Monday, November 15, 2010

Conquering Catalina for my first buffalo (Race Report)

As I crossed the finish line of the Catalina Eco Marathon on Saturday, I looked at my girlfriend and said, "That was the hardest thing i've ever had to do in my entire life". Fighting back a flurry of emotions, I tried to explain why. Here, in a much more coherent fashion, is a recap of my experience...

The morning was a bit of a marathon itself, with a 4:40 am wake-up call, a thirty minute drive to the dock, an hour long boat ride to the island, a taxi ride and a half-mile walk to the start. By the 8 a.m. start I was ready for a nap, but little did I know that things were about to get a whole lot worse.

At the beginning of a race, runners normally take off running faster than their usual pace with their bodies full of adrenaline. With a steep three mile incline to start this race, most, if not all of the runners were walking. The incline was so steep that I was walking at the same speed as the guy next to me, who appeared to be running (or at least trying).

I immediately regretted my decision in choosing this race.

This was supposed to be a training run, to prepare me for my 50K in December and to be a nice day on the island. Three miles in and my legs were burning, the temperature was already north of 70 degrees and my right calf decided it would nag me yet again.

After we reached the top of our incline and I looked 1,500 feet down on the town of Avalon, I took a deep breath and enjoyed the few feet of flat trails I had before the hills returned. I knew I had a few miles until the next large incline so I did my best to keep a quick pace and take advantage of the terrain.

Miles 4-18 were tough, but beautiful. With the ocean all around us and eagles flying overhead, I couldn't think of a more beautiful place to run. We dropped down into a valley and ran on single tracks in swamplands, underneath trees in a wooded area and across sand skirting a lake. This course is a trail-runners dream.

The trail runner's dream became a nightmare at mile 19. Signs foreshadowed the upcoming "Catalina Crush" hill. Rather than tell you my true feelings about this hill, I will remove all expletives and simply tell you I hated it.

While refilling on water and partaking in the goodies at the aid station (which were unbelievably amazing), I saw an older woman who I had passed a couple of times earlier in the day. She would shuffle along at a decent pace, never slowing. I would blow by her only to see her shuffle by me while I took a walking break.

We exchanged pleasantries and started running side by side. As time passed, we got to know each other, talked about running, work, relationships and life. Amazed by the story of this 65 year old ultra-marathon runner, the miles went by in a flash. There were more inclines and it kept getting hotter, but my new friend Carol carried me through those miles while inspiring me with her incredible story. What an incredible blessing she was to me.

The descent back into Avalon began just after mile 23. Relieved at the sight of some steep downhills, Carol bid me farewell as her physical limitations forced her to take the downhills with extreme caution. I promised i'd see her at the finish and I pressed on.

Stumbling (sometimes literally) down the mountain, just about every part of my body hurt. I had been running for longer than I ever had before and my legs hadn't seen a fraction of this abuse in my years of running. Finally, we reached the asphalt road and mile marker 25. I kicked into gear, desperate to finish.

Coming down the homestretch with my gas tank on empty, I squeezed out one last burst of energy and crossed the finish line. "Give me my buffalo!" I thought as the volunteer handed me my medal.

My legs were cramping and my feet were sore, my head hurt and my stomach groaned. My amazing girlfriend met me at the finish line, ready and willing to help in any way possible. I told her I needed to go back to the finish line...I made a promise to Carol.

Standing near the finish, I saw Carol off in the distance, shuffling along with a smile on her face. I cheered as she approached and gave her a high-five, thanking her as she shuffled onward. What an inspiring woman...this was her 35th marathon on Catalina Island alone, and she crossed the finish line taking 1st place in her age group.

This was a race I will truly never forget. The unbelievable views became a footnote to the people I met and the challenges I faced. My finishing time was over an hour longer than my usual mark, but I could not care less. Earning the medal was the goal, but the journey in getting there was the true reward.

Lindsey and I spent the rest of the day in Catalina, eating, playing mini golf and enjoying the island. The fun and peaceful afternoon by the water was just what I needed after a hellish time in the hills.

Stay tuned over the next couple of weeks for more posts as I recover and prepare for the North Face 50K. God Bless!

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