Just over a year ago, I got it in my head that I wanted to run a marathon. Why? Good question. I’m not sure I know the answer, but nonetheless, I decided to do it. My friend Michelle and I talked about doing a marathon, and eventually decided to run the one on Catalina Island. Catalina Island is about an hours boat ride off the coast of California, and is the largest of the Channel Islands. About a year ago I started running with the Hash House Harriers, a wild, international group of runners and party-ers. We run each Monday night, and I rarely miss a night. Michelle and I started running Thurs. night too, and an informal little group has sprung up around that. My training for the run was minimal. Running <=6 miles Mon and Thurs. night, a few odd days here and there, and basically 2 long runs, the longest being 15-16 miles, and the other, a 20K (12.4 miles), way back before Christmas. With climbing every weekend and other stuff going on, I just never really made it a priority. As the time came nearer, the more experienced runners I run with kept raising their eyebrows. I got lots of “oh, you’re still planning on doing that?” “Without training more?” “wow, be careful” My roommate, an experienced marathoner told me several times that I’d picked a hard one, and suggested doing some hill work. Michelle had been training a lot, and soon I couldn’t keep up with her on Thurs. nights. As the day grew nearer, I felt less and less sure of myself. I’m a big guy, and running isn’t exactly a natural, easy thing for me. I got even more scared when I learned the record for this course was @ 3 hours. The world marathon record is under 2:10, and for the record to be over 3:00 hours indicates a very hard course. I found out that it had over 4,000 feet of elevation gain, and since it starts and finishes at sea level, it must have 4,000 feet of descending. Gradual downhills are nice, but I find steep downhills pretty difficult to run, almost worse than uphills. This would have plenty of both. I was seriously worried about hurting myself, and seriously considered not doing it. Perhaps I could save face by faking an injury, or committing to another marathon later and actually training for it. But in the end, I decided I couldn’t wuss out. If I did I knew I’d never do another. Friday, March 17th- St. Patrick’s Day. Skip out of work early and head over to Michele’s house. I pick her up, and we’re off to Long Beach. Traffic is kinda bad in a few spots, and we’re running late. I drop her off at her ferry, and find mine (we hadn’t been organized enough to get tickets on the same boat) . 15 minutes until mine is supposed to leave. I park in expensive parking, not taking the time to look for something cheaper. Grab my bag, forget my Band-Aids and $40 cash I’d just got out of an ATM. (Didn’t realize until I was on the boat) Argh. RUN down the stairs and across the street. My boat is delayed an hour. For some reason, I’m nervous about the whole trip, and illogically, the late boat seems like a bad omen. So I get on my boat, and we cross, the water. The town of Avalon looks like something from a movie set in the Greek Isles. It’s built into steep hillside surrounding a protected bay. Sailboats and sportfishing boats sit at moorings, and a waves break on the rocky shore. It’s dark, and the town is bright, with the dark shadow of the hills behind. Michelle meets me at the pier, and we walk to the hotel. The Hermosa is the only cheap place to stay in town, pretty reasonable at $35 a night. Very basic, simple and small, but pleasant. I drop my stuff off, and walk to the Italian Restaurant. (Only residents of Catalina are allowed cars, there are no rentals, so most people -including many residents- use golf carts to get around. That, and the attractive seaside setting, kind of lends a Disney-not-quite-real air to the town.) Michelle and her dad are there, along with her stepbrother. Her Dad, Bob, is a very experienced runner who has done this race 18 times, and several 50-100 miles races. Her stepbrother-in-law is also there, also named Bob, he’s from Colorado, and is also an experienced runner. Her dad was making me chuckle with his very-dad like concern over Michelle in tomorrow’s race. He was full of tips and advice. Dan, Michele’s fiance, shows up on a later boat, and he and I sit while I finish my dinner, and he has a beer. The others have gone to bed. He asked me how I felt, and I responded honestly. “I don’t want to do this” Sat, March 19th- the Big Day- I find myself awake at 3:30. My alarm goes off at 4, and Michelle knocks on my door shortly after. I get up, slip on my running shoes, pull a shirt on, eat a Cliff bar, and head out the door. It’s chilly outside as we go and wait for the boat. The Boat shows up, and 400-500 runners pile aboard. It’s packed, and everyone is smiling, happy, anxious. Many runners have done this many years, and handshakes and backslapping abound. It’s a mostly older crowd, not many young people. I sit nervously. I feel like I’m on death row. Somebody mentions that runners world magazine voted this one of the hardest marathons in the US, and the Ultimate guide to Marathons has it as one of their hardest. Now I feel like someone on death row, who was just told that the chair hasn’t been working well lately. The boat ride takes about an hour, we ride around to the other side of the Island, to Two Harbors, and pile off the boat. People are eating muffins, drinking coffee, talking to old friends…Before I know it, it’s time to start running. 7 o’clock, and the pack is off. The first four miles are a long, mostly uphill, rising from sea level to close to 1,000 feet. Ouch. What a rude start to the day! I’m already hurting, and really beginning to wish I was somewhere else. From mile 4 to mile 8, we’re losing elevation, getting back down to sea-level, but there are plenty of short hills, and the trail is rough (all but a little bit of the run takes place on trails and dirt roads). At mile 8 we’re at Little Harbor, back at sea level. Little Harbor was Easily the most scenic part of an overall beautiful run, crashing blues water and rocky shores. Very picturesque. From there it’s a rolling climb for 5 miles, at mile 13, we’re back up over 600 feet. A mile long downhill drops us to 400′, then we have a hard mile long, 300′ hill. Mile 15-17 take us up to Middle ranch, gaining only a hundred feet. This is the flattest part of the trail, but I’m too tired to enjoy it. (Somewhere here I pass a blind runner and his guide. the blind runner is finishing for the tenth time. ) It’s crossing the interior of the island, there is no breeze, it’s really hot, and I’m miserable. The aid stations, due to the heat, have run out of water. I need to eat, but I can’t chew, so energy bars are impossible. I toss a handful of Jellybeans in my mouth, thinking the sugar might give me a quick boost. Instead it churns my stomach, I honestly thought I was going to vomit. My run has been reduced to a shuffle, only marginally faster than a walk. The next two miles (17-19), are the worst for me. In two miles we ascend from less than 800′ to above 1400′. I’m tired, thirsty, and miserable. If I had told no one I was doing this race, I might have quit. I’m walking most of this part, and barely that. The sun is intense. My legs are chaffed from my shorts, my feet are blistered on the fronts of my toes (from the downhills?). From mile 19-21 it’s a hundred feet down, then back up the highest point, around mile 21, at @1500′. Passing mile 20 gave me a mental boost. Around here I started running with a guy, who’d run the race before but was recovering from a broken foot. He was also a climber, and talking about my favorite subject helped take my mind of the run for a bit. We shuffled along. From here it was rolling hills for a bit, then a long, steep drop for 3 miles. I was tired before this, but nothing really hurt. During this three mile descent, everything began to ache. Feet, knees, quads, shoulders… The final 1.5 miles are back into Avalon, running through the botanical gardens. Tourists looking strangely at you, a few shouting encouragement. Somehow I missed the 25 mile marker, and was growing desperate before I saw the 26 mile marker. A fellow was blocking traffic, and waved me diagonally across the intersection, as I shuffled past he told me, “Dude, you’re gonna love the view around the corner” As I turned it, it was about 300 Yards to the finish banner. A handful of spectators still lined the street as I tried to at least put on a little extra energy to cross the finish. It was great. It’s that 300 yards that would make you want to run another. Instantly all the pains of the run are forgotten (until later!) I proudly collected my medal and my FINISHER T-shirt, which I wore the rest of the day. 6 hours and 55 minutes was my official time. The winner had done it in just over 3 hours. Michele’s stepbrother in law finished 5th overall with @3:10, her dad finished in @4:45, Michelle in 6:15. A 67 year old guy had done it in 4:20. As we were later meeting for dinner, a guy crossed the finish line after 11 and a half hours. You had to admire his fortitude for not quitting. We gathered for diner around 6ish, Michelle, her fiancee Dan, her dad, stepmom, stepsister, her husband, their kids, and tons of their family friends. Everybody was very friendly and welcoming, it was nice to have people around to congratulate me, have a beer, enjoy some food, and laugh. After dinner I walked down to Luau Larry’s, the local party spot, that had been advertising live music. I walked in, stood around for a few minutes, then left. It just wasn’t where I wanted to be. I walked up and down the beach front for a while, then crawled up the stairs to my room, where I read for a bit, and then fell asleep. Sunday Everything felt anticlimactic. As beautiful as Catalina is, I was ready to leave. I changed my boat for an earlier one. I ate breakfast at a counter, talked for a while with Vern, the 67 year old 4:20 guy, then to a couple who had come for the race but not run it. At 10:15 I was on a boat. Read the paper on the boat, then drove home. It’s Sunday evening, my legs are a bit stiff and sore, but no pain really. I’m pleased with my painfully slow run, and I’ve already resolved to run this race again next year. I plan to train a lot, especially hills. I want to do it in under 6 hours, and I think I can. Geoff “Marathoner” Jennings

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