Tag Archives: Catalina

Avalon 50M – 2017

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).15875624_1250049418374881_5425234147263662081_o

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!


Avalon 50M – 2014

January 11, 2014

About 3 months ago, I was blogging about running the Avalon 50M in January 2012.  Even though I had already completed the event again in 2013, I included something in my posting about how I would be willing to go back and run the event again in the future if I had the opportunity.

One of the comments I received on my post was from a Hash acquaintance who casually mentioned that if I needed a place to stay (if I ran the 2014 race), she could probably help me out.  At Thanksgiving time, however, I had tentatively arranged a floor to sleep on with some other Hash friends, Dave Binder and Jasper Mueller.  A few weeks out, however, Dave told me that they actually did not have floor space for me, and so I went ahead and contacted the other acquaintance, Sharon Lange.

She said that her boyfriend was managing a construction project on the island and had rented a cottage on the island.  They had either a couch or bed for me to sleep on.  Also, the cottage was located about 3 blocks from the start. Excellent!

On Friday, I made arrangements to meet Sharon at Catalina Landing to take the same ferry over.  I saw a bunch of people I knew there (this ALWAYS happens), including Xy Weiss and a number of other folks in the local ultrarunning community.  Unlike the past two times, I made my return ticket for Sunday, since I had a free place to stay.

I had a really nice visit with Sharon on the boat; we had not seen each other (other than FB) since my Hashtravaganza event in 2009.  I kept a wide berth from her friendly dog, Graham, however (allergic to dander).  We talked briefly with a nice family who was going out for the mother’s birthday (but really only staying 3 hours – hardly seems worth it).

Once we got to the island, Sharon’s boyfriend, Phil, met us with his truck (well, mini-truck, since everybody has those electric golf cart cars) at the pier and we rode back the short distance to his place.  We had an interesting conversation about how you have to live on the island for at least 6 months before you can get a permit to park your vehicle in front of your own abode overnight.  Phil has to move his car to another location every night and then drive it back in the morning.  There’s enough space for the cars, but rules are rules.

I opted for the couch, because it’s a little longer than the bed, and I won’t have to make as much noise when I leave in the morning.

Around 5pm, I wandered down to the packet pick-up location to get my stuff and find out what my options are vis-a-vis starting early.  Last year, I started at 3am, with 2 other people, and the race took me 1 hour, 40 minutes longer than the official time limit (so the 2 extra hours were just about right).  3am would be ideal, but I had heard that they would have very limited early starting hours.  I was told that I could start on any even-numbered hour (12, 2, or 4).  Given that I needed almost 2 extra hours last year, 4am would probably not be enough time, but 2am would be too much, but what could I do?  2am (yuck) it is.

I chatted briefly with Kim Gimenez and Beth Epstein in line before heading back to Sharon and Phil’s so we could have an early dinner and I could figure out how to get to bed at a reasonable hour and still start at 2am. We had a nice dinner of salad, chicken and pasta prepared at the cottage, and I got to sleep around 8:30pm… though I didn’t really sleep.

I set my watch alarm to go off at 1:15, to have enough time to use the bathroom and walk down to the start, but I woke before that (ugh).

It was a very short walk to the start, and I chatted briefly with the 2 dozen folks there that were starting early (though probably another dozen had left at midnight… or before).  At 2am, Tom O’Hara (another Hash friend) started us off into the dark.

Pretty immediately, I was behind the majority of the folks I started with, as I was walking any kind of uphill, to save my energy.  There was a little confusion for those of us at the back where the turns were since not all spots were marked yet, but I had a better idea on the turn-offs having started in the dark last year as well.  One runner I was with was concerned about another (slower) friend of mine, Hwa Ja Andrade.  She worried that Hwa Ja would get lost.  Even though Hwa Ja has done as many ultras as I have, she is 74 and sometimes concentrates so much that she blocks out everything else.  I kept trying to swing my headlamp behind me to show her where we were going.

At the entrance to the Wrigley Gardens, there was a little confusion with the gate (closed), and how to get in (less straightforward than in the past), but we did edge our way in around the fencing and onto the path that would take us up the hill.

On this section, I began passing some of the runners who were previously ahead of me… not by running, but by walking with authority.  I caught up with Xy Weiss, who stands out with her leopard-print skirt and gaiters.  I started to introduce myself to her, but she already knew me (by name!).

We stayed together until around the electric towers at the top of the hill (where I mistakenly turned around last year, thinking I was lost) and then headed downhill towards the first aid station.  It was rather cold out, but in running, I was never really cold (though I did have a Tyvek jacket on).

About a half-mile out from the aid station, we encountered a closed gate, which had a “edge-through” hole in it.  I think this is to allow people on the trail to go through, while disallowing vehicles.  The hole is in the middle of the fence and is pretty easy for ‘normal’ people to go through, whereas I have to put a leg through, telescope my body, and shimmy through quite awkwardly.

When I got to the aid station, unlike last year, there is no one here and no pre-set-up.  However, it doesn’t really matter, because I am not needing to consume as much liquid in the dark and do not need a refill yet.  My initial split is 1:39 for 5.4 miles, or about 18:20/mile.  Slow, but it is dark.

The next section was extremely dark.  While I do have a decent headlamp, I can only see a few feet in front of me, so cannot plan for any awkwardness in the dark.  There are all sorts of mysterious noises that I cannot account for.  Maybe it’s birds or some kind of vibrating poles.  My light isn’t strong enough to make that sort of thing out.

There’s quite a bit of more (not really steep, though) uphill in this section, and I know I am getting close when I see the Airport in the Sky.  Apparently, this is another aid station not yet set up.  This next 6.5 miles takes me 1:34 and I get my pace under 15:00/mile.

Out of the airport area, the trail goes downhill through a large number of switchback turns.  It is not difficult to maneuver as I am on a wide fire road, but because it is so dark, it is difficult to tell where I am going.  I am starting to get to the point where I am looking forward to the sun coming up and I am tired of running in the dark.  When I started 2 hours early, people had started to catch me by now.  Three hours early is very lonely.

The end of the switchbacks is demarcated by the vineyards and yards of a few houses that we are running by, followed by another steep uphill and then a downhill descent into Little Harbor.  There is a confusing turn here, but at the moment I arrive at it, there is a bag truck heading to the upcoming aid station and they mark the turn.

The good news is that by the time I get to Little Harbor, there will be a semblance of an aid station here.  This 7-mile section takes me around the same time as the previous two sections – 1:39, another sub-15:00 section.

This next section is one of the toughest early sections, starting first with a long, slow climb out of Little Harbor (about 3 miles), followed by a steeper downhill section into Two Harbors.  The evil trick here is that you pass by the aid station, making you think you have speedily reached the 26.7 mark, but in reality, you have to do a 1.5 mile out-and-back section, which is another annoying slow uphill winding section to the course turn-around (where I mark my bib with a smiley face to prove I reached this point).

By this point, about a dozen normal start folks have passed me, and on my way back to the aid station, I see more people I know, including Dave Binder, and William Lawrence (hmm… he should be ahead of me).  I get to the marathon point (well, 26.7 miles) in 7:14 (around 16:15/mile aggregate).

As I begin to head out of Two Harbors, the fog starts rolling in.  I could have really used shady weather throughout the race, but now the fog is filling in behind me.  I take the uphill easily. At least, it is much cooler on this section than last year… maybe because I am an hour earlier than last year.

Climbing the hill out of Two Harbors with the fog rollin' in.

Climbing the hill out of Two Harbors with the fog rollin’ in.

This section is the exact reverse (except that I have already done the out-and-back section) of the previous section.  Except for the 3 fewer miles to traverse, this section sucks, because I am a few hours more tired than before, it’s hotter, and the uphill goes on and on.  The nice part (at least during my last two jaunts) is that I am not at the back, and I am still seeing runners coming down the hill.

I still haven’t seen Hwa Ja (who started at the same time as I did).  I can’t imagine how she is so far behind me, as I am not going all that fast.  I see her about the time that I got to the top of the hill, and she tells me how she went off course a couple of times, but now that the sun is up, she is OK (though, in my estimation, she will struggle to finish the course under the time limit).

Now I have the gentle descent back into Little Harbor, only at this point, I am not running all of the downhills as I had previously in the race.  I run until I feel off, and then I walk a bit.  It is at this point that I am passed by Tushar (boyfriend of a hasher friend) on his bicycle and then eventually by Taffy.  She caught me an hour sooner last year (and guess what?  I started an hour earlier today!).

When I do finally get into Little Harbor, the aid station is in full swing (remember that they were only just setting up when I arrived before) and runners are actually participating in “Western” games, like horseshoe tossing, etc.  I am hard-pressed to maintain my pace and be able to finish in a reasonable time and so don’t play any games.  This 6.5 miles has taken me about 100 minutes (a 16 minute pace).

There is just a bit more double-up on the trail (an ascent out of Little Harbor), before the trail heads down by the coast (downhill!) for a bit, followed by a climb into Middle Ranch, what most people consider the hardest part of the course (and I agree).

Once you get into this section, it’s a mild uphill section, but with few landmarks to focus on and figure out what comes next.  I am just struggling along (boldly walking, but not able to do much else).  Still, I catch up with a few people, who are in the same boat as myself but whose legs aren’t nearly as long.

After too many turns where I think I am almost there, I begin hearing music and voices.  Now I KNOW I am almost there, and soon after I see the Eagle’s Roost Aid Station.  (5.5 miles in 90 minutes.)

It is an overly festive atmosphere here and strangely enough, it’s what I needed to get going.  I had been looking forward to drinking a can of Peach Nectar (a different taste from what you tend to experience in these races) and having a chunk of buffalo burger.  I also got a swig of beer and a chunk of lobster meat.

If I wanted to, there is a cold shower and metal bathtub to immerse myself in, but I want to keep going and get to the end of this beautiful event.

This next section is more of the same with occasional breaks beside a few homes and the Eagle Sanctuary.  It is super lonely out here, even though people do infrequently pass by me.  Soon, I see a few cars parked on the road and know I am almost to the penultimate aid station by the Power Station.  (Another 5.2 miles in 90 minutes.)

Now there is just a short (but pretty much all uphill) section back to the original aid station at Haypress.  Because it is uphill, I am super-focused on keeping my footing and am not looking up much… until some folks around me are oohing and aahing over some wildlife.  I do look up and above the trail (but only about 10 feet away) is a buffalo.  It is holding sway over the path, and it is a nice reminder of the beautiful nature all around me.

At the top of the hill is a paved road and I am able to run or jog/walk a bit to carry myself a little faster through the rest of this section.  When I get down to Haypress, the nice Australian volunteers refill my water bottles and send me on my way.  Hopefully, I will manage faster than the 20-minute / mile pace to get here… but this is all downhill.  Hopefully, I can fall all the way down the hill!

I don’t necessarily like running down this hill, because it is all paved, but I like that it is not a struggle.  I keep setting my sights on folks in front of me and then trying to (easily) catch up to them.

My favorite part on this section is when I get off the worst part of the road, go through a lift-gate and you can see much of the city of Avalon.  There are people hiking around (not in the race) and some of them cheer you on.  Finally, I pop out onto a steep downhill road that takes me to the water front… and the finish.

I cross the finish line in 13:34:28… about 20 minutes faster than last year, but almost 90 minutes earlier due to the 3 hour early start.

I hang out at the finish line for about  20 minutes before I head back over to Sharon and Phil’s.  We hang out and talk for a bit and then have a delicious salad and steak dinner.  We talk, watch a little TV (football playoffs), and I am asleep a lot earlier than usual.

I have an easy morning before walking over and taking the boat ride back.

I am happy with how my race went, but wish I was fast enough to finish once again under the official time limit.  I don’t know if this is because I am older and taking it easier or I just don’t have the capacity for the speed any more.  In either case, I will keep doing ultras as long as I can, but I will never do the sheer volume of runs as I did from 2010 to 2012.

I will be back.

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.

Avalon 50M – 2012

January 14, 2012

Laura and I decided we would do Avalon 50 miler.  I had heard lots of good stuff about this race for the past few years, but had never attempted it.  More than anything else, it was the additional expense of getting to the island and staying there (most other ultras I have stayed with friends or family and driven myself there).

Laura had already made arrangements (a bit on the pricey side), and had said that I could camp out on her hotel room floor.  The hotel was very nice, but the arrangements did not work out all that well, because the inflatable mattress I was given had a hole in it and completely deflated by the time I woke up.  And so, I started out the race with a stiff neck.

The other “down”-side to the hotel was that it was located on the last stretch of the finish line.  In other situations this would be good, but here it was a problem, because the last stretch of the course is steep downhill.  We were at the top of the hill!

The night before the event, we opted to eat out at a local Italian restaurant.  I saw a lot of my hash and ultra friends there.  Nothing special, except for Laura getting confused and ordering two main courses by accident!

At the start line (5AM!), we met up with a few of our friends, including Ben Gaetos, Rafael Covarrubias and Martin Santos.

Avalon 50 Start

Avalon 50 Start

It was a little on the cold side (and dark)… but pretty much ideal weather for running a 50 miler.  Hopefully, it would stay cool.

The first stretch of the course is mostly flat and runs through Avalon backstreets, wending its way to the Wrigley Botanical Gardens (basically where the city ends).  We go through a gate and then the road turns to dirt and we work our way into the trails.

Once we cleared the Gardens, it was an unrelenting uphill for about 2 miles.  I walked and watched Laura and the others recede into the distance.  Once we reached the top of the trail (where the radio towers were, the sun was on its way up and we were heading down, back to the paved road and through the first aid station.  The first 5.4 miles took me 1 hour and 31 minutes (17:00/mile pace).

Out of the aid station, the course continued on a paved road for a bit, narrowing slightly and eventually turning back into a dirt trail.  We continued uphill for a longer section, passing by vineyards and in between various properties until we went past the Catalina Airport – one of the weirdest airports I have ever seen, with a short runway at an angle (basically on top of a mountain).

Just past the airport, the course makes a right-hand turn and a bit later, I reach the second aid station on the course at 11.9 miles.  I have accelerated a little bit, mostly because the course flattened out and I could run a bit more.  I averaged 11 minutes a mile on this section.

Now the course heads down towards Little Harbor.  For the most part, we are in the interior of the island and on a large fire-road.  When I am about 2-1/2 miles from the aid station, I start to see people returning from the turnaround (not passing by me en route, but I am descending into the aid station, and I can see people below me).

As I arrive in the aid station area (a welcome sight of grass after miles of barren terrain), I spot a familiar face – Chris Spenker (aka Undercover), from the hash.  He has recently completed his first marathon a few months ago (at age 70), and is trying a 50-miler.  I know, from a previous conversation, that he was planning on starting at midnight (5 hours early) to try and give himself every chance to finish.  But now, he is sitting around at Mile 19 or so, with bloodied legs from a fall in the dark, deciding whether to continue or quit.

I also see Summer Wesson (who DNFed with me at Mt. Disappointment 50M in 2007) who is having a bad day as well.  I hope SHE continues (she is NOT 70, closer to half that), but sometimes the day gets the better of you.

This particular section has a lot of ups along with the downs (in the trail and not just mentally), so I am able to maintain my course average of 13:00/mile.

From Little Harbor, the course is now heading towards its destiny with the turnaround at Two Harbors.  Out of the aid station, it winds around a mostly flat section, but then begins to ascend once more, eventually flattening out through a desolate landscape (the most exciting part was some backhoes – the construction variety).

When I finally crested the top of the hill, I began encountering more and more runners coming back from the turn-around, struggling up a long uphill (Shoot!  I am going to have to climb that hill, too!).

I run (not too fast, though) down the hill and into Two Harbors.  When I get to the aid station, I think that, WOW, I have really run about 6 miles at about 10 minute/mile pace, not realizing that I have to run past the aid station, to the turn-around and then come back.  (Though I am welcome to stop and enjoy some beverages before setting off for the turnaround.  I have a cup of coke in a melted “corn”-cup (a plastic cup made out of corn products, and therefore bio-degradable).

I like part of this section.  It’s flat and through a small town area (dirt road) passing by a kids’ play area and heading up behind some houses onto a dirt road.  The trail hairpins around a cove (and some yacht club) before heading upwards to the turnaround.  A couple of volunteers direct me to draw an “X” on a bib as proof I made it out here.  My halfway split is 5:42:22, slightly ahead of the 6 hour split needed for a 12 hour finish.

Now I head back down the hill, around the hairpin curve by the yacht club, around the kids’ play area to the aid station at Mile 26.7.  When I arrive, they are completely out of cups (even the melted ones), but someone has gone to replenish them from a local store (limited options, here).  I basically refill my water bottles, because I can’t really waste any time, being up against the time limit and all.

Now it’s my turn to head up the hill.  It’s much harder heading up then going down, for some reason.  At the top of the hill, I get a special treat – a buffalo in the wild!  It isn’t ON the trail, but rather off to the side.  It’s not really large and a cool treat (especially having heard of people’s encounters with the beasts in the middle of the race course).

The course is now a reversal of the outbound trail, past the backhoes, fire-road and eventually downhill back to Little Harbor.  The 7-mile stretch takes me 90 minutes, so I again cannot waste a lot of time here (though I do get an offer to toss a horseshoe for a prize).  According to my pace sheet, I am only a few minutes ahead of where I need to be in order to finish under 12 hours.

There is more annoying ascent out of Little Harbor (for the most part, I have to climb back out to where I saw runners heading back from the turnaround), though I do not climb to the same point on the outbound trail.  There is a turn where I head off in a different direction – I will not pass the airport again.  Once again, I have rolling hills – up and down, up and down – but finally make my way to a wooded area, with a few stream crossings (either bridges or very little water).  The scenery doesn’t change much, though my favorite part was going by a “Zoo,” where there is a Bald Eagle in a cage… and also where I passed Hal Winton (a guy who has run every race… but now needs to start at 10pm on Friday in order to do so (he is over 80 years old, though)).

Eventually, I hear some music and chattering, and that means I have covered another 5 miles and am at The Eagle’s Nest.  There are more offerings here than at other aid stations.  I could have a beer, but I feel a bit off, so I have a can of peach nectar and a bite of buffalo burger.  I have not eaten much all day, but that really hit the spot.  I am continuing to maintain a pace close to what I need to finish, though I am now only about 6 minutes ahead of the pace I need to be at… and there are still several significant hills to climb.

The trail begins to ascend quite a bit (not super steeply, but enough to affect my average pace).  I am mostly on my own; I haven’t encountered a lot of other runners (or walkers).  This next section is about the same length as the prior section, but I am feeling antsy, both because of how sore my feet and legs are and also because of how close I have been cutting it to the overall time limit.

I keep expecting I will reach the Pumphouse Hill aid station in any minute, and then when I have finally given up hope, well, there it is.  I am still going at the same pace (about 14:20/mile) and am still 6 minutes ahead of pace… so I have to keep on going.

The trail steepens a bit towards the top and it is a paved road, now.  (That doesn’t necessarily help me go any faster.)  I have a brief conversation with a barefoot guy who is REALLY struggling.  He tells me that this is his first race, ever!  (You did a 50-miler barefoot for your first race?  REALLY????)  I want to encourage him more, but I need to save my own strength if I want to finish under 12 hours.

Near the top of the hill is a Sheriff’s vehicle.  I assume this is to cart people who are pulled from the course.  (Crossing my fingers that that isn’t going to be me.)  I think I look like I am moving with some authority and look OK, so maybe they will give me the benefit of the doubt, if I am close.

From Pumphouse Aid to Haypress (which was also the first aid station) is only about 2 miles.  It takes me around 30 minutes and my net time is now 11:03.  I am 3 minutes SLOWER than I need to be to finish under 12 hours.  Now I am really concerned (though several people have said that as long as you are out of the park (which I am), they will let you finish.  I have also heard that as long as you are ahead of Hal Winton, they let you finish (I passed him a few hours ago.)… but still, I don’t want to leave that to rumor.  I don’t even bother to refill my water bottles, hoping that the time saved will allow me to finish under 12 hours.

Leaving the aid station, the trail is still on a paved road, and still a bit of uphill, still.  Yuck.  This is not helping me accelerate when I need to.  After about 15 minutes, I turn a corner and spot the road heading down the hill into Avalon.  It is basically lots of switchbacks and a cruddy paved road (lots of potholes, lots of repair “bumps”)… but it IS downhill, significant downhill… and I feel OK… meaning, I CAN run.

I do a combination of running and galloping to get myself down the hill.  I find myself passing several people in this stretch.  The downhill seems to go forever, though the faster I am able to go, the slower the overall time seems to go.

Near the bottom of the hill, I pass through a gate and I am starting to see how close the ocean is (and thus, the end, which is at the sea level).  A few more turns, and then I pop out of a side road and onto the same road as our hotel… now I KNOW I am close.  One glance down at my watch and I KNOW that I will finish under 12 hours.

At the bottom of the hill, I turn onto the main oceanfront drag and high-tail it for the finish line.  The finish is under a hanging sign, which I clip with the top of my head (it is too low for me to really duck).  Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me, the edges of the sign are hiding reinforced PVC pipe and I almost go down just short of the finish line.  OW!!!

Avalon 50M finish

Avalon 50M finish

With my skill on the downhill, I manage to finish in 11:43:24… surviving the stated cutoff by 17 minutes (and averaging 10 minutes/mile… my fastest pace on the entire course).  Also, my splits were decently close – 5:42 for the first half and 6:01 for the second half.  Good consistency.

Laura, despite finishing 15 minutes ahead of me, did not feel so great, and opted to catch an earlier ferry back.  I ended up riding back with Rafael and Martin, and getting a ride home from Martin – those guys finished 2 HOURS ahead of me.  (The last official finish came in about 2 hours after me, so I guess I didn’t have anything to worry about.)

This was a really fun event… if a 50-miler can be fun!  I would totally do it again next year!