Catalina Marathon Race Report …Part 3

catalina beach runners

This was my third time doing the Catalina Marathon.

What began as a dream a long distant goal of an island sitting out in the Pacific Ocean free from the cars, trucks, exhausts, freeways, and dirty green water of the Los Angeles. It seemed like an escape a place to get away from Los Angeles for me and my family.

My family has always had a close affinity with the Island. I have always had an affinity for islands.

My father in his twenties already tired of the rainy English weather left that Island for a sunny Island in the Bahamas when he was still in his twenties.

He arrived in tropical paradise with only $50 in his pocket, my mom, and three young kids, myself at six, and my younger brothers Jason, four, and Karl, two.

Pursuing a dream of a better life somewhere. From where these CALLINGS from is so hard to say…but I can only envision my father sitting at work or in his house looking out at the crummy English weather and dreaming of something better.

Most of his family ridiculed his decision. “You’re bloody crazy for going to a little island with three young kids”. “You’ll be back in a year”. “You’re denying your kids of proper childhood”.

But these are all trappings that you must learn to overcome when going for some rediculous goal.

I like to call it the CRABS IN A BUCKET SYNDROME. Put a bunch of crabs in a bucket, as one climbs out, others will try to pull him down.

Ever felt like that with your fitness goals? Like as soon as you say it…someone shoots it down. Your vision of running a marathon. Or running a half marathon. Or a triathlon. Or maybe even the Catalina Marathon. When you thought the idea…felt the calling…do the people in your life say “yes you can do it” or do they start finding reasons for you to fail…maybe that voice that shoots down your dreams is in your own head.

In two weeks, I will be interviewing someone on the phone, Greg Norte a peak performance Coach who will talk in detail about LEAVING THESE CRABS behind. That’s a call you don’t want to miss.

So let’s back to the story.

My father did well in the Bahamas. We lived there for six years. I grew up on a Caribbean Island. White sand beaches. Snorkeling. Waterskiing. Great friends.

A childhood a could not have asked for any better. My younger brother Jason was my playmate much of that time. We’d climb trees together…play catch for hours…kick soccer balls…ride bikes…it was amazing…and I still consider him my best friend.

At twelve my father moved to Southern California where we’ve grown up since. We moved to Palos Verdes.

So after moving here, my father always a lover of boats, has bought a series of bigger boats until he got boats big enough to do…you guessed it…go to Catalina Island. I’ve been over there numerous times with him on his boats. Fishing. Snorkeling. Sitting drinking tea. Eating fish and chips. Something about the island…the small town of Avalon…the clear water…the smell of the ocean all reminders of who and what my family is…and what’s important for us.

Like a trip to an Island away from all the bussle of our lives. Enjoying one another’s company…out in nature…well maybe there’s nothing better in this life.

Maybe it comes a little close to what we’d like to call heaven.

Writing this out now…so much more becomes clear to me about who and what I am and why I pushed cajoled so many runners to go to Catalina and run the marathon.

As I write this…I see now how this is so much more than just Steve and I wanting runners to go do a hard race. We’re not nuts. There is always a purpose behind what we do with the people we coach.

But now as I write this…as I reflect back on this journey…its clear that there was a deeper purpose behind this crew of people we’ve been building. A purpose to the miles on wet muddy trails. A purpose to the cold morning runs. A purpose to Monkey Hill, Del Cerro, the Bataan Death March, hill intervals, the grueling Buffalo Run.
So like I’ve written before there was a lot of special meaning to this Catalina Marathon as it was my younger brother Jason’s first marathon.

He ran with the Beach Runners a few times. Fast runner…very nimble trail runner. This was his first time with the unique training requirements of the marathon.

The Weekend…the finale…the FINAL BATTLE.

Steve and I arrived in Catalina Friday. Checked into 319 Catalina Ave, and then went to lunch with my parents for guess what?…Fish and chips.

So we sat with a view of the ocean…talking running…talking marathon…speaking to my brother and his daughter, Kelsea (my niece), excited…just glad to be away…away from LA for the day…the weather was fantastic. I bet a lollipop to Kelsea I would beat her Dad. A marathon is one race I would have a chance.

On the boardwalk of Catalina beachfront other Beach Runners began arriving…Uncle Sam, Sara, Sandy, Jake, Gwendolyn, Alex, Yolanda.

I cannot tell you much this is special for me. It’s beyond words. The feeling of being part of a team about to do a REDICULOUS GOAL like the Catalina Marathon. It is a damn hard race as the team would attest to but its like I just want to yell out loud like the Obama cheer, “YES WE CAN!”.

We all checked in. Had to walk up some crazy big hill for registration. Saw more Beach Runners…Mina, Doug, John, Bill, Keith, Pamela, Andrea.

Steve and I began meeting a bunch of oldtimers of the Catalina Marathon. Runners are religious about this marathon. It’s like a pilgrimage…a trip to a sacred foreign country…a place where you see the fellow people on your journeys.

The night before Matt and I cooked up a damn fine meal. I meditated and visualized the race ahead the next day. We had Beach Runners come by the place for last minute coaching…it was going to be GOOOOOOD.

The next morning we took a very rough boat ride at 5 a.m over to Two Harbors. A lot o f people got sick.

Then we all met up at the starting line. Like 20 Beach Runners…by far we had the biggest team there. The starting line…I kid you not…was drawn in the dirt. We waited for a little while then we were off.

My plan…well you know how those things go…was to run with Matt and Jason for while…well I think their plan was maybe to keep up with me. It’s so funny that other people see me as fast…if you guys only knew where I came from 5 years ago. Another story.

I ran with Jason for about two miles. Up the first set of hills. I really love my brother. He was always the athlete in the family…star soccer player…good at everything … now he’s a really fast runner. Even on trails. So we ran together checking out the awesome views then after the first little downhill I looked back and he was getting into his pace…I was finding mine. And I was off.

I don’t understand Beach Runners who run with other people on races. It is strange to me. I find a pace that’s good for me on that course on that day with how I’m feeling with my goals in mind…and damn if I’m going to wait for your ass.

A RACE IS A RACE. Some of y’all got to get this into your heads a little better. A RACE is not a training run where you kick back and talk about the crumpets and tea you’re going to have at the finish line.

It’s a chance to spill your guts out on a course against people that have been training for months just like you have. A chance to run until you’re damn tired then you gotta run for many more miles.

A chance to GET ON THE PODIUM. Any which way you can.

So leaving my brother behind, I was off. The first six miles for me were frisky to say the least. A big long downhill took us down to Little Harbor and a series of big hills began.

I did notice I was getting a little tired by this point. Not good. My fear was that doing th e LA Marathon a few weeks earlier would effect me. This was turning out to be the case. Screw it…I was still going to run hard.

I passed mile 13 at 1:53. About five minutes faster than last year. Pretty good. Then a long straight section goes through the middle of the island. I got into a groove here and just plugged away. In retrospect I felt good here…but people were certainly beginning to pass me. With some fatigue starting to show in my legs…I kept just one thought going through my mind…just do each mile better than the mile before…just do each mile better than the one before. GRADUAL IMPROVEMENT.

I had to walk up the first third of nasty Pumphouse hill at mile 18. But I always feel guilty walking hills on a race, so I finished it up running. At the top of the hill my legs cramped up for a few minutes. Strange. I had been taking lots of electrolytes the whole race.

The rest of the race I was tired. I have to admit. A few reasons for this: the traveling to Orlando/San Francisco with lots of luxurious foods, the dropoff in training after Buffalo, not enough sleep in the nights leading up to the race, and running LA two weeks before. The last few hills were tough. I was beat ass tired. But hanging in there. Plugging away. Not giving up. No way was I going to give in to this course to my competitors no way!!!!

Then the downhill came and I was much slower than I usually am on the downhills… but still doing 6:30 miles. I got on the road and decided I was going to go all out for the finish line…the last five miles had been a trudge…and I wanted to go under four hours. So I gave it my all. Passed about three people. Everyone is sooooo fast at this pace.
Saw the finish line and cranked it. My parents cheered me on. My niece cheered me on. Bernice and Noretta cheered me on higher up on the road. I was going to leave nothing out there on that course.

My time…3:59:55. Whew. That cut it a little close.

Matt came in eight minutes later. Then Laurie with a smoking 4:09 (she should have won a podium spot but they got the paperwork wrong…more on that later).

Then we waited. My niece was getting anxious but finally Jason came down the road to an awesome time of 4:25 for his first marathon.

The rest of the Beach Runners came in. Some did better than expected. Some a little slower but all of that is irrelevant. Everyone just loved the course.

There were wildflowers everywhere. The air was clean and crisp. A tail wind helped us through the middle of the island. The views were magnificent. The food was tasty on the course.

The course is tough…it’s challenging…for most of us…it’s the hardest thing you might ever do athletically…but EVERYONE of our runners finished.

I cannot even begin to put into words how proud I am of everyone of you.

That you all choose to not just do a marathon but a damn hard one because you knew that through these kinds of challenges it makes you grow into a stronger more determined person than you are already.

And that you know how beautiful that Island is. Especially this year…especially with all the wildflowers that were out there.

Your friendships mean the world to me. All the days on the trails of Palos Verdes…talking about our lives…our dreams…the flowers…the mustard…how to run uphills and downhills…getting lost…getting our asses kicked by Monkey Hill.

I loved every single moment of the whole journey. And I’m bummed it’s over already.

So that night we had a party at 319 Catalina Ave. We gave speeches. Mine was on my real goal…no it wasn’t about going under four hours. Or winning the American Trail Championship for my age group (which I did but paperwork, again, not correct).

The real goal was to be like the old timers we met over there. The ones walking around with bars showing 20, 26, 27 marathons done year after year on that island. Because its a chance to go to a beautiful place with good friends, do a hard race, and celebrate.

A real pilgrimage. Like I told everyone that night. You will see me in Catalina every year doing those two races. I’ll add in the fifty miler this January (my new goal). But no big copywriting jobs, no chasing the almighty dollar, no luxurious hotels, can even begin to compare to the joy and the pride I felt watching all of you come to that finish line.

I look forward to training you all again next year. On the trails.

We finished the evening off similar to the way we did last year. Matt, Jason, Sandy, Anna, John, his girlfriend, and Uncle Sam, well we went to the Karoake bar. The Chi Chi bar was closed…the girls wanted to dance…and Uncle Sam being the gentleman he is showed us all a bunch a nifty dance moves.

Thanks to all the great mentors that helped out in Palos Verdes this season…Uncle Sam…Keith…Matt…Janet…George…LaTonya…John. You folks were the real reason behind the program’s success. You all are the most amazing people.

If I’ve forgotten anyone please excuse my A.D.D.


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