Ray Miller 50k Race Report 2015 – The Flop

Ray Miller 50k 30k Starting Line

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.

Race Day

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.
Hanging with Raul Engle before the race. First time meeting IRL.
One of my trail running heroes Sally McRae was volunteering at the checkin desk.
One of my trail running heroes Sally McRae (red scarf) was volunteering at the check-in desk.

The Start

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.
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.
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, from a previous training run.
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!

Lessons Learned

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!