Part I: Ray Miller 50K
A two part series for a very fun weekend.
I was reminded this weekend of how lucky I am to have these mountains so close to home. Only a 45 minute drive away, and I’m instantly transported out of the stereotypical L.A. smog and traffic. Trail running has really taken me to so many places I have never dreamed of going (flashback Wonderland). Such remote, stunning scenery that most people will never get to experience. I never considered myself a nature girl, growing up in L.A., I worshiped the latest fashion trends and if I wanted to workout, I’ll don my Juicy sweatpants and head to the gym. However, these past 3 years has really changed my outlook on the type of lifestyle I want for myself and suddenly, catching up on the latest celebrity gossip over an elliptical wasn’t so exciting anymore. I relished every moment this weekend had to offer and cherished every mile I was able to run. Instead of dreading the back to back 50K’s, I really enjoyed the overall experience more than anything. I didn’t care too much about my finishing time, just as long as I finished and came out injury free. Instead I focused on my surroundings, breathed in the fresh air, watched my feet pad the soft dirt, listened to the birds chirp in the morning, watched all the different bugs crawl on the floor and even enjoyed letting the prickly brushes and plants nick my arms and legs as I ran by them.
Maybe it was this newfound ‘energy’ that allowed my legs to carry me through 65 miles on the trails this weekend.
Saturday was the inaugural Ray Miller 50/50 race. It’s a beautiful trail race running on scenic trails in some of the most remote parts of the Santa Monica Mountains Backcountry. Littered with mostly single track trails and sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, it was a runner’s paradise. There was the option of running the 50K or 50 Miles distance. Since I had already signed up for La Jolla Canyon 50K the next day before I won this entry, I stuck with the 50K option. 80 miles over one weekend might be a little much. The start was the same for both distance, which was nice since most of my friends were running the 50 Miles and I was able to run with them for most of the way before the course split off at Mile 22.
I loved how the course had a little bit of everything, ocean views, shaded canyon floors, mostly single track, rocky terrain, creek crossing and switchbacks. Nothing was repeated which made for a very fun and interesting course. I thought I knew the trails pretty well there, but apparently not! I haven’t been on most of the trails the course took us on so every new trail was new and exciting for me.
We started in the dark at 6AM from La Jolla Canyon to Mugu Peak trail. It bottle-necked 200 ft in because the trail narrowed into a singletrack trail with lots of rocks to climb over. It’s a pretty tough start because it is mostly uphill as we climbed up to Point Mugu Peak (picture above) where we saw views of the Pacific Ocean and PCH down below. I knew this trail pretty well because I’ve done it numerous times before, but each time the views really take your breath away especially after climbing so much. We hit the first aid station at Mile 6 where I grabbed a salt pill and chugged on. From here we headed up Guadalasca Trail which is a winding descent drop into Wood Canyon Trail. I LOVED this trail, single track, a little technical but most importantly, downhill. My friend, Pedro caught up to me during this point as we made our way down this trail. It scared me how far down we were going, because what goes down must always come up and I knew Hell Hill was right after this. We reached the base of Hell Hill and began our steep climb. Pretty much everyone around us slowed to a fast hike. The hill wasn’t as bad as I remembered, maybe it was partly due to the friends I had accompany me during this stretch. The hill was steep, but fairly short. and before I knew it, we were at the top and back at the first aid station.
I mainly stuck to GU and salt pill every hour with some electrolyte drink and water. I figured in a 50K, I don’t need any “real food” and GU’s go down easy and sit well in my stomach. We picked up the Backbone Trail down to Sycamore Canyon and I was dreading this section because I thought we would be running on the boring flat road to Danielson Ranch, but surprisingly the course took us on the Coyote Trail, a single track steep uphill climb. I have never been on this trail before and asked Pedro what the trail was like. Gradual uphill? He said it reminded him of the Los Pinos trail and there would be a lot of false tops and to not get my hopes up because the trail would soon start ascending rapidly. And boy did it ascend…fast. It was a much tougher climb than Hell Hill because it was steeper and longer. He was right about the false tops so I tried not to look ahead too much because I would see runners at what seemed like the peak of the mountain and then disappear. Once I reached that point, we would run down for a bit then go up again. When we finally reached the top, I looked down from the mountain and saw a small trail that looked like it might be fun to do sometime. Pedro said that was Hell Hill I was looking at. It seemed like a mini hill after this monstrous climb. When we finally did reach the top, we crossed a paved road to the junction to the Hidden Pond Trail to Danielson Ranch. My friend, Jack, was the caption of this aid and it was such a nice sight to see so many supportive friends out there volunteering and helping out. This was Mile 19 and everything at the aid looked so good. I ate a couple slices of orange juice and pretzels, drank a cup of coke and electrolyte. I later regretted this decision as mixing water, sports drink and soda as it didn’t sit well in my stomach.
We headed up the Old Boney Trail where the 50K and 50 Milers would soon split off at Mile 22. After the split, the number of runners really thinned down. I didn’t see a single person until the next aid at Mile 25.5. We ran through Serrano Valley which was incredible, crossed a couple creeks and made it to the next aid which my friend Helen was captain of.
Can you guess what their theme was?
A well stocked aid station!
I was a little out of it by this time and literally zoned out when I got to the aid. I couldn’t think of what I wanted and stood there just staring at all this great spread in front of me. This is also probably why I got off course right after I left this aid because I didn’t hear them say that it would be a right turn up ahead.
Following the theme of always getting lost on a well marked course, I ran along the fireroad for a little more than a mile before I hit Sycamore campground. I hadn’t seen a flag in a while and knew we had missed a turn. A guy followed me and he said we were suppose to take a right somewhere. We asked the ranger how to get back to Ray Miller and she said the easiest way would be to go on PCH. Sounded tempting but we wanted to get back on course which meant retracing our steps back towards the aid station. I was really frustrated at this point and borderline pissed. I hated that I was going to be running more than I wanted to and kept cursing out loud that I didn’t need anymore miles. Even though it turned out only to be 2 extra miles, it seemed like a big deal at the time. I was also pissed that my time would be later than if I hadn’t made the wrong turn. I think my outrage must have scared the guy who followed me because he kept his distance for the rest of the race.
We finally saw the markers to turn on the trail, and I was almost hoping the trail was hidden and not well marked. But in fact there was probably 20 hot pink flags and chalk on the floor to signal a turn. Runners saw us coming in from the opposite direction and knew we had missed the turn. They shouted back to the other runners to make a sharp right.
We got back on course and started the final climb up Fireline trail back to the Overlook. By now, I was still grouchy and the long switchbacks didn’t make it any better. I was tired and thinking about the 50K I had to do the next day. In fact I would have to climb this horrendous hill again tomorrow, yay.
I tried my best not to think about tomorrow and just wanted to get through today. I saw runners cramping up along this climb and having to sit down on the trail. When I finally reached the top looking like hell, of course there was a photographer hidden in the bushes taking pictures of everyone. Half wanting to flick him off, but I put on my best fake cheesy smile, threw up a gansta sign and continued on. We still had an uphill from here before we reached the downhill Ray Miller trail. I caught up to woman who would run a few steps before having to stop to walk. I asked if she was taking salt and she said she did at the last aid, and asked if she was supposed to take it before? I told her she should’ve been taking salt every hour from the start but to take it easy because we would reach the downhill soon. When I finally saw the sign for the Ray Miller trail, I was so relieved.
This trail is the best 2.5 mile downhill stretch ever. It winds and turns like a roller coaster and you can see down the mountain all the runners in front of you. As a downhill runner, this was like paradise for me. My legs forgot it had 30+ miles on them and let momentum take me down the hill. I cruised and found myself going faster and faster, until I saw this and screeched to a stop.
Snakes usually like to come out and
play tan on nice sunny days. I let this guy slither back into the bush before proceeding on. Not long after, I saw the parking lot where the finish line was. I thought we would have to run on the pavement for a bit before crossing the finish, but was surprised when Kiera was standing right at the exit of the trail head and gave me a medal.
Elevation Gain: 6,154 ft
Total time: 6:45