Friday, March 2, 2012

Ray Miller 50 Mile: Focusing on me

I was hanging out in Nairobi on Wednesday evening, enjoying a few beers after co-facilitating a somewhat stressful 3-day training when I decided to check my itinerary so as to figure out what time I needed to be awake on Thursday to make my noon'ish flight. The airport is only a 30 minute drive from the airport, but that can extend to 3+ hours if you hit the wrong traffic circles at the wrong time (one reason I'm not a huge fan of Nairobi--getting around is complete chaos). It should have seemed odd that I was catching a flight in the middle of the day, as I'd always flown out of Nairobi at night (and that I would arrive in LA just 6 hours after departing with a 30 hour trip and an 11 hour time difference) but I hadn't given it much thought.

So, I checked and the itinerary read 12:35 a.m. Thursday....hmmm. What exactly did that mean?  I have always struggled with the 12 a.m./p.m. thing, and wasn't really sure if my flight was in 3 hours, 15 hours, or 27 hours. I've missed 12 a.m./p.m. flights before, and am relatively intelligent, so one might think that I would be able to figure it all out, but I can't. Luckily I can recognize my inadequacies and sought guidance.  I walked down to the bar and asked my friends to explain: "What does 12:35 a.m. Thursday mean?"  Yep, my flight was in just a few hours--midnight as opposed to noon. While I was bummed to miss a night out on the town in Nairobi, I was excited to leave Nairobi, too, and super excited that I figured this out before I royally screwed up.  Missing my flight would have made the Ray Miller 50 really really challenging (as my ankles would hardly have had time to decrease in size before the race started) had I arrived a day later.

3 flights and 30 hours later, my dear friend, Meghan, met me at the airport on Thursday evening as planned, and I struggled to form coherent sentences on the trip from the airport to her brother's place in Thousand Oaks. My luggage hadn't arrived, and this was a little worrisome, as I didn't want to spend Friday shopping for new clothes and shoes.  I crashed, and the luggage fairy delivered my suitcase sometime between 4 and 6 a.m., so all was well in my world.

Google map image of race course from the race website. Awesome course; loved the loop and out-and-back combo.  Climbs were tough but runnable, and descents were long and fast.
I decided to run the Ray Miller 50 for a variety of reasons, one of which was that I could squeeze it in between work trips to Nairobi and Istanbul.  My next big focus race is the World Championship 100K, and running a 50 miler 2 months out seemed like good preparation in what is otherwise a busy and hectic time for me that has put a damper on training. Nairobi is never a fun place for me to train (highlight is that it's at 6000 feet), but by having a race at the end of the trip, I could somewhat excuse a crappy couple of running weeks as a sort of taper. I'd also been on the Ray Miller trail once before, and remembered it as something special, and wanted the opportunity to further explore the area.

Friday was awesome.  Meghan and I drove over to run for 30 minutes on the course, and it felt like we were out there for 5 minutes. After 2 weeks of really unappealing running options in Nairobi, it felt so good to run on a beautiful dirt trail. It was blissful and ended much too soon. The run was followed by beer and delicious fried scallops.  Meghan and I talked a bit about the race on Friday and again on the drive over to the run on Saturday. I'd been having some confidence issues after a very blah attempt at Orcas Island, and my fear of racing seemed to be winning out. My main goal for Saturday was to focus on me, and not let external factors, like where others were in relation to me, stress me out and cause me to react in a negative way (backing off). It was going to be all about me.  Meghan is always super supportive and positive, and convinced me that I was fit and ready to let one fly. I hoped that we would let one fly together, as I love to run with Meghan.

When the race started at 6 a.m. it was still fairly dark, so I fell in behind Shawna and just tried to follow her footsteps.  I chatted briefly with Jimmy Dean and Mark, two of my favorites, and who I would end up seeing throughout the day.  After a few miles and just before the top of the first climb up Point Mugu, I passed Shawna, and continued to push the pace from there. Much of the first 20 miles felt too fast, but I couldn't seem to back off the pace, and kept pushing.  Around mile 18 Tommy, another favorite, caught up to me on one of the many fun descents and didn't want by, so I continued to set the pace, although now with a little pressure to not impede his progress so pushed it a bit hard into the aid station (mile 19.3).  I was hurting at this point, and didn't really even notice the fact that I was surrounded by super heroes.  How does one miss that important point?

Some of the Super Heroes at Danielson Ranch AS (19.3). I'm not sure who these characters are (a giraffe superhero?) but the more traditional Wonder Woman/Superman were also there.  How I ran through all of this without even realizing that were super heroes present is hard to explain, except that it was the start of my only major bonk. Photo by Jack Rosenfeld.
I followed Tommy out of the aid station after an emergency pit stop, but at a much slower pace and lost him quickly. The next several miles were the long climb up Sandstone Peak (roughly 7 miles). It looked like the day could turn into a slog as it felt a little like I'd just raced a half marathon.  Mark passed me on this climb, and he passed me like I was standing still.  It was a ~6 mile climb, and quite runnable, although I was walking at this point.  He commented that I had taken off at a blistering pace.  Yep, probably a bit too blistering.  I continued to slog, running when I could, which wasn't that often.  This section of the course was gorgeous, with great views of surrounding mountains and the ocean in the distance, and really cool rock formations, like the butt crack rock, which was pretty hard to miss.  The climb eventually ended, and Jimmy caught me as I ran back towards him, second guessing a turn.  I had some confusion at one of the intersections marked with arrows that weren't ours.  I probably spent 3 or 4 minutes standing and then proceeding and then returning to question the turn again.  He commented that "the girls" were a couple minutes back.  Crap.  I was surprised I hadn't yet been caught by anyone as slowly as I'd ascended the climb, and then with minutes wasted trying to decide which way to get down to the aid station.

At Yerba Buena AS I picked up my second bottle, and continued on to the turn-around.  Within a quarter mile of picking up my second bottle, I decided to drop it and pick it up on the return.  I'm simply not strong enough to carry 2 full bottles, and wanted to do it for as little of a distance as possible, and would need to carry both for the 11 mile stretch after Yerba Buena the second time through.  At the turn-around (approx mile 31) I calculated that I was about 8 minutes up on Shawna 10 or so on Meghan and Angela, so knew that I needed to keep pushing.  It was getting to be that point in the race where I had led for so long that I'd resent being passed.  I was glad that there were two big descents coming up because I was confident that I could hold my own on the downs.  By the turn-around, I was starting to feel relatively good again and everything was runnable until we started the steep climb up out of Yerba Buena. I left YB with two full bottles and downed one as quickly as I could to avoid the weight of two. Even holding on to two water bottles was driving me crazy, and I bemoaned the fact that I hadn't thought to pack a pack. Packing for a race two weeks prior while packing for a work trip at the same time leads to crappy preparation.  I tried sticking one down my bra, and it reminded me that being boob-less is a good thing, as it bounced around and annoyed me.

Surprisingly, I caught a few guys heading up the climb, including Jimmy, and then caught up to Mark on the big descent, which went on for miles and miles.  "Back from the dead," I commented as I caught up to him, and passed, although he latched on.  I really let it go on the downhill, and my shins and lower legs were starting to feel stressed as it went on for several miles.  I'm not sure how quickly legs forget how to climb and descend, but I hadn't been on a hill in my 2-weeks in Kenya, and my legs seemed to recognize that. But there were a lot of really long and bombable descents, which were hard not to bomb.
Grinding up the final climb. I always seem to be looking at my feet. Photo by Jayme Burtis.
After making the turn off the of the Sandstone Peak climb (the out-and-back section), the course starts to roll a bit while continuing generally downhill towards the last aid station (mile 45.5).  Mark and Jimmy passed me back, and I didn't have the leg speed or will to suffer to keep up.  I passed Tommy back at this point, who looked to be cramping.  The rest of the run was pretty uneventful.  I was alone, although I'd run alone almost all day except at the beginning, and a few miles with Mark and Tommy.  I tried to keep pushing, as I knew I hadn't been too far ahead at the turn-around, and, again, it sucks to lose the lead in the last 5 miles after leading for 40+ miles.  I was taking in calories well (strictly gels), for the most part, and besides some lower leg trauma from the descents, feeling pretty good.

The race finishes coming up and over a 2-mile climb, and then turns onto the Ray Miller trail for a really sweet downhill finish.  The Ray Miller trail is the first trail I ever ran on the west coast, back when I had come out to run Coyote 2 Moon, and I remembered it as stunning.  It was just as stunning as I'd remembered it, and the downhill 2-miles to the finish was fast and fun (or at least that's how I remember it a few days later--at the time, I think all of the muscles/tendons in my lower legs were on the verge of a major protest).  I finished in 8:10, 2 minutes behind Jimmy and 5+ minutes behind Mark for first chick and 6th overall.  In the end, I could have relaxed on the Ray Miller trail as Shawna (8:44), Meghan and Angela (8:51) weren't in sight, but one never knows. Felt good to know I'd put 25 minutes on them in the last 20 miles.

My quads definitely weren't ready to run downhills like that.  I was completely trashed on Sunday, and it wasn't until Wednesday morning that I was recovered enough to get in a run. I walked on Sunday, and Monday and a massage on Tuesday really helped work out the funk.  Thursday my legs felt 100% better, so it was a short but severe case of quad death.

The final downhill miles to the finish on the Ray Miller trail.  I love this trail and enjoyed every minute of it.  Photo by Jack Rosenfeld.
Overall, a great day for me, and exactly what I needed.  I stayed within my own head, wasn't afraid to race, and went after it from the start.  I'd been having some confidence issues and just feeling lackluster, in general, about where I'm at.  Life had gotten in the way and caused my mileage totals to be lower than I would hope over the past several weeks, but this left me confident that I'm in a good place, regardless.  This was a great motivator for me to show me that I am in shape, and with a good training cycle through Worlds, can throw down a great performance.  We've got a great team lined up, and I can't wait to see what we can do in Italy in April.  After Orcas I was ready to throw in the towel, but after Ray Miller I'm excited and feel like I belong on the team. I'm shooting for 7:48 at Worlds and top 10 to ensure a spot in South Korea in 2013.  There, I said it.

I highly recommend this race--great course, great aid, great weather.  There aren't many 50 milers this early in the season, when the schedule seems to be dominated by 50Ks, which I've decided I really don't much care for.  I'd guess after the favorable response it got this year, Ray Miller will fill quickly in years to come, and for good reason. Thanks to Keira and all of the volunteers out there--this one's a keeper and I can't wait for another go at it!  Southern California in February is pretty dreamy to us Oregonians (although I looked forward to returning to the cold drizzle after 2 weeks of entirely too much sun).  And to my travel companion, Meghan, many thanks for the talks and laughs, and I'm looking forward to several more destination races in 2012.

Tomorrow morning I'm off to Istanbul for a week--I'm excited to explore a new place (to me) and can't wait for some morning runs along the sea.

Sunday recovery soak in LA.  A painful day, as my quads were trashed and the jet lag/post-race combo led to about 1 hour of sleep on Saturday night.  I was dead on my feet by the time I got home late Sunday night, but it was worth it. It appears that I'm smiling here, but I think it's more of a cold water grimace. Photo by Meghan Arbogast.


Hone said...

Awesome write up. Congrats on the solid race!

Olga said...

Amy, awesome run! I think I've always been mostly in owe how much you travel, and then jump into a race and crash it. Your description makes me want to put it on my bucket list. I saw about your win from Thornley - very happy, you continue to kill it! Longevity, girl!

ultrarunnergirl said...

Hooray and congratulations on another fine race! You most definitely belong on the Worlds Team. And hilarious that you didn't notice the superheros.

Emily said...


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Hostpph said...

it is impressive that you travel a lot and it sounds pretty interesting to take Ray Miller as a preparation for the 100.

Unknown said...

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