Avalon 50M – 2013

January 12, 2013

Despite saying that I was not going to continue running ultras in consecutive months (after doing 12 in 12 months), I ended up signing up for the Avalon 50M.

Since I signed up pretty last minute, I didn’t make any particular plans for where I was going to stay… so I decided to take a chance and hope that I find a friend to stay with, but otherwise, my plan was to hang out at the start line until I started… in other words, not stay anywhere.

To do so, I packed extremely light.  I had my running clothes on, with a credit card and $40 cash in my shorts’ zip-up pocket, a High Desert 50K string backpack with my two water bottles in it (filled with powder, but not water… yet), and my Sunmart lightweight jacket (with a plastic bag with enough change to get a bus ride to and from LB port).  My house keys (as usual) were on a lanyard around my neck.

I got on LB Transit and rode one stop before realizing that I had not taken my AAA Card (which would save me $7.50 on my Catalina Flyer rate), so I got off, jogged back home, got the card, and another $1.25 for the bus (which I had basically wasted on my first partial ride).  At least I didn’t get there without my discount!

When I got to the boat terminal, I looked around to see if I recognized anybody.  (Basically 50% of the boat were Avalon 50 competitors, and I knew 1/3 of them.)  I saw Mark and Michelle, plus John Hampton, who said I could sleep on their floor.  Problem solved.

My other concern about the race was that I felt I would struggle with finishing under the 12-hour limit.  However, I remembered from last year, that there were people who started early.  I thought I would explore that option.  I felt like I might need two extra hours, just to be safe.

When I went to check in, I asked about this option, and they said I just needed to say what I wanted to do and that there would be someone at the start to see me off.  The past few years the starter had been “Darth Vader,” a good friend of mine from the Hash, but I knew that he wasn’t there this year.

For dinner, I thought we might go to the same Italian place that Laura and I went to last time, but Mark felt that carbohydrates were not the appropriate fuel for his kind of race, so we went to a mediocre Mexican place on the waterfront, and I had a burrito.  Not sure if that will be good for me.

We opted for an early night, because Mark and John will be starting at 5am, and I will be starting at 3am.  The plus is that the hotel is less than a mile from the start, but of course, the bad news is that it is again up a hill.  (The good news is that I am not leaving anything at the hotel!)

I am sleeping on the floor and they toss me the bed cover from both beds to use as a mattress-slash-cover.  It’s not that comfortable, but I am only going to be here for a few hours.  I woke up a whole bunch of times, and apparently, I also woke everyone up a bunch of times with my snoring.  Sorry.

I got up about 2am and used the facilities, but essentially I am already ready to go.  At 2:40, I jog down to the start, but there is no starter there.  I guess they are going on the trust issue, but I will be true to what I said and start at 3am.  There is one other runner here, but he leaves a few minutes before 3, and then just before 3am, two more female runners show up and we all start together.

Neither of these ladies have run this race before, so it is up to me to show them the way to go.  Ironically, I barely know this course, having run it once last year and I was following a lot of people.

For the most part, I remember how to get out of Avalon.  There are no chalk marks, but most of the intersections are self-explanatory – it is just a main road.  About a mile in, we reach the Wrigley Botanical Garden and sidle around the closed gate and continue to follow the main (now unpaved) road through and up.  It is quite serene in the darkness to see the lights of Avalon disappear behind us.

It is a little unsettling being on a trail in the dark and not really having any idea if we are on the right path. I remember from last year heading uphill for some time, without any significant downhill, but now, after passing by some radio towers, the trail seems to head downhill in a significant way.  I am convinced that we are on the wrong path.  There are a few single-track options, but I honestly do not remember ANY single-track.

The three of us discuss what to do, and we decide to back-track until we see a mark.  After about 20 minutes of back-tracking, a truck is driving on the road and tossing glow sticks out the window.  I ask whether we are on the right path (it’s pretty clear that we are), and he says that the road DOES head downhill and that we were going the right way… so now we must continue on and have wasted 40 minutes.

After the downhill section ends, it hooks back onto a paved road, and we can see the aid station that is set up, but not staffed.  Since it is still dark, none of us really needs anything except to notate that we have now covered 5.4 miles (or rather, 7.4 miles) in 2-1/2 hours.  Somewhat the advantage of starting two hours early has been eaten up by the confusion on the route.

The paved road eventually ends and becomes dirt again and there is more uphill climbing. This takes me by the Catalina Airport (perhaps the weirdest airport you’ll ever see, both remote and a weird angle on a hillside), and to Mile 12 (a staffed aid station!).  My pace is slightly better here, if only because I am not running in the dark any more, and also because I did not get lost in this section (about 15 minutes PER MILE faster).

The next section of trail goes by a few houses, a vineyard and then eventually drops into Little Harbor (basically a campsite).  This is the site of where drop bags can be put.  I am planning on leaving my jacket, blue over-shirt, and gloves here, until I return here again at Mile 33.

The road out of Little Harbor is initially flat, but then climbs for about 3 miles, and then descends for 3 miles steeply into Two Harbors.  It is in this section that I am beginning to be passed by the front-runners.  I am counting them to see the position of my friends in the scheme of things.  Mark comes through in 9th place, Dave Binder is 15th, and John Hampton is about 70th.  Mark looks like he’s in pretty good shape, but I wonder if he went out too fast.

The aid station at Two Harbors is unusual, in that you pass by it, do a LONG out-and-back to the peninsula and THEN back into the aid station.  This is probably my least favorite section because it is boring, but at least, I get to see my fellow competitors, most of which are 2 hours ahead of me.

Just past the turnaround on the peninsula (where I mark my bib with a purple “X” to prove I went all the way out (Note to self:  Carry a colored pen and turn around early.  Just kidding!).  On the way back, I see hasher Shannon (aka “First Period”) doing her first 50 miler and looking pretty fresh.

Once back through Two Harbors, now I head back, reversing course and heading back up the awful hill out of Two Harbors.  It’s hot and steep, but I try to move with authority and I end up covering the distance back to Little Harbor around 3-1/2 minutes per mile faster than on the outbound route.

At the Little Harbor aid station, I pick up my drop bag.  I have my blue cover shirt in the bag and my black jacket tied around my waist (I have to keep tabs particularly on my jacket as it has my return boat ticket in it.).  I have to keep moving because I am somewhat up against the time limit AGAIN.

From Little Harbor, the course changes and I am no longer back-tracking, but heading back in a slightly different way (if it was an identical route back, the course would be 3 or 4 miles further than 50).  Instead of a long climb out of Two Harbors, it is another descent, followed by an annoyingly difficult longer climb, with little shade.

Remember how I said that the Two Harbors peninsular section was probably my least favorite?  I take that back; the worst section is now, Middle Gulch.  There is little scenery except hills on both sides.  The general slope is uphill, but it’s hard to tell that I am going uphill except that it is tiring and hot.  The worst part is that when I think I am getting to the aid station or the turn up the hill, the road turns slightly and continues.  It’s like that nightmare where you get to the end of the hallway and realize you are at the beginning of the hallway again.

Finally, I hear some music and see signs of civilization.  It’s the Eagle’s Nest aid station.  I have a bite of buffalo burger and a can of peach nectar.  I can’t stay long because I have less than 3 hours to finish and around 12 miles to go (but have been averaging slower than 15 minutes/mile).

The course continues through more of Middle Gulch and then goes through a slightly populated section, a bald eagle sanctuary, and eventually to a paved road heading back to the ridge road.  There is a small (but welcome) aid station about a mile from the top.  I do a quick refill of my   water bottles and continue up.  I have made up a little time on the past two sections so I have 1 hour and 33 minutes to finish.

The uphill road is step but at least it is paved, which means I can get some traction and use my long legs to get to the top of the hill.  Then it is about a mile to the Haypress Aid Station (the original aid station which was not yet open when I passed it this morning).

Even though I am pressed to make the final cutoff, I have had a pretty good day.  One of the big pluses was I have just gotten my new pair of glasses, which have Transitions Lenses (which means they shade out when it’s light out.  So, instead of dealing with glare and brightness all day, it is a comfortable shade.  There is a little issue in dealing with the change in vision, but it isn’t making my dizzy, so I am good.

I don’t really need to stop at Haypress, but just continue on down the hill and run 4 miles in under 57 minutes.  My legs are pretty tight, but if I can jog or lightly gallop down the hill, I think I will be fine (considering last year I was able to cover the same distance in 41 minutes, but I felt better then).

I keep saying, ‘at least it’s downhill,’ and I maintain a decent pace.  At the same time, I am afraid that I will have to really hoof it in the last stretch if I go too slowly.

Finally, though, I get off the main part of the hill and begin heading towards the pier.  Once I get to the bottom of the hill and am on the straightaway along the water, I know I can cover the 500 yards in under 4 minutes!

I am happy to see this year that the PVC-pipe reinforced finishing sign is a good 10 feet over my head.  So, unless someone launches me across the finish line, I am certain not to clock my head on it as I finish.  I come across the finish line in 13:57:02, almost 3 minutes under the time limit.  (Of course, people continue to come in for a few more hours, including Chris Spenker, who I passed (mysteriously) twice on the course (shortcut?) and Hal Winton, 82, one of two guys who have finished every Avalon 50 save the first one (that few people ran) between 7pm and 8pm (a few hours behind me)).

Dave Binder finished in the top 20, John finished in 9:17, and Mark finished in 10:30 (faded a little bit in the second half). They are hanging out at the same Mexican restaurant, eating a burrito or something (that doesn’t appeal to me right now).  My ferry ride back is at 9pm, but since I have finished, Mark and company convince me to change my ride to the earlier ferry ($5 change fee), so I can get a car ride back with them (save the bus fare).  In the line, I run into Yen Darcy (who finished close to me, and does so in most races).

Avalon 50 has turned out to be such a boon for me, a nice 50 miler that I can finish (not necessarily easily) that’s relatively close by and with a bunch of my friends.  I wish I had done this race earlier in my ultra career, but as long as I am able, I would like to keep doing this race.

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