Leading up to the Ray Miller 50k, I woke up one early morning and the room was spinning. Hours later the house was still a washing machine and I was doing what I could not to upchuck. Days later things got better and little by little I started to walk around the neighborhood to test out my balance. Fast forward to a few days before the race and I went on a 3-mile trial walk then a 5-mile hike and run.
I’ve made it almost a decade with almost no run injuries because I’m a cautious fellow, but this time I decided that I would do the 50k race and just take things one aid station by aid station. If I had to stop at some point then I wouldn’t beat myself up about it.
After starting the Ray Miller race and getting to mile 8 I started to have minor balance issues. I was using my poles so that helped some. Unfortunately, the balance issues meant that my strategy of hiking the climbs and running flats and downhills would shift. I couldn’t run as strong as I wanted on the downhills and that kept chipping away at my time.
By the time I made it back to the Hell Hill aid station for a second time, I had two hours to do the Guadalasca loop. I took some small potatoes with me for the climb and a short while later a 30K runner passed me with a faster hike. I wanted to stay somewhat near her, so I pushed my pace a little more. I was still a little lightheaded/unbalanced but it wasn’t bad. I stayed a few hundred feet behind her and was chugging along.
When the downhill portion started I knew that the cutoff time was getting closer so I started running. There were a few sections where I stumbled from lack of balance so I had to slow down. More time lost. But even alternating between walking and running downhill, some runners who had passed me 2 miles back were coming back to me. As I got to the bottom I heard a pack of 30k runners behind me for a while then realized that my friend Luisa was one of them. We all realized that the cutoff was a concern and I hung with them then started running the flats, leading up to the Hell Hill climb. At the base of the Hill, we had 40 minutes to make the climb which is .7 miles, steep and gnarly.
I had come this far, and I didn’t want to quit. I put my head down and kept chugging away, pressing as much as I could. About halfway up the hill, Jesse Haynes passed by in a truck, partially seeing if he could pick up anyone but also heading to the aid station at the top of the hill to pack it up. I gave a short wave to say “I’m still going.”
We were still climbing then it all started. My world started to turn from side to side. Each step was an unsteady movement and the only thing holding me up were my poles. Step after step were uneasy. I had to sit and see if I could ride this out and to not hurt myself. The spinning continued and then the nausea followed.
Unfortunately, this was not the first time I’ve bonked on Hell Hill. The movie Wayne’s World has a part where Wayne mentions a band called “The Shitty Beatles” then follows up with, “and that wasn’t just a clever name, they really sucked.” Well, Hell Hill isn’t just a clever name, and it kicked my butt again.
The last runner in our little bunch had passed by me as I was still struggling to walk but when I laid back on the trail, I yelled at him to please call the truck to get me. Several sweepers caught up to me when I was sitting and they saw me heaving. I told them that I had asked for help and they continued on and said they’d make sure someone came down.
The majority of the spinning had stopped and it had been a few minutes and still no truck. I managed to get up, like a knocked down boxer getting up off the canvas at the 7 count, and wanted to see if I could keep going. I took a few steps and got 10 feet, still stumbling and then looked for the next shade spot and sat down again. I was done. Luckily, I didn’t fall down while in this bad state. That could have been bad.
I eventually got a ride back down the hill with Jesse Haynes and the aid station crew then made it back to the starting line.
The day after the race I already felt physically recovered. Since that time, I went back to work after having been on a week’s vacation, went to a lot of doctor visits and got tests done to see what’s going on.
Every day was a test to see if I would have balance issues, and to see if I could get my body back into working order. I joined a gym and kept following up with my doctors.
“With all that is going on, can I keep doing exercise?” I asked my doctor.
“Exercise is the best thing you can do at this point,” he replied.
When I saw Race Director Keira’s post in her volunteer Facebook group, I immediately said I would volunteer at the Paramount Ranch race. I would volunteer then she offered a race bib after my parking duties.
I was the first to show up at the Ranch and had fun doing parking. Jesse Haynes was also on parking and with the other volunteers we expertly packed in all the runners and volunteers. My friend Liz was also there and that was awesome.
After my duties were up, I waited for the race to start, then picked up a bib at the start line. I met Yen who was also a volunteer and we both got ready then raced at the same time. She was worried that she may get lost so we started at the same time. She was still getting her gear in check as we started so things were a bit slow in the beginning but after a while we were both running the same pace without really running together. This continued for the entire 10k loop and it was fun. I was running free and we were catching up to a lot of runners. Once again, I had no idea how I would do with all the previous balance issues but I was feeling great. My last mile was the fastest of the bunch.
After my race I hung out with Liz at the starting line then headed over to the first aid station where the New Basin Blues crew was posted and did some more volunteering and cheering there. Yen was doing the 50k, so she was still going.
I’m glad I got back on the horse at the Paramount Ranch and decided to run. Every day is a gift and when I have a chance, I’d rather be out running with friends instead of worrying about health issues.
Shoutout to all the volunteers at both races and to RD Keira Henninger for putting on fun and challenging races. Thanks to Jesse Haynes for pulling me off the hill and to Amanda Pennington who actually yanked me off the ground at Hell Hill.
My next race is scheduled to be the Sean O’Brien 30k.
Location: Chumash Land
Photo credit: @Paksitphotos