When something bad happens, you have three choices: let it define you, let it destroy you, or let it strengthen you.

The heart of the difference is not ability or even talent, but desire

The purpose of life is to discover and develop your gift. The meaning of life comes from sharing your gift with others. - David Viscott

Monday, January 16, 2006

Avalon 50 report

I was flying on Friday, the 13th...No, I am not superstitious, but it seemed like a good start for a write-up:) David Penilton, my friend from Portland, met me at the LAX, and we drove to the Long Beach for a boat trip to Catalina island, where the race is held. As the boat was closing to land, the reality settled in - it was all hills...what I actually learned only a few days before the run.
The course had 7370 feet elevation gain (and same for loss). No, it’s not an easy course, but the island was beautiful! Located in a middle of nowhere, it was a gem, with green rolling terrain and a small street that they call a town of Avalon. After checking in to a hotel we milled around, walked 4 miles to scout the beginning of the course and hit the pre-race meeting. I talked to Tracy Bahr, who was very nice and having run (and won) this race in 2003 laid out details about the first 2 dark hours and the "fake" flat section at the end. I saw the girl’s filed and settled in at the thought I am doing it for myself. Remember, I just had a flu, spent 4 days in bed with a fever of 103.5, was still coughing and weak and wasn’t able to run only a few of days before. I wanted to drag myself to the finish. The exciting part of it - I was wearing my Montrail t-shirt for the first time and proudly displayed it. It was such an honor to run for the team! I wished I would have made the team proud, but what comes - comes. Some things we just have to accept...
In preparation for the race my first pace chart was made for an 8:10 pace. Even though my coach Lisa tried to psyche me up for a faster time, I knew my limits, and breaking 8 hrs was a long shot. After the flu it changed to "breaking 9 hrs would be a good day". It was a 25th anniversary for the run, and there were quite a few of past female winners in the filed, so I assured them I am out of competition. The night came at 9 pm, the ususal tossing and turning.
5 am start required a flash light for 2 hrs, but I hate a hand-held light, and had no crew (obviously) to carry a head-lamp that I could drop. So I went without. The first part was an out-and-back road along the ocean, flat as a pancake. I held back behind the first 3 girls, using their light as a guide and pacing off of them. As usual, it wasn’t a smart decision. They were doing at least 7:30s, and I am a VERY slow starter. I was spent by mile 4, angry and frustrated. I pulled my long-sleeved shirt off and started to walk on a first incline. People started to pass me like crazy, and I lost count of how many female were ahead after 10. The weather was great, 50th and so far no rain. The incline very soon turned into a 1600/2M hill on a dirt road, and my mood improved. I am a very strong hiker, and I was passing quite a few people who were still jogging. I don’t even bother to run uphill, saving energy and mental attitude. The sunrise met us at the rolling ridge with gorgeous views on the harbor. It looked like I was leading a second major pack of runners, and despite the fact that I had to work to keep the pace going, I felt OK. My biggest concern was the absence of marking on the course - yes, may be it is obvious to follow the main dirt road, but there were many crossings of side-roads, and I spent a lot of mental energy wondering which one to take, as well as a few times just had to wait for other people to come closer and make a community decision. Unfortunately, those running close to me had no idea themselves, and it was a scary thought I was leading them the wrong way...
The first aid station came at 14.4M, 2:30 into the run. I was totally fine with that. I don’t usually use the AS and carry my own supply of gels and packets with Perpetium powder, so I just fill in the bottles and go. I have to say, this time I was really good on my fueling, forcing myself to down a gel and a scoop of P-mix in a bottle every hour, sometimes almost gagging on it:) At mile 18 I see a known figure, and it’s David limping and walking. Now, I have to say here, David is GREAT runner. Fast and swift, he can run under 3 hrs marathons on any given day after doing a long trail run the day before. It was his official first ultra, even though he had done 50 miles in training numerous times. Despite the fact he had his own health problems the previous week, like a cold and a stomach bug, what made him loose 14 lbs and lots of strength, I was still sure he would give Jorge Pacheco (the Vasque front runner) the race for his money and would break 7 hrs rather easily. Seeing him was a total surprise. As I passed him, he explained he twisted his ankle back 5 miles ago and is trying to walk it off. I was pretty sure he will drop at the next AS...
The Wacko café came at 21.7 miles, where the drop bags were located. I picked fresh supply of gels and mixes and moved on. The terrain never let up, going up and down, and ALWAYS on a dirt hard packed road!!! There are 2 things I hate about that: my feet get raw with blisters egg-size, and it is mentally insane to move on a wide open space, I loose all the ability to entertain myself and have any kind of speed. That made me more angry...and my only incentive was to finish for all the people who made pledges for my run. See, the Avalon 50 is a benefit race, money collected for the local community (a school and a hospital), and I had so many wonderful people donated for the cause I had no right to quit! Besides, I wasn’t dying, I was just working hard to move forward, but it’s not like a 50 miler supposed to be easy, right?
The course is a figure 8 out-and-back, and I see Jorge going back...God, what a beautiful site is that! I am shuffling downhill, having one of the break-down points, and he is gliding on the uphill effortlessly, his feet hardly touching the ground, with a smile on his face! What a treat to see! Much later (40 min or so) the other runners started to stream back. I was approaching the turn-around at 27.7M at Isthmus, and counting girls on their way back. Once I passed number 10, it suddenly hit me - I can’t be mad at myself anymore! I am out, la finito, no compete, relax!!! I grabbed half a cup of coke, 2 Ibuprofen and headed back uphill. What a difference it makes to have a new attitude!! I was on a cloud 9, simply enjoying my run. Was it the coke or the fact that I was able to cheer so many runners going towards me, I am not sure, but I began to feel very strong. Now, in general, I am a second half runner. There are very few times when I get passed in a second half of the race, be it a 50k or a 100M, and it is a best feeling in the world. This stretch also provided us with promised buffalo siting, not that I ever wanted to come close:) I was flying! OK, may be not flying, but getting my perk back and moving really well. Another stop at Wacko’s, another re-supply with a help of wonderful volunteers, and off on to the worst part of the course, the slight (may be 3%?) grade of this ugly dirt road for 6 miles. Oh, yeah, and the rain came as predicted, at 9 am, kept for an hour, but then was on and off every half-hour and not too bad, more like steady drizzle. This stupid stretch was miserable, I was pushing to run as much as I could, finally feeling that I still can break 9 hrs, but had to work for it. Walk to that tree - run 4 min. Walk to that bridge - run another 3. Can’t swallow another gel...where is the AS? It came, at 46M, and I zip by, praying to have enough left in bottles to the end. I can’t drink anymore anyway...and I see another woman on a horizon! I try to close in the gap, but she sees me too and picks up. It’s OK, I keep looking at the watch now. I know there is a 3M steep asphalt road downhill, brutal on your feet and knees, at the end, and push on. There is a guy in front - how many did I pass? A lot, so I catch up to him and we make a pact to get down together. He has a GPS and keeps updating: 2.25M, 1.75M, 0.75M...we are in town! A couple more turns, a flat final stretch filled with people and - the finishing tape!!! 8:44:15, 6th female, 21st overall, what a great run! I am ecstatic about how it went. Considering the circumstances and all, breaking 8 hrs would have been a done deal. It gages me where I stand at the beginning of the season, and I am liking it. I am proud, very proud. I gave it my honest all, and the results are great. I pushed, I pulled, I enjoyed it, I loved the people, the views, the town...is there a better world than running an ultra?!
Now I had to only wait for David...you know, my fast friend who was caring a key to the hotel room. He didn’t drop, what was the most stupid decision, but - he gained a total respect of the whole filed or runners and volunteers for not giving up! For the first half he thought the injury would work itself out, but after it was only getting worse, he still was going! That is an athlete and some grit and determination (albeit not very smart, but who is one to throw a rock at him?). His slow motion gave me a chance to spend so much time at the finish line cheering every finisher and hanging out with friends, old and new. Jorge is one of the perfect examples of what the ultra runners are about: elite, yet unassuming and shy, he stood there for 5 hrs, shaking hands and talking. It was such a thrill to participate in this event, and a tremendous pleasure to sport my Montrail uniform!
6 pm brought an award ceremony and more talking and re-living the run. I happen to place 3rd in my AG, and on top of it I had another treat. Avalon 50 is a benefit run for the local community, and we were asked to collect pledges. With a terrific help of my friends, I brought in $397 and it felt fantastic to make in impact on this little cute town’s life. I knew the first few people with most donation get a free entry, but had no idea the cut off was at $400. I just wanted to participate for a good cause. So the RD announces, in front of all, how I was 3 bucks short and how he put in his own money! That was quite a laugh, of course I jumped in and gave the difference, even though I am not planning to return. It was really sweet and fun!
Tough race, lots of elevation change, brutal surface, but what a great run! Next morning after a sunrise run along the coast was a picture taking, and we had an opportunity to meet again and have more fun together. I am very happy, with the race, with the results and with my visit to the beautiful Catalina island!

p.s. Oops, 7th female...I didn't see the results and believed what was told.


  1. Great Job Olga! Thanks for the race report.

  2. Great job & awesome report . . . but, where's the fridge?

  3. Woo hoo!!!! Sounds awesome! I'm so glad you were able to do it, and feel great at that. Good job.

    PS did you meet any Tucsonans?

  4. I've met a woman who used to live in Tucson and her friends who are still from there, but forgot all the names:) There were so many people, and all so nice!
    Fridge - I have no digital camera, luckily!

  5. That sounds like a great adventure! Nice job taking it easier on yourself physically and mentally early, so you were then able to pick it up later as you started feeling better. Since you usually start "slower", maybe we can start Zane Grey together. Then you can ditch me later as you starting getting faster and I get slower :).

  6. Negative splits, baby! 4:30/4:14. Zane is a different beast, but slow start it is!

  7. That sounds really tough. I can't imagine ever running that far, especially not with all those climbs. I'm in awe.

  8. Zane Grey's half full!? I need to stop holding off on paying the registration fee and do it now. Thanks for the heads up. At least I run with the rd on weekend trail runs, should be easy to give it to him directly.

  9. sounds like you had a pretty good race yourself, and in a fun location too. I'm new to the world of ultra running, so i havent heard of the avalon 50. ill have to look into it.

  10. Thanks for stopping by my blog! I am going to add your site to my runner links - your site is great!

    Way to go on the Avalon 50 - it sounds like an amazing race. I don't know if I have it in me to do it, my knees hurt just thinking about it. Maybe with my bike. ;)

  11. I am in awe. What a great race report. My legs hurt just reading the report! IF you have photos, please post - it sounds like a beautiful (albeit tough) place to run! (Found you on Rob's site by the way.)

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