Jenny Capel - Catalina Island Eco Marathon

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Catalina Island Eco Marathon

By Jenny Capel

As I sit here in Reno, trying to warm my hands and feet from the snowy  conditions, I reminisce about the warm, sunny days I experienced my weekend on Catalina Island for the Catalina Eco-Marathon.  A few months ago Ian Achey sent out an email about the marathon, which La Sportiva sponsored.  My first thought was "a weekend getaway from the kids", then "can I convince my husband".  My husband, Steve, was on-board immediately and decided to register for the marathon too.  Unfortunately, he pulled his calf a few weeks before and became our race day photographer instead.  My running partner, Miriam Smith, and her husband were also anxious to get out of town and jumped at the chance.  So our weekend was set.

I reviewed the race profile.  It didn't seem too tough...a 1500 foot climb for the first 3-4 miles and the same descent the final 3 miles with a bunch of rollers thrown in between.  The race would run along the Catalina Ridge....I figured once on a ridge it couldn't be too bad.  How wrong I was!  We flew to LA and took the Catalina Express from Long Beach to the island on Friday. On our journey, we saw multiple pods of dolphins and met other runners from the area who had run the race previously.  They  gave me some information on the course as we aproached the island.  "See that tower up on the hill?  You will run up to that AFTER running around the backside, then along that road that cuts in and out". view of Avalon from the boat

The road was NOT flat.  My nerves were beginning to kick in.  Once we landed onshore, we discovered that the town of Avalon was very small.  So small you could walk from one side to the other in about 10 minutes!  Miriam and I decided that we needed a pre-race  buffalo burger before we went to the course briefing.  Catalina is known for its buffalo, hence the buffalo shaped finisher's medallion for the marathon.  There were tons of unfamiliar faces milling about at the briefing, all waiting for course details.  Mike Bone, the race director,  started by saying that this race is more like an ultra (expected), carry at least one water bottle (expected), aid stations every 3-4 miles (expected), 6,000 ft of climbing......whoa, whoa...I was thinking more like 3,000!!!  Those negative thoughts started pouring in.  I had been working on speed, not so much hills.  Would I be able to climb that much? Steve reminded me that I climbed 11,000 at the Where's Waldo 100K.  Yeah, and that was in August!!  Well, all I could do was the best I could at that moment.  Might as well enjoy this scenic paradise.

On Saturday morning, Miriam and I and our 2 cheerleaders headed out on the 15 minute walk to the start.  On our way, Miriam said that she could tell I was nervous because I wasn't doing what I do best...talking!  It was true, I was.  At the start line, I heard Michelle Barton and Paula Newby-Fraser, both past winners, introduced.  Ugh...could I keep up with them? At exactly 8am the gun went off and up the hill we went.  The first mile was on asphalt that led onto a steep dirt road. I had chosen to wear La Sportiva Skylites  for their snug fit and lightweightedness. I found them perfect for the varying terrain. About 1/4 of the way up I decided to take little walking breaks to conserve energy and watched Paula and Michelle

the road to the ridge

continue running up the hill.  After 3 miles, I finally reached the ridge. It was absolutely incredible. To the right was ocean and LA; to the left ocean and San Clemente Island. I was standing on the top of Catalina island. Below is Avalon with LA in distance

We made our way over the ridge for miles and I just couldn't believe these views, which helped me somewhat forget about all the hills I was running either up or down. Finally, there was a sharp left turn that took us toward the back of the island, where buffalo are known to roam. No, I didn't see any. By this time Michelle and Paula were out of my sight so I could enjoy my surroundings and run my race, what I had now termed a fast ultra. I was feeling good, but concerned about the hill at mile 19, aptly named the "Catalina Crush". There were numerous signs indicating that I was approaching the Crush: "Beware, the Crush is ahead"...."you're almost at 19". I kept telling myself that I've been in races with steep hills. I could do it. Finally the sign "entering the Crush". I looked up this challenge and at the top I could see 2 people at the top, watching me. Ugh...don't look up, just start climbing. It was definitely a walker of a hill. It reminded me of Maiden Peak at Where's Waldo, but not nearly as long...thank goodness! The two people who watched me the entire way shouted, "yeah, you made it up the Crush. Only 7 more miles". Many of these miles were backtracking on what we had started on so they were familiar.  Somehow, I didn't recall running so much downhill going out because there were tons of good climbs on the return! I kept telling myself to just make it to mile 22, then it was all down. Once I hit 22, there were still ascents! Finally, at the mile 24 aid station, the volunteers pointed me DOWN a rocky single track. This was it...all down from here. The single track was every ultrarunners dream....a bit rocky but overall good footing with switchbacks thrown in and a view of Avalon. With about 1 mile to go, the singletrack ended at the asphalt road we started on. I kept thinking about my husband waiting for me and seeing the finish line at the beach coming toward me. The street was lined with cheering spectators as I heard my name announced as 4th place finisher  in 3:48:21.

Michelle and Paula, who finished in 3:38:33 and 3:45:15 respectively, congratulated me on 4th place. My first question was "There was another woman in front of me?". They both started laughing and told me I was 4th OVERALL and 3rd woman! The women placed 2,3,4 overall!

My friend, Miriam, was 4th woman overall too. The Reno contingency placed well. Now it was time to enjoy a beer in the sun!

I would highly recommend the Catalina Eco-marathon as a well organized race, beautiful course, and desirable location. Just remember the race is either up or flats!  I plan on returning in the future...maybe for the Avalon 50!

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