The Ray Miller Trail is my home trail. I live 30 minutes away and have run these mountains many times. So when I had a break in my brutally busy work schedule, I jumped at the opportunity to sign up for the 5-mile. I actually signed up for the race last year but it was cancelled due to swarms of mosquitoes.
This year, my training leading up to the race was rather odd. I’ve been doing tons of treadmill workouts at a medium exertion but max incline. I even tried that 12-3-30 workout where you go 30 minutes at 12% incline at 3 miles an hour. I wasn’t able to do the workout without holding onto the rails for dear life. Then I found a similar workout on iFit that actually does another favorite trail, Sandstone Peak. That is a mile and a half up then it briefly pauses to do some weight work. Same thing, when I followed the trainer pace and incline, I could do it but had to hold the rails.
After a while I decided to keep the incline but just slow down and I was surprised to see that I could stay on the mill for quite a while doing that. And, when I joined a group of local runner friends for a crazy sun up to sun down event, I actually did repeats on the Sandstone Peak mile and a half trail. That was a lot of fun.
So yeah, some pretty unorthodox training.
When I hit the trail the week before the race, I ran the 5-miler course and managed to beat the UltraSignup target time by 20 minutes and I was only doing about an 70-80% effort!
That race preview workout gave me hope that I might not end up DFL, as UltraSignup also predicted. As a back of the pack runner, you do get more time out there during a race but it can be an ego bruising experience. I had a feeling that wouldn’t happen this time and even started having hopes that I could break into the top 3 for the 50-59 age group. That would be cool and they actually had a nice cup prize for that. Before the race I figured I only had to beat two people to make the age group podium but there were additional entries and I had no idea who was in my age group and who wasn’t.
We were so lucky to have wonderful race weather. A nice overcast morning and a short race meant that I might not melt this time as I did in the Boney Mountain race. I rolled into the race nice and early and got a pretty good parking spot.
I made my way to the checkin, picked up my race shirt, tote and bib and headed back to the car. I opened up the car and started working on putting on my bib but then a yellow jacket short past me and flew into my car. What the? I kept working on my bib and tried to prod the yellow jacket out of the car but it hung around taking a long sip of my morning coffee. I went around the car and opened the other door so I could shoo it out but then another yellow jacket flew in. This went on for a few more minutes and the people parked behind me on the side of PCH were wondering what the heck was going on. They must have thought that I had lost something because I kept going back and forth and was shaking out things in my car. After I got tired of this I think I left one yellow jacket in the car and just finished getting ready and made my way back to the race starting line.
Near the race checkin I saw Daisy and said hello then saw Michale and Loren who I connected with on Strava after we did some of the same races. I wasn’t 100% as social as I usually am and didn’t take any selfies with folks but did say Hi from a distance. Everyone who I did know was doing the 25k race so I figured I would be on my own for this short race.
MILE 0 to 2
As I mentioned, I’ve been focused on easy vert in training and haven’t done much road running lately so I didn’t pretend that I was going to burn to the front before the first climb, I took it at an easy jog then started pushing up the first Ray Miller climb. It was a long conga line and it’s single track so not super easy to pass. I went along and could see the line break up ahead. I knew that I could pass a few people and keep running in front of the hikers but there was a rather large muscular dude up ahead and it would be a challenge to pass him up so I just waited for my time.
I started to look around and try to figure out who was in my age group so I could keep and eye on them throughout the race. I just need to beat two people to get to that age group podium, or so I thought.
You have to realize that even thinking about age group podiums is a new thing to me. Because there were fewer racers in the 5-miler, I actually had a shot. Anyways, it kept me pushing and focused to it did help my race stoke. When I got to a flatter section I started running and eventually passed the group I was trying to get around. I had a lot more room so now there were no excuses and I could push as much as I wanted.
I checked my watch and saw that I was at a 158 heart rate. That’s a bit high for the beginning of a race but the Ray Miller is a 1,000 climb in under 3 miles is it can certainly get that heart rate up when you try to push. I got to the 1-mile point on the Ray Miller and that is the first scenic stop spot on the trail. There would be no stopping for social media pix today. Usually there are breathtaking views of Mugu Rock to the north and the great sand dune to the south. Today there was a lot of fog so visibility was low.
I kept chugging along, took down a Gu then got to mile 2 on Ray Miller and took down my second Gu. I was going at a good pace and noticed that there were two dudes not too far behind and they were fast hiking it. One was the muscular fellow from the trail below and both were about in my age range. Are those the two guys I have to beat to make the podium?
Miles 2 to 4
I was approaching the last climb on the trail, a path that is not actually part of the Ray Miller trail and one that I rarely take. It’s not huge but looking at the short steep climb is daunting. Just before the climb there were two volunteers and I recognized Vivian who just crushed Western States a couple of weeks ago, I told her congrats on Western and then she recognized me. We had just connected via social media. It’s always inspiring when you have great runners out there cheering you on, so that gave me a little extra energy going up the last climb. Just before that, one of the two guys caught me and made a comment like, “now the adults are coming along”, meaning that it was time for us well-aged runners to take over. I didn’t stress about being passed because if we were going to race he was going to have to bean me going downhill ini just a few more minutes.
I finally made it up the last climb then along the top of the overlook where the is a great view of Sandstone Peak all the way to Boney Mountain. I don’t actually remember if I was able to see the mountains because of the low clouds but I did the week before and that joy filled my mind as I ran the downhill where it connects with the end of the Ray Miller Trail.
I had been worried that I didn’t know if I had to take a right to go to full end of the Ray Miller or if I could make a left and just start on that part of the trail. There was a volunteer with a sign pointing left so I went that way. There was actually an aid station there and I think I passed a runner or two who had gone there for some water or a quick rest. I took a quick look at the aid station and recognized Marcus but kept running.
I finally got to the downhill, trying to run as much as I could until I got back to the spot where Vivian was cheering. Her cheers kept me going full tilt. This was what I wanted out of this race, to get to the downhill portion, be in good form, haul ass as fast as I could down the mountain, and see if I could catch anyone.
After looking down the trail, I saw the other “adult” who had passed me and he wasn’t too far away. After a few twists and turns I caught up to him and told him “left”. He didn’t move then he asked “which way are you going” and he moved to the left. I think I passed him on the right and ran on the little climb as he power hiked. Possible-age-group-guy-#2 wasn’t too far behind.
Earlier on the ascent, I felt as if I was being persistence hunted. But now on this downhill they would have to bring big time to catch me.
MILE 4 to the FINISH
On the last couple of miles I almost had a massive wardrobe disfunction. My shorts and shirt were sopping wet with sweat and my shorts were slipping down. I had my phone in a buff, wrapped around my wrist but I still had my Jlab ear phone case in the back pocket. I kept reaching back and lifted up my shorts to keep them from sliding and that slowed me down a little but I was still hauling. Finally I fished around and took the ear phone case out of the pocket and just held it. It was a handful as I had my water bottle, the phone and the case in one hand. I was at the one mile left spot and slowed down a bit as young runner ahead of me slowed down. I think maybe I had just caught him but as I slowed, he took off. I finally got my stuff in order and kept shooting down the mountain.
As the super fast 25k runners passed me I had to slow down a little a couple of times and one of the adults was right behind me. I wasn’t going to step aside and wait to let him pass so I kept cranking.
Despite taking out the ear phone case, my shorts kept drifting down. It wasn’t a ridiculous amount of slipping but it was uncomfortable and I kept tugging the shorts up.
I took a look at my heart rate and it read 191. Memories of my last doctor, an endurance athlete himself, saying “keep that heart rate under 170, no matter what you do” rang in my head but I kept pushing. There was just a little straightway, then a sharp turn and the finish line would be there.
I made the sharp turn and had caught up to another 5-mile runner but she kept going straight. I hadn’t seen the actual finish line and it was in a different location than the Ray Miller race which stop almost immediately. I kept cranking the legs, wondering how much farther this would go and then the finish line was there and I was home.
I beat my pre-race workout run by 20 minutes and beat the UltraSignup target time by 40 minutes, coming in at 1:25.26. Take that, UltraSignup algorithm!
It turns out that the guy I was racing was in the next age group and the #3 guy had finished 8 minutes earlier. I have no idea who he was on the course. Anyway, I fell outside the podium but had a super fun race experience. I shook hands with the guy I was racing and when I asked if he was in the 50-59 age group, he said no and we laughed. He said I must be in the 30-39 group.
After the race I headed over to get a beer after I helped one of the volunteers get the keg back on track then took down some tacos and left after the 5-mile age group awards. The #3 guy didn’t stick around for his cup.
It was fun being in the hunt and getting the competitive juices flowing and seeing everyone out there. David and Tina, the race directors, are doing a great job making SoCalTrail races fun and getting people stoked with the full-service training runs. The volunteers were great and helped make for a fun environment. I can’t wait to do another race.
Speaking of races, I’m schedule to do two races at the Mammoth Trail Fest in September then will come back to the Ray Miller Trail to do Keira’s Ray Miller Trail 50k race. That’s 50k is going to be a butt kicker and I will need to keep the training up so I can finish strong.
Thanks for reading to the end! I feel like you should get a blog participation medal or buckle. Lol. I’ll see you out on the sunny side of the trail.
Photo credit: Noah Klabin