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Orcas Island 50K

February 5, 2013
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Just a short one hour ferry away from Seattle is Orcas Island floating off in the distance. This 50K has been on my bucket list for a while now since piquing my interest when a friend ran it years ago. Single track, lush forest terrain and on an island with possibilities of orcas sighting? Sign me up. However, the course always seems to change from year to year, based on snow levels, weather, what mood the R.D is in etc. This year, the race director, James, decided to change the course not because of weather related problems, but because he simply wanted to make it harder. He managed to fit 8,400 ft of elevation gain in 32 miles making it the hardest version of the course yet. Who does that?
2013 orcas 50k profile
To put into perspective, 2 weeks ago, I ran a 50 miler with lower elevation gain than this race! With that said, I decided to go into this race to have fun, a 50K PR was out of the question. The looped course is described as having beautiful, soft and well maintained single track trails through old growth forest with waterfalls, lakes, cascading creeks, and views of the Puget Sound, the surrounding islands, and on clear days the Cascade and Olympic Mountain Ranges, including Mt. Baker, Mt. Rainier and Mt. St Helens. The one and only time I have been to Seattle was when we ran 93 miles around Mt. Rainier for ‘fun’. It didn’t take long to fall in love with the trails in the Pacific Northwest. We couldn’t have asked for better weather for Orcas, beautiful clear skies, stunning views from the top and not too cold.
Luckily, I had eager friends who also wanted to run this race so we made it into a fun weekend getaway, staying at the Rosario Resort on the island. The race started on the later side, 8:30AM, with an option to start an hour early if you weren’t going to make the 8 hour cut-off (which is pretty tight for this much gain). Our resort was only a couple minutes drive away from the start at Camp Moran, highly recommend this resort. Runners taking over the whirlpool after a long race is always fun.
Matt, Meg, Me, Ather

Matt, Meg, Me, Ather

The race started on a downhill, and I really hoped it wouldn’t come back up this same road at the end, which of course it did. With an elevation and masochist race director like this, why wouldn’t it end on an uphill? The downhill didn’t last very long and we quickly made our way onto the singletrack. It got a little congested during the first few climbs since there were so many runners and not much space to pass, but once we dumped out on the road, I found myself in a great pace. The road consisted of a 2 mile climb that took us to the little summit of Mt. Constitution. A lot of people started walking, but I was feeling good and the climb was fairly gradual so I ran the entire way up. Hopefully this wouldn’t come back and kick me in the ass later on in the race (which it always does). The views were incredible as we made our way to the top and cleared the low fog/cloud coverage. Once we hit the summit, we began a very fun, technical, switchback downhill towards Mountain Lake.

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We hit the first aid station at Mile 6.4 before running around Twin Lake and Mountain Lake. The trail around the lakes was runnable with rolling terrain and I ended up passing a lot of people the first few miles. I figured the climbs would slow me down anyways better run while I can. It was an 8 mile stretch between the first and second aid station which seemed to drag on forever. As I got closer to the 2nd aid, I began to feel worse and worse. My legs were heavy, my stomach was cramping and I had rolled an ankle on the technical downhill. All the fast miles in the beginning were starting to take a toll on my legs. My brain and body just weren’t coordinating together and every mile seemed to drag on and on. It’s unfortunate because it made it hard for me to enjoy the beautiful scenery when you can’t get into the groove of things. Not to mention, I had this storm cloud looming over my head about the two hardest climbs that have yet to come after Mile 20.

We had to climb Mt. Pickett and then another major climb before getting into the second aid, where I contemplated dropping. After accessing the situation, it didn’t look like the aid was very close to the start, I decided to truck on and see how I would feel at the next aid in 6 miles. I grabbed handfuls of chips and PB&J sandwiches hoping the food would help me get my energy back.

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The next section was rolling and everyone who I had passed in the beginning were starting to catch up to me. Even though this was always supposed to be a ‘fun run’, it’s not exactly fun when you’re feeling crummy. The climbs were relentless, hands on your thighs kind of climbs and I was barely making up any time on the downs which is usually my forte and the one thing I can count on when things get bad. Close to the third aid station, I came up behind a girl who was running a similar pace as me. Talking with someone else seemed to help take my mind off everything that was going wrong. A couple minutes after getting into the aid, a group of girls came in yelling how we were only 30 minutes ahead of cut off. What?! Not making a cut off or coming very close to one has never dawned on me before. I never once thought about where I was on the course. In a frantic panic, I quickly grabbed more food and made my way towards Powerline. With only 12 miles to go, I figured I would just suck it up and at least finish.

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Powerline. This is one of the new additions to the course this year where the trail takes a more direct route through the trees and goes straight up the mountain bikers trail rather than taking the more gradual road switchbacks. I heard from other people who ran the 25K course the weekend before that it would be brutal. We basically gained over 1,000 ft in one mile. It reminded me of the climb up to Mt. Baldy on Devil’s Backbone and the climb at Mile 45 of Zion 100. We literally followed the powerline up the mountain.

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Once we started the climb, a sudden rush of energy came over me. Not sure what those PB&J sandwiches were laced with, but I was feeling so good all of the sudden. I ended up passing people on the climb up which I NEVER do. Here I was on the toughest climb going at it with a steady pace (Helen you would’ve been proud). It reminded me of our second day at Wonderland where I was feeling miserable the whole day until the very end where we had a 3 mile climb out to the road.

The climb was TOUGH but I didn’t expect anything less. I put my head down, focused on my stride and put one foot in front of the other. A couple sections were tricky since it was still muddy and I found myself getting down on my hands and knees to grasp onto rocks to hold myself up. Luckily, there were a couple places where the trail flattened out a little and we were able to catch our breaths. Everytime I would mistakenly look up, I would just see little people right above me. There wasn’t really a defining ‘you made it’ moment at the top, you just knew you made it when your calves stopped burning and you stopped cursing the race director.

The final climb of the day was up to the summit of Mt. Constitution at 2,400 ft. Climbing up to Mt. Constitution was a walk in the park compared to Powerline. It literally felt flat which it definitely wasn’t, but my legs were feeling good on the gradual switchbacks. Once I reached the summit, the aid station was waiting at the top with the backdrop of the most gorgeous view. Of course, the time when I needed my phone the most, it died. Thankfully Glenn was able to capture these amazing views

So happy to see a photographer out there to capture this backdrop

So happy to see a photographer out there to capture this moment

We only had a 10K left which was all downhill except for the last mile to the finish line. I left the final aid station feeling great and relieved I didn’t drop when I wanted to and made my way home. We ran through some snowy sections at the top before plummeting down the mountain through the forest on technical singletrack.

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This was my forte and I was in my element. With all the climbing we did during this course, I was going to soak in every second of this downhill.  The single track twisted and turned down the mountain into the forest. It was heaven. I ended up passing dozens of runners and was hopeful I was able to make up all that time in the middle miles. Once we reached the road at the bottom with one mile left to go, I knew it would be an uphill finish back to the camp.

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I finished in 7:10. Toughest (and slowest) 50K in the books. Super happy I held it together in the end. You always have bad and good race days and you never know what is going to happen. With ultrarunning, your day can turn around in an instant, you just don’t know when. Luckily, it turned around when I needed it the most. Rainshadow running really put on a great race, it was well supported and organized with an awesome spread of homemade food afterwards. We ran on trails most people wouldn’t step foot on and got to take in some pretty incredible views. Looking forward to more fun with them at Gorge Waterfalls in Oregon next month!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. February 13, 2013 4:40 am

    Thank you for a wonderful overview of the 50k. Those of us on Orcas Island who don’t run certainly enjoy reading about it from those who do.

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