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Review of Avalon Benefit 50 Mile Run by Paul Halliday

Posted by: on January, 18 2012

My intention is not to write a long drawn out narrative of my race experience but it seems once i get started it has a mind of its own so lets see…..

Friday morning Ultra Ray Mena, Diana Pecheco, Suzy Degazon, Rene Rodarte, Selina Nordberg and I all took the ferry over to Catalina. As this was race weekend all boats were packed with runners. You think you see a lot of familiar races at triathlon events? Ultra running is an even more intimate close knit group of people and you seem to recognize faces everywhere you turn. And traveling with Suzy you might as well forget trying to hold to any schedule. The woman knows EVERYONE and she cannot get 10 feet down the street without somebody coming up and asking for a picture.

Once on the island we checked into our hotel, packed our SPECIAL NEEDS bags and proceeded to registration. SPECIAL NEEDS bags for ultra marathons are identical to those in IRONMAN….A central location on the course route that you will hit multiple times. At this time you can dump off cold weather gear, lights, etc…and pick up additional nutrition, sunscreen, etc.. After registration we ate dinner and returned to the hotel for an early bedtime.

3AM – alarm clock goes off….shower, jock up and head out the door. We have a 1/2 mile walk from the hotel to the starting line. We were expecting extremely cold temperatures but it seems warmer….scarily warmer. I voiced my concern to ray that hopefully this is not a sign of things to come. Cold weather for a heavy ultra runner is ok….we run hot….but heat will kill us. Once down at the race start we took all the obligatory pics until the gun went off at 5AM.

The first mile or so is thru the town on pavement and then into the foothills of the national park. Then starts the nasty 5.5 mile ascent up to the backbone of the Catalina ridgeline. The newer ultra runners will get caught up in the excitement and attempt to run this leg with the pros….but at this point in the race 95% of us are fast walking this hill. At the top is a beautiful sunrise followed by 13 miles of rolling hills….designed to beat you down then let you recover then beat you down again…At mile 18 I hit Suzy’s aid station the WACKO CAFE (appropriately named for its staff)….this marks the 18.9 mile out portion of the course and 33.8 mile of the coming back portion. I dumped off my headlamp and wind jacket and Suzy topped off all my fluids. I had been taking Gels every hour with salt but being over 3 hrs in I decided to ingest some Hammer Perpetuem to stave off the dreaded hamstring cramps that come with hill climbing. Back on the tr ail we had about 3 miles of climbing and then 4 miles of steep downhill to the far side of the island and our turn around point. It was at this 3 miles of climbing that i came upon Jimmy Downs, a fellow Inland Inferno member. He had the same look you see from every ultra runner deep into the race. That 1000 yard stare where he is looking AT you but more then likely right thru you. We lied to each other about how good we looked and continued on our way. At mile 26 i marked my bib with the pink highlighter provided (to prove we were there) and headed back home. If being at mile 26 wasn’t bad enough now i had a 4 mile climb to get back up to the ridgeline to start the rolling hills again. After an 1 1/2 hr deathmarch to the top i fell back into the infamous ironman shuffle and proceeded to the aid station at mile 33. Once there suzy topped off my fluids while i chugged a Coors Lite offered to me by a Catalina Fireman…..suited back up and headed back onto the trail….dow ntime…perhaps 3 minutes. At mile 35 i came upon a girl crying and walking the wrong way back to the aid station at mile 33. Before i could utter a word she said she was DNFing and her toes were killing her. I reached my arm under her arm, connected my elbow with hers and spun her back around. I told her that she will always regret having come so far and given up. The second she is warm, dry and rested she will kick herself for having given up. We walked arm and arm for several tenths of a mile til she found her rhythm. After talking for a few moments we discovered we had mutual friends and club acquaintances, etc.

Shortly thereafter i got her to start running the flats and downhills with me and we would walk the uphills. We were both suffering pretty bad at mile 44 with the last 2 mile climb of the day, it was miserably steep and the aid station volunteers informed us that they had quite a few people drop out at that aid station rather then climb the hill. Now there is NO WAY i am going 44 miles and quitting 6 miles from the finish line. We walked the hill, stopping several times to catch our breath. Once at the top all that was left was a 4 mile steep downhill section of switchbacks followed by a 1/3 of a mile of downtown street to the finish line.

We started down the hill at a slow jog, then faster as each mile clicked off. Then at the last bell tower you could see the city lights and hear the crowds cheering…by now with about 1 mile to go we were almost at an all out sprint. Once we got to the flat straight away on the beach who was standing there waiting for me but
Suzy Degazon with a flashlight screaming and cackling, running alongside me and guiding both Vida and I to the finish line. I crossed the finish line in 12:20 something (or so i am told….i didn’t look at where the clock was)….I could care less about time. Vida turned to me and hugged me,….thanking me for staying with her and helping her finish the last 17 miles. Reminds me of Wildflower when Rhoel did the same for me….oops…i think i forgot to hug him.

I prepared myself a lot better on this Ultra with bodyglide, moleskin, Perpeteum and higher end shorts and shirt. One blister, some ankle and lower back pain and a slight sunburn is all i suffered.

At mile 39 once again i said never again……never again…but we just cant leave it alone. Last night i was online looking at races for this weekend….and the inaugural RAY MILLER 50 in a few weeks in malibu.
Well there is my race report. I love this race it is very well supported. We will be back next year for sure. Clearly not as eliquent as Jason but i hope you felt my pain….and my elation.