Not Another DNF Story


Ok, it is another DNF story. I ran the Ray Miller 30K this past weekend out at La Jolla Canyon. I went into the race coming off a hip flare up, similar to one that hit me earlier this year. When it gets bad it feels like someone is sticking an ice pick in my groin.. 

Yeah, fun.

Similar to the villager who was supposedly turned into a newt by a witch in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I got better.

After a couple of days of zero running – breaking my daily consecutive 5K streak that was at 30 days – I started walking more and was able to start walking without any major pain.

The only double I had about running Ray Miller was that I found out that I might have to work in Riverside that day. I was able to be excused so then it was game on.

I had a little different strategy this year from last year. First, I decided to drop down to the 30K race from the 50k. Second, I was going to take a good break at the second Hell Hill aid station. I feel like the times I crapped out on Hell Hill two previous times that I was more worked than I thought and should have done a reset. The third thing I was going to do is that when I got to the Hell Hill climb and I calculated that I was going to time out, that I would just take a steady approach and get to the top not feeling miserable then continue regardless of whether or not I had been officially cut off. 

I would not die on Hell Hill again.

Race Day

I’ve run the Ray Miller Trail at La Jolla Canyon about 80 times and today was one of most beautiful days ever. Sunrise was epic and the views throughout the day were breathtaking.

I got to checkin just before the 50K folks took off. I got a video of the start and saw a bunch of friends.

Then it was thirty minutes to the 30K and I had time to go back to my car on PCH and drop off my new race shirt. I had to go back again because I forgot my sunglasses, a vital piece of race equipment for me.

After meeting Tynisha from New Basin Blues for the first time and greeting other friends, it was race time.

I brought my trekking poles but didn’t use them until most of the runners around me had cleared away. I didn’t want to block them from passing me because of the flurry of the poles.

I went out very conservatively and didn’t run any of the uphill portion which is 90% of the Ray Miller Trail. I was running near Luisa, her friend, and Tam and felt very comfortable there. We ran within a quarter mile of each other for 7 miles then Luisa and her friend pulled away.

At the race start, race director Keira Henninger had surprised us by announcing that there was a course change on the La Jolla Canyon loop portion, we would do a re-routed version of the loop to avoid an overgrown section of the trail. I’ve never been affected but I think there is section on that part that we avoided that has poison ivy although I ran by there a few weeks ago and it wasn’t super overgrown. 

At mile 8 I started the climb up towards Mugu Peak and I started to slow down. It’s not super steep but my climbing spoke was rapidly declining. At last year’s race, at mile 8 I started getting dizzy and was reduced to a hike for a lot of the remaining race. I didn’t feel dizzy this time and felt that I should have taken a break to re-group and get in some more calories. I had packed away two PB&J’s and had already eaten one of them. I was also getting hot wearing a light tech hoodie and another shirt over it but thought I could wait.

There was another hiker out there on the trail and he passed me up doing a normal hike. That let me know that I was really slowing down. I got to downhill portion and started running but took it easy. My hip issue is aggravated by aggressive downhill running and I figured I still had two more big downhills to run so I didn’t want to blow things at this point. I passed the hiker going downhill.

I finally made it to the bottom of Mugu Peak trail and crossed paths with a group of merry makers who had cowbells and cheered me on. I got to the empty water tank at the bottom then saw the re-routed part of the trail and as soon as I took a couple of steps up the little embankment to the re-routed trail I let out a large grunt/sigh. It was weird. It was like a bunch of stoke left me at once. 

I trudged on and felt hotter and more tired. I had just seen Tam who was closest to me in front dart over a little hill. Knowing Tam, she was turning on her after burners as she gets stronger as the race progresses. 

I got to the gradual climb and stopped to take off the hoodie and dig out the PB&J. Nothing hurt so this had to be a temperature and nutrition issue. The hiker passed me up then another group of hikers passed. I ate half the PB&J and was still going slow even on a slight descent. Then two more hikers passed me and it turns out they must have been 30K runners as well but I could tell they were planning on hiking this the whole way. I knew there was probably one person still behind me at this point but had no idea there were these two other fellows back there.

The PB&J still hadn’t kicked in and now the two hiking racers were pulling away from me. I didn’t have any run left in my legs. Despite that, I was moving forward, and still wasn’t “hurting” so I just kept hiking. The view of Boney Mountain and the rest of La Jolla Valley was still amazing and I was glad to be out there.

I finally made it to the Hell Hill 2 aid station and checked my watch and I got there at 11am. Last year I got there at 11am and wasn’t able to make the upcoming Guadalasca (some trail signs have it as Guadalasco) loop in 2 hours to make the cutoff. Last year was different though because I was dealing with that dizziness which kept me from doing a lot of downhill running for fear of stumbling off a cliff.

I double checked the cutoff with one of the volunteers as he filled up my hydration pack. He wasn’t sure and asked another volunteer about the cutoff.

Meanwhile, I found an empty chair and leaned it up next to a ranger’s truck which provided shade then plopped down. A couple of volunteers conferred and they were trying to figure out if I still had time to do the loop. I told them that regardless, I was going to take a break to cool down and get a little nutrition. After Leona Divide this year I realized that getting some shade and cooling down is super important for me. 

At that points, my friend Chris popped up from Hell Hill. I was glad to see him and he was in good shape and took a short breather. He was doing the 50K race. I told him that I was chilling for a bit and was trying to decide if I should start the loop which ends with a hellacious climb up Hell Hill. 

He replied, “Well, don’t ask me. If you ask me I’m going to tell you to run as fast as you can to make the cutoff.”

This made me laugh and helped convince me to at least start the loop. One of the volunteers there, Amy, had been there the previous two times that I flamed out on Hell Hill so she let me know that time was short and that things weren’t looking good to complete the loop. I appreciate race volunteers and have also volunteered for dozens of races in the past.

I decided to do part of the Guadalasca climb and then turn back. Amy didn’t understand what I wanted to do and was concerned that she would have to send a truck to get me later on. I told her that if I was able to climb well and thought I could do the loop in time that I would keep going.

I started the climb and felt pretty good. It’s not a super steep climb and there are a couple of flattish parts and I almost was going to run some of the uphill but just fast hiked it. I climbed up for a mile then tried to do trail math and it didn’t work. I’d have to run 12 minute miles to make it to Hell Hill then do the .7 mile 800 foot climb in 30 minutes? Whether my math was right or not, it sounded very unlikely so I turned around.

Shortly after that I saw the other person who I thought was behind me in the race. I told him I was turning back and wished him luck. When I got back to the aid station, Amy had a curious look and asked how far I went. I told her that I had gone up a mile and felt pretty good but that I didn’t think I’d make the loop in time.

I already knew what I would do next, keep going back to the finish. I got a couple of little pretzels and a couple of cups of electrolytes and headed off for the final 5 miles.

Several other 30K runners passed by me including Tynisha who was causing along. She had already done the full Guadalasca loop and Hell Hill climb. I told her that I dropped out but was going to hike it in.

I could tell other runners who caught up were a little confused because they had not seen me ahead of them in the race. I saw Rafael and he asked what was up and I told him that I had dropped. He was still doing well and was looking forward to the final downhill portion of the course.

I had been hiking well and when I got to downhills, I was running. Yeah, even though I had that massive low earlier I was still chugging along. When I got to the Ray Miller downhill I ran 80% of it at an easy jog, using my poles to help steady me and to not put as much pressure on my hip.

I got to the final turn before the finish line and tried to figure out how to get to the race end without crossing the finish line. I told a volunteer that I had dropped and he said to continue down the final turn. When I got to the finish line I sidestepped it and let Keira know what had happened. The person handing out finishers medals had offered me a medal but I declined and just said, “I didn’t get the finish.”

I am happy that I was able to bounce back and get to the finish line even though I didn’t complete the entire course. I did 17.4 miles which is 3 miles short of the 21 miles race distance. I still felt pretty good and didn’t even hunt for a chair at the end.

I grabbed a veggie sandwich and got to see a few more friends finish then headed home. 

Race stats

17.46 miles, 6 hours 4 minutes, 2,812 feet of elevation gain.

Big shout out to Keira for another great race and to all the volunteers who helped me along the way and to all who volunteered throughout the course like my New Basin Blues friends at the checkin and far off aid stations helping out 50k and 50 mile runners.

I don’t have any more races scheduled yet. What races are on your calendar?