Avalon 50 Mile Run

Avalon Harbor at Mile 49.

Avalon Harbor.

Steve Tally, Craig, Sef Cuesico at Mile 31.

Steve Tally, Craig, Sef Cuesico at Mile 31.

Steve and Craig at Mile 46.

Steve and Craig at Mile 46.

81 year young Hal Winton finishes his 31st consecutive Avalon 50 Mile Run.

81 year young Hal Winton finishes his 31st consecutive Avalon 50 Mile Run.

On January 12th I raced in the Avalon 50 Mile Run at Catalina, CA. In my 30+ years of endurance sports which includes 14 Ironman finishes, 250+ triathlons, 25+ marathons and 1 Coast to Coast bike ride, this was the toughest 9 hours I have faced.

I am very proud to say that I finished the Avalon 50 in 9:02:42. I placed 10th out of 47 men in the 50-59 age group and 51st out of 289 overall finishers. My average pace was 10:51/mile on the course which features over 7,000 vertical feet of climbing.

I have wanted to do this race for a few years. I figured since I am now 50 years old that it was time to run 50 miles. I had such a great time doing this event. It was a spectacularly beautiful day – clear and cold. It was everything I dreamed it would be and more. My wife, Laurie, and my 91 year young mom, Betty, joined me for the trip to Catalina.

The race started at 5am with temperatures in the mid 30’s. That’s pretty cold for southern California. All the runners wear headlamps until the sun rises. One of my fond memories took place around mile 3. I was towards the front of the race and had already done a big climb. I looked below to see the beautiful image of hundreds of illuminated runners snaking their way up the switchbacks behind me.

I was already about 10 miles into the race when the sunrise occurred. It was so magnificent to watch the sky change colors over the California coast. It was very peaceful hearing just the sounds of my feet shuffling accompanied by my breathing.

Prior to the race we were allowed to prepare a gear bag which we could access at Little Harbor – mile 18.9 and mile 33.2. My triathlon friend Steve Tally and I arrived the first time at Little Harbor together. Steve had done this race 2x’s previously and I hold him in the highest regard. I departed just ahead of him. I stopped briefly at the mile 25 aid station and saw Steve go past me.

I was able to catch Steve at the Isthmus – mile 26.7 turnaround. I typically prefer to train and race on my own, but I made an exception on this day. I was so glad I did. Steve and I ran together for the next 12 miles. During those 2+ hours I concluded that Steve is The Most Interesting Man in the World, replacing the guy on the Dos Equis ads. I had such a great time with Steve!

Around mile 31 we ran into Sef Cuesico, my other good friend doing the race. I would estimate that Sef was at mile 23 when we intersected. He had a more leisurely approach to the race until he reached mile 35. That’s when he realized he was in danger of missing the 12 hour cutoff and being credited with an official finish. Sef rallied to really run the final 15 miles and finished in 11:57. That was a close call!

In training for the race I had done 2 notable workouts – a 30 mile run and a 35 mile run. I split the 35 mile run into 2 parts – 15 miles in the early morning and then the final 20 miles in the afternoon. That was a good strategy as the key was going to be getting to the start line healthy. I figured race day would start to get interesting after mile 40.

We descended a steep hill at mile 36. Steve was running the downhills much better than me so he got away from me. We regrouped momentarily at the Eagle’s Nest mile 38.8 aid station. I was pretty dizzy so Steve took off ahead of me. My day had become interesting. I took in some calories and rallied. At mile 41 I caught Steve who was walking backwards. He told me both his hamstrings were cramping. I guess his day had become interesting, too. He urged me to keep going. We both understood that if you are feeling good, to just go with it.

Somewhere after mile 42 my Garmin died. I was determined that was not going to be my fate, too. I was running so slow, but I pressed on. Steve caught me at the Pumphouse Hill aid station at mile 44. I was so glad that he rallied. We ran another mile together and separated for good at the Haypress mile 46 aid station. At mile 47 I saw my first and only buffalo about 100 meters off the road. That was cool!

Much of the final miles were steep downhill and it hurt too much to keep up with Steve. My quads were screaming and my left foot ached with every downhill step. 40+ miles of the course were wonderful dirt fire roads, but the last couple miles were paved. I had to walk much of the paved parts, especially the bumpy, patched areas as I did not trust my ability to stay upright.

The road became much smoother the final 2 miles so I was able to run again. I was going to make it! I reached the finish line and was greeted by Steve who finished in 8:47. I gave him a big hug and pretended I was Apollo Creed in Rocky – I said “there ain’t gonna be no rematch!” Laurie and 2 co-workers (Mark Michael and Ron Chavers) were also at the finish line. I was so happy to be done!

Nearly 5 hours later at the awards ceremony I saw one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed. 81 year old Hal Winton walked into the Catalina Casino ballroom having just finished the race in 18:50. Hal had been allowed to start prior to the regular 5am start. This was Hal’s 31st consecutive finish at the Avalon 50 Mile Run! The only year he missed was the 1st year because he did not know about the race. Not bad for a guy with a pacemaker!

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2 Responses to Avalon 50 Mile Run

  1. Denise Bienias says:

    OMG! My mouth is open. Wow, 50 miles, now an ironman or marathon doesn’t seem too bad after all. Congrats on finishing another “ challenge”, I am very impressed. Thanks for sharing!

    Denise

  2. Karen Labenz Tom Hunt says:

    Craig – CONGRATULATIONS! And so wonderful your mom got to join you. Hope all is well! KEL

    ________________________________

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