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Words of Wisdom from "Buffalo" Bill McDermott
Last update March 7, 2012

Running the Catalina Island Conservancy Marathon? Read some great tips from 13 time champion "Buffalo" Bill McDermott. This will be Bill's 35th year competing in the Marathon and he holds the course record with a 2:39:44.

Buffalo Bill McDermottQ: What recommendations would you give to the first time Catalina Marathon runner?

I do not want to get into the generalized training aspects too much, because that kind of advice is easy to come by through the books, magazines, and coaching that all runners are exposed to. I will say that I believe in the specificity of training for a race that is as unique as Catalina. I have a training course that I run regularly that I call the Catalina simulator (Skyline Trail - ed.) because it has rolling hills that are very similar in length and steepness to what we encounter in the Catalina Marathon. I do not think it is necessary to run 26 miles to simulate or train for the race, but it is important to do a lot of shorter runs on that kind of terrain.

My number one recommendation may sound surprising, but it is simply to put a big emphasis on the weekend as a whole, not just the race. Make the most out of the experience. The race is just a few hours, but the rest of the weekend is loaded with opportunities to enjoy the island, the boat ride, meeting other runners, and making a vacation out of it. I encourage all runners to bring their families.

Here are some other recommendations concerning the race:

1. Relax and exercise patience in the morning before the race. We have to get up very early and take the boat ride to the start. Accept the fact that you will have to stand in line to get on the boat and again to get off the boat. There are not really enough seats on the boat, but I have never minded sitting on the floor or even lying down and closing my eyes. You will not get seasick because the ride is on the protected side of the island. I advise not hydrating too much early in the morning because the boat restrooms cannot really handle hundreds of people trying to use them on the one hour trip.

2. Again, you need to exercise patience at Two Harbors, because once we get there, we still have about an hour to wait before race start. So just relax and stay warm. Meet some runners and enjoy the experience.

3. The system for hauling your gear works pretty well. Wear enough clothes to stay warm before the start, and then throw your bag on the truck just before the start. The bag will be waiting for you near the finish line and the only hard part is finding it among a couple hundred others.

4. The hardest part of the course in my opinion is not the steepest hill, but rather the long flat stretch through Middle Ranch. It lasts from miles 13 to 18 and can seem like it goes on forever. You actually look forward to Pump House Hill to bring back some variety. If the weather is warm, it will seem very hot in Middle Ranch, but once you get up on the ridge again at mile 19, it will seem cooler for the rest of the race. If you are hurting in Middle Ranch, you can look forward to the largest aid station, which will be at the top of Pump House Hill, mile 18.6. There will be a lot of enthusiastic people there to take good care of you.

5. In this age of extreme sports, do not worry that you are joining one of the adventure races you have seen on TV or heard about that include outrageous obstacles in the interest of adding difficulty. In the very first Catalina Marathon, we were worried about wild animals, water crossings, blistering sun, rocky treacherous trails, and getting lost in the wilderness. Then we started running and found the wonderful interior of Catalina Island, with beautiful views, rolling hills, and mostly smooth dirt roads. The race is still very hard because it is 26 miles long with a lot of hills, but do not expect any nasty surprises.

6. After pump house hill at mile 18, many runners are really starting to tire and may have to walk or struggle for the last part of the race. It really helps to know what to expect, so remember this description. You will run on the rolling paved airport road for two miles, from 18.5 to 20.5. Then you will turn onto a dirt fire road that will take you along a high ridge until you start the long downhill to the finish. When you reach mile 23, the rest of the race is all downhill. One thing that has always helped me over the years is knowing that the ridge road has five roller coaster hills. I am always hurting there just like everyone else, and I like to count down the hills 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 until I hit the downhill with great relief.

7. Those people who are either planning to walk or run very slowly should consider starting early. There are usually about 50 people who do so, and they get to watch the leaders come by them which might be interesting. Also, a surprising number of runners and walkers carry cameras with them and think of the race more as a tour of the island. There is plenty to see out there and everyone wants to get pictures of the buffalo.

We hope Bill's advice will help you in preparation for a fun race. Good luck and we will see you on the island!
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