However, I actually wanted to have my quads intact so I took a measured pace and didn’t try to hammer this portion. I was around mile 5.4 when I saw the first 50k runner zoom back up the hill. I made my way down the mountain and before I got to the aid station made sure that I had taken a GU and had finished up my most of my water. I was feeling good and the windy conditions that had worried me were a nice cooling headwind on the way down.
Last year I made the mistake of spending a super short amount of time at the Bouquet aid station and I paid for it on the climb. This time I filled the two bottles again, poured water over my head and made sure my shirt was wet so that I didn’t overheat on the long climb. I took some salt/electrolyte pills and hit the port-o-john. I grabbed a pb&j square and other little goodies and started eating them then it was time to head back.
It was time for the long climb. Shortly after getting back on the trail I ran into Lizette and her running buddy (I didn’t realize that I was following her friend Claire on Instagram), who were heading down to the aid station. For the 50k race you get to see everyone somewhere along that long descent or climb since it’s an out and back portion. I tried to be focus on keeping a steady rhythm on the climb to keep moving forward and not get caught up in who was where too much.
This is basically a very long climb and I just took it one step at a time. I had done the climb during a training run with Raul Engle and that helped me enjoy my time there so I didn’t fear it. Last year this is where I first started feeling dizzy and nauseous. This year I was solid gold. I checked my heart rate but my watch didn’t read it then I realized that I must have forgot to set it. One of the things I learned on the training run is that when I get fatigued on a big climb I feel like a sense of pressure on my mid section. This could be partially from the altitude but is usually from some dehydration as well. Since I had already messed up my bid to capture my HR data I took off the HR strap and that was a lot more comfortable.
As I made my way to the peak at mile 13 the wind started up and this time it was a good tailwind and it helped push me up the final part of the hill. I spread my arms apart as I power hiked and tried to catch more of the wind in my “sails.” Once I hit the top I took off down the mountain. If I had reserved my quads on the previous descent this time I would have some fun and hammer down the hill. This was my fastest mile split of the race. When I got to the bottom of the mountain I went to a power hike to recover and went into the aid station at an easy pace.
Did someone say bunny? This was my second trip into the Spunky Edison aid station and someone was dressed as the Energizer bunny and was banging on his drum. I was feeling pretty good still so I didn’t think it was a hallucination or anything. I filled up both water bottles, once again added in electrolytes into one of the bottle then got into the rice balls. Yummy. They don’t really taste like anything but they are the perfect consistency, size and shape to provide some good carb energy. I doused my head and upper body with water then added ice to my hat and to my Dirtbag Runners “bandito” wrap that was now around my neck. I started off using the bandito around my neck when the race started then when it warmed up I wrapped it around my wrist to help with left over snot rocket residue. Then, at high noon the bandito turned into a great ice holder. After the race one of the great volunteers saw me and said I was a human ice machine with all the ice I packed on.
Last year this section of the course did me in. I stopped eating, stopped drinking and my energy waned. This year I kept up with taking GU, Sports Beans and other sweet sport goodies. I drank water when I took a GU and drank the electrolyte water other times. I tried to avoid falling into a nutrition and water deficit. This was my key learning point from last year’s race and from the Ray Miller race las October. Keep up with food and water and that will keep you moving. The ice in my hat was amazing. At first it froze my brain but after a couple of minutes I didn’t notice the coldness. The cold water would fall onto my shirt and keep that moist. The ice in the bandito kept a key pressure point cool which cooled my whole body some.
During this run out to the San Francisquito aid station I saw Jesse Haynes, Jorge Pacheco and other amazing runners zoom by as part of the 50 mile race. As I got closer to the aid station I also saw a lot of the other 50k runners since it’s an out and back as well. I ran into Kim Teshima Newberry and told her that she looked strong and she got a 50k PR by an hour and a half that day.
From there, I just kept moving forward even when I mistakenly thought we were at the last turn in the mountain before we hit the big descent down to the aid station. Finally, it was the last turn and this time I ran most of the descent.
Going into the aid station I was a machine. This year there would be no projectile vomiting and no drive back to the starting line with a guy in a Hulk outfit (although he was a good guy). This time a volunteer offered me a chair and I sat for 2 seconds then jumped up and had one volunteer get my drop bag and another fill my two water bottles. Within a few minutes I had more ice in my hat and bandito, grabbed some more nibbles and was doused with water. Besides some GUs, one thing I really wanted to have in my drop bag was a big water bottle that I could use to load with water then pour on my head. This worked great and I thanked all the great volunteers and was ready to head back out.
Miles 22- 29
The climb out of the San Fran aid station is brutal. This was my slowest mile split. I didn’t curse too much but I certainly didn’t feel like pushing too hard here when I still had another 6.5 miles of hiking. At this mileage I was now beyond my longest run since last year. I didn’t know how my training would hold up I had decided that I would be conservative and power hike the whole way back to Spunky Edison for the last time. There is a good descent on the way back and even though I saw another 50ker not too far away I chose not to get crazy and try to catch up, at this point.
My GPS watch battery had died around mile 21 so I had been re-charging it coming out of the last aid station. I got it charged up again (good thing I had Strava working on my phone as my primary GPS device) and tried to figure out how far I was from the marathon point. Up to this day my longest race was the Sean O’Brien marathon where I finished in a whopping 9 hours 47 minutes. It is a beast of run with lot of vertical. One of my strategies for this race was to not look at time goals since I was more focused on completion. In the past, when I set a time goal and miss it I get super bummed and my whole race falls into a big pity party.
With the GPS watch starting at zero I was doing mental math so that I didn’t keep having to check my phone to see which mile I was at. Then finally I passed the magic marathon mark where I became an ultra distance runner. Shortly after that I saw another 50 miler approaching and recognized Alison Chavez I think from previous races and also from learning about some of her story and fight against cancer. As she ran past me I connected her with the message on her trucker hat – “Fuck Cancer” and I started getting very emotional. I thought about her great courage and strength to be able to recover from cancer and go back to crushing ultras and also thought about my mom and how she lived with cancer for 6 years even when the doctors told her she only had 6 months. I also thought about how my mother was my motivation to reach out and do things that maybe a Latino from El Sereno wasn’t supposed to do like go to college, teach and then do graduate school. My mom sacrificed so much for her family growing up and for our family and never made it past 4th grade.
With a couple of miles to the aid station I knew that I would make it, that today was the day. I had run out of water a couple of miles going into the last aid station and once again was low and there is no water source on these segments of the course. I knew I was getting close and still was in sight of some other 50k runners with whom I had been leapfrogging all day. Then I heard that beautiful sound of the Energizer bunny doing his thing on the drums and I knew the aid station was around the next bend.
When I got to the aid station the bunny had put down and walked away from his drums and then shuffled back to beat on them to welcome my arrival. The only thing that I had missed at aid stations was adding ice to my water bottles. Duh. I loaded up one bottle, doused my head again and took down another rice ball. I had run out of water with a couple of miles going into the aid station so I was for the first time a bit on the shaky side. I knew that with water and some grub I would bounce back. But as I left I saw another 50k runner in a Wonder Woman skirt (I didn’t get her name) and she was kind of looking over her shoulder as if she was waiting for someone, or maybe me? I knew I had to recover for a while so I did not follow her pace as she finally turned around to run. Yeah, I wasn’t going to blow it there and chase after her before I recovered. After the little descent there is another fun (read, not fun) climb. I pretended this was one of my many climbs up the Ray Miller Trail in Malibu then down to Sycamore Canyon then the final tiring climb back.
I just put my head down and kept moving forward. I had taken down some cola at the aid station and walked off with a cup of the luscious but room temp liquid. That’s when I had the best idea know to human kind and I tipped my hat up and let a couple of ice cubes clink into the cup. Then I remembered that I had also finally added ice to my water bottle and took a long delicious pull.
Once I finished the final climb it seemed easier to run down to the street. I had recovered and now was thinking about whether I would have to race to keep people from passing me on this last descent. A group of 50 milers caught up to me but I didn’t feel they were my “competition” so I didn’t zoom off right away. We also kind shuffled down off Spunky Edison and onto Spunky Canyon Road for the final 1.5 miles. I felt good and picked up the pace then I felt great and all of a sudden in my head I was at the track doing speed intervals then I thought I saw a 50k runner down the hill. I started to hammer and passed the 50 mile runners and pressed further until I was near my car and tapped it as I went by and zoomed into for the finish. I am now officially and ultra runner!
The big clock read 10 hours and 3 minutes but I haven’t seen the official results yet. This is only around 16 minutes longer than my Sean O’Brien marathon time.
After the race I felt great and grabbed some minestrone soup and crackers then found a nice spot to chill. I ran into a lot of friends including Adriana Zapata and Raul Engle and enjoyed the next hour or so chatting and meeting some of the people that I had run with throughout the day and more people that I had met via Instagram and other social media sites.
I was curious about some folks who had not finished but it was time to hit the road so I went off back up the road to my car and cheered on the 50 mile and 50k racers who were coming in as I made my way up. When I got to my car I saw that Alan was just up the road so I changed out of my shirt and was going to walk up to go chat with him when Lizette and Claire zoomed by on the way to the finish line. I took some photos and cheered them on. I chatted more with Alan, remembered to go back for my drop bag then I headed off for the drive home.
Lizette (top) and Claire
Yeah, consistent training helps. If you drastically under train for a race and don’t have a solid base then a tough race will be a suckfest. If you put in the work then you can test your limits and build from there. I was surprised that I was able to feel that good for the entire race. I could have run a lot more of the race and reduced that time a good bit. I guess I’ll just have to see how things work at the next race or at the Leona Divide next year.
Big shoutout to all the race volunteers throughout the day and leading up to another great Keira Henninger event!
If you arrived here from the Ventura County Elections page then you may be thinking that you got to the wrong page but you didn’t.
I “pulled papers” and am running for the Ventura County Democratic Central Committee for District 3. Yeah, that’s a mouthful. Basically, I want to be a part of the group that helps support progressive causes in a collaborative and nurturing way. The county is broken down into five different districts and I’m running for my district, #3. These district lines are the same as for county supervisor districts and right now Kathy Long is the supervisor for that district. If you live in her district then you live in District 3.
The election for this position will be on Tuesday, June 7, 2016. If you are a Democrat living in District 3 then I hope you will vote for me and we will work together to improve our community and state.
I’m running for this position because I want to work with the other 22 Committee members to help set a course to make Ventura County a more livable place for everyone. We have beautiful shores, amazing mountains and great diversity in our community but right now they are not accessible to all who live here.
District 3 includes Santa Paula (where I live), Fillmore, Piru, most of Camarillo, Port Hueneme and a sliver of Oxnard. The most valuable part of these cities are the residents who live in and share in the communities. There are a lot of things going on in these specific cities and they are symptomatic as to what is going on throughout our state. We have a high cost of living which means that jobs have to pay livable wages for residents to live here. We have beach erosion and the collapse of ocean infrastructure impacted by climate change. We have cities in crisis and those who constantly move to outsource all services, siphoning off money to out-of-state private entities instead of investing in our neighborhoods. We also have an imbalanced workforce where we have massive industries like agricultural that have workers toiling and not being able to make ends meet.
There are things that we can do to right the ship in this County and state and I intend to be a part of making that change.
Well, here I am again, explaining why I DNF’d a race. I attempted to race the Ray Miller 50k in Malibu and ended up running out of gas on Hell Hill, unable to even complete the 30k.
By this time people aren’t asking “What happened out there?” They’re just saying “Oh, you’ll get the next one” and moving on. They’ve heard it all before.
But, as a blogger and trail runner it’s my duty to document what happened and hope that others out there will learn from what went right and from what went wrong.
The short answer to “what went wrong out there?” is that I didn’t do the sufficient amount of running leading up to the race, I didn’t do enough long runs and the long runs that I did do were not long enough. That is part of it. The other big part is that my nutrition was way off during the race and that led to a major bonk while trying to negotiate Hell Hill and things started to fall apart from there.
I’ll start with a quick race recap then talk about the lessons learned.
I woke up nice and early, had my coffee and loaded up the last bits of goodies and water into my hydration pack. I made it to the race nice and early. Plenty of time to walk in from the parking that went down PCH. I got into the long check-in line, chatted with some friends and dropped off my drop bag. It was awesome meeting up with Chris Pavlakovich, Raul Engle, Tonni Wells-Ratcliff, Aleni Sunada (I went to high school with her!), Adriana Zapata and Meg (@shatterday).
It was sunny and cool, great race weather but the clear skies meant that eventually the sun would start beating down on us and that’s what happened.
Hanging with Raul Engle before the race. First time meeting IRL.
One of my trail running heroes Sally McRae (red scarf) was volunteering at the check-in desk.
We started the race and first we had to go around the first part of the Ray Miller Trail. That made sense because it would be crazy to dump all of onto the actual trail. The faster people would have had a crazy time getting around everyone on the mostly single track trail. I stayed towards the back of the entire group which included both 50k racers and 30k racers. A few yards before I reached the Ray Mill Trail I saw a figure book it down the road and jump into the line. I guess Billy Yang had gotten a late start that morning.
We made our way up the beautiful Ray Miller trail in a long conga line. I started falling off the back and after about a mile I was mostly alone in the back. I could have run up for a couple of minutes but I was trying to be super conservative. As we made out way up the wind was blowing like crazy and one non racing runner came down the mountain and said that I’d better hold on to my hat. I pulled my Dirtbag Runners trucker hat down more but then saw another non racer ahead of me take off his hat and hold it and I thought that was a better idea so followed suit.
By the first aid station I was feeling pretty good. I was just trying to be conservative and not get too carried away by blasting that downhill part into the aid station as I had during a training run a couple of weeks before that. I didn’t stay there very long. I think that by this point I had already taken down a GU gel pack. The aid station was at mile 5 and I would see it again after making a big loop around Mugu Peak.
I made my way onto the La Jolla Canyon trail and was a little shocked that two racers caught up to me and passed me. I didn’t think anyone was behind me. I really like this little part of the trail. The trail slowly winds down into La Jolla Canyon and it’s rocky and double track. During some training runs I ran this like crazy but once again I tried to stay conservative. As I started to make my way up towards Mugu Peak I recognized two other ladies from the Dirtbag Runners group who I had been introduced to before the race. They were about half a mile ahead. I tried to not fall behind from there pace but wasn’t necessarily trying to track them down.
As we made our way up the steep part of that climb I stopped to take some photos and was feeling good even though I still had another half mile of the steep 15% grade mountain.
Yeah, these views don’t suck.
After I made my way to the top then around to Mugu Peak I could see that the two runners, Emily and Suzannah, had taken off down the mountain. During the XTERRA Point Mugu race last year I ran way too hard during that portion and my quads were pretty shot at the end of that two mile stretch. I had to walk the next three miles to recover. This time I ran down but at a very easy pace.
Mugu Peak Trail. You can see two racers up ahead on the trail.
When I got to the Chumash Trail I was still good and I think I did another GU then continued on to two segments that usually give me trouble because they are not the most exciting of trails and my mind starts to wander and my legs don’t want to run. I did run some of it and had to weave through a couple of big groups of people taking a guided nature hike.
Before arriving back at the Hell Hill aid station that I had passed at mile 5, there is a little white bathroom just off the trail. There are also a couple of park benches. I had taken a break there before since you can actually sit down and catch your breath. I had taken a break here during a 16-mile training run. I had taken down a GU and chilled for a couple of minutes. I stopped to use the rest room but wasn’t able to go so I just hopped back on the trail and made my way up to the aid station.
When I looked at my time, my brain calculated that I would surely miss the first 50k cutoff. I asked around to see if I could drop down to the 30k race. No one seemed to know. “I don’t think there is a cutoff time here” one volunteer said. Some volunteers kindly re-filled my hydration pack and I took down some little watermelon squares and potato chips. They had a big tray of potatoes and another tray of salt but that didn’t appeal to me. I can’t eat dry foods or I’ll choke on them. By this time I had only taken down two GUs and I was several hours into the race. That was a big mistake. I left that aid station without feeding my face enough and without squirreling away some of the food in my pockets. That was another big mistake.
I started making my way up the Guadalasca trail and it was a grind. I kept moving and could see Emily and Suzannah up ahead. They had just reached the top and I wished that I was already there.
I kept grinding and the fatigue was starting to hit me. When I made it to the top I knew there was a nice rock just off the trail that was a good “bench.” I found the rock and took a few pulls of water from my hydration pack. Of all the course the only part I had not run on was the next 2-3 mile section. Now, when I do training runs, I’ll stop to take photos, stop to eat, stop to enjoy an amazing breeze and if it’s really tough and hot out there I’ll stop to get my heart rate down and to rest. This very brief stop was to rest and get some energy so I could do the next miles then grind up Hell Hill and find out if I could still finished off the 30K race. But, as I sat there for the second minute two guys pass by and ask how I’m doing. I got up and said I was OK. They were course sweepers.
Top of Guadalasca Trail, photo from a previous training run.
All three of us pushed on at a slow pace and I didn’t have a lot of energy at that time. They asked if I had eaten anything and I told them that I had a couple of GUs. I slammed another one and drank water. At that point we were going down hill but I didn’t really have the energy to run down the trail much. We all chatted and I figured they weren’t going to leave me alone since I probably didn’t look all that great. We spotted Emily and Suzannah far down the trail and the two guys joked that they weren’t sweepers but were actually pacers and were going to help me catch up to them. I tried to pick up the pace but wasn’t able to move much faster. In terms of mistakes, by that time after being promoted to each I should have started eating all the goodies that I still had like another Cliff bar and more GUs.
We finally got to the bottom of the mountain and we had a little bit of rambling to do before we got to the dreaded Hell Hill climb. I measured it as a .7 mile climb with parts that were well over 15% grade. The two sweepers were also taking down the confidence ribbons so they were a little behind me at the bottom of the hill. I started looking for another place to sit for a while. There were leaves all over and no good place to stop so I just stood for a while in a shady spot then they came along and I dug into the climb. It was a long slow march and I felt weaker and weaker as we went up. The heat had turned up and I was dry. One of the pacers was literally right next to me and helping to match my steps to keep me moving forward.
But, at one point I really need to rest and catch my breath again so I said “I need to flop.” This is a tactic my dog Ivory has used many times. When we go to the dog park and she’s totally gassed she just flops down on the ground. She did that a few weeks ago when I finally took her for a 2-mile trail hike and it took her out 5 minutes to get back up. I found a shady spot and just leaned up agains the mountain and slid down a bit so that I was half sitting and half squatting. I had done this several times during a very tough training run at Malibu Creek State Park when I was climbing up Bulldog road in 90+ degree heat in the middle of the day.
This time the sit break did not work. Everything started to get super bright. This had happened to me before at two different races but it usually happen when I stopped at the END of the race. At that point I saw my wife’s face and her saying “Just don’t hurt yourself, OK?” And that’s when I threw in the towel. I only had about a quarter mile to the top of the hill but I figured that if I made it to the top and still felt this bad I’d want to throw in the towel there. After a few minutes my vision went back to normal but I felt woozy and was having flashes of nausea. I told the sweepers I was done and one went along up the hill to get a truck. I saw the truck pass us earlier and had seen several at the aid station.
A few minutes later three women volunteers came down, helped get me on my feet and supported me as they led me up the hill. Apparently they didn’t feel it was time for me to quit. “I’m sorry but those trucks can’t come down the hill. It’s too steep and they might not have permission to come down.” I had one volunteer holding one arm and the other holding the other. My steps were a little shaky but I was moving forward. Did I mention that the two women were dressed as Skittles bags? I hope I didn’t imagine that. One of them mentioned that this was her first day back at running. I asked if she was recovering from an injury and she said that they had both done the Javelina Jundred the past week. At this point I felt I would have been able to eventually make it up the hill and I thought that’s what we were going to do. Then two trucks came down the road and eventually I got some cold water and got a ride back to the start/finish line where I chilled out at the medical tent.
I found Keira Henninger, the race director, near the finish line and asked if I need to check in since I had DNF’d and she said that they had recorded it and then reached out with a Ray Miller mug. I hesitated and she said “It’s not the medal.” Then I took the mug. I had seen the cool mugs and that’s one of the things that kept me moving up the hill. I wanted one!
I want to thank all the volunteers who helped me out. I don’t like to be a burden but I was. I know it’s all part of the race and that there were others who had a hard day out there. Such is life but I did learn some lessons that will make me more competitive for future races. Congrats to Dirtbag Runners Emily and Suzannah who kept on going and finished the 50k!
More miles, more fun
You put in the miles so that running is more automatic. Doing short runs, even with a lot of elevation, are OK and better than nothing but they can’t replace steady and consistent mileage throughout the week.
Long runs, do more
I pretty much did long runs every weekend but often only one plus a medium length one in a week. Long runs are your bread and butter so you can practice your nutrition and find out where you bonk if you mess up on nutrition.
Yes, length matters
I did one long run that was 16 miles with pretty low intensity. I felt good that day and could have done a longer run but had some home stuff to tend to. That’s not a long enough long run when training for a 50k and as I mentioned above there should have been more of the really long runs.
In order to fix these issues I’m trying to follow the 50k plan in the “Relentless Forward Progress” book by iRunFar.com’s Bryon Powell. The book does mention that one can do a modified plan on a 40 mile per week peak plan but it recommends at least a 50 mile peak plan. That means that mileage varies per week and increases then eases off until it peaks at 50 miles for the week. This training plan calls for a minimum of longer runs and some that are a full marathon in length which can also be replaced by an actual marathon that is not “raced.”
I want to stick with one plan and approach for this one training cycle to see if it works. If I start changing things up then I can’t see if the RFP program actually works. There are a thousand approaches to training out there and if I pick and choose I know I’ll end up doing one that is the easiest and I’ll end up writing another post on how I DNF’d by not getting the basics done.
You can check out my training and find my Ray Miller 50k attempt on Strava and please connect!