Avalon Benefit 50
If I could sum up how I feel about my first 50-miler — the experience, my results, I’d still use the word: HAPPY.
Unlike past racing seasons where I’d race shorter distances much more often, it felt like I hadn’t raced forever. I was nervous, anxious and excited. I couldn’t wait to get to that starting line and experience another NEW race distance at another NEW place. Avalon had also held a special place in my heart because it was about a year ago that I started putting Runner’s Booty together and a year ago I debuted a few tank tops at this race. Ash had strongly suggested I run this race because she thought it was very similar to El Moro, a local trail that we hit up on occasion. She also thought I could be a top finisher (I think she is my biggest fan, haha).
I really feel like I headed into this race with positive attitude. Yes, I was a little worried and I had a lot of questions about the race and myself but I don’t think that was a negative thing…I’d like to say I am realistic. And I felt like my experiences at Javelina had carried me to the starting line — both the lows from all the pain and having to drop out (and being OK with it), to the highs of finding out I had set a new course record for the default 100k finish.
Amongst my close friends, I had already established a reasonable goal but I didn’t share it with anyone else simply because I (probably you too) am still learning a lot about ultras and the one thing that we ALL know is that anything can happen on race day. My intention was to finish in 8 hours and I really felt like it was doable — I knew I had that in me. And I knew that I needed to average a 9:36 mile to do it.
As Ash and I headed down to the boardwalk from our hotel in the morning, it was miserably cold and very dark. I saw so many familiar faces at the start but I only cared about hiding in corner to stay somewhat warm until it was finally time to squeeze my way to the front. I’d say hi to them later. 🙂 Once the race started I tried to get a grasp on the which ladies were in front but I couldn’t really see anything other than at least one ponytail hauling butt in front of me with the lead pack of men. I was so focused on staying warm, I didn’t realize that I hadn’t yet started to search for satellites with my Garmin, and by the time I got a connection, we were already a quarter mile into the race. Race foul #1.
We headed out on the road and almost immediately headed up into the hills. I knew we were going to go up very quickly based on the elevation profile from the site, but man, it was very challenging having to warm-up uphill in the dark with switchbacks for 3.5 miles. I remember being able to see the leader’s headlamps WAY up ahead, almost seamless with the other stars in the sky. It was really an awesome sight and a reminder that we still had a lot of climbing to do this morning. I knew then that my race plan of averaging a 9:36 was pointless since we would be going up and down pretty much all day.
I think I spent most of my time preparing for a race just trying to figure out exactly what I am going to wear. I had it in my head that I was going to run in a sportsbra and some compression shorts. I realized quickly after getting to Catalina that that just was not going to happen and so I added a tank top. I decided last minute to wear a windbreaker type jacket and I just put it on over my Camelpak so I could ditch it at the Little Harbor drop bag site at mile 18.9. I didn’t realize that all my nutrition was inside my pack and that I’d have to take off my jacket to access one of my gels. Race foul #2. I figured I’d avoid the hassle of getting into my pack and just wait until the first aid station (5.9) grab one there. When I got to the station, there weren’t any gels (no big deal) and since I really didn’t feel like having M&Ms and pretzels too early, I quickly drank some Gatorade and maneuvered into my pack to grab a gel. By the time I got to the second aid station at mile 11.9, I realized I should grab a few gels and blocks out of my pack instead of wasting time getting in and out of my pack everytime I needed something. I really had no intention of wasting any brain cells on this silly stuff, I had a race to focus on, the last thing I needed was to trip and hurt myself over something.
I found that I had been running most of the early part of the race with a guy named Tom and as we headed into mile 12-ish?, we encountered the race photographer. He was waving at us and pointing in the direction to his right. I had my headphones on (not listening to music at this point but just keeping the cold air out) and I figured he was prompting us to look in that direction for the best photo opportunities but that was not the case. He was telling us that there was a buffalo on the other side of his truck. Tom and I stopped not really knowing what to do — it was only across the fire road and really close. It seemed like everything was in slow motion after that point because before I knew it, the buffalo charged straight at us! I froze like an idiot and screamed because I didn’t know what to do. At the last second, it turned right and disappeared. You’d think a runner would instinctively run and get the heck out of there and all I could do was scream. I hope I don’t have a stalker…at this point I’d probably be easy prey… Anyway, that incident gave us something to talk about for a little bit longer.
About a mile or two later we caught up with Jack Rosenfield, a Coyote. We were flying downhill and I remember telling him, “it just doesn’t feel right running a 6:30 mile in the middle of a 50-mile race!” It felt like we were running downhill for quite some time and I really wanted to take advantage of that and tried my best to not put on the brakes and save my quads and hammies. We ran together through the drop bag area where I ditched the jacket, and we continued to run together until around mile 24 when we parted ways. He actually told me to go ahead and keep running while he took a small walk break. Boo, I didn’t really want to run alone today. While Jack and I had sporadically ran/walked, Tom had apparently decided to keep running and I was never able to run that close to him again.
As I got into Isthmus, I passed the aid station deciding I would hit it after the turnaround on my way back to Little Harbor. It was at this spot I suddenly felt some major anxiety because I realized my feet were really hurting. I suddenly had flashbacks of Javelina where it didn’t matter how big my heart was, I just could not control my destiny. I would be devastated if I had to dnf AGAIN. This was the only time during the race I felt worry or concern and thankfully it went away quickly once I started to gaze again at the beautiful views and scenery. I also knew that I had a pair of Hokas at my drop bag and I could always switch into them if I really needed to.
Because of the turnaround, I knew I’d be able to see the leaders as they passed me. I started counting them. I saw Fabrice. Then some others. And finally a woman. Wide eyed and grinning I said, “Great job!!” She looked at me like a deer in headlights. Awkward. I thought that was kind of rude for her to be so standoffish but whatever, it is a race afterall. A few minutes later I see another woman and then it hit me that this was actually the leader and the woman before her must have been one of the early starters. Up to this point nearly every aid station had alerted me to the fact that I was the second female to pass through. Of course I cheered her on and took note of my location and time so I could see how far ahead of me she was. She was in the 5th overall position at this point and I kept counting runners and found myself in 14th place at the turnaround. When I got back to the spot I had passed the leader, 15 minutes had passed. She was flying. Good for her. I got to the Isthmus aid station, grabbed more gatorade, potatoes, oranges and bananas and headed off. Now I was contemplating whether or not I would change my shoes at Little Harbor, mile 33.2 on the way back. My midfoot area and in between my big toes I felt a lot of pressure and blister nagging pain. I just didn’t know what to do and as I headed back to the station I decided to chance it and keep going without making the switch.
I had heard over and over again that there would be another long grinder after leaving this aid station that was approximately 7 miles long before that downhill finish and at this point I was over a minute per mile ahead of my goal pace and ready tackle them once and for all. A few minutes past the aid station, I came across a guy named Paul. We chatted a bit and he also had a finishing goal similar to mine. We both knew we were ahead of pace and unless something really awful happened, we would hit our goal for the day. We ran/walked together for a while until I had decided I would try to walk less and find points to run to before walking again while he decided to do his own thing. I wouldn’t see him again until he finished the race. There was guy in front of me and Paul who pushed up those hills running but he wasn’t making anymore progress than we were so I felt like I was making the right decision by doing what I was doing. Running alone again I turned on my ipod and around mile 38 I ran into Jimmy Dean Freeman who was hitting the course with a few other Coyotes to cheer on their teammates. I was really happy to see them and their energy and positivity really motivated me again. All I kept thinking was “Where are all these hills everyone was talking about?” There were some hills but I guess I expected something a little different. I didn’t want to save anymore energy waiting for hills that weren’t approaching soon enough so I just tried to book it forward and I would deal with them when I got to them.
With about 11 miles to go, I entered the aid station and saw two other guys in front of me. One of them was the guy I mentioned before who was running on the uphills in front of me and Paul. The three of us left the aid station together but shortly after we parted ways because they were walking shortly after. I definitely didn’t want to do any walking unless I had to so I continued running until I got to Pumphouse Hill around mile 44. I finally saw an intimidating hill behind the station so I skipped it so I could get this hill over with and move on. I must have power-walked for a whole mile up one of these hills and then tried my best to keep going, stopping less and less until I finally found the downhill finish.
As I headed down the paved road back into town, I found myself running near an older gentlemen on his bike. I was kind of annoyed with the sound of him screeching on his brakes. He got ahead of me and later I found him crashed on the ground grimacing in pain. I though for sure my race was over with less than a mile and half to go because I couldn’t just leave him there. “Oh well,” I thought…I hope someone would at least do the same for me if the tables were turned. When I got to him he said we was OK and didn’t need any help. “Good.” I started running again and before I knew it, he was near me again, blowing past me with the brakes on…oh my gosh, I am going to go crazy!!!! Finally with him out of sight I could focus on finishing. As I headed to the Boardwalk down to the finish, I couldn’t help but smile. I knew I made it. 7:30-something on my Garmin. I couldn’t wait to make those few phone calls to Dominic and Andy Noise who had been by my side during the last few months of training since Javelina. They were proud too and that of course made me happy.
In retrospect, really loved this race. I would definitely recommend it to other runners looking for a great 50-miler. I had tons of fun on the island, it was well organized and the scenery is gorgeous and I loved having a turnaround because that allowed me to see and cheer for other runners. I hope I make it out here again for another great race.