My legs took me further than they ever have before, so I give them full credit for this race. My heart, lungs, brain, feet and eyes certainly helped out, but my legs really surprised me.
Lori, Laura and I boarded the ferry to Catalina Island on Friday afternoon. I was full of nervous energy, but excited for a weekend getaway. We arrived without fanfare, but the hotel check-in procedure was mildly interesting. With four people expected to sleep in our room, we absolutely needed the roll-away bed that was offered as an option during booking.
“A roll-away won’t fit in that room” – front desk worker
“Why was it offered during booking then?” – Lori
The front desk worker shrugged. There were no rooms left at this hotel, and only one hotel with a (very expensive) vacancy left on the island. We decided that we would make a queen bed, a tiny amount of floor space, and a lot of blankets work. There was a heater in the room and a booklet with instructions on how to turn it on, but we couldn’t get it to work.
“The heaters in the rooms don’t work. We haven’t updated the booklet, sorry” – front desk worker
In the end, we stole the roll-away bed which was sitting in the hall next to our room just asking to be taken, the fourth person booked a last-minute room at another hotel, and we cocooned ourselves in all of the blankets. It worked out.
I was living in the moment of “I’m about to pick my race bib up for a 50 mile run” while waiting in the long packet pickup line. We stood around and got to know a few other runners and before I knew it, the 50K and 50M line split. I was one step closer to the start line. Bibs and shirts in hand, we found a sushi restaurant nearby and sat down for a relaxing pre-race meal and glass of wine. We stopped at a VONS and ran into a group of Laura’s friends. I realized this weekend how much I truly love the local running community – everyone is positive, encouraging and slightly crazy. After VONS, we finished preparing drop bags, ensured race outfits were ready, and set alarm clocks. One aspect of ultramarathon running that I am not keen on is the amount of stuff required. Perhaps I over-prepared, but my drop bag and hydration pack felt overloaded. Regardless, I felt confident that I had everything that I would need to run 50 miles.
I slept fitfully, but was really excited to run when my alarm clock sounded at 3:30am. I ate oatmeal with peanut butter and drank 2 cups of instant coffee. I was going to run almost 2x my standard race distance so why not have 2x the amount of coffee that I usually have? Worries of dehydration or an upset stomach fluttered around my brain, but neither ended up happening. At 4:30am, we walked outside into a light drizzle. The weather forecast had been waffling earlier in the week and everyone was nervous for rain. During the 2015 Avalon Benefit 50 Miler, Laura had run the entire race in a downpour. We hoped that the drizzle stayed light and would eventually stop. As a precaution, I wore a rain jacket over my long-sleeve shirt.
We all began our trip around Catalina island at 5:00am. I knew that it was going to be a long day, I would feel pain and be uncomfortable, I would deal with one or more low points, but that I would to fight to the finish. After about a mile on city streets, we begin the 2 mile climb up the Trans Catalina Trail. I kept my effort level very low (2-10) as I wanted to save my legs for the latter miles. Around mile 2.5, I started to run with John who provided great company for the next 18 miles. We were treated to a beautiful sunrise at the crest of the first climb (photo credit: John). We ran right through the first two aid stations (Haypress @ 5.4, Empire road @ 11.9) both feeling great. I bypassed my drop bag and ran through the third aid station (Little Harbor/Wacko Cafe @ 18.9). When John told me what mile we were at, I was elated that we were almost 20 miles in and I still felt fresh.
I knew that we had two small-looking “bumps” between miles 20 and 35. John and I separated coming down one of the “bumps” and I continued on solo, enjoying gorgeous views and sounds of sea lions. During my long descent into the city of Two Harbors, I crossed paths with a few of the race leaders and cheered them on. Having only had a few pieces of chocolate at mile 17ish, I decided that I would eat something more substantial at the next aid station. I feasted on salted potatoes and Coca-Cola at the Isthmus (25.4) aid station and then began the 1.3 mile climb toward the turnaround. I was shocked to learn that I was sitting in 2nd place amongst female runners. Knowing that there were still 20+ miles for something to go wrong, I continued to keep myself in check.
I drank another cup of Coca-Cola at Isthmus (now @ mile 26.7) and climbed out of Two Harbors. During a long run a few months ago, I randomly experimented with Coca-Cola for fueling and found that it works really well for me. It sits well in my stomach and I seem to absorb the sugars and/or caffeine quickly, with burping being the only side effect. I was glad that every single aid station offered this sugary elixir.
After coming up out of the city of Two Harbors, we descended and I locked into step with Joe from Arizona for a few miles. The downhill seemed to jostle my GI system, because I ran straight into a porta potty at the next aid station (Little Harbor/Wacko Cafe @ 33.2). After the bathroom stop and finally removing my rain jacket, I felt 2 pounds lighter. Joe and I separated at this point and I began to feel not-so-great. Miles 33 – 40 presented winding trails, rolling hills, warmer temperatures, and sightings of the current first place overall woman. I took a few brief walking breaks up the hills and tried hard to keep doubt from creeping into my thoughts. I broke the rest of the race up into manageable pieces: 7 miles to mile 40, which was further than I’d ever run, 7 miles until the 3 mile downhill. I simply had to complete each section.
Somewhere between the aid stations, a jeep full of course rovers pulled up and asked how I was doing. I was surprised to see my friend Bino in the jeep! He provided me with a much needed boost of spirit and a bonus selfie. “You have about 1.2 miles until the next aid station, a 1-mile climb, a few miles of rollers, and then let ‘er rip for the last 3 miles downhill. You’re also pretty close to the first place woman so… lock that up.” he advised. I thanked him and focused on getting to the last major aid station.
I struggled the most during this 1.2 mile stretch, which felt like 12 miles. I passed the lead woman right before stuffing my face with more potatoes and Coca-Cola at the last major aid station (Pumphouse Hill @ mile 44). I wish I could write a Yelp! review for that aid station. Not only did they season their boiled potatoes with Montreal steak seasoning (heavenly), they were also a very encouraging and high-spirited group. The combination of the well-seasoned potatoes and power walking the entire 1-mile climb left me with a second wind for the last 5 miles. I moved well through 2 miles of rolling hills and, per Dino’s instructions, let ‘er rip for the last 3 miles. It certainly helped that it was downhill, on road, and I could see the city of Avalon down below. I had a massive smile on my face when I finished my first 50 mile in 8 hours and 11 minutes, good enough for 13th overall and 1st female overall.
I walked around for a few minutes, congratulating other runners and assessing my physical state. My legs felt tired and I felt nauseated, but everything seemed to be in working order otherwise. I sat down to take off my shoes and realized that I actually felt really nauseated, either as a result of running for almost 8 hours straight or because it was just really sick of potatoes and soda. I stuck around talking to new and old friends, patiently waiting for my stomach to settle. I finally made my way back to the hotel, showered and dressed, and then walked with Laura (who placed 3rd overall female and earned a huge course PR!) back to the finish line to wait for Lori, who finished strong and also earned a 50 mile PR. The rest of the evening included nachos, margaritas, Bloody Marys, a 4+ hour hot tub session, rum, and pizza (in that order). Recovering can be just as fun as running.
A ferry full of runners comparing race stories and blister sizes made the return trip fun. I felt sad to leave the island and part ways with my friends on Sunday, but so full-hearted and content. Aside from a huge wad of prize money cash, I can’t think of anything that would’ve made the weekend better.
I took Sunday completely off, but have run every day since with no issues. I was quite sore on Monday and Tuesday and kept my effort very easy. Not surprisingly, I started to feel antsy by Wednesday and ran the AREC loop at a decent pace. I threw some speedier miles into today’s run and while I didn’t feel as bouncy as pre-50 miler, I was pleased with the effort.