This post is part 2 of our recurring Chaski Race Reports series, which we'll be publishing every week.
With racing put on hold all across the world, we'll be spotlighting past races from our Chaski coaches. Week 2 is Ryan Miller's 2:14:27 marathon at California International in December of 2018, which hit the Olympic Trials A Standard for 2020.
Nothing could have prepared me for the 2018 California International Marathon, yet I was completely prepared. There wasn’t a way I could simulate the pain and the push of the final 6 miles, but I’d envisioned it every night before I shut my eyes. And nobody was going to deny me a spot on the starting line of the 2020 United States Olympic Marathon Trials, not even my stomach. 2:14.27 was the final result. Here’s how it happened…
5:10 5:11 4:57 5:05 5:05
The first mile is lost in flash of adrenaline and pounding hooves… The first couple miles draw nervous glances and easy breaths. You’re cold because you’ve been sitting in the starting corral patiently waiting for the gun to signal the start of the race after doing an abnormally short warm-up to conserve your energy. As the time draws on, you fall into a natural rhythm as you feel that pace you’ve been practicing for months on end settle down your pre-race nerves. In a race like this, with a mass of humanity surrounding you no matter how fast or how slow you are, you look for something familiar to bring you back to normality. Something to key you in, to put you in the frame of mind you had all throughout your training. Curly Guillen was that for me. We had done nearly every workout together from late September until the taper… even if we were 2,000 miles apart. We are both coached by Terry Howell out of Santa Barbara, and many days are assigned the same workouts a few time zones apart. We were both targeting the USATF Olympic Trials A Standard of under 2:15.00, and attaching ourselves together would only boost our chances of getting there.
I let loose for a short sprint. The set of elite athlete bottles were approaching shortly after the 5k mark. I put myself in front of the chase pack to obtain the best vantage point to hone in on my tall, bright green taped plastic water bottle. I swiped it with both hands as we maintained our near sub 5 minute mile pace. The 5 ounces of water mixed with a super secret carbohydrate solution sloshed around for a few seconds before I could pry the top open to guzzle it down. One sip, breath… another sip, breath… a flash of bright green went careening into the ditch on the side of the road.
Then the gang got into a groove. With Curly at the helm, we were right on pace for our goal.
5:04 5:08 5:07 5:10 5:02
Something curious began to happen. I had a side stitch, but not any normal side stitch. The uncomfortableness shot right up from the bottom left side of my stomach, a spot I’d never had experience cramping up before. As feeling pulsated, arriving for a minute or two then disappearing again, it began to dawn on me exactly what was going on. My body was beginning to signal that it needed to stop and poop. It would pulsate with a strong feeling, then go away for a few minutes. Come back even stronger, then go away for a shorter amount of time. I knew this was going to come to a head at some point. Until then though, press on…
This is the point in the race where I’m doing my best to zone out. I’m counting dots on the polka dot singlet in front of me. I’m looking out into the crowd to see if there are any dogs that look like good boys. I’m looking ahead to see if there is anywhere to take tangent and cut off a couple meters. Meanwhile, Curly continued doing the work out front on the rolling hills to keep the ball rolling towards our Olympic A Standard goal.
4:55 5:01 5:06 5:02 5:08
This is where it got real. Our pack really began throwing down with a couple miles right at or below 5 minute pace. I may have been concerned about this mid-race if I had actually set me watch to give me splits… but I knew, based on past racing experience, that living by the clock while racing doesn’t personally help me get the best out of myself. Ditch the watch and compete. That’s what brings the best out of Ryan Miller.
The long straightaways in the first half of the course give you a glimpse into what’s to come and who you are chasing. I firmly this had a lot to do with our quick splits in this section, as our chase pack could see the lead pack throughout. I haven’t heard Curly admit it yet, but I think he wanted to latch us onto that lead pack. Slowly but surely, and unexpectedly, we started closing the gap. Nothing crazy, but a few seconds per mile adds up over the course of a marathon. By mile 12 we enveloped the lead pack. It was funny to see a few of them look around surprised to see another 10 guys had made up ground to catch them all.
We hit 1:06:45 through halfway, right on target with the 1:06.30-1:07.00 my coach, Terry Howell, and I had discussed the day before. There were still 20 men in contention, an absolutely huge amount for a marathon run at this pace in the United States. And I felt fantastic except for…
5:07 5:02 5:07 5:08 5:11
MY STOMACH! Beginning at mile 2, my body started revolting against me. I didn’t highly publicize this fact to anyone except a select few family and friends immediately after the race, but becoming a “Gastro Geyser” was not part of the original race plan. When this feeling started, my immediate thought was “Whatever you do, do NOT become internet fodder for Letsrun by shitting your pants and letting it ooze down your leg.” Well, I’m 15 miles deep in a breakthrough marathon and someone’s going to have to call the clean up crew unless I find a porta potty ASAP. Luckily, as I noted throughout the first half, there was always one or two somewhere around the aid stations.
Immediately after the 25k elite athlete fluid station, I took off sprinting from the lead pack. In the near distance, I could eye my golden throne inside the light grey plastic container. I made a few seconds of a gap before reaching the door. My rational fear was that there would be spectator inside as I violently tried to rip the door open saying “just a secooooooond”. Luckily, there was not. I won’t go into all the gory details, but those 15 seconds in there were the best I felt the entire marathon. Right as I was finishing up my business, I busted out through the door. I don’t think I had pulled my shorts all the way up yet, so to all the spectators cheering around the 25k mark… sorry.
Now the hard part. I was 15 seconds down on a group running 5:00 pace in the second half of a marathon. But I wasn’t about to let a minor blip on the radar derail my dreams. I started pushing what felt like 5k effort, comfortably hard and definitely not sustainable for the next 10 miles. Upon review of the data after the race, I ran 4:35-4:40 pace for about half a mile before slowing down to 4:50 pace as I neared the lead pack again a little less than a mile later. Just as everyone was surprised when I took off sprinting earlier, I think there was even more confused looks when I was smack dab in contention before the next mile marker.
From there, we continued to roll through the 20 mile marker.
5:04 5:06 5:09 5:14 5:17 5:16
This is the point most everyone designates as the “halfway point in the marathon”. In my only other experience at the 2018 Grandma’s Marathon back in June, I was deep in the hurt locker by this point clipping 5:30 pace and holding on for dear life. Today I was feeling about as good as you can after 20 miles at 5:06 pace… breathing in complete control and muscles slowly tightening up as the fuel reserves run dry.
One of the top highlights for me in the race occurred in the middle of mile 21. In the remaining pack of 12, we still 4 rabbitPRO athletes. Brogan Austin, Anthony Costales, Jarrett Leblanc, and myself. All in the same uniform, all looking to make splash on the US road racing scene. I have this distinct vision stuck in my mind where the 4 of us are running in diamond pattern. All strong, all in the same black and blue accented uniform, all running together. It was just a neat feeling I hadn’t had since the high school and college days of rolling with a high level team on the biggest stage. I was already proud that we had made it this far. And we had a great opportunity to really put rabbit and ourselves on the map in the remaining 5 miles.
At mile 22, I was the first to slip. The hamstrings were starting to go. There was a brief acceleration in the lead to 5:00 pace and I couldn’t match it. Very very slowly, I lost a stride and then another. I did my best to relax everything. The shoulders, breathing, face, core. But my body was out of fuel and just couldn’t push any harder. I watched them move into the distance ahead of me and one by one others fell off the lead pace. I was zoned in on getting to the finish without slowing down too much, but my mind was also with my teammates who remained ahead. I was hoping one of them would be the last to break.
5:20 pace to the finish
There is almost nothing like the finish straight in a marathon. You’ve been to battle and you’ve come out on the other side. Even if you’re scared and beaten, you made it. I knew I would achieve my goal as soon as I turned on the last 100 meter straightaway and saw the clock. 2:14.10 – 2:14.11… I couldn’t help but smile the entire way in. A decade in the making. My mind flashed through the disappointments. The near misses, the appendectomy in 2016. My wife Lacie, our friend Jessica, and both of our parents screamed with pure joy as I threw my fist in the air through the finish line. 2:14.27, a 2020 United States Olympic Marathon Trials Qualifier, and the Olympic A Standard of sub 2:15.00. What a race.
No one puts forth an effort like this all by themselves. To Lacie, thank you for being the rock I can consistently count on, cooking me countless dinners after late night doubles, hearing out my complaints for all the little niggles, and getting me to bed earlier than I ever thought possible. To my mom and dad, thanks for always encouraging me and giving me every opportunity to be successful while chasing my dreams. To Dave, Ronessa, and Jessica, it means the world to me that y’all would travel halfway across the country to see me run by 3 times. To my rabbit teammates, you guys consistently raise the bar and push me to be the best I can be. I’m proud to wear the same uniform as each of you and the amazing results we put on display in Sacramento. Especially my roommate Brogan… YOU’RE THE NATIONAL FREAKIN’ CHAMPION MAN!!!!! Big BIG thank you to my sponsors rabbit, Klean Athlete, and Nuun Hydration, without whom I would have been competing naked and utterly dehydrated. And to the coach who has been unlike any other I’ve worked with in my short career so far. Terry Howell, you are amazing. The amount of time, thought, and love you put into developing us as runners is second to none. It’s been unbelievable to see how all of us have developed under your guidance. Thank you for being a mentor and friend to me. I cannot wait to see what other heights we reach working together. #RyanMiller