Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Catalina Island Marathon - Puke, Pain & Perservereance

Catalina Island Marathon

Runner's World named the Catalina Island Marathon the best off-road marathon in the world, sighting pristine wilderness, wide dirt trails, ocean views, and buffalo crossings as reasons for the pick. I think it's the best in the world because it happens to be where coachancé proposed to me last year, after running his little marathoner bum off and placing 7th overall. This is what prompted me and coachancé to get in on the action in 2008. Three of our friends decided to punish themselves last Saturday as well. Happily, we all made it out alive. This is our story.

Crossing the 26 miles of Pacific ocean to get to Catalina was supposed to be the beginning of our weekend get-away destination event vacation. With 5-6 foot ocean swells tossing the boat to and fro, the boat ride quickly became an opportunity to drop some weight before the big event. One of our friends was hugging the toilet the entire time.

And the next morning, during jam-packed 5am boat ride from Avalon to the race start in Two Harbors, our same wussy-stomached pal dropped some more water weight, and his pre-race meal, into the Pacific. He was light as a feather and ready to go, he said.

While the wind made for a queasy ride, it also made for the best tail-wind in the history of the 31-year old race, according to race officials. After hanging out in a little café in Two Harbors for 45 minutes, it was time to strip, make a final bathroom run, and make our way to the start line. For the first time in co-ed racing history, the female bathroom line was non-existent, the male bathroom line was out the door, and some cheating men crept over to the women's side. It was beautiful.

The race started just as the sun was coming up, and all 603 runners made their way up the first climb, gaining breathtaking views of the ocean and Catalina's mountains with each step. While Runner's World compared the marathon's elevation map to the Dow Jones, I'd say it's pretty equivalent to the emotional roller coaster/stress levels of a bride 2 weeks out from her wedding, with the wedding occurring at mile 23, and the stress plunging into the sea soon thereafter.

The only goal I had entering the race was for me and my girlfriend, R, to beat our two dude friends. However, seeing as they both got queasy--and one puked--on the ride over, it wasn't much of a fair race. We creamed them. (Coachancé was not included in Operation Girls Rule, because he is a scary fast freak of nature runner, so there wasn't even a race to be had.)

The course map looks something like this: spiky at miles 2, 4, 6, 9, 11, then gradually uphill from miles 13-18, steep uphill from 18-20.5, 5 rollers that you can count off in your head from 20.5-23, then straight down for the rest of the race. If anything, the elevation changes give competitors something to constantly focus on. And fiery quads.

At about mile 2, some self-professed Catalina Marathon veteran decided to strike up a conversation. "What's your best marathon time?" He asked. "This is my first marathon that wasn't at the end of an Ironman," I responded. "Oh. So what do you want to finish in?" I had no idea. I just run how I feel. "4 hours," I said. Now go away. "4 hours! That's a pretty lofty goal for your first one. This course is pretty tough, you know," says Mr. Know-it-all. "Yep," says I. "You should probably take it a little easier on these first 6 miles," says Mr. KIA. "Ha!" says I. I step it up. He takes off on a downhill, my non forté.

At about mile 11, I heard, "Hey, baby! Nice ass!" Who the heck would be so forward, I wondered. It was R. She had completely broken away from the boys, and we were headed to victory.

At about mile 19, something terrible happened. My foot seized up and my big left toe curled under and wouldn't go back to normal. No no no! This can't be happening! Must...beat...boys...I tried to run in a way that I wouldn't have to flex my foot, as that seemed to induce the psycho cramping. And then I ate almost all of my salt pills within a 20 minute time frame. Must finish! No evil cramps!

At about mile 24, I couldn't remember why I ever thought running downhill was all that fabulous. Each step felt like an elephant was kicking me in my soles. Visions of hip replacements in my 20s floated in my head. And visions of walking down the isle with a walker.

Finally, the finish banner appeared. People were cheering. Coachancé was cheering. I gave it all I had. And you know what? I wasn't too far off of the random goal I had picked at mile 2 to make Mr. KIA go away.

Catalina Marathon R & I get hardware! Go girls!

Post race festivities included: standing in the freezing cold ocean until we couldn't feel our bodies, rubbing in the fact that R and I kicked the boys' arses, lots of pizza, awards, and lying horizontally until it was time to bust out the karaoke.

In fact, we were even forced to spend the night! Because of the wind, no boats were leaving the island, including the 6:30pm ferry we were scheduled on.

The Catalina Island Marathon is absolutely gorgeous, super fun, and a perfect challenge. As one of my buddies noted, it seems like the people there value how many times you've done it far over how fast you run--little year pins that stream down the veteran marathoners' hats like tails denote their seniority. And as far as I can tell, the buffalo seem to be an urban myth. I never saw one, despite the claim that 200 of them are hanging out on the island. Maybe they're shy of runners.

Happy marathoning!

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