Catalina Island Marathon


We spotted the ocean at the head of the trail
Where are we going, so far away
And somebody told me that this is the place
Where everything’s better, everything’s safe

In high school there were two girls who were best friends, I never saw one without the other, both used mini rolley backpacks covered in Toad the Wet Sprocket patches and stickers for their school bags.  They were DEVASTATED when the band broke up the summer before my senior year.  Every time I hear that song, including during a marathon, I think of them.  But that’s beside the point.

The Catalina Island Conservancy Marathon was last weekend.  26.2 miles.  4,310 feet in elevation.  350 runners.  Old friends.  Bison.  Garibaldi.  Buffalo milk.

Friday afternoon my sister, myself, and our old friend met up at the Long Beach terminal to catch the Catalina Island Express out to Avalon.


The three of us worked together for a few summers at a camp for kids on the West End of the island.  We hadn’t seen each other, or even really spoken much prior to the marathon, in almost 12 years.  TWELVE. YEARS.

But as it goes with relationships that are built through sharing a singular experience, there is a strange kind of bond that doesn’t seem to fade, regardless of how long it’s been.


We took the ride across the channel, one we had collectively done dozens of times, arriving both sun and windburned.  And as we pulled into the harbor, excitement set in over the nerves.


We checked in to our hotel and spent the rest of the afternoon making trips to the sole grocery store, picking up essentials for the next morning.  It felt good to be back.


We stayed in Avalon on the East End, next to the finish line.  The starting line was at the Isthmus, a narrow strip of land that connects the island’s east and west ends.


Kind of hard to see on the map, but the course is marked by a yellow line.  It basically runs from Two Harbors / Cat Harbor on the Isthmus, cuts through to the west coast, back through the middle and ends in Avalon, on the East End.  (The red crosses indicate aid stations, they’re a little easier to see on the map.)

Up at 3:45am on Saturday morning for another boat ride over to the starting line!


Apparently during previous years the ride over had been a little rough (two years ago Molly did the race and said 90% of the people on the boat were puking the entire ride, which is about an hour long.)  We had nothing but smooth sailing.  Thank God.

The first two and a half miles of the race are uphill.  Straight uphill.  Like, enough uphill to deprive your brain of sufficient oxygen to figure out how to take a picture on your phone.

…followed by about a mile and a half of minor ups and downs, and then some serious downhill.


Parts of the trail were narrow, muddy, and had a lot of loose rocks.  We saw a few people bail hard…including Molly immediately after taking this picture while she was fiddling with her phone.

The island was super green, which was a nice change from the brown, dry hills we were used to in the summer and fall.  It was pretty spectacular.

IMG_20160319_141723our view of shark harbor and little harbor, right around mile 9.  those little dots on the road are runners that were behind us.

A few things about this race were really, particularly awesome:

The aid stations were perfectly placed and had all sorts of options for hydration and fuel, as well as sunscreen and first aid kits.


There were Catalina Conservancy crew going up and down the course the entire time, making you feel that even though you were running on a trail in the middle of nowhere, you were never far from help.


The sun didn’t come out until about 3 hours in, which was super great on a course that is so exposed.


The vibe.  Everybody was supportive and nice and helpful and just psyched to be there.

Things that were not awesome:

This hill at mile 18, where we gained almost 600 ft in elevation in about a mile and a half…


…and the fact that my Catalina Marathon Running Mix didn’t download onto my phone.  Because of that, my personal soundtrack for this race ended up being a High School Flashback alternative rock mix that I had probably accidentally downloaded a few years ago, because I apparently hadn’t completed it.  It only had 8 songs.  I had no idea it was on my phone.

While Space Hog and Savage Garden and Blind Melon and Nada Surf are great, they have their place.  And I’m going to go ahead and say on repeat during a marathon is not that place.  You can only listen to Truly Madly Deeply so many times before you want to tear your eyes out.


After mile 19 the course was pretty pleasant and flat-ish, though still uphill.  The last three miles back into Avalon are a steep downhill, which can be rough on the legs after so much climbing.

But…(and not to beat a dead horse here)…it was just so gorgeous.


We all survived, made it back to Avalon, and recovered the only way we knew how.

936580_10104689640095552_7451411241998947759_n 12871472_10102911879851286_1843824732482185852_n

That night we visited a few old hangouts, sitting in corner tables, drinking our celebratory buffalo milks, watching everyone else rock out, remembering when we used to do the same, before we were older and busted and had just finished making our way across the entire island on foot.


Catalina is a special place.


I went into this race feeling undertrained and overtired and overwhelmed and terrified that the hills would be undoable and my body wouldn’t make it.

I came out feeling revitalized.  I loved every single second of it.

IMG_20160320_072735the morning after

So anyone who feels like doing this particularly challenging course in the future, let me know.  I’m in.


Now we’re back at the homestead
Where the air makes you choke
And people don’t know you
And trust is a joke
We don’t even have pictures
Just memories to hold
That grow sweeter each season
As we slowly grow old…


Back on the wagon…?


The Catalina Marathon is two weeks from today.  Let’s talk about that.

After the last race I did (the swim in June) things got busy.  New baby.  New home.  New job.  Paul is on a crazy string of rotations again (he just finished another block of nights where we basically didn’t see him for 2 weeks).  In fact, I think February was the first month EVER in the entire history of this blog that I didn’t post anything.

Despite all that, sometime in the fall I decided that signing up for a marathon was a great idea.

Catalina has been a race I’ve wanted to do for over a decade.  It is crazy hilly. I’m running it with my sister and a friend. There is no way at all that I will go fast, I just need to finish.  How hard can training be?



The good news about the training is the weather has been nice and it has been refreshing to be outside and away from everyone else for a few hours.


The bad news is, for the first time I can really remember in my life, my body is fighting me.   I have never struggled training for something as much as I have for this.  And I might have some idea why.


When I was in college I took Psych 101 and remember reading a study on sleep deprivation and physical exertion.  It was from like 1950, had an n of 1, and were a lot of variables that weren’t super applicable to real life (ie, the guy stayed up voluntarily).  But the results were essentially that while your mental capacity is indubitably effected by lack of sleep, your physical performance capability and muscle strength is not.  I distinctly remember a black and white picture of this guy doing push ups after being awake for like 120 hours, smiling.

That image, burned into my mind, helped and me drag myself to morning practice on more than one occasion in college.  I have done some of my best workouts during times in my life when I am getting sub-optimal sleep, and I rarely sleep well before a race.  So I’ve never really worried too much about it.

10399342_523118888402_7356_nme at alma mater pool…on less than adequate sleep

Maybe it’s the fact that my sleep has been interrupted for months on end and the effect has finally compounded, I don’t know.  But for the first time ever I can’t seem to get past the exhaustion.  I can’t get my heart rate up, my body just won’t.

This feeling of debilitating fatigue could also be linked to…


1436_612233407236_7470_nyerm. primanti bros.

For some reason, even though I manage to make sure my children eat just fine, I cannot seem to do the same for myself.  Example: last night HH had lentils, avocado, strawberries, and tomatoes for dinner.  I had 2 hardboiled eggs and half a sleeve of shortbread Girl Scout cookies topped with chocolate chips (I know the chocolate chips might sound like overkill, but trust me.)  Most of the time I am just too lazy to prepare one more meal and do more dishes.  But solely subsisting on PB&J tortillas after a 14 mile run…I am really not helping myself.

These two things combined leads to…


I have a 2 year old in preschool and a husband that works in a hospital.  Walking petri dishes.  In the past two months we’ve all had a puking/GI stomach bug.  TWICE.  And in between those I got some kind of flu.  At one point, about 1/3 of the way into my training plan, I went over 2 weeks without running.  When I finally started up again, I decided to start back at square one to avoid injury…and my entire training plan went straight out the window.

So training so far has been a very weird, unpredictable rollercoaster on both an emotional and physical level.  The past 7 weeks have looked something like this:

Scheduled – How it went
10 mile run – Horrible.  Horrific.  Painful, terrible.  But finished.
12 mile run – A little sore, but OK
14 mile run – Skipped it entirely, too busy puking again.
13.5 mile run – Dreading it big time, but totally fine!  No issues at all, almost ran 15 I felt so good, but held back.
15 mile run – Headed out optimistic.  Felt absolutely terrible.  Body hurt. Joints hurt. Mind hurt.  Cut it short, only did 8.
15.5 mile run – No problem at all, no soreness or pain the next day!  Wheeeeeee!!
18 mile run – Turned into 10 mile run, incredibly slow and painful, took me 3 days to recover.

This is also, of course, assuming I can find someone to watch at least one of my kids for part of the day that I do my long runs.  I’m happy to take them for a couple miles, but at this point I don’t feel like the extra challenge of pushing a double stroller on my 16 miler is necessary.

10399362_576304998034_112_nhow i feel about life right now

I have 18 miles on the docket tomorrow.  Who knows what that will look like.

I’m really not sure what is happening here other than I’m coming into this race pretty significantly undertrained and overtired.  But who knows, given the way things are going, it could be hellish, but it also has the potential to be FANTASTIC.

1918402_733401989426_4762764_nlast trip to catalina, 2009

Go get it.

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…and six weeks later I am finally beginning to emerge from the newborn fog.  Not that this was anything like last time.   I honestly feel like I can’t compare the two.  Not having a.) a baby that is underweight, b.) to breastfeed, and c.) to recover from childbirth have all been game-changers.  Major, major game changers.   But then again, in addition to the newborn, we also have this:


Either way, new experience.

But a few things haven’t changed.  Like..lack of sleep.  Realizing at 4pm that you’re still in the same puke-covered shirt you meant to change at a 8am.  And my sudden, unprovoked, inexplicable desire, as I sit on the couch in said shirt, to sign up for a marathon.

Notice how I didn’t say RUN another marathon.  Because I clearly don’t think about what actually running 26 miles will feel like at any point during this process.

gross26.2 miles = double this ugly

But I did it.  I signed up for another race.  The Catalina Marathon.

Some fun facts about the Catalina Island Marathon:

  • It’s on Catalina Island (yes!)
  • It’s almost entirely on trails (yes!)
  • It has over 4,000 feet gain in elevation (…yes?)

Catalina Island Marathon Course Meas

Some other fun facts about the Catalina Marathon:

  • My sister will be running it with me!
  • I used to work there


Back in the day when I was when I was young, tan, used disposable cameras, and had no idea that a breast pump was an actual thing, my sister and I worked together as counselors at a camp on the island.  Life basically looked like this:




…plus skin diving and teaching kids about shovelnose guitarfish.  Which is a real animal.

Obviously it was awesome.

Now, over a decade later, we are dragging our old, busted selves back in an attempt to re-live those magical, youthful, carefree moments by running this:


The best laid plans of mice and men…

We tried to recruit some old friends to run with us, but no one bit (weird).

But for reals, I am very excited about this.  I considered downgrading to the half when no one else would join, but in the end decided if I’m ever going to run another marathon it was going to be this one.  Yes, it will be hilly.  And hard. But it will be beautiful, and challenging, and full of memories, and I’ll be running in a place I love with my favorite running partner.  What more could you ask for.