Monday, January 14, 2008

Avalon 50 CONQUERED!

Shock and Surprise fill my mind right now. I'm pretty well recovered mentally from this jaunt around the island, but still find the thought that I just ran 50 miles to be a bit surreal.

A few months ago I had decided that after running three 50K's it was time to take on the 50 mile distance. It was kind of a scary decision but one which I committed to by paying my race fees!

We left Dana Point for Avalon on Friday morning. As you can imagine the nerves were sensitive and anxiety levels high, and as we neared the Island and you could see the shadow of the mountains... it also got very silent. Our conversations kind of halted as we stood in awe at the helm of the boat watching the mountain get bigger and bigger with each nautical mile closer we got. The great part was that our very experienced guide/part-time resident and Ultra runner Jenny, showed us a couple of course highlights which came in handy especially the last ten miles or so.
After the typical pasta dinner and large stein of Hefenweizen the night before, it was time to go back to the hotel and try to lie out and coordinate all the race junk we would need. Even I was surprised at how much thought I needed to put in for preparation. Somehow I managed to get my gear all ready where I felt confident nothing was forgotten... except for my potatoes still sitting on the counter back at home, oh well, I could not worry about it now it was time to try and get some sleep. Like most other runners I'm sure, my actual sleep time the night before was about four hours and very restless at that.

The race start was hilarious. About 160 of us all decked out in bottles of this and that type elixirs and flashlights and headlamps a-glo were congregating their at the beach front. The RD pretty much looked around and hollered "OK, all set... 3... 2... 1... GO!" and off we went. All you saw were a bunch lights bouncing on up the hill past the Wrigley Memorial (which also happens to be where Leslie and I got engaged 10 years ago). It was completely dark out but we knew the hill was step by the ascending elevation of headlamps you could see as you looked skyward. Maybe it was a good thing that it was dark :)
Once towards the top of the hill the sun started to rise and the serenity and painted like images below us were breathtaking. At this point we pretty much ditched our headlamps and extra clothing and at least for me, the race was ON. I settled into my pace and felt great the entire day. Of the 9 1/2 hours I was out there I sighted 9 buffaloes with two of them being close enough I could of hand fed them, but wisely decided to give me them all the room I could as I quietly toed myself around them allowing them all the space they wanted. To see something that big and graceful in the wild habitat sure makes you humble and something you can never ever match at a zoo, but only in something like the Avalon 50 race. In fact this alone almost makes it worth doing.

The course was incredibly beautiful in every single mile that passed. I was solo for the majority of the race and since I don't believe in running with tunes the sounds of the mountain were music to me. I could hear all the sways of trees, the ocean way below me and of course the munching of leaves and wild brush by the buffaloes. Towards the 25 mile turnaround was an out and back section through Two Harbors. Again this was an incredible sight to see from the top of the mountain as you descend for an up close look at the fishing boats and small beach. At this point I also saw all my friends and fellow ultra nuts. The camaraderie is never ending and regardless of whom you are or where you are in the race, everyone cheers and roots each other, it's a great "family". On ward back across the mountain tops to Avalon we go. The way back was just as pretty and scenic but I was becoming extremely focused on my race against the clock, so to be honest I was not really taking the time to smell the roses or party at the incredible aid stations along the way.
Once descending the North side of the hill into town you run through a few residential streets before turning the corner and seeing the banner and your adoring fans and the finish line tape! Funny how all of a sudden you forget that you have just gone 50 miles and can almost sprint the finish line. Once crossing and feeling totally happy with my 39th overall finish I went straight to the oceans to give my feet and legs a well deserved ice bath in the ocean... AHHHHHhhhhh.

After the post race repair of fuel and hydration it was already time to get ready for the Awards Banquet, this was our first 50 miler so we decided to go along with all the basics, not expecting anything of course. After dinner they began the awards ceremony where Kristen got 3rd place in her age group, as the age groups went on I was not even paying attention because though happy with my time I was not prepared for it to be a competing time against others in my division. Oh how wrong I was as they announced "Joey Bryan 3rd place in 30-39 age group". I was shocked and in fact Leslie had to tell me that they just called my name as I was in disbelief. I happily went up for my picture and Award which is an appropriate Beer Stein. First thing I did was walk back to my table and fill it with beer to begin the evenings libations, Mmmm yummy!
After the Awards we hung out at El Galleon and continued to drink and celebrate. We also met there Evan, Mark and his wife, all who also ran the event. As it turns out, Evan took the 1st place in my age group (his beer stein was much larger but he earned it) and Mark and I were battling for the 3rd place. The night was a fun finish to an exhausting day.

The next day's boat ride to Dana Point was also quite eventful. Twice our boat had stopped mid-way because the Whale Sensors were going off. The first one was a false alarm but the second one turned out to be a school of Dolphins, what a treat! We stopped in the midst of them for several minutes before proceeding slowly right in the middle. What a sight to see with hundreds of them swimming around, jumping and surfing the wake of the boat. Something that I don't think any picture or video could capture with all it's beauty.

The whole trip was worth every second of training and preparation and with luck and confidence I will be back next year. I did try to capture some pictures along the way and some of them goofy self portraits... what can I say my mind was exhausted and I was running for over 9 hours so anything goes. You can check a few of the Avalon pics HERE.

Thanks to Leslie for putting up with me and always being there at the finish no matter how smelly and out of sorts I am... you not only ROCK but you are the ROCK.

Yes, in case you are wondering I am planning to do another Ultra and by the way, this race happens to qualify me for Western States ... Hmmmm how crazy am I?


1 comment:

Mrs. Huebner's Class said...

Hi Joey.

Congratulations on your race! I did the Catalina Marathon two years ago, and I absolutely loved it! I felt the same way you did as the boat pulled into Avalon. The mountains looked small but got bigger and more intimidating as we approached the island.

The boat ride from Avalon to Two Harbors on race morning was an adventure in itself as we bounced up and down off the waves. When we got to Two Harbors, I just followed everyone because I had no idea where the start was. We walked to a muddy road and someone drew a line with a stick! Then people just started running! The first few miles were very muddy and slippery and actually a lot of fun! As I turned the corner at mile 15, there were three buffalo just grazing away. The views from the top of the mountains were gorgeous!

The awards ceremony later that day was so inspiring. The people who have run this race over and over are amazing! Even a blind man runs this race every year.

Well, reading your post and remembering Catalina makes me want to try the 50 mile race some day.

By the way, my husband and I spent our honeymoon at the Wrigley mansion 10 years ago!

Once again, congratulation, Joey!