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Catalina Marathon Race Day Experience Report, Video and Garmin Data by Coach Steve Mackel

The Catalina Marathon is one of my favorite marathons. Why? Because it’s a trail marathon, it’s on a beautiful island, awesome views, challenging terrain, friends, cool people and a weekend experience. It’s not just a race.

The video below starts at 4:35 AM and ends with me joining others cooling off in Avalon Harbor.

This was my 6th time running this race. I had taken a 2 year hiatus for some personal reasons but it was time to come back. Plus, many of the Sole Runners wanted it to be an official Sole Runners race. During the winter the Sole Runners train in the Palos Verdes hills and we look out at Catalina for 5 months. Catalina Mary was calling me back.

This race is a weekend experience, not just a race for most of us. You almost need to stay in Avalon or Two Harbors Friday night unless you own your own yacht. We stay in Avalon so we can catch the 5 AM race boat Saturday morning.

Race registration opens at 3 PM Friday and there always is a line. You don’t get your race shirt until after you finish because it is a Finisher Shirt. Registration is very basic and the most popular items are the cool Catalina Marathon gear. Maybe because a lot of us like the buffalo logo and this race is more of a rite of passage than a regular marathon. In fact, it is a great way to get ready for an ultra marathon.

After registration find a restaurant, eat, layout your race gear, set up your breakfast and hit the sack. Be careful, because it’s easy to find a fun bar and have more than just one drink, but that’s another story.

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Set your alarm clock for 4 AM, wake up, eat breakfast and head over to the Catalina King for a 5 AM departure. It is about a 1 hour boat ride from Avalon to Two Harbors.

IMG_1684They have a truck you can put you gear bag on right at the starting line. That means I stay warm and wear sweats until 15 minutes before the start, I put everything I don’t want to carry in my gear bag in throw on the truck.

One question a lot of people ask, Do I need a hydration system? At least carry a water bottle but I would recommend a belt or backpack. The water stations are 2 miles apart but because of the hilly terrain, getting to those aid stations could take longer than you think.

Another question often asked is what shoes do you wear? I like some cushioning. I ran in Newton Energy, a regular street shoe. You don’t need trail shoes but many people like them. I go for light weight and cushion for the steep, pounding downhills.

I’m not going to give you a long course description because you can look up my Catalina Race Day Strategies Video and watch any of my 6 Catalina Marathon videos. Just remember, it’s a tough course and don’t go out too fast, too early. This is not a PR (Personal Record) race but a race you come back to get a Catalina PR. Experience definitely helps on this course.

You finish on the Avalon boardwalk. You can walk straight down to the ocean and use it a pseudo ice bath.

Reviewing my Garmin Data and talking about this year’s race: It was hot for March on Catalina. There’s some shade in the fist half but not much in the second half. I ended up not hydrating properly Saturday and I was dehydrated by mile 17. It was too late by then and made it a difficult day. I know better. I didn’t eat enough. This lead to a complete breakdown. By mile 18 the only thing I could eat was a little watermelon and could barely get a sip of water down. I was sipping, swishing and spitting every two minutes just to keep my mouth wet. My stomach wasn’t happy and I was very happy to finish under 5 hours. It was one of the toughest races I have run in a while. Trust me, I won’t make the same mistake next year.

I had a porta potty line issue in the middle of the race. There are only few porta potties out on the course. I know a couple of secret ones on the course and this year it cost me 5 minutes. Just get to Little Harbor, there are plenty there. Again, I knew better but since I was the only one in line I thought it would move faster. One more thing, always check for TP first. Another rookie maneuver and a story I’m not sharing here.

Run middle ranch which I would like to be at least a minute per mile faster next year. Pumphouse Hill is really steep. Miles 18.5 to 22.5 are tough but I need to move faster through that section.

I had to take off my heart rate monitor around 20.5. It felt too constricting. I just was trying to keep moving but was dealing with stomach issues and dehydration.

Shooting the video caused me to speed up and slow down. I think my heart rate got a little too high early in the race.

I was happy to finish under 5 hours. It just makes me more determined for next year. You can check out all my Garmin data below:


What I want for next year: A Post Race Party. There always used to be a post race party around 4 PM. Not everyone showed but the people that did shared stories, made new friends, had a couple drinks together and it really added to the comradery of the event.

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Leave a comment of what you would like to see next year and thanks for stopping by.

Train Focused, Steve Mackel 6-time Catalina Marathon Finisher

One Response to Catalina Marathon Race Day Experience Report, Video and Garmin Data by Coach Steve Mackel

  1. Anna says:

    Great video, unbelievable the talent in shooting the documentary and running such a straneous course. I hope to make it next year. I am more eagered to improve on my running.
    it’s Awesomeness!!!

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Steve Mackel

Steve Mackel

Born a runner but really picked up distance running in the late 90′s, when he started competing in triathlons. Read more

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