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Conquering the Trails: My Experience at the Best First Ultramarathon, the Avalon 50K Race

Ah! I’m an ultramarathoner! On January 6, 2024 I ran the Avalon 50k on Catalina Island. It was absolutely incredible. And hard. And amazing. And there is a part of me that still can’t believe I did it. 

Training post Chicago Marathon for this went better than expected. I was able to do every long run, I did some really tough trail runs, and was feeling really good race week…maybe even a little overconfident. 

And so the universe reminded me to respect the distance and I got an awful 24-hour stomach bug on Wednesday night. I was devastated and when I was up around 3am on Thursday morning, I thought for sure I would DNF. But thankfully things turned around quickly and I was feeling good to at least show up and try. 

Let’s jump right into all the things Avalon 50k! 

Avalon 50k Weekend 

The race takes place on an island that is about 26 miles off the coast of California. To get there from Carlsbad, the easiest way is to take a ferry from Dana Point that’s about an hour and half long. Since the race started early Saturday morning, my husband and I took the earlier of two ferries out on Friday morning. We got to Dana Point around 8:15 on Friday morning for a 9:30am ferry. 

As we checked in for the ferry tickets and parking passes, we were told that the Sunday ferry we planned on taking home post race was going to be canceled due to gale force winds and we needed to either decide to go home on Saturday at 5pm or stay an additional night and come home Monday. 

Because my oldest daughter and I were both starting school again after 3 weeks off on Monday, we decided to come home Saturday night, which added an additional time pressure for the race! 

The ferry ride out was slightly bumpy, but not too bad, and otherwise uneventful. We could not have asked for better weather on Friday or on race day. It was cool, sunny, and quiet. 

View of the town of Avalon from the ferry
View of the town of Avalon from the ferry

I was doing this race with an amazing group of runner friends, including my best running friend, Nicole. We grabbed coffee and lunch with our husbands and then hopped in the hot tub to kill time before getting out bibs. 

pre-race hot tub relaxing
pre-race hot tub relaxing

Bib pickup was incredibly small and easy. After Chicago, this race felt even smaller! 

After bib pickup, the whole group headed out to eat together. Our originally reservation fell through and thankfully our large group of 16 was able to find a backup, albeit at 4 different tables. It was a great way to end the night before the race. 

The whole run crew + spouses at our dinner
The whole run crew + spouses at our dinner

My stomach still wasn’t feeling great and I had mostly just eaten as much simple carbs and I could for the last 40-ish hours – lots of saltines, ramen, plain pasta, and the like. I was nervous about dinner, but it ended up being fine. Right before bed, I finally started to get hungry, which was reassuring in terms of not getting sick on the course, but also not great to be hungry before you go run for 8-ish hours! 

50k Run Gear
50k Run Gear - all the Brooks Running!

Race Day - The Best first Ultramarathon

This race was so easy logistically and I loved it! I woke up at 5am, made coffee in the room, ate my pop tarts and got ready. I left the hotel room at 5:50 for a 6am start. It was amazing! As I walked down the hotel room stairs, I ran into one of my running buddies, we found our group, and the race kicked off. 

The first mile is almost flat and paved. After the first mile marker, you get an uphill, but it’s still paved until right before 2 miles in. This was a great way to warm-up and start the race. Most of our group was still together at this point, but we knew we’d break into smaller groups as the race went on. 

Around 2 we hit the trail and started to climb. It was about as expected. Around 6:30 the sunrise started and it was gorgeous. We kept climbing and around every new turn it would be an even better view–it felt like we were at the end of the world. The pictures are amazing but they don’t even do it justice. 

the views and course of the Avalon 50k
The sunrise was incredible

the views and course of the Avalon 50k

The first aid station with bathrooms was supposed to be at mile 5.7, but it wasn’t there. Thankfully there was a construction portapotty that was open because a few of us needed it. The aid station showed up about a mile later and had no water or food, but there was a bathroom. 

The first half was relatively uneventful–most of the race went as expected, fueling was going well, the group was going well, it was fun and reminded us of the trail practice runs we’d done together. 

Right around the half marathon point was aid station 2. We all stopped for water refuel, grabbed a few handfuls of pretzels, and kept going.

I honestly don’t entirely remember a ton of the next section other than thinking it was gorgeous and I loved it. 

There was another aid station around mile 17 which was again supposed to have bathrooms and didn’t, which I was beginning to feel like I needed, my type a self was very annoyed, but since there was nothing I could do about it, I just kept going. There was still 4 of us from the run group still running together and so we just kept our spirits high. Shortly after this point, I definitely had a high of the race. I was 20 miles in and felt so good. Plus, 20 miles felt like such an accomplishment. 

Around mile 21 there was a bathroom and that was incredibly helpful! After that stop, I realized that stopping for the aid stations was more painful than to keep going, so I told the girls I would just walk slow until they caught up to me because I didn’t want to stop moving and my legs to freeze up. 

There was the best aid station, the most stereotypical ultra aid station on the course around mile 22–beer, shots, burgers, gummy bears, fruit and more. I grabbed a handful of gummy bears (I had practiced with these for Chicago!) and slowly kept going. My crew were there for a while longer and I just walked slow until the caught up. Two of the girls caught up to me but my other buddy was still not visible, so I kept walking until she caught up. I could tell she was struggling, so I started playing Taylor Swift on my phone and we had our own little party. 

About mile 23 I started to really struggle. I don’t know if it was the gummy bears or the cumulative fueling of trying to fuel for an ultramarathon so soon after getting a stomach bug, but I got incredibly nauseous and had to just breath through it for about a mile. 

Once we hit mile 25, we caught back up to our friends at an aid station and our moods all improved. Shortly after that we finished an entire marathon, which was another motivating piece. 

Officially, a 50k is 31 miles and we knew from looking at various course maps that this course was long, anywhere from 31.9 to 33 miles. We mentally told ourselves 33 the whole time so we could be prepared. 

The final aid station is at mile 29-ish. Once we hit that, it was steep downhill and back to paved roads. We crushed those and I finished with an 8:43 mile! 

Inserting a tangent here: When I looked down at my watch and it buzzed for 31 miles, 50k, my eyes welled.

The entire time I trained for this race, I knew I could do massive time on feet because I had already done almost 7 hours in my first marathon in 2012. 

I had no solid idea of timing, given the terrain and elevation were all new, but figured 7-8 hours was reasonable. And if I could do 6:48, the same time as my first marathon, that would just be so full circle.

When I made it to mile 31 6:56 and realized I was only 8 minutes away from the goal I had told myself would be so full circle. 8 minutes longer, but almost 5 miles and 3 times more elevation. After a crazy week and having a stomach bug. 

As we crossed the finish line, we all held hands and crossed together. I haven’t run a race like that with a friend since that first marathon. And just like that first marathon, it also changed my life. 

Avalon 50k finish line
Finish line with the best crew!

Everything (except the missing bathrooms) was perfect and I loved it. It was seriously the best first ultramarathon I could have asked for -- I had a great race and the race itself was amazing. There were about 2 miles of low and most of the rest were highs. I don’t know if I’m ready to commit to doing another ultramarathon, but I will remember this for the rest of my life. 

I am so full of emotion—pride, joy, gratitude, and awe. And a little disbelief. Faster at 35 than I was at 23. Stronger. Braver. Things that 23 year old me would not have thought possible. 

I’m still sitting in this place of disbelief that I did it and excitement for what’s next. I can’t wait to see what happens as I recover and then train for Marathon #6 - Revel Mt. Charleston, this April! 

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