Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Tale of Two Races. The Ray Miller 50k/Surf City Half: The L.A. Double

After the race with (from R) Tom, Craig, Jeremy, the author, and of course, Sofia.

  I'd been looking for a trail race to run in the U.S. with my brother-in-law Jeremy for some time, and the Ray Miller 50/50 was the perfect choice: beautiful trails, fantastic organization and it fell on a long weekend. However, when I first mentioned it to Jeremy he had already signed up for the Surf-City Half Marathon, sort of a tradition for him and his running partners, Craig and Tom. Additionally, my sister, Meggin, was running the half this year as well. Presented with this piece of news, I pondered for about 45 seconds and then stumbled on the obvious solution: let's run both!
The LA Double was born.

  It would be a study in contrasts. The Ray Miller race is in its second year, but has already established itself as a go-to early season race that is run by Kiera Henninger. Impeccable course marking, friendly and helpful volunteers (I was running mid-pack but as soon as I arrived at the first aid station I was greeted by a volunteer asking me "What do you need?" with a sense of urgency that one would expect guys like Dylan Bowman and Timothy Olson --who were running the 50 mile race-- to be received with) The trail was beautiful, varied singletrack with six climbs adding up to just over 6,000 feet for the 50k version of the race. All 300 spots were sold by January 1.
  The Surf-City half in Huntington beach is also well-attended. A couple thousand folks run the marathon, but the real draw is the half: nearly 20,000 runners run up and down the flat road that runs right along the Pacific Ocean. Bands along the way playing beach-themed tunes. Water/sports drink every mile. Lots of personalized t-shirts and carefully prepped outfits. I saw some folks so decked out with hydration packs, water belts and other gear that they looked like they were doing a self-supported run on the John Muir Trail.

Pacific Ocean Sunrise about an hour into the race at the Ray Miller 50/50
Gear check the day before the race
At the 6:00am start
 The alarm was set for 3:45, but I was already moving around at about 3:30 getting ready. We arrived at the race with plenty of time, especially considering the breezy check-in (30 seconds) and two-minute wait for bathrooms. The race director counted 1-2-3 go, and we were off. I was in no hurry for a couple of reasons. One, it was my first crack at the 50k distance and two, I knew that the course narrowed from two-track to a singletrack climb very quickly. The line-up formed quickly and we hiked at steady clip for most of the first climb. Jeremy stayed with me at this point, as I had a headlamp, but he began to pull away, as I knew he would as we approached the top of this climb. The sun began to rise and I felt great.

  My goal for this race was to find a pace that did not feel too difficult and walk the first three climbs and run the final two if I felt good. Once the runners got sorted out a bit I found myself in a sort of "group" where I would be passed on the downhills and gain my position back on the climbs. Unlike the previous (and shorter races) that I have been in, everyone around me seemed to know what they were doing. No one was breathing heavily or bombing the downhills at silly paces. I focused on drinking, eating my GUs and just enjoying the scenery. I stopped to snap photos. As we hit the third major climb I still felt great and I was impatient and tired of being passed on the downs by the same runners, so I deviated from my plan and ran up most of the climb. 

Tim Olson, charging up the hill behind me.  It's probably not necessary to clarify that he was running the 50 Mile race and I was running the 50k. From this point on I'm just going to stick with this version of events: I had a great race but Tim Olson blew by me at kilometer 45 and I just couldn't hang on.
   The only way I can explain what is was like to see Bowman and Olson charging up that hill with 47 miles on their legs is to compare it to an experience I had in high school when I lived in Tokyo: I went to see a professional tennis match (Ivan Lendl vs. Mats Wilander) and my friend Troy Palmer conned our way down to the family/coaches section using his fluent Japanese and personal charm. We were 20 feet away or so from Lendl and while I had seen him on television, nothing had prepared me for the jaw-dropping power of his forehand in real life. 
 Watching Bowman and and Olson move up that hill brought me back to Lendl's forehand. 
  It also brought me back to the fact that I had a bit of a climb left and then the downhill to the finish. I put away the camera and got it done, finishing strong and feeling good. Here's the Garmin Data.

After the race I hung out for a while before heading down the coast to Huntington Beach. I was looking forward to chilling in the Governor's Suite that Jeremy's friend Craig had hooked us up with, but the thought of running 13 flat pavement miles on tired legs did not have me too worked up for the race. I choose to put it out of mind and enjoy the evening hanging out with Jeremy, Tom and Craig. 
  There is not much scenery to look at during a half-marathon. I read t-shirts [two favorites: "wedding dress here I come" and "Bye-bye Baby Fat] and was reminded that the USA is the undisputed personalized t-shirt capital of the world. I was on the verge of shin-splints and my knees hurt, so I ran on dirt/grass/sand whenever the option presented itself. I never could get the legs turning over too quickly, and I realized that my goal of sub-two hours was not going to happen. I never felt winded, but just couldn't move the legs any faster. Or didn't want to. 2:09.
 I drifted mentally. I dumped water on my head every mile. I wanted to kiss the woman who had a big bowl of M&M's (and I apologize for taking so many.) Later on someone had potato chips. I took another large handful and ran contented for a while. Forgot about my knees and shins for a short moment.
  Far in the distance I eyed a mountain range. Here we were, nearly 20,000 of us crowded together, running on straight, flat, unrelenting black-top: out and back.  Yesterday, 300 of us were spread out --often alone, or with two or three other runners-- in the mountains. 
Why the overwhelming preference for pavement? I don't know, but I'm done with pavement outside of the occasional 5k or 10k with my students. Back to the trail.

Room with a view

Meggin: "why let a broken rib stop me?"


In case you had any doubts I was really in Southern California
video of the finish line.

Final thoughts: I was worried about by fitness for the Ray Miller as I was light on long-runs and had lost a couple weeks in training: one to a calf issues and another to the flu. It didn't seem to matter much. On May 25 I am running the Jemez 50, which is going to be a huge step up, both in distance and elevation. My plan is to run the local 63k Carrera de Resistancia in preparation for that, as it falls on April 27. 

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