Monday, March 1, 2010

Orcas Island 50k 2010 Trail Race Report

Orcas Island 50k Trail Race 2010 Race Report
February 6th, 2010
SportTracks Activity Report/Splits/Map
Finish time: 5:38:16
20th place overall (Official results)

From Orcas Island 50k and Seattle, 2010-02-06

I can’t remember if I had formally met James Varner, the race director for the Orcas Island race, before but it didn’t matter. I had a good vibe about James and when he was looking for some running company in the Los Alamos area in November 2009, I was glad to respond to his solicitation email and glad to offer him a place to stay as well. Certainly I knew of James from his time spent at the Hardrock 100 with one of my strongest memories of him being at the 2007 Hardrock when he wore a shirt to the pre-race meeting that said “Run Bush Out” and he just barely got into the race the day before because he had been fairly deep on the wait list.
But all of that isn’t really relevant. What is relevant is that James stayed with Allison and I in November 2009 while mapping trails in the Jemez area for a mapping company called “Dharma Maps.” Not only was James a great house guest, cooking great meals and leaving no trace of his visit, but he also suggested a fine race that he directs, the Orcas Island 50k in February. We chatted only briefly about it but that was enough to convince me I should check it out. And with my sister and her family living in the Bremerton, WA area, it was a done deal.
It was the first time either Allison or I would visit the island and it turned out the logistics for getting to the island from Bremerton were a bit more convoluted than I had expected. Nonetheless, after driving a couple hours with two ferry boat rides thrown in, we arrived on the island on Friday night around 4:00pm. After massages at the Orcas Island Spa and dinner at Lu Lu's, we checked into our room at the Cascade Harbor Inn around 9:00pm with no daylight left to enjoy the fine view the room’s deck had to offer.
We woke up at 5:30am for a hasty breakfast and coffee in our room and out the door to the Moran State Park’s Camp Moran by 7:00am. Camp Moran served as the start/finish area for the both the 20k and 50k races. The bunks at the camp had been procured by James for exclusive use by the race participants. A nice touch for sure and I’d come to understand James goes to great lengths to make his races both socially fun and environmentally friendly. As a race director he’s setting the bar high in terms of environmental responsibility for races. He organized carpooling and shuttles for racers to get to and from the starting line. The race participants’ shirts were purchased from local thrift stores and then imprinted with the race logo. The pre and post race foods were organic and were served using reusable cups, bowls and flatware. There were only two aid stations and users were strongly encouraged to use their own bottles for fluids and where cups were supplied they were reusable cups. And I’d venture to guess any awards that were given were also recycled or recyclable but I didn’t run fast enough to find out.
It was a competitive race for sure.
We all lined up at the start line, 380’ elevation, at 8:20am—ten minutes before the race start. The race started on a two-track dirt road and there was quite a crowd as this year’s race crowd was the biggest in the race’s five years of existence. A smattering of fast-looking, scantily-clad runners took the front spots while I settled in about 25 people behind the start line. For the past couple of years I had been lining up front (although I still wore more clothes than most of the runners towing the front line) but times are different now. It was February and I hadn’t been training like I should to be competitive. Some of that is winter laziness for sure but a larger part of it is a result of the rappelling accident, and subsequent injuries and knee surgery, I had in September 2009. A badly sprained left ankle and surgery for a torn medial meniscus in my left knee has left me with poor confidence in my leg’s strength and ability as well as some discomfort in my left knee while running. With this in mind, my goal for this race was really just to finish as close to five hours as possible. I knew I wouldn’t be competitive but that was actually a relief in that I could enjoy the scenery and conversation with other runners a bit more.
When James yelled “Go!” the front runner started off fast on the slight uphill start. I settled in with the other runners around me and only kept the front runners in sight until we turned right onto some single track about a half mile into the race. Our pace for the first mile was 9:00/mi. and it felt tough. Since I live at 7,500’ and this course’s highpoint was 2,409’, I expected to feel much stronger than I was feeling. But at least it was a gorgeous day.
The weather was beautiful. Leading up to the race, I had heard stories of snow and cold from previous years but that was definitely not the case this year. The El Nino season had left the Northwest drier and warmer than usual and there wasn’t a drop of snow on the course this year. The sun was out and, as I would later find out, the views to the east were clear enough to yield the beautiful sights of Mount Baker and Mount Rainier.

From Orcas Island 50k and Seattle, 2010-02-06

I started the race in a short-sleeved shirt, shorts, light gloves, a visor and my Saucony Guide TR shoes. This was perfect attire for the nearly 40 degree weather with no wind. I also carried a single hand bottle and a 5oz gel bottle. The first 5.5 miles head west at first and then north while winding up towards the summit of Mount Pickett at nearly 1,800’ feet elevation before winding down back towards the start/finish area for the first aid station at mile 9.9. I reached the first aid station in almost exactly an hour and a half—a pace of roughly 9:15/mile.
Allison was waiting at the aid station with a fresh hand bottle full of HEED and a new 5oz. bottle of gels and a couple packets of gel. I grabbed the goods, briefly chatted with Allison about her morning thus far and then headed back out. At this point I was guessing I was close to 15th place but it was hard to tell with a smattering of 25k runners interspersed with the 50k runners as well as some early-start 50k runners in the mix. I was feeling good but realized I had been favoring my right leg quite a bit in order to avoid too much hammering on my left knee, the knee I had undergone a partial medial meniscectomy on in September 2009.
As I began to run uphill towards the powerline climb, I began chatting with a local runner who had run the Hardrock 100 in 2007, I believe. He cautioned me about the upcoming steep, difficult climb between us trading short stories of Hardrock. When we hit the big powerline climb, I relished it. Because I had been favoring my right leg, my right IT band had become irritated and painful on the downhills so I looked forward to the climbs where I could push hard in the oxygen-rich air and give my right knee a break from the pounding. I felt quite strong on the climbs and made up a couple of positions until we turned left at the top of the powerline climb onto some beautiful singletrack at the northern end of the course. The singletrack trail running for the next three miles was easily some of the best trail I’ve ever run. Seriously. The trail had a perfect slight-downhill grade composed of non-technical soft dirt in a gorgeous lush green setting. While I enjoyed this section I would have really enjoyed it if my right IT band irritation hadn’t been so bad. Still, I held a decent pace of about 9:00/miles to the left turn at the northern end of Mountain Lake. This intersection was poorly marked with only a small log laid across the main trail to indicate we should not go that way. Thankfully I could hear a couple of runners ahead of me off to the left which confirmed my suspicion to turn left. I later learned the markers at this intersection had been nefariously removed by some hikers or some other non-race-related party and that a couple of the front-runners had missed this critical turn resulting in many extra miles run by them.
At first the distance to go along the lake shore looked daunting but as I ran along Mountain Lake’s east side, the dam at the southern end of the lake came up quickly and I found myself at the water-only aid station at mile 19 at 3 hours, 10 minutes into the race. From here the course climbed steeply towards the summit of Mount Constitution, the course’s highpoint, 2,409’, at mile ~22. During this climb I met a runner named Des from Victoria, BC who was running this 50k as his first ultra. He had a 50 mile planned for this spring and this was a good training gauge for him. We were holding a decent pace up the climb and while I felt I could push it a bit faster, I was enjoying the conversation and wasn’t in a competitive position anyway so I kept with him until near the top of the climb.
As I contoured up around the east side of Mount Constitution towards the summit I was blown away by the views of Mount Rainier, Mount Baker and eventually, Vancouver. I slowed down to a slow walk to take in the view for a bit just before coming around a corner to see a photographer sitting next to the trail. I quickly faked a few running strides for the camera before settling back into a walk to savor the view for a few more steps. The sun was shining and the snowy mountains across the bay beckoned my spirit. (I’ve climbed Mount Rainier twice but never Mount Baker so I resolved to head up there soon to try to climb it.)

From Orcas Island 50k and Seattle, 2010-02-06

I reached the summit of Mount Constitution almost exactly four hours into the race. My super small drop bag consisted of a packet of HEED, two gels and a packet of shot blocks. I took it all and filled up my hand bottle with water to mix up the HEED. I also ate a few boiled potato pieces dipped in salt before continuing on, downhill for a mile and a half. The steep downhill was brutal on my lightly-trained quads and irritated right knee and I took over 16 minutes to go downhill one mile. I couldn’t wait for the downhill to end! And finally it did. I was back on that beautiful section of runnable trail I had encountered between miles 13 to 15 and ate up the slight uphill running holding a pace of 12 minute miles for the next few miles gaining a lead on a couple of runners that had caught up to me on the steep downhill section.
But of course, all good things must end and at mile 26 it was time to head downhill again where I again experienced a good amount of pain in my right IT band. However, I managed to adjust my stride enough to make it more bearable and stave off any would-be passer-bys down to Cascade Lake at mile 28.5. Here we turned right to go around the northeastern end of Cascade Lake in a counter-clockwise direction to the finish.
I felt pretty spent after the downhill of the previous two miles but choked down my package of shot blocks and the last bit of my HEED. I was thankfully mostly flat, gentle rolling terrain of the final few miles and slowly ramped up to a decent pace of about 9:25/mile along the lake’s shore. Soon I could hear the cowbells and clapping that marked the finish line and felt a surge of energy to keep running at my steady pace to the finish.
I hit the short bit of pavement in the parking lot and then back onto the final dirt road hill to the finish and kept running that final bit of climbing. I then made the left turn to the slight downhill to the field at Camp Moran to the finish and really strided it out not feeling my IT band at amongst the surge of adrenaline. I crossed the finish line 5 hours, 38 minutes and 16 seconds after starting to the smile of James Varner. I thanked for a truly beautiful, challenging and laid-back race before hobbling with Allison to the car. We had mis-read the ferry schedule and thought that if we left immediately we could make the ferry at 2:40pm so against my better judgment I folded my wasted legs into the car immediately and we drove 25 minutes to the ferry only to find the 2:40pm ferry was a no-cars, foot-passengers only ferry. Well damn. The next ferry wouldn’t be until 6pm so we drove back to Camp Moran where I could walk around a bit and enjoy some of the super tasty organic vegetarian stew and a couple cups of IPA from the beer keg. So not catching an earlier ferry was not all bad.


Jeff Valliere said...

Great one Jason! I know it was not what you are fully capable of, but it sounds like a great time anyways.

Footfeathers said...

Always sweet to squeeze a good experience out of an event you're not 100% ready for. Seems like a fun time.