Avalon 10K Race Report and Running on Catalina Island

I just returned from an amazing weekend of running on Catalina Island. Friday, after waking up to the news of devastation in Japan, sending off some quick emails to friends that we have there, and re-scheduling our ferry from Dana Point (ports were closed) to Long Beach (only 30 miles north, but apparently much safer) we did what any sensible people would do, got on a boat during a tsunami warning and headed for an island, Catalina Island, home of the country's best trail marathon. My wife and a bunch of our running friends were there to run the marathon, and since I am not quite ready to run a marathon at this point, I entered the Avalon 10K which was run at the same time as the marathon and was probably added for the less hardcore spouses. It helped a little to assuage the guilt as my wife was gutting out the hilly trail marathon.

I have to admit that it was nice to sleep in until about 7:00, watch some news, then head down to the town of Avalon for a quick warm-up and a 8:20 10K start along with about 200 others. I knew that if I ran well, I would have a chance at a good age-group finish and possibly a podium spot, so I planned to try to stick to a 7:00/mile pace, slower on the two big climbs and try to make up some time on the downhills. I positioned myself towards the front among what looked like a bunch of local cross-country kids.

When the gun went off a few of the kids darted out and I tried to stick with them, hoping that they would slow, but they showed no signs of it over the first mile and a half; I just tried to remain calm and relaxed, trying not to let the kids get too far ahead. On the first climb I caught up to the leader and could tell he was breathing hard, then we hit the downhill and I sped up a little and he was complaining of a side cramp. I encouraged him to breathe through it because I really didn't want to run by myself at the front of the race. It was completely unknown territory for me, and I really wasn't prepared to take the lead with four miles to go. I glanced to the left and right and realized that I was on my own.

The self-doubt set in hard and I started to slow down a little. I found myself thinking that I didn't belong there, that I was fooling all these other runners that were cheering for me. I found myself losing serious motivation to maintain the lead. I have been in races where the leader is pretty far in front at the turnaround and I have seen the focus and determination written on their faces, ignoring the people on the sidelines clapping, ignoring the other racers. I wasn't able to do that. I said about a hundred thank yous to people lining the streets and great jobs to racers going the other way. I cheered on a 10 year old girl that was running the race with her parents and as I passed, I heard them say, "that's the leader of the 10K cheering for you," which put a huge smile on my face and pushed the happiness meter way past red.

There was a truck ahead of me and I was supposed to follow it through the course, which I was grateful for because I really didn't know where I was going. I had planned on following the leaders through the course and didn't plan on being one of them. So, I tried to catch the truck. Of course the truck sped up when I did, but I used that as motivation. Playing the "catch up with the truck game" kept me going through the second big climb, then at the turnaround I could tell that second place was about a minute and a half behind me and at that point I knew that nobody was going to catch me, so I opened up down the last hill, still trying to catch the truck and running the last mile at sub 6 minute pace. It was an amazing feeling hearing my name over the loudspeaker as I ran down the main street of Avalon with people cheering and the announcer saying "here comes your 10K winner, Dax Ross." I finished in 40:51, a 6:36 pace.

Avalon 10K elevation profile
Medal ceremony -- it's gotta be the shoes.
I can't really act like I've been there before because I haven't, and I don't plan on playing this win off like it's no big deal, because it was a freaking awesome feeling to win that race, and I don't know how many more of those I'll get, so I enjoyed every minute of it.

That said, the real suffering that day was done out on the trails of Catalina. My wife had a great day on the course. She felt like everything came together and she really enjoyed the beauty of the island. She was even happy that a buffalo kind of charged her and ran a few feet behind her. My friends Chris and Jeff both took home age group victories in the marathon and Chris took 4th place overall.

My wife, running the final stretch through Avalon with a smile on her face
Chris headed to 4th overall in the marathon
Jeff brining in an age group victory on a tough day
This has got to be one of the best finish lines in the world

After the race, we all got together for some greasy Mexican food and Margaritas, then a quick nap and out to Luau Larry's for some celebration and dancing to the house band (the owner, Gill Torres, and his band played an amazing 3-4 hour set with everything from P-Funk to The Violent Femmes). Amid the music, drinking and eating, I convinced Chris to join me on a trail run the next morning. The prospect seemed to grow dimmer and dimmer as the night went on. Then, walking back to the hotel, Chris tells me he'll be there at 7:45. I told him I wasn't 100% sure that I'd make it, but since he ran the marathon, I couldn't flake on him, and I really wanted to get a good trail run in.

I have no idea what Wiki Wacked means, but I guess I got it done to me.

7 AM came quick (with an hour cruelly robbed by daylight savings time), and we ran up to the one of the ridges on the island. It was about a 1500 foot climb and I was lucky that Chris had run the marathon the day before or else I never would have kept up with him. The views were amazing as the sun came up, and the trail was narrow and quiet.

Avalon in the distance

I'll definitely be back next year, probably not to defend my title in the 10K, but to suffer through and over the island in the marathon.

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