Thursday, January 17, 2019

Avalon 50K/50M Benefit Run Recap

Saturday was the Avalon 50K/50M Benefit Run on Catalina Island and... SPOILER ALERT... it's where I officially became an ULTRA MARATHONER! But hold up, wait a minute {don't go there 'cause I ain't wit it... or is it just me who sings those next lyrics when I hear that phrase?!}, we can't get ahead of ourselves - let's back the train up a few stops so we can all pull into the station at the same time. I know y'all want the nitty gritty details getting to the finish line, right?!

I DID IT!!

If you've been around my corner of the InterWebs for a decent amount of time, you know I've had this race on my running calendar for a while (I made it 'blog official' at the end of September, but had been throwing around the idea for a couple months prior to pulling the trigger). In fact, originally I thought it'd be an AWESOME race for a bunch of my trail running ultra friends to do together (not necessarily running the race together, but all running the race, supporting one another). What could be better than a hoopla on a California island with AMAZING friends?! I threw out the idea to quite a few folks, but although interest was high it was soon apparent that the group of a dozen or so quickly dwindled down to just a few.

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JUST KIDDING! They all had valid excuses/ conflicts... I was just bummed we couldn't make it work ;)

Normally you'd have a training cycle for a 50 mile race last for say 18 weeks or so, but of course my game plan was slightly different. You see, I had a goal marathon I was training for last year, the Ventura Marathon, in which I was hoping to run away with a new PR {personal record}. That race was mid-October. Once I decided an ultra was officially in the cards and the Avalon 50/50 was "the" race, I realized I'd only have about 11 weeks between Ventura and Avalon. Seeing as I already had a great base, I wasn't too worried, but it did effect my training plan slightly. I ended up using the same type of plan I used when the hubby and I were getting ready to run Rim2Rim2Rim at the Grand Canyon. Once Ventura was over, I worked backward from race day and jumped into the training plan where I "should have been" - adding in the other races I already had on the schedule. Obviously this is not preferred, but with my marathon base I didn't feel as though I was risking too much (other than the fact that my runs up to that point had all been on pavement and were focused more on speed than endurance or elevation - but I was fairly confident my body could handle it).

Yes, in case you were wondering, I still use paper and pencil for my training plan (and hang it on our fridge)

Training for Avalon went well - even with the holidays thrown in the mix. I got in all of my runs/ workouts (FYI: Seeing as this would be my first official 50-Miler, I wasn't concerned about my time - anything would be an automatic PR. With that said, my runs during training weren't pace-centered. I was trying to get in time on my feet, with as many runs or hikes on the trails as possible {which, to be honest, wasn't as often as I would've liked because I am not 100% comfortable running trails alone} or with as much elevation as I could fit in.). I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little worried that my longest run during training was "only" 31 miles (jumping for 31 miles to 50 miles is a BIG jump in my mind... one you think you might want to practice a little more in training), but I was trusting the training plan and working on the idea of 'tired legs' (my weekends consisted of back-to-back long runs, with 20+ miles on Saturday and a 8-10 mile run on Sunday, so although I might not be running the distance all at once, my body was definitely feeling the fatigue and learning to push through).

Some of my trail training runs.

In case you aren't familiar with geography of Southern California, Catalina Island is one of California’s Channel Islands and lies southwest of Los Angeles. There are three ferry ports you can leave from to get to the island - Dana Point, Long Beach and San Pedro. Dana Point is closest to us (about 35 minutes north of Oceanside), so that's the one we used.

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FYI: The island is NOT to scale in reference to the mainland. 

Let me stop you right here and warn you, this is NOT a cheap trip (the ferry ticket alone was $75+ per person round trip). As you are all probably well aware, I am very cheap frugal and all of the "extras" definitely add up (ferry, parking at the harbor, hotel, etc), but since neither the hubby nor I had ever been to Catalina Island before we decided this race would be worth it. But definitely something to keep in mind if you're consider running it (or another Catalina race) in the future.

In Dana Point Harbor on the way to the ferry boat.

We took the 9:45am ferry over to the island on Friday morning so we could have a little time to get settled and ready before Saturday's race. The boat ride was great and we even saw a grey whale and a huge pod of dolphins on the trek.

Maybe one day we will be able to take one nice, serious picture... maybe... 



The ferry docked around 11:15am and we made our way to our hotel. Let's just say I don't think the hubby or Pavement Runner and his wife will be allowing me to spearhead the travel accommodations any time soon. We may have deemed our hotel "Murder Motel"... but at least everything in Avalon is within walking distance so the location was decent ;)

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It was lunch time so the hubby and I walked over to a little diner and had some food. (He had actually landed at the airport earlier that morning - at like 1am - after returning from a work photo shoot, so he was tired, a bit jet lagged and pretty hungry. Thankfully he still puts up with my shenanigans... and even does it with a smile on his face... most of the time ;))

It felt very old time-y and the food was decent too!

Packet pick-up wasn't until 4pm and we didn't want to go back to the scary hotel room so we killed some time with a round of putt-putt. It was bunches of fun! We had the course to ourselves and learned a ton about the island from the plaques at each hole (that somehow correlated with the layout of the green). And just in case you were wondering... he won by 3 strokes... but he works for a golf company (and was on the golf team in high school), so that is to be expected ;)

So much for taking it easy and resting my legs the day before the race ;)

Some of the holes were pretty cray-cray!

Eventually Brian and his wife arrived (they flew into Long Beach and took the ferry from that port) and after dropping their bags in their scary room we walked over to grab our bibs. Packet pick-up was easy peasy, although the location was pretty wonky (and not conducive for the number of runners). When we were standing in line we saw a sign that said there was a mandatory weather meeting at 6:30pm, so we got dinner at a local pizza place and would return to hear our fate.

Don don don....

Wasting time before our weather meeting by snapping some pictures.

You see, Mother Nature had been threatening rain on race day for the week or so leading up to the big dance and she wasn't going to change her mind. As the race got closer and weather predictions were more reliable, it seemed as though we were going to have morning rain and afternoon rain but maybe a break midday. At the meeting we found out that they had decided to adjust the 50 Mile course (the race also offered a 50K option but that course would remain the same).

I've heard that this is not the first time they have had to do this... 

The gentleman passing along the info spoke as though we had all run the race each of the 37 prior years (throwing out names of fire roads or aid stations), so most of it sounded like Charlie Brown's teacher, but I did hear a couple of the main changes. First, originally we were going to be seeing our drop bags twice (around Mile 21 and 32), but now we would only be seeing it once (around Mile 23). Next, due to the rains the island had been receiving prior to this weekend, along with what was on the radar, they had to cut out the portion of the race where you run out to Two Harbors (if there was an emergency they didn't think they would be able to get vehicles out there in a timely manner). They had adjusted the course so we would still hit 50 miles, but we would be doing a couple out-and-back portions instead of the original plan.

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#RealTalk - I'm super thankful they wanted to keep us safe, and wouldn't want it any other way, but I am very Type A, so when there's a hiccup in a plan it can definitely throw me into a tailspin. I would say I handled it very well, but I was still freaking out a bit. I wasn't sure how the change in course would effect the overall elevation of the race, not to mention having to change my plan on what I'd carry on my person for the race since we'd only get a restock once. #DeepBreath

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With rain in the forecast, I went back and forth on what to wear for a good two or three days before the race. I didn't want to be soggy and cold, but at the same time I also didn't want to be carrying a ton of extra stuff that I didn't need, weighing down my hydration vest. I eventually settled on a muscle tee, jacket and gloves, shorts, a trucker hat and tall socks.

I'm sort of surprised I could fit everything in my #FlatCarlee... It seemed to be overflowing ;) I had everything from a headlamp and gloves
to hydration pack and peanut butter and honey sandwiches. Even with the rain I think I planned pretty perfectly. The only things I ended up
not needing were the Knucklelights and arm sleeves. Obviously I love to #RunHappy, seeing as the majority of my gear is from Brooks ;)

I also had back-up arm sleeves, extra socks, hand warmers and a poncho (along with more fuel) in my drop bag in case I needed to swap any of my wet stuff or add more layers. Thankfully I didn't need any of it, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

I found that Uncrustables work as an AWESOME fuel on extra long runs for me
(I normally take a serving of PROBAR BOLT chews every 45-60 minutes and
will swap out every third set for an Uncrustable). The only thing I grabbed from
my drop bag during the race was more fuel and left my headlamp. 

The 50 Mile race was set to start at 5am. The plan was to meet Brian at the front of the hotel around 4:30, walk to the start and check in by 4:45, find friends and snap a couple pre-race photos before the starting horn went off. As per usual, I got about zero sleep, tossed and turned all night, freaking out because of the pouring rain that never seemed to let up or end.


Eventually I got out of bed around 3am and went in the bathroom to tool around on social media for a bit (I didn't want to wake the hubby, so opted to hunker down with my phone away from him). Thankfully around this time the rain had 'stopped' and my weather app was saying there would be a break in the storm. Hallelujah!


I got ready, ate my PROBAR BASE bar (obviously I saved one of my Frosted Peanut Butter bars for race morning - it's my fave!), drank a little water and decided to leave my poncho in the hotel room since my app promised it was dry outside.

I look ready... right?!

Well, as I'm sure you have guessed it (since I'm terrible at suspense), it was NOT dry out when I left the hotel room. I would consider it drizzle (although most Southern Californians would say it was raining), but was still hopefully it wouldn't get much worse. Brian and I made our way to the start, checked in and found friends (which was a little difficult in the dark but thankfully we looked for the matching socks, hehe). We chatted, snapped some pictures and wished each other well.

Rain jackets, headlamps, hydration vests, oh my.

Seeing as this was my first ultra I had zero time goals (the only real goals I had was finishing with a smile and not falling on the trails). Brian and I had chatted and he told me that if he had a perfect day he could probably run an 11 hour race, but otherwise it'd probably be closer to the course cut-off of 12 hours. He mentioned that he thought I was running strong and didn't 'need' to stick with him. I told him my game plan was always to run with him (running is always better with friends, not to mention he's an old pro at ultras so I figured he could help make sure I didn't go out too fast and be left with a twenty mile death march to finish the race), but that depending on the weather I may take him up on the offer of running my own race. My thought was that if the weather was craptastic, I might want to just put my head down, grind it out and finish as quickly as possible, but if Mother Nature smiled down upon us then of course I would prefer to stick with him.

And just like that it was time to get the show on the road. Unlike road races, trail races tend to be laid back and much more casual. That doesn't mean there aren't super speedy runners, but the intensity just isn't as insane as at road races. There wasn't a National Anthem or any fancy announcements (or extra time to get nervous), just someone saying "GO!"

Ready or not, here I come!

Since we were starting in the dark (the race started at 5am and the sun was set to rise around 7am), the majority of folks ran with headlamps. If you remember my recap of our Rim2Rim2Rim run at the Grand Canyon, I mentioned something similar, but it bears repeating. When you run in the dark with a light, you tend to focus on the two or three feet of light that you can see - not necessarily the big picture. The hubby and I found this helpful (and definitely less intimidating) at the Grand Canyon because you couldn't see the enormity of what we were planning to tackle until it was too late, hehe. I would say the same was true when it came to this race. When you look at the elevation map, you can see that there is a pretty big climb at the beginning of the race. Brian, Missy (who ended up deciding to stick with us for the entire race as well) and I all commented that the hill didn't seem as bad as we were expecting - but I'd assume not being able to see it (and see where we were on it) helped. Also the fact the rain had started falling harder was distracting us a bit as well...

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By the time we got to the first aid station the rain started to let up, the sun was trying to poke through the clouds and the course started to flatten out. I may have felt like a drowned rat at this point, but at least spirits overall were improving.

Decided to pack my own sunshine since Mother Nature was threatening rain ;) 

Now that the sun was coming out (or at least the sky was bright enough that we didn't need our headlamps on) we could see the beauty that was all around us. The views were stunning - and the pictures don't even do it justice! The clouds/ fog was sitting on the hills making everything seem magical (or maybe a bit creepy). And the rain made everything so green!

Once the sun started making an appearance.

We did actually see a fox on the course. I wanted him to come with me, but he stayed away...

It sort of looks like Ireland, right?!

Obviously these pictures are much later in the race, but the views are just as stunning.

The course was well marked. I never felt like there was anywhere I could have gotten lost.

The cruise ship had just come into Avalon down below a few hours earlier.

Up, up and away we go.

But the rain definitely did damage to the trails/ fire roads we were running on. Some of the areas were so thick with mud that we were having to tip toe through as to not slip and fall (or lose a shoe, which we saw happen on multiple occasions).

The mud was rough, but the mud on hills made it even harder to navigate and stay on your feet.

Taking the mud slow made it manageable. Although we did gain about 5 pounds per shoe by the time we made it through.

This was probably around Mile 13... Thick, sticky clay mud...

This was probably around Mile 27... Still muddy... 

I was actually surprised that there was as much pavement on the course as there was. I was expecting fire roads (I knew it wasn't single track trails), but there was quite a bit of road {which may have been beneficial to me since that's what the majority of my training was on, but not what I was expecting}. Not necessarily a bad thing, just something to be aware of.

The mist and rain was making its presence known for the majority of the morning, but when there was a break in the storm we were blessed with some pretty amazing views. And there seemed to be a rainbow around every corner!

Breathtaking, right?!

The race contacted me to see if they could use this shot in some of their marketing material ;)

The hubby and I volunteered at an aid station at the Kodiak 100 last year and he joked that aid stations made running ultras worth it ;) I guess I was expecting big things from the aid stations on course, but for the majority of them they seemed to be stocked with the same things (I'm guessing the race provided the goodies since they were standard across the race). Don't get me wrong, I was thankful for the gummy bears and orange slices, but maybe I was expecting more...

Bananas, oranges, gummy bears, pretzel sticks, M&Ms and boiled potatoes. 

There was one aid station that topped them all. It was where our drop bags were and they seemed to have gone all out! They had the standard items, but also had a grill going and were making bison burgers. They also had lobster, shrimp cocktail, brownies, etc. Oh yeah, and a little bar stocked with PBR and Fireball. And an aid station doggy! AW YEAH!


They weren't messing around!

And while we are on the topic of aid stations, let's touch on the Airport. Due to the change in course we went to this aid station three times. Although it was a bit of a bummer because we were seeing the same places over and over (rather than venturing further onto the island), it was nice to have running water and flushing toilets. And the third time around there was a new group of volunteers on hand. I noticed there was a "bull" set up at the end of the aid station so asked Brian if he would snap my picture while I was "riding" it (because you know I am all about a good character stop).

This was from our first trip (skies clearing up)

This was from our third trip (grey skies)

While I was cheesing it up one of the volunteers came over and asked if I wanted to learn to throw a lasso. I think at this point we were at Mile 36ish and were doing great on time so I figured 'why not?!'. Well, apparently although this was my first rodeo I have a hidden talent for ropin' steer because I got him on my first try. (I got three tries total, but failed on my second and third attempts.) The volunteer asked for my name and bib number and said I might win a prize. I joked and said "Oh yeah, one of anything from the table" pointing at the aid station, but she said that there was a real prize involved.



There was a point in the race where some of the 50K runners caught up to us (they started an hour after us, but obviously the speedy runners were going at a faster pace than us and were gaining ground), but other than that everyone sort of got into their own rhythm. We would come across more runners at the aid stations, but for the most part there weren't too many people passing us or that we were passing. Although I think I would have preferred the original course so we could have seen more of the island (and possibly some of the elusive buffalo), I did appreciate seeing more runners on the out-and-back sections. I find it a great way to take my mind off myself - looking for friends and cheering on fellow runners.

Stoked Almi and Eddie decided to sign up for the race! 

But, truth be told, it was a bit of a struggle when we got to an aid station and were told we had to turn around and go back another 6.5 miles just to come right back... Running is absolutely mental (the physical aspect definitely isn't something to scoff at either), so that could've been a major mind "f" had I not been with friends and enjoying myself so much.

Only about 7 miles from the finish but we had to turn around and
go away from it for another 6.5 miles, just to come right back...

I know, I know, most people don't even want to drive 50 miles at a time, let alone run it, but I LOVE RUNNING! I don't think there was ever a point in the race where I was "over it" (although when the cold rain started up again in the afternoon I might have been questioning my devotion ;)). Maybe had I been "race racing" and killing myself on the course I might not have enjoyed it as much, but thankfully it didn't come to that and had an amazing experience. I'll be honest, since I decided to stick with Brian for the race I knew I wasn't going to necessarily be pushing the pace - but finish lines are much more important to me than finish lines... And the people I cross them with mean the world to me!

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And guess who joined us for some of that running... THE HUBBY! Yep, he had an 8 mile run to do (he is currently training for the Griffith Park Half Marathon) and decided to run the course backwards from the finish line, 4 miles in, so he could run back with us. It was such an AMAZING surprise (he had mentioned the possibility of it, but I had totally forgotten)!

HE'S THE BESTEST!

Don't get me wrong, I was loving my time with Brian and Missy, but having my number one fan and cheerleader with me was AWESOME! The timing worked out perfectly and he got to his turnaround point maybe 2 minutes before we got there (I had sent him a few texts throughout the day with updates but we didn't have service for the majority of the time so the messages were few and far between). He's my best friend and I loved having him by my side for this accomplishment!

So happy he met us for a few miles! 

Brian was having some knee issues toward the end of the race (the pavement and downhill definitely weren't helping), so we were taking our time and just soaking up the last couple miles. There was even a fun character stop along the way.

They've got eagles on the island, so there are statues around town.

When we were getting closer folks were telling us "just 3 miles", "just 2 miles", etc. Well, we all looked at our watches and noticed that although our distance seemed to be spot on throughout the day, we were now coming up quite a bit short. In fact, it was looking like we were going to be 1.5 miles short. I realize most ultras aren't "on the nose" with the distance, but I couldn't come 'this close' and not hit 50 miles, right?! So I told the crew that I was going to keep going after we crossed the finish line to hit an even 50 (it's probably that Type A personality coming out in me, but I couldn't help it).



We crossed the finish line, collected our medals (I had asked the volunteer manning the table if we could grab them when we got back from completing the distance, but she said it would be more confusing so we ended up grabbing them and carrying them in our hands) and kept on trucking. A few steps after the finish like Brian's knee locked up so he decided to sit out the extra distance, but Missy and I ran along the coast so we could get in our full 50. (Fun fact - This was Missy's first official 50-Miler... she skipped over the distance and went from 50K to 100K and then to the 100-Miler!)

Aren't these "medals" gorgeous?! They're made of wood and are amazeballs!

LONGEST RUN!!!

The three of us ran the whole race together! 

Of course I needed to hit an even 50! #NumbersNerd

I even got this fancy "badge" on my Garmin Connect.

To say I'm proud of myself would be an understatement. When I first started running in 2012, I never would've dreamt I could have run (or would've wanted to run) 50 miles, but I'm proof you can do anything you set your mind to! Don't get it twisted, I didn't just roll over Friday morning and decide I'd tackle a 50-Miler on Saturday morning, I put in the work (months and months of work)... but if you're willing to do the training and put one foot in front of the other, you'd be shocked at what your body (and mind) is able to accomplish! YOU FREAKIN' GOT THIS (whatever 'this' is for you!)!

Finished before the sun went down!

And if you ever do this race, you should stick around on Sunday morning for the fun tradition of meeting up with the other finishers in the town square for a group photo. (It was at 8am, but I had already been awake for a couple hours so it didn't seem too crazy early.) The turn out was decent and it was another opportunity to chat and celebrate with friends.

It was a little chilly so some people had jackets over their race shirts, but you get the idea. 

These two are the best!

Oh yeah, and Almi surprised me with a package... They had gone to the awards ceremony on Saturday night and noticed my name was on an envelop on the table. Obviously finishing the race in 11:30:44 (our official time was about 13 minutes faster than that, but it was 'only' 48.5 miles) wasn't winning me any age group awards, but apparently I had come in SECOND for my steer ropin'! OH HECK TO THE YES! My "medal" was a legit horseshoe from the island spray painted silver. I was surprised and stoked! Apparently I had a hidden talent that I never would've guessed ;) #CowgirlCarlee

Two medals?! YES PLEASE!

After saying goodbye to the crew and heading back to the hotel to wake up the hubby, it was eventually time to pack up our stuff, check out of "Murder Motel" and head to the ferry. We could've taken the later ferry, but since the hubby had been gone the week previous to the East Coast on a work trip, he was ready to get home so it worked out perfectly.

Heading back to the "mainland"

Peace out Catalina... It's been real!

All-in-all I would say it was quite the successful trip and race! I became an ultra marathoner, I didn't fall and hurt myself, we visited somewhere we had never been before (and would definitely return) and we made memories to last a lifetime!

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And before you ask me if I'd consider running another ultra, let me tell you I am already registered for two more ;)

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PS If you are interested in running the Catalina Marathon (10K, 5K and Kids' Run) on March 9th or the Catalina Half Marathon and 10K on November 16th, use code "CARLEE10" when registering online to save 10% on your registration!


What is the next big goal you're chasing down?