Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Avalon 50 Mile Recap

As mentioned previously, I signed up for the Avalon 50 miler with an honest expectation of experiencing ultrarunning's stern and bitter adjudication for the undertrained. Perhaps I could have meditated about my 2008 Mt. Disappointment 50 miler (a truly brutal death march through hell, climbing up Edison Fire Road in 100 degree heat, a painful descent down the technical Silver Mocasin Trail with IT bands screaming, before a crushing final climb up Mt. Wilson with 46 miles on my virgin legs). Maybe that would have reminded me how capable and consistent Jorge Pacecho is in every Southern California ultra, and how to respect distance and terrain. I'd been going agnostic on ultrarunning; forgetting about the magic and joy of a well-executed race, working 12 hour days, and focusing on everything else in my life (Katie, work, sleep, holidays).

As I gazed upon the race in December, I felt a heavy expectation to train more and execute a disciplined schedule, but there was nothing tactile or sensually alluring about the race. There were few photographs, no personal memories besides snorkeling at Fourth of July Cove in middle school, and no instinctual urge to go for 20-30 mile runs on gradual fire roads. I wasn’t completely lazy though-I did need to run to soothe my twitching legs and screen burnt eyes with a few miles. In St. Louis, the rain fell relentlessly for 4 days, and I ground out a few track workouts to make small advances in fitness to get ready to race. When I returned to LA, the race was already upon me, but I still got out for another workout on Blue Ridge with Peter. Whatever training I had done, it would have to suffice. 

 When race day finally came, I sheepishly lined up at the starting line at 5 AM, certain that I would follow Fabrice and Jorge for as long as I could until my lacking fitness was painfully made apparent (likely at 3-4 miles in). As predictable as it would have been to see the SoCal legends dash off into the early morning dusk, I lead for 2 miles, and was joined not by either luminary, but by Paul Sinclair and Neil Feerick (local podium masters runners). They chatted, I figured out my pace, and we alternated the lead until I started to pull away sometime around mile 16.
Mile 18, Photo by Elsie Noemi Lopez

I didn't know where Fabrice (Did Not Start) or Jorge (6 minutes behind at mile 18) were, but I was running hard and focused. The drop bags did not make it in time to mile 18, so I had to make due on coke and rationing my 4 VFuel gels for 33 miles. I made a quick stop in the porta-potty, and was now in second chasing Paul who was within striking distance with no one behind us. I finally caught up to him on the descent into Twin Harbor, but lost him for a moment when I saw Hal Winton hiking uphill like the abominable snowman, with Gary Hilliard in tow. 

There's something about Hal Winton that inspires endurance in just about anyone who meets him. Perhaps it's the fact that at age 50, he decided to run ultras, and hasn't stopped since regardless of having a pacemaker installed and all the other ailments of old age. Or maybe that he still leads trail work crews for AC100 all over the San Gabriels at the ripe old age of 84 years old. So, I indulged in a PEH (performance enhancing hug) and I stopped to bear hug the 33 time (soon to be 34) finisher of the Avalon 50 Mile. I quickly caught back up to Paul and strode into the lead as we approached the turnaround at the isthmus. 

I counted 45 seconds on Paul and 3 minutes on Jorge as I made my way back. The rest of the field was stretched out for a few miles, and I enjoyed the cheers from fellow runners despite running dangerously low on calories and electrolytes. Ultras are a small family, and I recognized probably 80% of the runners heading the opposite way. After I got to my drop bag at mile 33, I downed a recovery drink and set back out towards the finish hoping to keep Jorge and Paul at bay for as many miles as possible. Running back over the rolling hills around Little Harbor, I expected to see one or both of them across the canyons, but somehow I managed to hold a lead despite having to slow to process calories. I wish I had known I had a 9 minute lead to stop and let my calories process correctly, but instead I kept grinding on trying to keep relentless forward motion.

The slow going dragged on as I couldn't run and process calories well enough from my short training stint (hint, these are real skills you develop during proper training). Eventually I made it to the Eagle's Nest aid at 39 just ahead of Jorge. He finally overtook me at mile 40 with a "sorry hero!" as my slog dragged on for another mile with weak hamstrings. I finally began to start feeling better and tried to keep him in eyesight, but Jorge was already gone and on the way to another strong finish. Though I had wanted to win after leading for so many miles, I kept in context how lucky I was to finish so well on so little training. 
49.1 miles, Photo by Katie DeSplinter


Needless to say, I was grateful to come out of the race with such a relatively positive experience. I had the taste of possible victory again, and I was grateful to get let off with a mere 13 miles of painful slogging. There’s some pain as I run beyond 30 minutes in my right hamstring and hip, but I’m okay with cross training and stretching being tangible remedies to the pain. Up next (as of now) is Lake Sonoma 50 mile, which should be as competitive as any ultra in the world. 
3-1-2, photo by: Don Feinstein

Needless to say, I was grateful to come out of the race with such a relatively positive experience. I had the taste of possible victory again, and I was grateful to get let off with a mere 13 miles of painful slogging. There’s some pain as I run beyond 30 minutes in my right hamstring and hip, but I’m okay with cross training and stretching being tangible remedies to the pain. Up next (as of now) is Lake Sonoma 50 mile, which should be as competitive as any ultra in the world. 


Thanks to..
New Balance for a sample pair of the Fresh Foam Gobi (basically a trail zante
VFuel for gels that went the extra mile when my drop bag was late
Injinji for a blister free day with the Run Midweight Crew Waves
Julbo for the simple and functional Corina Sunglasses

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