Race Report: Catalina Eco Half Marathon

IMG_3553Two weeks ago was my big fall race, the Catalina Island Eco Half Marathon. I’d been wanting to do this race for a couple of years now, but was nervous about the super hilly terrain. With my work commute eating up more free time than I’d like (as well as an old foot injury), my training was down to just two runs each week. I did cram a good amount of hills into my low mileage, which seemed to make an impact on my better than expected race performance.

Race day includes 10k, half marathon, and full marathon courses, starting in the tiny town of Avalon. It’s a pretty great set up! Every hotel is within a 5 minute walk of the start line and there were only about 700 total runners. Compared to the half marathons I’ve done in the past with 10,000+ runners, it was like a ghost town that morning.
After a breakfast of oatmeal with chia seeds, walnuts, coconut, and banana, followed by a few warm-up exercises, I was ready to go at the 8:30am gun. The weather report predicted a high of 80 degrees, which is way hotter than ideal for a race of this difficulty. Thoroughly slathered with sunscreen and a brimmed running hat, I set out for the half with 227 other trail runners.
Miles 1-2
We got a half-mile warm-up winding through the tiny paved roads of Avalon before the infamous climb began. Heading south, I carefully paced myself up the road towards Wrigley Mansion that sits high above the bay.
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Miles 3-5
Off the road and onto trail! The grueling uphill continued and didn’t relent for those three miles. Not easy, but less steep than I imaged from the course profile (above). I was able to run slowly up most of it and started picking off other runners one by one.
Miles 6-7
The never-ending climb was now behind me, but I couldn’t relax just yet. These miles took runners up and down wide fire roads high above the ocean. It actually looked a lot like Griffith Park, but surrounded by beautiful blue water in the place of freeways.
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Miles 8-9
The heat set in at the top of the mountains. The beginning of the final downhill stretch came in sight, but the water station volunteers directed me to run right past it! Gotta climb up one more hill, then turn around and come back before I’d get to that lovely descent! Soul crushing.
Miles 10-13
Rocky, narrow switch-backs dropped me down below the Wrigley Memorial. Then a long stretch of road to the finish, waving to an occasional child in the back of a golf cart. This should have been the easy part, but proved to really beat up my legs. I pushed hard to the end, determined to not walk in the final miles and spurred on by the couple of guys I passed along the way!
Mile 13.1 (Finish line)
They announced my name as I crossed the finish line – yay me!  I made is across just a few minutes under the 3 hour mark, which was faster than my goal. I high-fived my friend who’d already finished the 10k and attacked the snack table for a grazing of bars, sugary treats, and lots of water.
Post-race
The rest of my day was spent (in this order) stretching, showering, eating a fabulous seafood dinner, soaking in a jacuzzi, and sleeping. Ah!
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I highly recommend this event to my fellow trail runners!
Best aspects of the event:
  • Gorgeous trail course on a FREAKING island!
  • Small, intimate feeling. Less than 700 runners.
  • Registration fees support the Catalina Island Conservancy that’s “working to keep Catalina’s wildlands wild”.
  • The race is advertised as “cupless” to reduce waste and littering. Sweet! Although several water stations on the half marathon course did have cups.
  • It’s super convenient to stay in a hotel that’s just steps from the start line.
  • Downhill finish!
  • Cool buffalo-shaped bottle opener medal for full and half marathon finishers.
  • Snazzy green tech shirt included with registration.
  • Lloyd’s candy shop is right at the finish line! Salt-water taffy and a giant caramel apple are excellent for refueling, right?!
Things to consider before registering:
  • Not a cheap race. In addition to the entry fee, there’s no avoiding a $75 boat ride to and from the island (except with a $250 helicopter ride)!
  • It’s possible to avoid a hotel stay by taking the super early boat that morning, but you might have a more fun and relaxing time if you fork up the money to spend a night on the island.
  • If you don’t like getting dirty or running up and down big hills, this is not the race for you.

What’s up next for me, you ask? A local 5k at the beach in early January. I’ve also started a new at-home weight lifting routine in hopes of getting stronger and even more badass (as if that were possible)!

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