January 9, 2016
After a one-year hiatus from this race (because I was told no early starts), I am back for my 4th attempt (3 finishes out of 3, to clarify).
As per my usual, I have vague plans about who I am going to stay with. My tentative plan is to meet up with Greg W., who is new to AREC, and said that I could probably stay with him and his parents, once I meet up with him on the island.
My back-up plan is to hang around near the start until I am ready to go. Like Year Two, I have a string backpack (with my water bottles, a small paperback, and headlamp), I am wearing all of my running clothes, plus my Tyvek jacket, hooded Nike running shirt, my Moeben sleeves, and my “racing” shirt. I guess I can hang out in a bar until I leave.
This year, I am told, there is an official early start of 4am, but they don’t want anyone starting before that. This has to do with liability and the fact that the Island Conservation doesn’t want people in the interior that they don’t know about. I get it. I am hoping to find Greg, but otherwise, I am going to sneak off with the midnight starters.
There is also some concern about the weather, because the forecast (for Long Beach, at least) is for torrential rains. I am not sure how the island will be if it is raining torrentially, nor how awful the boat ride may be. At least, when I leave at 2pm, it is not raining in Long Beach, so that bodes well for the ride out.
While I am waiting in line to get on the boat, I see some people I recognize, particularly Ben Gaetos, and his Filipino “gang:” Deo, Rowell, and Del. I know Deo tangentially (I mean, we have met before, but I usually hear more about his exploits than experience them with him… plus, we have the same birthday). I have known Ben from the Hash for several years, and I always seem to see him in the local ultras (he’s usually several hours ahead of me and we pass on the out-and-backs). They are all wearing “FURT” hats (Filipino Ultra Racing Team) and we all sit together on the boat ride. I think Del and Rowell may be running their first Avalon.
I look for Greg on the boat, but maybe he told me that he is on a later boat; I don’t remember, but I am kind of hoping that I find him, because I may have to spend several hours in the cold if I do not.
I decide that once I get to Avalon, I am going straight to check-in, as that will be my best hope for finding Greg, as everyone needs to check-in first.
I am there before check-in starts, so I chat it up with my friends Mary Ann and Tom O’Hara (aka V8 and See More Buns) who are volunteering. Also there is Gary Hilliard, the RD from Mt. Disappointment. The race had been on hiatus a few years after Gary got into a motorcycle accident. We had a nice chat about ultras and running in general while everything gets set up inside.
I get checked in and mention that I am going to take the 4am early start (but do not say anything about possibly starting earlier so as to not cause strife from the Avalon RD). I am hoping to find my friend and not have any reason to start earlier.
Once I get my bib and pin it on, I plant myself in the drop bag drop off section with the hope that I find Greg. This is a great spot as I get to chat it up with a number of folks who are worried about finishing. I see some other ultratall humans (like a 6’6″ female and 6’9″ male) but they turn out to be the ultra-supportive grandkids of an older lady attempting the 50 miler. I also chat with an Asian pair (of friends) who have really huge drop bags (like 10-gallon garbage bags full of stuff) – what they need is beyond me. I think they are also taking the 4am start.
I think that I see Greg and walk up to him and say, “Hey, Greg. Greg!!” but I don’t get a response. Maybe that wasn’t Greg, but I don’t spot anyone else that looks remotely like him. Either it was Greg and he was oblivious (or going deaf), he is going to check in tomorrow morning, or he isn’t here after all. Hmm. What are my options (well, plan B, I guess)?
I wander around Avalon (boy, is it cold out!) hoping that I will find him at the restaurant that everyone always eats at, but it is closed for repairs. I have also eaten nothing, so roam around looking for something that I might like. When I peer in the window of the “fast food” version of the Italian place that is closed, I see Ben and gang. I think that I might chat with them before I wander around to find my hangout for the night (or maybe eat there if the line goes down a bit).
They ask if I have seen my friend and I say, “No.” They tell me that their place is super-small (two twin beds for four people) but they will sneak me in, if possible. Such a nice offer.
As promised, it is a really small place, even for (relatively) small Filipino dudes. There is a little space for me where I can lie on the floor between a dresser and the door. The floor is hard and cold, but it is a fair bit warmer than being outside in 50-degree weather. They even dig around in the dresser and find an extra pillow and bed cover, so I do have something a little softer to sleep on. I just hope that I do not snore and keep them all awake (as I did with Mark, Michelle, and John 3 years ago).
I am not certain that I am sleeping at all. I know that I have closed my eyes and it is dark in the room, and hopefully that will be enough. Part of this is that I never sleep well before a race and the other part is that I think all four of them are snoring loudly. At least that means that I am not keeping them awake (though it is possible that I wake them up with my 3:15 alarm, when I wake up to go the bathroom and sneak off for the starting line).
A few folks have started prior to the early start. We had received notice that the Legacy runner (Hal Winton, age 87) and his “pacer,” Gary Hilliard started at 5pm on Friday. The other Legacy runner, a fellow from Washington State is a no-show (something about his wife being very sick). A few of my hash friends, including Chris Spenker and Bob Spears, took the midnight start. Chris has told me that either he doesn’t display his race number or gets a permit so that there is no attached liability to the race.
There is a good-sized crowd for the 4am start. I recognize a number of the people I talked with at the check-in, including the grandmother with the ultratall grandkids, the Asian friends (Blue Kusaka and Carly Wooster).
There is also a 50-something lady from Foothill Ranch, named Wilma, who is concerned about finishing. She has run both the Eco Marathon and Catalina Marathons, but the fastest of the two was 6-1/2 hours. She fears that doesn’t translate to a sub-12:00 finish and thus is starting at 4am.
As we start out, even though I am not at the front of the people (because I am walking the uphills), people look to me because I have run the course before. I am good until we get into the Wrigley Gardens and there is an unmarked fork in the road. I guess that we go to the left, but when people start coming back from that direction saying that it ended in a fence, I decide that we probably should go the other way.
Wilma and I stay together for about 3 miles, but as the grade increases, I am struggling a bit with the climb. Yes, I have long legs, and yes, I have more mass to carry up the hill. I think she will do fine, as I am doing fine, and she is ahead of me.
I get up to Haypress in 1:48 (a 20 minute/mile pace) and the aid station is not set up yet, but they are working on it and I grab something and soldier on.
The next aid station should be the one by the airport, but there was some asbestos found on the road, so they have re-routed the course and it goes through Middle Ranch on the way out also. So, where I would still be climbing, the course now drops down by the Pumphouse and into the unending monotony of Middle Ranch. Of course, on the way out, I am fresher and there is a net downhill. Also, the ground is softer than usual because it has soaked up rain (not wet, not muddy, just right).
The pace I need to maintain to finish under 12 hours (the REAL time limit) is 14:36, and the pace to finish under 13 hours is 15:48. At the first aid station, I am a little concerned because, obviously, I just did 20 minute miles, but with this change in course (and also the total mileage dropped to 49.3 miles) and additional downhill and eliminated uphill section, I think I can pick up some time on this downhill section. I try to make sure I run when I can, even though at times, I still just want to walk, even on the downhill.
The Middle Ranch AS, at Mile 11.9, goes a bit better. I cover that section at an 11:13 pace and bring my overall average down to 15:22, within the 13-hour pace.
Now there is a little climbing, as I leave Middle Ranch and curve around to Little Harbor. The ground is a little wetter here, with actual puddles on the trail, but in most spots, it’s wide enough for everyone to run around them without having to get one’s shoes wet.
When I get to Little Harbor, I peel off my jacket, hooded shirt, and headlamp (and book), and leave them in my string backpack, which I have labeled with my number. Now I have dropped a little weight and can pick this back up when I come by here again later. I have another good paced section, getting to Mile 18.6 in 4:15, a 10:34 pace for the last section and my net pace is at 13:42, now under the 12:00 pace!
From Little Harbor to Two Harbors is one of the most difficult sections of the course. While it is not technically difficult, it does involve a long climb out of Little Harbor (and an equally long descent), followed by a mile-and-a-half out-and-back section to the isthmus. While I enjoy seeing just about everyone on this section (the people who have now passed me from the regular start, the people I ran with earlier (including Wilma), and the people behind me (heading OUT to the isthmus)), you do pass by the Two Harbors AS en route to the isthmus, giving you false hope that you are making good time, when in reality, you probably are not. I try not to stop at the AS on the way out so I do not torture myself with this unreality.
I do end up losing some time on this section, with 18:22/mile and increasing my net pace to 15:02, but I am still doing well and now have reached the halfway point (well 26.0M) in 6:31.
Now I’ve got the long climb out of Two Harbors and the descent back to Little Harbor. The good news is that this section seems shorter now that I’ve done that dumb out-and-back to the isthmus. The bad news is that I’m pretty tired and don’t feel like running downhill. I want to say that it means you’re in bad shape if you don’t want to run downhill, but I feel like I can at least stride at a decent pace.
I get back into Little Harbor at a 15:13/mile pace, basically leaving my overall pace the same (still on track to finish). I pass on playing any of the games (horseshoe toss, for one), though one of these years I should give it a go if I am on track. I do, however, take the proffered mimosa. Maybe the alcohol will addle my mind just enough to have a great finish!
I pick up my string backpack (with shirt, jacket, book, and light (Feel like I need a Bell and Candle for a complete collection)) and begin the exciting journey back through Middle Ranch. Even though it seems endless (as usual), I counted bridge crossings and landmarks on the way out to make the time pass more easily on the way back.
Probably about a mile out from the Eagle’s Nest AS, I encounter Gary and Hal. They are not moving very fast (especially given that they started 11 hours before I did and I am not moving that fast, either), but I think Hal can get another finish, hopefully in time for Gary to catch the 7:30 ferry back to the mainland.
Eagle’s Nest is one of my favorite aid stations, as they usually have hot food and beer. I have been looking forward to lobster, buffalo burger, and PBR for several hours now. All the aid station folks are very friendly and have a gung-ho attitude (and a lot of them are current or former ultra runners themselves). I don’t stay too long (just enough to get my special treats) and also drink some Kern’s Peach Nectar (to wash down the beer) and continue on, since there is mostly uphills for the next 5 to 6 miles.
I did get through the Eagle’s Nest section at a 14:38 pace (at this point, it doesn’t drop my overall average pace that much). I am still just over 15 minutes per mile.
Now I have another 5 or so miles continuing through the Middle Ranch section, passing by a few ranches, the Eagle Preserve, and even see a few cars and non-running people. A small paved section, voices, and a small building signal that I am at Pumphouse AS, mile 43.3. I enjoy some watermelon, garlic-roasted potatoes, and a half shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream (it’s supposed to be Irish Cream and Kahlua, but I think Kahlua has cocoa in it and that would really make me sick). I drop back a little time here and take my average pace to 15:03, one second slower than at Eagle’s Nest.
From here, there is about a mile of uphill to the paved road and then a mile downhill back to Haypress AS. As I begin going up the hill, it starts to mist a bit. Not really full-fledged rain, but enough to have water droplets on my glasses. It is also still sunny out, so there is part of a rainbow in the distance.
In the past, I have seen bison around these parts, pretty close to the trail. I actually do spot a couple of bison but maybe 500 yards off the trail.
When I get to the top of the trail and the road, I can see that it is raining quite a bit just offshore of Catalina Island and two beautiful complete rainbows. Usually, when you spot a rainbow, you can see part of an arc, but here I can see both ends “touching down” completely in the Pacific Ocean. What a rare and beautiful sight!
On the road, I pass a few people who were in my early start. I am not accelerating, but I think I am not fading quite as much. By Haypress AS, I have dropped 5 more net seconds per mile (15:07), and I do stop briefly to readjust my shoes.
I am wearing the Hoka Stinsons (which are OK on non-technical trails) and early on, I had tied the laces too tight and the tongue of the shoe had pinched the skin on the top of my foot. I loosen that and also arrange the inserts back into the correct position. My feet hurt quite a bit because of the too tight arrangement, so I basically am walking, even though this last section is a significant downhill.
During my first Avalon 50M, I was slightly over the pace needed to finish in under 12 hours, and finished in 11:43, because I was able to make up so much pace on the downhill, but I am not really feeling like running at this point. I try to speedwalk as much as possible, hoping that I will feel like running soon.
I don’t encounter a lot of folks on the hill; I am neither catching people nor passing people. Finally, about a mile-and-a-half in, I catch Chris. He is in a mood. Says he’s never doing this event again. We’ll see.
A little bit later, I am passed by a cute gal. I stay with her for a little bit, but I think she does not want to go at my pedestrian pace and takes off. Today is her 14th Avalon, as compared to my 4th.
A couple of minutes later, finally, I feel like running! The grade is enough that I don’t have to do much to really get going, and I start really bounding down the hill. I catch up to the gal and pass her by. I am surprised how good I feel, that my feet don’t hurt as much any more. That NEVER happens!
Finally, I make the right-hand turn onto the main road that parallels the coast and know that I have 1/4 mile to the finish. Fortunately, the finishing sign is now high above me (see my first Avalon where I cracked my head on a PFC pipe within the finishing banner) and I stride in with a 12:10:14 , exactly one hour slower than my buddy Ben.
The “cute gal” is Kathryn Buchan Varden, a hasher from Arizona who is friends with Darcie Olk. She finishes about a minute behind me, followed by Beth Epstein a few minutes later. (Dang! We could’ve run together.)
Greg finished in 10:50 and Wilma 11:24 (so, really, no worries).
I hung around the finish line chatting with Mary Ann and Tom (plus some other hash/running friends who were helping at the finish line) while some more runners came in. I had about 3 hours to kill before the boat ride home.
About 30 minutes after I finished, the gal with the ultra-tall grandkids finished. She and her friends were pretty disappointed. They were behind the cutoff, so they were shuttled up to the road, so that they could finish the race, albeit something a few miles less than 50 miles. I pointed out that A) they would be motivated to come back next year, and B) they still ran 40+ miles!
Blue and Carly came in about this same time (but without the shuttle forward) along with Chris. His finish was interesting because he had in his hand… a milkshake. That’s right. Instead of going directly to the finish, he stopped in at the sweet shop and had them make him a quick milkshake (presumably so he didn’t have to walk back after finishing).
I made plans with Kathryn, who will get her 15-year finisher jacket next year (I would get a 5-year finish plaque) to possibly share accommodations for 2017… or I think I may have some other folks up to trying the new 50K course or the doable 50M course.
This was my 77th ultra overall, so I dedicated to TRH Coach Paul Browne (who is 77 years old). This was also my 21st completed (since I have some DNFs) 50 miler.
I didn’t have any good pictures from the day, but I like to have a picture to include with the posting, so I’ll end this with a “fun” story:
Wilma Dibs, who I befriended at the 4am start (who kicked my butt), and I became Facebook friends. (She’s probably another person who I could share accommodations with next year.) She posted that she was having trouble getting all the oranges off the tree at her mother’s house in Fountain Valley. I mentioned that I could probably reach more branches than anyone else she knew, and so on President’s Day, I went over and snipped branches for about an hour. I took about half the oranges and it produced enough juice to fill 5 2-liter bottles.
On the way home, I was rear-ended into another car, causing a total loss of my 17-year old Toyota Camry. The accident was at about 5mph, I was not hurt, and my car was still driveable, but old.
So, this strange result of a new friendship eventually resulted in getting a new car (with ultra-long space in the front), and hopefully ending my streak of going to ultras with no accommodation plans.