This past weekend I ventured out to Catalina Island, an hour away from Long Beach by the ferry, to run Avalon 50. I haven’t been out to Catalina in a long time since elementary school days where we would go on field trips and we definitely weren’t running the trails on the island back then. I was excited to check out some new scenery and terrain and have heard great things about the course. Mentally and physically (or so I thought) prepared, I went into the course ready to “race”, hoping to come in close to my Mt. Hood time if not faster. The week leading up to Avalon was probably not the smartest training decision. Instead of tapering like normal people, I saw it as a challenge to see if I could get in a 100 mile week, something I have never done before. With Xterra Boney Mountain the previous Sunday, I knew if I just maintained my usual weekly mileage, I would come close to hitting the 100 mile mark with Avalon finishing off the week. This was probably my first mistake in how the day at Avalon turned out. I felt immune to heavy mileage and that nothing could stop me, maybe a little too confidant going into the race. Unfortunately, I learned my lesson the hard way this past Saturday to respect the distance. I went back and read this quote that I bookmarked when I first started running marathons. It goes to show that it doesn’t matter what distance you run, it’s important to remember the humbling nature of this sport and that no one is immune to the consequences that can follow.
“Accept the fear. If marathoning were easy, everyone would be doing it and the medal wouldn’t mean a darn thing. Fear is a normal part of the process and an important survival tool. It makes us respect the distance and more importantly, prepare for it. Allow yourself to feel the fear, but put a limit on it.
The race started early Saturday morning (5AM) at Avalon in Catalina. Weather forecast looked great, no rain and cool temps. I felt fearless going into the race even though Avalon turned out to be one of the most challenging 50’s I have done so far-up there with my first 50 experience at Northface. Although the course is not nearly as hard as Northface, I was battling with a groin pull/sports hernia (self diagnosis at it’s best) the entire way. Something that had been nagging at me the past 3 weeks. Something I casually brushed off everyday of every single run. As long as I was still able to run, this injury ceased to exist. I never gave it any thought because the pain was never noticeable enough to stop me completely from running. The course consists of a 50-mile out and back on scenic fire roads from Avalon to the Isthmus and return. It has approximately 7,000 ft elevation gain.
Unfortunately, I forgot my headlamp back home and had to run the first hour and a half in darkness. It wasn’t mandatory to have a headlamp since you could just latch onto other runners and use their light. However, I found myself running in complete darkness in some sections and taking it easy on the downhills. Luckily, the trail is not technical and has wide open fireroads so running in the dark wasn’t too much of a problem. A quarter of a mile in, we were already gradually climbing up a paved road. The mountains of Catalina stared at us as we climbed this road. I knew it was going to be a rough climb until we got to the top of the mountains. I scrambled up the mountain half power hiking half running. I skipped the first two aid stations in favor of sucking down my own GU’s. I didn’t want to rely on too much “real food” until the halfway point of the race.
Around 8AM (3 hours into the race Mile 16) I knew something was wrong. My pelvis was hurting with every downhill step. I felt sharp stabbing pains like I have never felt before when running. Usually I am the one bombing the downhills and it was really pissing me off that I couldn’t run them as fast as I normally do and people were passing me left and right. Frustrated and cursing to myself, I looked down and saw that my pelvis area was noticeably swollen and protruding, almost like a bloated feeling but not in my stomach. I gave up on pounding the downhills and ran it gingerly, gritting my teeth every step of the way. Even though the pain was still there, it was more of a dull aching pain when I was walking, running uphill or flat. Since I was going so slow, I passed the time tweeting and texting away. Thank God for 3G.
I took it easy, stopping for pictures and trying to enjoy myself out there. I wouldn’t say the course is phenomenal in terms of ever-changing scenery since I prefer technical single track over fireroad, but it provided expansive ocean views the entire way. No complaints.
Mile 18 was the first aid station I stopped at to eat some food. I grabbed a couple orange slices and potatoes with salt. We had 8 miles to go until the next aid. Not long after coming out of the aid station, my friend Dan caught up to me and we spent the next 8 miles gabbing away and taking pictures. I tried to keep a positive mood, but the pain was still there. I’m almost positive I would’ve walked most of that section had he not been there to take my mind off the pain. At Mile 26, I was told we had to do a 3 mile out and back before heading back to the previous aid station. I was a bit disappointed in this aid station as they didn’t have much food even though it served as a double aid (mile 26 and 29). The turnaround was uneventful as there was a bunch of highlighters on the floor where each runner had to mark their bib proving they made it that far.
On the way back, I saw my friend Meg who was only a mile behind me and told her she would probably catch up to me soon at the next aid. I prepared myself for the 6 mile climb out of Mile 28 and this is where everything went downhill. Miles 28-34 was my breaking point in the race as evidenced by my tweets.
I wasn’t having just my usual mental meltdowns (which I’m always prepared for in every ultra), but a physical injury that I couldn’t run on any longer. I made the decision during that 6 mile trek up that I would drop out at the next aid, at Mile 34. I no longer cared how I felt and miserably made my way up the hill even though I was getting dizzy and kept swerving off the trail. The downhills were useless as I could barely run them. I resorted to running a couple steps, stopping completely off the trail, muttering obscenities under my breath, and continuing on. During a downhill, I saw another girl was having trouble too and heard her call someone to ask if she should drop out. Apparently she had thrown out her back and was hurting just as badly as I was. I was going to wait for her and tell her that I would drop out with her at the next aid. During this time, I crafted together my drop out speech for the volunteers and thought about how I would get back into our hotel room since I would probably arrive at the finish before my friend who had the key was done. I was shutting it down and calling it quits. Game over.
Half a mile from the aid, my friend Meg caught up to me. I was half disappointed that she had caught up because I knew she wouldn’t let me drop out so easily, but I was also happy to see her because it gave me a glimpse of hope that I could possibly push through it. If anyone could get me moving, it would be her. We got to the aid station and before I could make my final decision, I refueled with some real food for the first time all day. That immediately gave me an energy boost and made me feel better. I heard another runner ask the volunteers if they had any kind of pain killers and to my surprise they did. I asked for a couple and took them immediately and stored some in my Camelbak for later on. I got through my first Northface on pain killers so I knew finishing the course was a possibility.
Feeling better from the food and drugs, I found myself thinking that if I could just get to the next aid at Mile 39, I knew I would see it through to the finish. Also, it didn’t hurt that there was promise of lobsters, beer and buffalo burgers at that station. The next 5 miles flew by fairly fast as we caught up on all the things that had happened earlier on in the race. The drugs were kicking in and it was definitely helping to take the edge off. We met a few runners on the trail and passed time talking to them. Before I knew it, we had made it to the Mile 39 aid station. I was really happy that we pretty much ran the entire stretch, only stopping to hike up really steep hills. We each pulled and pushed each other, not wanting to stop until the other person stopped. Mile 39 aid was the best one yet. Although they had run out of lobster tails, they had buffalo burgers on the grill, ice cold drinks and an array of treats.
We also got our heads dunked in icy cold water. Best.idea.ever.
Feeling refueled, we charged forward to the next aid 5 miles away. We stuck to our strategy of shuffling the ups and running the downs and flats which proved to work quite well. It definitely made the miles go by faster having someone to talk to and meeting new people along the trail. At the next aid station, Pumphouse at Mile 44 with a 10K to go, we both could see the finish in sight. Nobody was giving up now. We ran along Airport Road again which we were on earlier in the race. It was a long paved road which didn’t feel too good after being on the trail for so long. My feet were aching and swollen, but nothing that I wouldn’t expect this late in a 50. The pain killers were still working and I felt better and better every mile closer we got to the finish.
The last 4 miles were pretty much a downhill ride as we made our way back to the town center, coming around the backside of the mountain. I enjoyed these last few miles as it was mostly shaded and a change of scenery. Just another few miles to go and before I knew it, I was clocking in a 6:33 minute/mile to the finish. My legs felt good once it hit the flat surface and the crowds were waiting the last quarter of a mile stretch. Final time 10:32:59, 12:40 pace. I couldn’t believe I was able to finish this race under the circumstances. I’m not exactly proud that I stuck it out, because it probably only made my injury worse. I run through so many injuries that I have a hard time differentiating between a “real injury” or “I just feel like crap” moment. I definitely learned my lesson in Avalon that any small nagging injury will only blow up during a long run. These next few months, I’m going to focus on getting 100% healthy and ready for Zion 100. I’m at a crossroad right now with training because on one hand, I’m supposed to be cutting back on mileage to recover, but on the other hand, I have Zion looming ahead of me 4 months away. What’s a girl supposed to do?