The sun seems to shine on me in Southern California. Although we had cloud cover all day, it certainly felt like last Saturday was no different. The Ray Miller 50 had been on my radar since last year when I heard about the inaugural event via various internet outlets. Unfortunately, I was unable to make the trip last year and instead opted to race Leona Divide (another Keira Henninger production) a couple months later. Obviously, that race turned out to be a major success for me so I was eager to get back to SoCal for some more racing at my next opportunity. My schedule somehow opened up just a few weeks ago, just as this year’s Ray Miller sold out online. Luckily Keira let me in the back door and work let me off the hook during an especially busy time. Just like that, flights were booked and the 2013 racing stoke returned with a vengence.
Training had been pretty good leading up to the race but, honestly, I was viewing my travels to California more as a vacation than a business trip. More than anything, I was looking forward to seeing Harmony and running on dirt again after a few months being snowbound. I still liked my chances especially when last year’s champion and good buddy Jorge Maravilla told me in no uncertain terms that he thought his record (6:45) was soft. I felt my fitness was in a good place so I took him at his word, hoping that 6:30 would be in the cards. Now I know Jorge is a prolific sandbagger. He won’t fool me again.
The race started in the dark and we spent the first 20 or 30 minutes pretty much running blind, waiting for the sun to rise. When it finally did, we were treated to a beautiful vista and an amazing technicolor sky over the ocean. It was truly amazing. Soon after the first aid station, Tim and I built a bit of separation on the field, with Hal just a couple seconds back. This was the point where Tim and I began chit chatting for a really long time. It was good to catch up with him and hear about the fantastic trajectory his racing career is taking. What an honor it was to spend so much time running together last weekend.
Tim is unbelievably strong on the uphills. I have been working hard to improve my own skills in this department but could not hang whenever the grade increased beyond “douche.” Still I was able to make up lost ground rather quick on the flats or downhills so we were really never separated by more than a couple seconds for the first 35 miles.
The aid station at mile 35 seemed to be a bit of a turning point though. I think we both sensed that, after spending all morning together, one of us was going to have to make a move soon. The trail trends upward rather abruptly out of that aid station with some pretty technical footing. This meant that I was really fighting to keep up. I must have been slightly behind on calories because I hit a pretty severe energy lull not too far into the climb. Before I knew it, Tim was way out of sight. By the top of the climb, he had two minutes on me (after only ~2 miles) and I felt pretty terrible. I honestly thought the race was over. I ate two gels simultaneously and hoped I could turn things around.
I could almost feel the glucose hit my blood and, soon enough, I was charging down a sweet piece of single track, totally in my element. As they say in these races, “things never always get worse.” The reports from outbound runners soon went from two minutes to one minute and I could sense that I was back in the race. I finally caught a glimpse of Tim when we popped into a clearing and could tell he wasn’t feeling too hot. I was able to sneak up on him make the pass with authority, hitting the gas hard as I went.
In retrospect, I caught Tim at the perfect time. There was still another 1.5 miles of down hilling until the next aid station and I was on fire. The other advantage I had was that I was carrying almost double the water he was and we’d just gone 12 miles without aid. I had maybe 5 ounces of water left which meant he had to be empty. With one more ~1,000 foot climb remaining, it was clear that I needed to increase my cushion to give myself an opportunity to hold him off. I made the decision to blaze through the last aid station, sucking down a gel and drinking the last of my water in the process, in hopes that it might gain me a few extra seconds of breathing room.
I poured everything I had into the last climb, wheezing and cursing the whole way. I could see Tim behind me which meant I never felt safe for a second. I saw Tim’s wife Krista, who was running the 50k, at the top of the hill and knew her presence would either give him a jolt of competitive energy or encourage him to slow down and enjoy some quality trail time with his wife. I hoped for the latter but, after seeing the insane kamikaze downhill he pulled at Leona last year, I wasn’t going to wait around to find out. Fortunately the last 2.5 miles are on the super buffed out Ray Miller Trail with insane views out towards the Pacific, which made the decent slightly less agonizing. I crossed the line in 6:47 just a couple minutes back of Jorge’s stout record.
I’m definitely happy with my race and proud to have won. Sharing the experience with Harmony and my Aunt Kim made it all the more special. Harm and I stuck around at the finish and socialized for a couple hours before heading up to Santa Barbara for another two beautiful days basking in the SoCal sunshine. It was truly a perfect little vacation.
Thanks to Keira, Jesse, and the volunteers for putting on such a great race! This one definitely deserves a spot on the bucket list and is quickly becoming a winter classic on the circuit. Thanks, as always, to Pearl Izumi for all the love and support they lend my cause. I wore the new Trail N2 shoes due out this Spring which will probably be my go to racing kicks for 2013. Also, the new Ultra Shorts are the best I’ve ever worn. Thanks Ultraspire for the cutting edge hydration systems. Starting the race with a 20 ounce Isometric Handheld and my 16 ounce Twitch Waist Pack may have won me the race. Thanks to Smith for the super stylish and performance oriented shades and to First Endurance for the best nutrition supplements on the planet. I am indebted to you all.
I’m proud to say that Ray Miller was the 20th ultra of my career and that I’ve successfully completed every race I’ve started. It’s a small milestone but one I look forward to building on in the years ahead. Here’s to healthy and successful 2013! Fire it up.