January 18, 2011

Avalon 50 Mile - Race Report

Bino M Finishing the 50
Have you ever seen the sun rise over the Pacific Ocean? Stood 20 feet from a wild buffalo?  Peered 1,000 feet over a school of dolphin?  If you haven’t, it's time you check your calendar and run the Avalon Benefit 50 mile run on Southern California’s Catalina Island. Avalon 50 is an old school ultra, now in it's 30th year, predating most ultras around the country.  The course, with over 7,300 feet of elevation gain, is challenging yet offers some of the best scenery in southern California.

The race started at 5 am when the race official simply said "go" in a voice soft enough to be mistaken for a church prayer.  Then some 250 runners scampered into the darkness up the streets of Avalon until we reached the trail head. From there we started the 2 mile, 1,600 foot climb to one of the Pacific Coast’s most glorious trails, the Trans Catalina Trail.  As we climbed, I glanced to my right and for a second I thought I was peering over a glassy lake, with the stars above shining up at me from the darkness below.  But the illusion quickly revealed itself when the reflection morphed into flashlights of runners on the trail below me.

Once to the top of the trail we continued in the darkness for another 30 minutes until we were greeted by the glow of an amber winter's sunrise over the Pacific Ocean.  Next to me were two masters runners clipping along like they were running a 10k.  Ray, a 54 year old runner from Long Beach, was training  for Wasatch 100 mile run in Utah.  We talked over several miles, covering many topics, from how we got into running to the ubiquitous lotteries of 100 milers.  “Its all about the money” Ray laughingly said as we each descended into our own 50 mile odyssey.

I continued down the trail, feeling pretty smug listening to the Chemical Brothers’ ‘Asleep From Today,’ Moby’s ‘Hotel Intro’ and other trance VO2 vibe.  The only hiccup listening to music on trail is that it has a limited life.  Don’t expect to use it for more than a few hours, because the mind also needs to connect with the natural sounds around it.  If denied this primitive need, my mind will tumble into a dark place I don’t want it to go.

The trail didn’t disappoint as it traversed dozens of miles of remote territory around Santa Catalina Island.  Just after spotting a school of dolphin while cresting a hill hovering above the Pacific Ocean, I ran upon a giant buffalo right in the middle of the fire road. Do I run right by and hope for the best?  Or do I saunter by gingerly to avoid a confrontation? Glancing for escape routes as I approached the behemoth, I chose the former, and got through unscathed.

At this point I was nearing the turnaround so I started counting the number of runners coming back to me. This was when I realized my goal of a top ten finish was in serous jeopardy.  One, two, six, ten, twelve, fourteen...ok I got the message and just stopped counting.  From here I resolved to do two things for the next several hours: keep my feet turning over, and pick off as many in front of me as possible.

So I kept on moving, through several aid stations where the volunteers worked tirelessly to help us tired runners, and through many miles of running in solitude.  One by one, six runners came back to me, beckoning me toward the finish.

Then, finally, I turned the corner for the 2 mile, 1,500 foot decent on the paved road to the finish line.  Wow, I thought, who ever thought of this punishing finish deserves a place in the funny farm.  What we runners do for tradition!  8 hours 13 mins.  14th overall.  A good day on trail. 


Rachel said...

sounds like another great race! i've been to catalina once for a hike but would love to return to do some running. i can just imagine how amazing the scenery was!

Will Cooper said...

thanks Rachel....the place is a must for anyone looking for remote trials w/o all the crowds!

Asha said...

WOW! Great job!

Emz said...

Ok. This. Freaking. Rocks.
Mile 3-5. Holy. Freaking. Cow.

Next. Year. It's. On. My. List.

Where's the buckle?!

Will Cooper said...

Emz...no buckle for 50's in my experience. Consider yourself lucky on that front. Look forward to seeing you in Avalon next year! Definitely a destination ultra you can bring your family to.

www.la-rioja-3d.com said...

Thanks for your article, really useful information.

Mike Eberts (AKA Your Humble Blogger) said...

Thanks for the writeup. It gives me a good sense of the race.

Did you have to do fundraising to get into the Catalina 50-miler? The website mentions it, but I can't figure out if most runners do it or not.

I'd be happy to buy a ticket to the banquet. What is that like?