Ray Miller 50k 2013
Three weeks after Bandera 100k, I found myself toeing the line again – this time at the Ray Miller 50k, across the road from the beaches north of Malibu, into the trails of the Santa Monica Mountains. Feeling fulling recovered from the flu and from Bandera, I was anxious to race and see what I could do. I had some smart-ass goals – beat Craig by 30 minutes and run 4:45 which would break the course record. The women’s field was strong – course record holder Jen Benna, Kate Freeman, Bree Lambert – all contenders for the win.
With a start time of 6:00 am, it was advisable to have a light. Thankfully, I remembered mine, and with the most technical, rocky section occurring in the first few miles, I’m sure it saved me from a scraped chin. From the “GO!” I felt strong and light. In the dark I was unsure, but thought I was the first female after a good 10 minutes into the race.
As we reached the highest section of the early part of the race, the sun was coming up and shining on the Pacific. I was in a short train of runners with Jimmy Dean Freeman and Chris Rennaker, and few others I couldn’t determine. Winding up and down we eventually bottomed out in a grassy meadow. I hung onto the train of men as they cruised by for awhile, then two women caught up to me. Kate Freeman, and a new ultra runner, Mandy Hicks. We all chatted a bit, and they pulled away, with Mandy taking the lead. She had run some marathons, but this was her debut at the 50k. She wasn’t sure what would happen after 26.2 miles, but for now she looked pretty damn awesome. It was early in the race, and I didn’t want to get into trouble yet.
At the first aid station I drank from the cups, ate one Clif Shot gel and swallowed the salt supplement they had available. My hydration pack was full of coconut water, and I intended for that to last the whole race as long as I drank from cups at each aid station. I was also sticking to downing a gel in between aid stations – roughly every thirty minutes.
On the climb out, I was joined by Thomas Reiss, and we chatted for awhile until he finally pulled away. I was soon joined by Chris Rennaker and offered to let him by, but he said he was right where he wanted to be. We hung together on the very, very, long and sweet switched back descent, until he got antsy and decided he would rather be going faster. The flat section at the bottom was treed, sheltered, cool and runnable. I cruised along with the men, and commented to one that I was worried about all the downhill, since it meant a big-ass climb was certainly to follow. And I was right. When we reached the road that would take us to the aid station, I began my slow jog up. I passed a few men on the climb, and was passed by “man in blue shorts” – very tan, very toned, and very fit. I could see Kate ahead, and was glad she hadn’t got too far ahead. I pledged to run as much as I could, and maintained that all the way to the top and to the aid station, mile 10 or so. The volunteers were as good as any I had experienced – asking me what I needed, and hurrying me out.
I jumped on the trail, a slight uphill, which quickly turned to downhill. I cruised with some intention, but not too aggressively. I caught Blue Shorts boy again, and asked if I could go around. He gladly let me by, and I felt like I was flying, until I heard AJW and Jen Benna chatting rather casually. AJW spotted me , and yelled “you’d better hurry up Meghan!”. Yikes! I felt like I was running kind of hard already, but decided to push it harder. When we reached the bottom, I was still ahead, and at the water only aid staion, I high fived Jesse Haynes, and cruised through. A climb quickly ensued, and I look down to see Jen. I yelled back to her – “come on Jen!” fully expecting her to catch me. Surprisingly, I gapped her, and passed a couple of men. For the second time in the race, I saw a sign “Awesome Sauce”, which made me feel good, but Blue Shorts was done with the platitudes. “If I see another Awesome Sauce sign, I”m gonna punt it out of the park!” Dude, I said to myself, you need to chill. This is what we do for fun.
He passed me again on the climbs. I could see Kate still, on the climbs ahead. Gradually she came closer, but after every climb, she gapped me on the downhills. Sheesh! I ran the downhills harder and harder, until finally I caught her on a climb. As she let me by, I remarked she would catch me on the downhill, but I managed to put enough space between us that by running like a jackhammer down the next hill, I maintained my lead over her. As the course flattened out again, I caught up to and ran with Mike McMonagle, a runner I had met at JFK 2011, and we ran together the next couple of miles to the next aid station, just under 20 miles. I had seen Kate not too far back, so ate a gel, drank some coke, downed some salt, and yelled to Mike “let’s go!” He was soon behind me as we began another long climb. He felt good, and I let him pass. We both caught Jimmy Dean Freeman, walking, but upbeat. He was planning on dropping, just not doing well at all. But he encouraged me to go after the first place woman, Mandy, as she was only about 4 minutes ahead. Motivated by that and by the desire to stay ahead of Kate and Jen, I soon caught back up to Mike. He was beginning to cramp, and told me that he didn’t actually feel right running in front of me. I chuckled as I went by, and in a few minutes I was alone.
Fortunately the weather was very cooperative. Dry, 60+ degrees, with a light cloud cover. I had been fairly relaxed with the salt given the mild temperatures – maybe too relaxed. At some point a muscle on my lower left leg stopped firing, and my foot toed out and sort of flopped against the ground. Wow, that was weird. Not knowing what else to do, I consciously started using my glutes and core more, and took an S!Cap. It started working again, and I changed my focus to running a hard effort to try and maintain my lead over Jen and Kate, and perhaps close in on Mandy. I finally reached the turning point for the 50 milers to do their out and back 20 mile section, and found myself careening downhill. I was having fun, yet getting a little banged up from the jarring. I ate another gel, and pulled out the S!Caps again, took one, and decided to pop one ibuprofen to ease the pains. There were several technical creek bed crossings, twisting trail sections, some short steep climbs, long ascents down open fields, and I pushed hard through it all, calling in the memories of running the Ice Cream Sandwich run on Cal Street for Western States training.
Cheers greeted me at the last aid station, and sign telling me I had 4.5 miles to go. “You’re second place woman! Good job!” “Where’s the first place woman?” I asked. They pointed up on the hill behind them – and I could see her blue shirt, about 4 minutes ahead. I ate another gel, drank coke and Heed from the cups, and took off on a fast section of gravel road for about a quarter mile, then hit the single track and began the climb up. It felt like more than 4 minutes to reach where she had been, but I began to get beta from hikers and runners on the trail coming in the opposite direction. “You’re closing in on her!” On the last very steep ascent, she was about a quarter mile ahead at the top, and looked over her shoulder, spotting me. I put my head down and ran almost the whole thing. When I crested, she was no where in sight. Running flat again, out of a bend, I saw her, and again, she saw me. There was a stretch of dirt road, and onto single track – the wonderful Ray Miller trail. Every turn to that trail, I could see her. I was closing in but running out of real estate. And then, BAM! My left calf cramped like there was a small rodent inside it wiggling around. Wow – that was weird. I slowed way down, grabbed an S!Cap, and sucked the last drop of fluid from my pack. The calf relaxed, I’m sure due to my slowing, and I picked it up again. This was all in about 30 seconds time, and I was chasing her down again. BAM! A rodent in my right calf now. Wow, this was so weird. I grabbled another S!Cap, just for lack of anything else to do, since we had only about a mile to go. Gradually I picked it back up, and resumed the chase. We both passed Laurie Thornley and I yelled out to her – “I don’t think I’m gonna catch her!”
Mandy continued running fast, and looking back at every turn, ultimately keeping me at bay, finishing in 4:46:57 to my 4:47:49. She greeted me warmly, and we had some good laughs over that last section, where she was sure I would catch her. Shortly thereafter, Jen Benna came in, then Kate, and Bree. Post race atmosphere was celebratory with good food and friends. Laurie and I spotted Craig when he was about 5 minutes from the finish, and I’m afraid I schooled him a bit much – he was 40 minutes back, and proudly announced himself as 6th place female.
Keira put on a wonderful event. Her volunteers were well attuned to the needs of the runners before, during, and after the race. Post race socializing continued for hours as we waited for many of the 50 mile finishers. Running in such mild weather in February is a great draw as well.