by Dan Stumpus
Catalina Island, CA
April 2, 2005
Abstract: 2:00 am Miracle. Fast walking, as taught by a master. Lemon-lime Gator-barf. Wilting fatigue, heat. Resignation. Cramps. Buffalo burger bits? Death and rebirth. Actual barf. Pain. Who really wants 5th place, anyway? Acceptance of the order of the universe. Gratitude.
Strolling around the island town of Avalon (pop ~2000), where golf carts rule the roads, on what should have been a relaxing day before my first race of the year, I was not happy. A sore throat, which I thought had been vanquished by antibiotics, had returned. I prayed for a miracle — and got one when I woke up on race morning feeling great.
I started off easy, and found myself alongside Kim as we started up the 1800 foot steep climb to the ridge of the island. I jogged easily up the grade, but Kim was fast-hiking as fast as I was running. Since she beat me by 12 minutes here last year, I started fast walking alongside her. Soon I was at my target heart rate of 140, but the hiking worked different muscles. We were keeping up with the people in front of us who were running. I got to the 9 mile aid station in about the same time as last year, walking 80% of the climb versus running every step, and felt fresher. You learn something every day.
Over the next 8 miles, the three of us who were running together burned off the people in our vicinity. I used my heart monitor to quell my excessive zeal. When my heart rate got up to 145, I announced I was slowing a bit, and Brian and Kim dutifully followed my example. We found out at the 21 mile aid station that there were only 4 runners ahead of us! At about mile 23, on a hot, endless climb, Brian dropped back. At the 26 mile turn-around at the isthmus, I got a refreshing blast from a high-tech water gun. Kim and I charged up the steep grade using her patented fast hike.
At about 29 miles, at the start of a 3 mile descent, I had to let her go. My quads were feeling pretty shredded, and there was 8 miles of downhill remaining. I needed to baby my legs if I was going to make it. It was frustrating having the uphill power available, but being limited by the shredded-beef syndrome that seems to be my bugaboo lately. Gotta talk to Doug about that one…
So I gingerly ran down to the 33 mile station, and rounding a turn, I saw the former 4th place guy struggling, walking and jogging downhill ahead of me. He stopped to fix his blistered feet, and I kept on going, fully expecting him to come roaring back. The evil side of me thought “I’m in 5th Place!”
I filled my two bottles with more lemon-lime gatorade (gawd does that taste awful), forced down a 1/4 pb&j sandwitch and a few pretzels, and shuffled off. At this point all illusions of me striding smooth and determined to the finish are shattered. It’s hot, my quads feel like I ran a PR marathon yesterday, and it’s just survival. For the next hour I’m in the wilderness. Fast hiking the ups, trying to run the downs. Even walking some flats, with nervous glances behind me. An endless reel of roller-coaster course unwinds in front of me. I’m breathing hard, but my heart rate is only 110! What is this hell? It gets worse. Runner #7, way behind at the Isthmus, charges up (well, shuffles up) to me as I’m walking under the sweating sun. He walks and chats a bit, then says “I just want to finish this thing!” and jogs off. I start running too, and wham, a full-on hamstring cramp makes me look like John Cleese’s Minister of silly walks. Ouch, those suckers hurt! So I chugged every drop of the foul swill in my bottles, took another Succeed cap, and walked some more.
And, lo and behold, the cramps subsided. I willed myself to start jogging, just barely shuffling. No cramps. So I gradually increased my speed. I started feeling good — heart rate up to 145. So it’s hot uphill at mile 41, and suddenly I’m running strong, after being on the ropes for 5 miles. Welcome to the world of ultras.
As I pulled into the 44 mile station, I saw the guy who passed me was just a minute ahead. We’re both walking up the last steep pitch (11% grade) to the top of the island. As I come up on him, he staggers over to the side, bends over and hurls mightily. I offer a kind word and forge on.
I started running at the crest, and after several little climbs, the nasty paved descent began. With normally functioning legs, this three mile winding road down to sea level, with it’s gorgeous views, would be dessert.
I remember flying down it when I first ran this race in 1985. Unfortunately, it’s 2005 now. With shredded quads, it’s torture. So I played little games with myself, like: OK, run the next 6 turns and you can walk for a minute. I took one short walk break, and as I was about to start up, I heard the shuffling of little feet behind me, and it was my sick friend come back to life, blasting down the mountain, with a mile and a half to go. I decided (after ascertaining that he was a youngster) that I would just jog it in. I’ve run through this kind of quad pain, and the result is more muscle damage and a much longer recovery. And I was being a wuss 🙂
With the finish line in sight, the adrenaline kicked in, and to the scattered applause and cheers of vacationers on Crescent Avenue, led by cheerleader Kim Gimenez, I actually looked like I was in a road race as I ran it in.
The field was weaker than last year (a few fast guys didn’t show, and the female course record holder skipped it too). End result: 6th overall, first master, (and first 50+), and that inescapable whole-body fatigue that makes you *not* want to lie down, because then you’ll have to pay attention to it. Kim, my hiking coach, got first woman and 4th overall. My time was about 8:50.