January 7, 2017
Excited to be heading to Catalina Island once more to run the Avalon 50M, my fifth time!
I’ve heard that if you complete the race 5 times, you get a special plaque, so I have made plans to stay an extra night for the banquet. Most of my friends are not staying over, but an AREC guy that I have run with on a few occasions has said that I can stay at his mom and stepdad’s place on Saturday night.
Looking forward to seeing a bunch of my ultra friends, the beautiful island (hope the weather cooperates), and to be inspired by Legacy finisher Hal Winton (curious as to when he will be starting this year). I also look forward to see who will be on my boat ride over. Laura and Angela took an earlier boat over, but I don’t usually like to walk around a lot prior to running 50 miles.
I do my usual trick of riding the Long Beach bus from up the street all the way to Catalina Landing and packing super light (as in book to read, string backpack, lightweight jacket, and water bottles). I think I definitely freak people out, especially when they have suitcases and I have not much.
Once at the terminal, I spot Kathryn Buchan-Varden, who I met last year, who is both a hasher and a 14-time Avalon finisher. She is good friends with my friend, Darcie, who used to run with AREC and who I stayed with last year at her home in Utah when I attempted the disastrous North Face Challenge 50 miler. She is hanging out in the restaurant with a couple of her Sacramento-area friends (she lives in Arizona now but did spend some time in Northern California). Her friend Teresa will run the 50K tomorrow (a newly added distance to compel friends to run or old-timers to continue running) for her first 50K. We are telling her all about the course (trying to set her mind at ease).
One thing that comes out in conversation is that Teresa did her Plastic Surgery residency at UC Davis in 1996. I worked as an Administrative Assistant for Plastic Surgery Division at UC Davis Med School from October 1994 to December 1995. So… we weren’t there at the same time, but we do know a lot of the same people and she gave me some updates on doctors who were no longer there (left or died). Small world!
Darcie, her sister, and son, Logan, showed up not longer afterwards. Kathryn and Darcie’s family made arrangements to rent a house for the weekend. (Might be a good idea if I go again next year.) I enjoy hanging with them, so we all ride the boat together.
When we get to Avalon, I stick with them because I will be meeting up with Angela and Stephanie later, and we are just having some nice conversations. Hanging with Kathryn and Darcie just means going and picking up the house key, getting stuff set up in the house, going to Vons to pick up some supplies (“Mini-Vons”), and just biding time until the site opens up for bib pick-up.
The usual suspects are handing out bibs and shirts and collecting money (pretty much all my old-timey hasher buddies) and I do notice, at this time, that my name is misspelled on the bib. I hope that this doesn’t mean that they won’t have a plaque for me at the banquet!
I do hang around for a while just waiting for Stephanie and Angela to show up (after all, they are my roommates for tonight and I don’t want a repeat of last year’s sneaking into someone’s room because I couldn’t find someone). I spot all sorts of friends in the queue, including Laura and Beth. Lots of people recognize me… for some reason.
I do find the gals (phew) and Laura is with them as well. Seems that her hotel fell through or closed, and so she is also staying with us. Going to be a tight fit. They have already eaten, and the restaurant that we like is currently closed, so I wander around a bit trying to find something to my liking that is reasonably priced. Down the street from the bib pick-up at the Metropole Hotel is a new-ish Panini restaurant. It’s deserted but the food inside looks good and the cook is juicing a zillion carrots so I get some dinner.
I hike up the street to the hotel and we have to go in staggered because really only 2 people are supposed to be in the room. It’s a small room with a single twin bed inside. I am 100% on the floor with Stephanie, and Laura and Angela are in the bed.
As we are settling in, Angela gets a call from Alan that he is on the last boat and will not make it in time for bib pick-up, so could I go down and pick it up for him?
Ugh. So, I hike back down the hill, and explain that I am picking up a bib and shirt for another runner. This turns out not to be a problem… except for the fact that I picked up a 50M shirt (and he’s doing the 50K) and I didn’t pick up his banquet ticket. I cart his stuff back up the hill and leave it at the front desk for him to pick up when he arrives later.
Now finally we can settle in for a restive night’s sleep (Hope nobody has to go the bathroom as they will have to step over me to do so.).
I wake up before Angela and Laura’s alarm goes off at 1:30am (they are planning to start at 2) and they are a little sluggish to say the least, but do get out the door in time to meet Yen Darcy a little before 2am at the pier.
Since I am not starting until 4am and Stephanie until 5am (an early 50K start), we take the opportunity to utilize the bed for 2 hours. Ah, blissful nap.
A little before 4am, I stumble down to the pier for the early start. There is a good group of people here, including Kathryn. I am surprised to see her, but like me, just likes to be on the safe side, in case there are any problems with the day, especially the expected rain.
As we start off down the street (or UP the street, since there is a slight incline), it does start to rain lightly, enough to blur my vision through my misty glasses.
We sidle around the locked turnstile into the Wrigley Gardens and then make sure that we go the correct direction at the crossroads (Dang! Third year in a row where I went the wrong direction!) 14-time finisher Kathryn doesn’t go the right way, either. We don’t waste a lot of time, but it’s just annoying.
Because it’s mostly uphill, slightly muddy, I am just walking and Kathryn takes off. I don’t have any great expectation for the day, only to finish under 13 hours or close to it. I would love to have another sub-12 hour finish, but I’ll just have to see how the day goes.
Once I get up by the radio towers, we turn and head downhill. It’s late enough that the gate is open and I don’t have to climb through the awkward hole in the center. The bad part is that the sun has not come up yet so it’s impossible to see that you are running through a mud puddle until you are in said puddle. I do my best to look for brief reflections from the moon and my headlamp and avoid most of them.
When I get to Haypress, the aid station is pretty much set up. I grab a couple orange slices and some water and continue moving. The uphill section took me 98 minutes for 5.4 miles (18 minute pace) and if I want to finish under 12 hours, I need to be around 14:30 pace.
The course is pretty much back to normal this year; we are not doing an out-and-back course, but will run by the Airport again and by the houses with the vineyards that are just before Little Harbor.
I do a little better on the road up to the airport (even though there is still a lot of uphill and I am in the pre-dawn dusky light that is hard to run in without tripping), managing 11:13/mile (and a net pace of 14:27 – pretty close to the goal time).
From the airport, there is a lot of downhill (not in the dark this year). It is runnable but pretty windy. I do my best to keep running as much as possible. At the bottom, you go through the small neighborhood. This year, there is a bunch of construction, so the ground is harshly graded, and the little hill by the vineyards seems steeper than usual.
This is also one of the longer stretches of trail between aid stations (5.6 miles) and good or bad, you can see where you are headed, but it seems to take forever. I pass by the 50K turnaround, which is just before you head down the hill into Little Harbor. This is a bummer, because Little Harbor (and the Wacko Cafe) is one of the best aid stations you will ever reach. (“It’s just over there, but I’m not going to do an extra mile downhill and back to go there.”)
From the point of the turn-around, you can start to spot Little Harbor Aid Station, but there is quite a bit of downhill on fire-roads that stretch out for quite a ways. When you finally get to the Port-A-Potties, you are virtually there.
My Foothill Hasher friend, First to Go Down is doing the number check-in. I am really excited to see her, because it’s always great to see a friend. I am also excited because I am going to leave my string backpack here until I come back in several miles. I am continuing on a good pace, maintaining 12:14/mile (netting 13:39, totally on pace for sub-12:00).
Leaving Little Harbor is a bit difficult because the entire trail is under water, meaning we have to off-road a bit to get around the super-puddle. I’m hoping that the trail becomes more clay and that will be less muddy. Otherwise, this upcoming uphill section is going to be awful.
Since the rain has been stopped for a few hours, some of the trail is drying out, but the footing is pretty limited because certain parts are more slippery. Midway up the hill is a firefighter truck and the occupant is advising runners to walk or watch their steps because a mistake could end their races. I concur. The footing is treacherous, so I walk or lightly jog as flat-footed as possible.
Once I crest the top, it’s downhill into Two Harbors. I am passed here by the lead female runner and 5 minutes later by Gisele Schaaf (in her first 50 miler). Second overall would be pretty cool for Gisele in her debut.
This section is technically the longest section between aid stations, except that you do pass by the aid station on your first pass and then come back 2 miles later (so on the charts, it’s 7.4 miles between aid, but really it’s 5.4 and then 2.0). My first year here I didn’t realize that and so thought was running really well, but actually, I clicked the split 3 miles too early!
I grab a cup of Coke, but don’t really stop outbound and then head to the out-and-back to the isthmus. This is full of puddles as well, but also where I get to see almost everyone. Laura, Angela, and Yen are headed back as I head out. I spot Ben Gaetos (who I stayed with last year) and I stop for a picture.
I see Gisele again. By my calculations, she is about 8 minutes behind the leader. I tell her the time gap and she asks me, “How does she look?” I want to say something encouraging like, “She’s falling apart! You’ve got this!” but I am honest in saying that she looked really good and it will be quite a battle to catch up.
I finally get to the turn-around (I HATE this section – endless and slightly uphill.), and start heading back. I see Beth (from the hash) and Linda Dewees (my buddy from Bishop and Ridgecrest). I jog the best I can back to the aid station, but I am just feeling sluggish and not fast. I get to Mile 26.0 in 6:30 (or a section pace of 18:14 and a net pace of 15:00 – darn!).
Now I start the climb back out of Two Harbors. Even though the hill is steep, I prefer this kind of hill to the slow death inclines I just went through. This is also the section where you don’t see a lot of people coming down the hill – these are the people that will struggle to make the cut-offs the rest of the way (and will possibly be leapfrogged forward by van).
I feel like I made good time going up the hill and passed a number of people who can’t walk as fast or have stubby little legs. On the downhill, of course, I am being passed left and right by pretty much everyone. Most folks have headphones on, so I can’t get in any decent conversations.
One gal just blows by me, though when she does, one of her gloves that is tucked into her Camelbak flies out. I yell to her, but obviously, she can’t hear me; otherwise, we would have chatted. I stop and pick up her glove and try to run it to her, but I cannot muster enough energy to run that fast. I do get the next person to pass me to run it up to her. (Hope she didn’t MEAN to do that.)
It’s quite windy on the downhill and I am not getting a lot of running in. It’s quite annoying, because if I am just walking, that will definitely affect my ability to finish under 12 hours. At least the ground is no longer slippery mud, but it is stiff adobe. Each has their pros and cons. Soft mud would feel good right about now, but I do have my Hokas for the extra padding at least.
I get back to Little Harbor in 1:43 (a 15:50 pace and now slowed back over 15 minutes per mile net pace). Looks unlikely that I will break 12 hours now.
I edge around the puddle and go retrieve my string backpack so I will have it when I get back to the finish. Since we are now into the latter half of the race (mileage here is 32.5), aid stations are offering various bonuses to the runners.
Here I get a nice mimosa (mostly orange juice per my request) and I decide that I would like to play one of their games this time. The choices are cattle roping and horseshoes. I don’t think I would be any good at (stationary plastic cow) roping, but I can throw stuff, so I do try the horseshoes.
I have to have them handed to me because I can’t bend all the way over, and the best I can muster is getting one within a horseshoe’s length of the post. Still, it was fun to try.
Now I head out of Little Harbor, and it’s back on that aforementioned winding, endless fire-road (now uphill instead of downhill). A bison has been spotted nearby the aid station – close enough to see, far away enough to not be dangerous. Cool wilderness.
I spot Beth behind me but she hasn’t caught me yet. She must be struggling a bit, too (though she did start an hour after me, so I can’t be too excited). When I finally climb out of Little Harbor and get by the 50K turn-around Aid Station, we turn in a different direction and head downhill briefly, but pretty much immediately start heading uphill again.
When it finally flattens out (but it really is a slow uphill climb), that means that I am getting close to Eagle’s Nest Aid Station (and more fun?). I pass Hal Winton just before I get into the aid station. He looks pretty spry for an 85 year-old runner (but he did start about 12 hours before me) and he gives me a nice strong handshake.
I go back and forth between several people. Someone runs past me, I walk past them when they fade. I think it’s gratifying for me and annoying for them. There are a few that I thought were far ahead of me that I essentially catch up to at Eagle’s Nest.
I managed a 14:06 average pace on this section, so I reward myself with half of a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and a chunk of buffalo burger. Mmm.
Now I got some more uphill to the Pumphouse Hill Aid Station. My feet are really hurting, most notably on the tops of my feet. I stop to try and adjust my shoes. When I loosen the laces, I realize that I had tied them so tight, the tongue was pinching my foot (the Hoka tongue is flat and can pinch unlike most other shoe tongues). Once I loosened it, it felt bad for a while because I have a blood blister on the tops of my feet and it hurts! But it started to feel better after a while. (This may be my last go-round with the Hokas because they have caused me all types of problems.)
I just keep walking and walking, walking and walking. Right around the Bald Eagle Preserve, I walk for a while with a Chinese guy who is walking also. We have a nice conversation and the good news is that I may see him at other races because he is local – Jeff Liu. Soon enough, he becomes bored with the pedantic pace and starts jogging. Bye. (I may well still catch him up later, though.)
Despite the uphill and all walking, I do get to the Pumphouse AS in a 15:38 pace and am maintaining a close to 15:00/mile pace for the race. I know there is the paved downhill section coming up in a few miles, but I don’t feel like I have the same gumption to break 12:00 as I did a few years ago (when I thought I would get a non-finish if I didn’t finish under 12:00).
This last bit of trail up to the top is quite steep and it is all I can do to just maintain a comfortable walking pace. I can see Jeff, but cannot catch him.
Now it is a mostly downhill section on paved road back to Haypress Aid Station (but no puddles and not in the dark). As it has been in the past, the aid station is abandoned but there is still some water containers available for refilling water bottles if necessary. I don’t really stop so I can continue any forward downhill momentum I have.
My first year here, I got to Haypress in 11:03 and felt I wouldn’t break 12:00 unless I really pushed the pace downhill, but I did manage to do the last 4 miles in 39 minutes. Today, I am here in 11:22. I don’t feel like I have 39 minutes in me, and even then, I would not break 12 hours. I think I should just do what I can do. (That’s always the best anyway.)
The part leading up to the downhill is uphill anyway and I don’t have anything left for that. And, once I get onto the downhill, I simply don’t feel like running at all. The angle’s gonna have to be more sufficiently downhill for me to do that.
I catch up with another runner who started earlier than me and we walk and talk together for a bit. He pushes his pace a little bit so we can continue talking. I guess I’m not going too slow.
But when I start getting a little momentum going, I do end up starting to run and leaving him in the dust. I start recognizing landmarks and all of it is on a significant downhill slope, especially that last downhill before I run along the promenade to the finish.
I’m definitely not breaking 12 hours, but if I push it a bit, I can break 12:20, and I do so in 12:19:41, triumphantly holding up my open palm, signifying my 5th Avalon 50 miler finish.
I waited around for awhile and watched people finish, but eventually, I walked with Alan down to his folks’ place and had a nice shower before we headed out to the Banquet.
So, Alan’s stepdad drove us to the banquet which was located on the other side of the Casino. I guess it would have been a nice scenic walk, but I didn’t feel like a nice scenic walk anymore.
The banquet food was excellent, lots of good choices, and plentiful fruit and water. They played a slide show that had pictures from THIS year, and then the various speakers talked about the history of the race and people that inspired them, plus announced the top fundraisers (who get free entries and boat rides and more).
Now, they announced, the five-year, the ten-year, and the fifteen-year award winners. They said they had a lot of plaques that had not ever been distributed, so they were going to read all those names. I heard names of people who died some time ago (of whom I had no idea that they ran 5 Avalon 50s) and people who are no longer running, but I didn’t hear my name.
As for Kathryn, finishing her 15th, they announced that she would receive her 10th plaque (which I think she received 4 years ago). So, a bit of a mess. I was told that I would receive my plaque by mail sometime in the future (a few weeks later), so I assume that she got her jacket then, also. Although I enjoyed the banquet, I went specifically to receive my plaque, but no one received their plaque for 2017, so I was a bit annoyed.
Alan tried to call his stepdad for a ride back but there was no cellphone coverage, so we walked until we got back into range. And it was a nice scenic walk until the truck-let found us and I was ready to sit down again.
I ended up sleeping in the recliner, a throwback to when I first moved to Long Beach and spent most nights sleeping in my recliner. I was quite comfortable, because I am used to that kind of night’s rest.
In the morning, we managed to get up in time for the Photo. I had seen the photo, but figured they took the picture before I could manage to finish. Truth is, they take the photo on the following morning, and only once was I actually there the next day (but slept in or didn’t know about it).
Kathryn and I have plans to keep running Avalon 50M until I receive my 15th finish jacket. By then, I will be 60 years old! Here’s to hoping that my body will still be able to handle ultras until then!