34th Catalina Marathon, Catalina Island , CA
March 12, 2011
“It's the greatest cult race”, described Runner's World magazine. True to its billing, the turnout was exceptional albeit tidal wave warning caused by Japan 's tsunami. Travel remained under precautionary conditions.
The marathon started at Two Harbors which was another 45 minute boat ride from the town of Avalon . The course traversed mostly hilly dirt fire roads through the island's less traveled interior and finished in Avalon. This race is not for speed seeking marathon PR runners. Isaac Newton's Law of Gravity mathematically applies here, what goes up must come down.
At the out start, frontrunners and backpackers etched the steep profile of the course. I took a short and easy stride knowing that there were plenty more to come. Every turn during the first couple of miles gave runners a glimpse of magnificent view of Two Harbors. More gorgeous views were expected ahead. It was just a matter of how fast or slow one gets there. This is probably the primary reason why runners keep coming back to this place.
After 2.5 miles of climbing, the course roller coasted to the island's interior. The gorgeous flora and fauna was well preserved under the Catalina Island Conservancy. I was tempted to push the pace in the downhill sections but payback loomed at the more challenging second half. Still, I was comfortably passing runners until we reached sea level again at Little Harbor.
The remotely located Little Harbor is ideal for camping and other activities. The scenery was overwhelming making runners stay longer break at the aid station. It's packed with foods, hydration needs and even a shot of spirited drink. A payphone served as a lifeline for anyone contemplating of dropping out. Sorry to say, the only way back was to face the daunted hills ahead.
Around M12 - Eagle's Nest Road , the course gradually climbed endlessly through the historic Eagle's Nest farmhouse, stables, and nursery gardens. My Garmin indicated 2:23:-- at halfway mark. My previous time was a disappointing shade under 5 hrs. It's still respectable but par below my normal finish. I've run all but one since 2001. Last year, schedule conflicted with my mom's 95 th birthday celebration. Best days are over but quest for time pumped my adrenaline.
My snail pace was still steady at the deceivingly flat Middle Ranch Road . I jockeyed position with other runners confident of reeling them back at the top of Pumphouse Hill and Airport Road around M19. A reward of a well stocked cheerful aid station waited at this dreaded climb.
A couple of short hills lined up as the course pass trough mountain ridge. Avalon was in sight down below with refreshing breeze well timed for the finishing kick. Another look at my Garmin projected a time under 4:45:--. “My wheels are good, enough gas in the tank and downhill just around the corner, let's do it,” I uttered. The last 4 miles of downhill has always been my best friend as I passed runners within sight. I was in a position to break 4:40:00 again with a mile left but losing ground. Thanks to the crowd near the finish line, I clocked at 4:39:27.
People leave their heart in San Francisco . I left mine at Catalina Island .