Just before the starting gun of the Catalina Eco Marathon sounded yesterday, my thoughts flashed back to a conversation I had recently with my friend Jeff P. “Jeff what’s the most difficult marathon you’ve ever run”?, I asked. “Oh, that would be the Catalina Eco Marathon”. Spoken by anybody else these words wouldn’t be all that concerning. However, these were words spoken by a man who’s run over 150 marathons.
Runners ready, Go! And we were off. More than 370 of us, making our way up Avalon Canyon. We passed right by Hermit Gulch campground, not a notable landmark to most, but the home to four runners Rob M, Chris C, Gerry W and me the night before. As I looked over at the empty tent #6, I thought I could still hear sounds from the night before. Sounds? Ok, let me just say human noises only possible after spending hours taste testing Catalina’s finest Mexican food and cervesa. After that crescendo, the snoring, and I’m talking some weird alien sounding snoring, was actually a relief.
While steadily climbing for a couple of miles, I was getting some glances in at my heart rate monitor. These glances turned to double takes, which isn’t a good sign when you running Jeff Ps hardest 26.2. Oh well, I had only myself to blame, realizing that I was probably a couple of liters short on fluids at the starting line. Call it the Catalina cantina effect. Not recommended for PRs, course records or other breakthrough performances.
As we crested the top of the climb, we were just shy of 1,750’, atop of one of the most scenic vantage points in all of California. This was a day unlike most, with crystal clear skies and breathtaking views in panorama. To my right, across the Catalina channel, stood the Santa Ana and San Gabriel ranges. To my left, the great expanse of the deep blue Pacific Ocean. One of the most memorable moments for me was when Rob M and I were descending westward around mile 8 high on a ridge, and below us was an expansive view San Clemente island. It was a once in a lifetime view of this stealthy island only visible from the mainland on the clearest of days.
As the race wore on, we traversed a healthy mixture of ridges, canyons, truck trail and single track. We ultimately came upon the vaunted “Crunch” hill at mile 19. Difficult? Yes. But a good break from a rather monotonous 3 miles following mile 16. By the time I hit the top of the Crunch, I finally started to feel ok. My heart was finally settling down. I realized at that point it must have taken me 19 miles to catch up on my fluids from the night before. Rob M and I cruised through the last few rolling miles on the Trans Catalina Trail. At this point my second wind was in full force and I was able to pick things up through the Hermit Gulch single track trail and onto the finish line for eighth place overall.
Would I recommend the Catalina Eco Marathon? Absolutly. Its a beautiful course with some challenging terrain and a great team of volunteers. Is it the most difficult marathon? I defer to Jeff P on that topic, but after living through tent #6 and the Catalina cantina effect, it now gets my vote.