I am no marathon hero; my 2:44 PB is okay but it's not as if I am some sub 2:20 stud (much that I wish I was). On better days I still harbour dreams of cracking 2:30, but I know it will probably remain just that - a dream. But the fact remains that my 2:44 got me 2nd place in a field of hundreds - that is just the standard of many marathons these days. The vast majority are running well over 3hr; often several hours more.
Of late I have had an injury. My own stupid fault. I can run mega-miles injury free, but I have to take real care at increasing the speed or else injury beckons. I knew half way through the run that I was pushing it but declined to slow down. The next day I paid for it and yet still could have eased off a bit and recovered within a few days, but again stupidity reared its ugly head. Now I have a long term problem that I can barely describe let alone diagnose - have barely run for over a month.
|Two Harbours, Catalina Island|
|View from the hills down to Avalon below|
|Typical Catalina views|
|2am: Leaving Long Beach past the Queen Mary|
But I knew I could survive the race (probably) and it was just so beautiful out there last year that I thought I'd give it a go. The plan was pretty simple - aim to double my PB (2:44 becomes 5:30ish), practise walking and eating on the run (in preparation for my first ultra later this year) and just enjoy myself.
|Sunrise just before our 6am arrival|
At 7am the race got underway; after a few hundred metres we started climbing and we continued to climb, often very steeply, until past 2.5 miles before a brief dip gave way to further climbing. I started out with Kevin towards the back and was soon passing tons of people who had gone out too fast. You'd think people would know to take it easy at the start of a marathon, but we met one guy from Huntington Beach who had never run more than 11 miles before! He had no idea what he had let himself in for, poor guy, but he finished.
|Clear skies and high temps|
|Beautiful views were a constant from start to finish|
|Me (in the red) getting passed on the downhill by Ed "the jester" and Andrea "the cookie monster"|
Ed was promoting Sketchers new running shoes by dressing as a jester and carrying a board with him all the way - at the start he displayed it saying "26.2 miles to go", during the race it said "almost there" (which was mostly a lie) and at the end he came back to the 26 mile marker, crossing out the "26" and declaring ".2 miles to go"! Andrea was competitive; her running speed wasn't the issue - eating the cookies before I got there was! Which leads me nicely on to the feed stations...
|... And the best!|
Wow! Water and Gatorade I am used to and I have also done races in the past with a few jelly babies or similar. But these feed stations were spectacular - far more similar to what I am told ultra race feed stations are like. There were cookies with the fluids at almost every station and there were loads of them - no chance of getting dehydrated even on a hot day like the one we were having. The biggest feed station ( at the top of the biggest climb at mile 19) had fruit, pretzels, nuts, cookies and much, much more. But the station before (at the bottom of the climb) was better still - homemade cookies and brownies. I honestly think I consumed more calories than I burned!
Back to the people. Caleb had come from Boulder, Colorado, and knew the big name ultra guys from out that way - we chatted about ultras and such things to pass the time. Nadia was more local but was in a similar situation to me - as a 3:20 marathoner she was taking it easy as she accompanied her Dad, Jorge, around his 32nd marathon. She was on a mission to have fun and, fortunately, unlike me she had brought her camera. It is she who took most of these snaps (Thanks, Nadia!).
|Father and daughter, Jorge and Nadia|
Jorge's entry into the world of marathon running was a fascinating story. Nadia had come to him at 14 years old and told him that she had entered the LA marathon. He knew his daughter was too young to do that (not to mention undertrained), but she was determined so he simply ran it with her to look after her. 13 years later they must have run about 100 marathons between then since! Classic! And I though my son was crazy... And Ellen, who kindly chatted me to sufficient distraction to keep moving when my legs were completely shot in the final miles, had simply seen the words "Catalina Marathon" and entered knowing only that the race was 26.2 miles long and nothing of the hills or even the fact that it was an off-road race! (That kept me chuckling for a few miles)!
|Buffalo on the hill|
The last 3 miles were downhill (and very steep at that) - it would have been very fast if you actually had legs that worked still at this point. Nobody near me qualified for that status! At the bottom we came into Avalon where a last half mile of tarmac and the rare sight of civilisation came back into view along with Jester Ed's board and the finish line. I was amazed how easy the run was and yet how hard it had been on my legs. I will definitely do leg strength work before I do something this hilly again - promise!
I finished a chunk under the 5:30 target, my injured leg had survived (just), I had walked, eaten while running, been on my legs for hours and reckon it had all been good ultra training. But most of all I had great fun!
Catalina Island is the most beautiful place. For running it can be unforgiving terrain, but its sights make it thoroughly worthwhile. If you ever find yourself nearby in March, do yourself a favour and come and see this most beautiful of races! Or maybe, like me, you find yourself tempted by the prospect of the Avalon 50 miler in January... :)