I’m a superstitious guy, especially with the number 13. I might never have that fear again though, with the way my 13th Operation Jack marathon of the year went Saturday in Catalina.
Before the start of the race, I met up with two Operation Jacksters, Jake Rome and Ally Phillips. They were both sporting their Operation Jack tech shirts and it was great to see them. They’ve both been really supportive of what I’m doing and it was awesome to see them sporting the logo!
The race started and we got rolling and my gameplan was to keep it fairly conservative, pushing hard but not killing myself on the hills. I knew they were coming immediately, with a good 1,000 feet of climbing within the first 2 1/2 miles or so. Pace didn’t matter. I knew that if I kept it under control, my time would take care of itself. But I couldn’t truly worry about my splits.
On the hills, walking is typical. For somebody with my ability, and really for anybody this side of Superman, it’s really not possible to run the entire way up. So on the big uphills, my strategy was to run until my heart rate reached 174, then power walk until it dropped to 165, then repeat. I’ve run two trail ultras before and it’s easy to start walking, but it takes some willpower to start running again. I put the willpower in the hands of my heart-rate monitor.
On the downhills, my goal was to run as fast as I could without falling. It’s tricky footing to go down a very steep dirt path covered with small rocks and pebbles when you’re used to fairly smooth roads. But if you’re going to lose time on the uphills, you still need to make it up on the downhills.
That all being said, I kept in under control early, getting my legs rolling but not really attacking. I took that first bit easy as we headed into the climb, then stayed true to my heart-rate strategy. I was pleasantly surprised with how I hit that first hill, although I didn’t get down the first descent as well as I would have liked.
The scenery for the course as amazing. Catalina is an island 26 miles off the coast of Southern California. There’s nothing but plush green hills and canyons and undeveloped land. It’s essentially the way it was created. The climbs weren’t much fun, but the simultaneous views of the canyons, hills and ocean made it worth the effort.
I struggled to find a rhythm early, battling the uphills and downhills and trying to find a groove. I was hoping to run about a 3:40 to 3:45 and definitely below a 4:00, but those were just guesses for my ability based on what I’d heard from other runners on the course. I knew that to do that, I needed my average pace to be considerably below 9:00/mile, but my average pace was hovering around 9:10. I didn’t worry, though. I knew that all I could do was do my best to run as well as I could and my time would be whatever it was.
Just to reiterate, though, the views were amazing. I’ve now run 41 marathons and two ultras and this one was absolutely the most scenic course I’ve been on.
Moving along, though, from about 6 to 10, I was physically struggling a bit. The trails aren’t really my thing and I’m not that fresh. I was passing people, but I was also getting passed by quite a few. Finally, at about mile 11, I passed a woman, who then passed me back a minute or two later. I told her, “leapfrog!” as a joke, and she laughed. I passed her back and told her, “you’re it!” and she laughed at my second bad joke in as many minutes.
A few minutes later, I could hear a spectator tell her she was the third-place woman. By the time we were at 12, I heard her footsteps getting pretty loud and I found a gear and started pushing, trying to pull her along. But she didn’t have it. From there, it was a long, gradual uphill climb. We went up 1,000 feet over the next eight miles with only one tough stretch of about 1/2 mile. around 17 1/2. I hit the half in 1:59, not sure if I’d get sub-4.
But on that gradual uphill, it seemed like I was consistently turning miles in the low 8s. I felt like I was in a zone and I was getting stronger. From the time I pulled away from that third-place woman, not a single person passed me the rest of the race that I didn’t eventually pass back. My confidence really started to grow with the way I was picking people off, because I knew I was running a good race.
I have to give a quick shout-out to the mile 18 marker. I’ve never seen such an amazing view during a race in my life than from there. Green mountains everywhere, and an incredible view of the ocean. My body was pretty beat up, but it was worth it. I felt pretty blessed to have the ability to enjoy that.
So moving along, I knew there was a big downhill finish, but I didn’t remember where. We had rolling hills throughout the early 20s, and longer they continued, the more antsy I became. We were still hanging out at 1,500 feet and I knew we were headed for sea level. When we were still up there at 22, I knew it was going to be a crazy-steep drop. And sure enough, it was. The course got a little rocky (literally — rocks) and I was being as careful with my footing as possible. I wanted to make up some time, but not at the expense of a sprained ankle or a bloody tumble.
By about 24, we were onto pavement! THAT is my playground! And it was downhill, so I started flying. I got rolling, then really turned it on the last mile. I passed a guy who was moving pretty well and was just locked in. I averaged a 6:19 pace for the last mile, which is pretty good for me for mile 26 of a marathon. It felt good to move.
I finished at 3:48:42 and saw my beautiful wife there at finish line! It wasn’t a surprise, because we headed over to Catalina together the day before, but it sure was nice to see my biggest fan for the first time for an Operation Jack race!
I ended up taking third place in my age group. When I enter, I wasn’t sure whether or not I wanted to enter the Buffalo (200+ pounds) division or just run with the skinny kids, but I chose the skinny kids. I would have won the Buffalo division by 42 minutes, but I think I’m happier with the third place. For my prize, I earned a medal with a pink ribbon. I guess there’s a first time for everything.
We saw Ally finish a little later. She did pretty well considering her recent times and the difficulty of the course. Jake did OK, although he seems to really enjoy the run and the Catalina experience more than just going for a time. His brother went something like 3:35 to take second in his age group.
All-in-all, a great day on a great course. 13 down, 47 to go!
Me and Tiff at the finish.
Me and Ally at the finish.
Me and Jake. I totally messed up and forgot to take a picture with him, so I’m glad Tiff snapped this. There I am with my sweet pink ribbon.