My first big race of the year – the Ray Miler 50mile – named after the long time campground warden at Point Mugu State Park, this was the inaugural event. The nature of the terrain suited me well with over 11,000ft ascent and nearly all on single-track (rather than fire/jeep roads). I wish I had more or better photos because it truly is a beautiful area, bordering the Pacific Ocean and dominated by the huge bulk of Sandstone Peak.
The 6am race start meant a very early alarm call at 03.50 for the 1 hour drive down there but, on arrival, everything was being handled very efficiently and they had even remembered to provide lighting in the portaloos so that saved a “shot in the dark”. It really wasn’t quite light enough at 6am so I carried a handheld torch (flashlight for US readers!) knowing I could ditch this at the first aid station at mile 6. The 50k event and 50 mile event started at the same time so I was forewarned not to attempt to run off with the 50k'ers but that was totally academic – I may be feeling relatively fit at the moment but there was no way I could have hung with the leading pack. I settled into somewhere around 15th place and just tried to relax into it.
For the first 3 hours low cloud kept the temperatures much lower than I had expected. The Guadeloupe loop was bike free at that time of the morning and the Coyote Trail had been trimmed of some of the more vigorous growth over the trail. Coming into the aid station at mile 19 was a little surreal as a flock of around 50 parrots screeched overhead. At this point I started to move up a little through the field – just now and again I would catch someone which feels so much better as the race progresses than being caught. At mile 21 the routes diverge with the 50 mile having a large out-and-back over the biggest climb of the day. I had run all of this in training but I had not run the top part of the out and back from the Yerba Buena aid station. I knew it was supposed to be 6.2 miles for the round trip but it was one of those trails that twists and turns, loops back on itself and never really seems to be getting anywhere. Around this time, as my body ran out of the stored glycogen and switched to fat burning, I was fading. I knew I had two people within reach in front of me but I didn’t seem to be closing and then, when I turned around, I saw I had a whole host of people behind me including the top 4 or 5 women all within a few minutes. Back through Yerba Buena and it was time to make some changes, ditch the shirt, add some music, gag down some Perpetuum and accept that I would have to walk much of the climb back up. The figure in front seemed to be swaying a little and, sure enough, although I felt as if I was going slow, I overhauled him and saw another figure in front – Tom Nielsen who I first met at Hardrock back in 1997, he has been running as long as I have – every so often I caught glimpses but I wasn’t catching him. On ups I was a little stronger; on downs he pulled it back. Still, by this time I was recovering nicely (so I thought) and going at a decent pace. At least that’s what I thought until Amy Sproston kindly asked if she could squeeze by on the trail and proceeded to descend like Rob Jebb in a hurry. This galvanized me a little; I cranked up the descending speed, caught back up, started a conversation and, as so often happens in these long races, drew energy from the encounter so that when we slammed into the bottom of the next climb I was able to muster a steady jog all the way up. Half way, Tom hoved into view again and I also overhauled him before the top. Right, don’t look back, eat, drink then max effort all the way to the next aid station about 3 miles away.
Up to the top of that was the biggest climb of the day
It worked well and I knew the following section provided a great opportunity to check gaps as the trail climbs in a series of zig zags up the hillside. Run the lower climb and look back – anyone there? – yes, but it’s not Tom or Amy, it’s Jimmy Dean; running strongly on the uphill and clearly having a flying finish. OK, that means I have to run this entire climb except the final 100metres to the dirt road at the top and then all of the dirt road. Underworld makes this possible and thank goodness I was not wearing a heart rate monitor. OK, finally, top of Ray Miller Trail, its 2.2 miles to the finish from here and I am NOT going to let anyone pass me on this downhill.
Offical results now posted and I was 8:04 and 47 seconds for 4th place overall. My pre race target has been 8:15 based on an optimistic calculation from 2 training runs on the course so I am delighted with the time but a little humbled by how much faster the first 3 guys ran and how well Amy ran to finish only around 5 minutes down. All-in-all though a solid start to the season with steady pacing, good eating and drinking, no injuries and only a little stiffness today after a 3 mile beach walk to work out some of those toxins.