After my DNF (ankle sprain) last year, I wanted to return to Orcas Island to finish the 50K run. 2009 was my first ultra start, and even before my ankle sprain at mile 15 (I hobbled until 22 before calling it quits) I was learning tons of things wrong with my racing plan. This year I managed to talk 4 friends from Penticton into joining me on a road trip to Orcas Island, Washington, to stay in cabins and do this crazy trail race. Thanks to Jenny Ayers, Brian Schroeder, and Cheryl and Brian Corbett for coming along on this adventure. We had a nice drive down, and the weather became sunny as we neared the coast. Our ferry ride over from Anacortes was beautiful. My brother-in-law, Jeff Hunt, was down from Victoria to race and we shared a bunk bed in our cabin. I was on the top squeaky bed.
I slept okay but not super (I’ve been waking up a lot recently) the night before, but awoke feeling ready for the race. I had a bagel and a banana with some juice, and waited in the lodge for the 7:30 early start to head off before I started getting ready. I had decided the night before to race in shorts and a long-sleeve shirt to start, with my Nathan pack to carry some food partially full of water. I left on warmer layers until right before the start, and while getting ready only listened to one song on my headphones, which is rare. I don’t like to run with music but I usually like it to help me get ready to race. This time I decided I didn’t want to get too amped up and waste energy before the race, so I played Tiesto’s “He’s a Pirate” once, which allowed me to get excited but not too hyper. Amazingly, I was able to bring up the melody from this song during a number of tough points during the race to help me pick up the pace. Normally my brain switches between a bunch of different songs, which gets annoying. Meggan had taped my foot before we left for the race, and it seemed to be holding well but I was a bit nervous about how it would feel. I haven’t run more than 45 minutes since I hurt it three weeks before the race.
A few minutes before the start, I went to find the others and Jenny commented that we should take a picture. We went down to the start, only to find that Jenny had decided she needed a warmup and taken off, so Cheryl and Brian and I took a picture before I went off to join the crowd for the 50K start. I decided to start in the middle, rather than toward the front, to keep myself from going out too fast. I looked for Jeff but didn’t see him. As we started, I remember feeling so excited to be running through the woods; I train for the crazy fun stuff, not to match splits on a road. Climbing the first hill, I heard Randy Duncan call out, “What are you doing back here?” I laughed, and we ended up chatting through the first few miles of the race about our plans for the year. Eventually I moved off up a hill, but I knew he’d be back with his experience.
The first section of the course is great winding single track. I focused on keeping my balance, running smoothly, and not working too hard to pass anyone as I shuffled positions with the runners around me. I passed a number of people during the climb up Mt. Pickett, including Carolyn Goluza, with whom I shared a laugh. We spent most of Frosty Mountain in September leapfrogging, and the same would prove true at Orcas. I felt strong on the descent back toward Camp Moran, and realized my time would be much faster than last year’s into the 10-mile aid station there. As we approached the out-and-back section to the aid station, I saw Jeff taking off up the hill, about 10 minutes ahead of me since he’d already finished the out and back. I let out a huge “Go Jeff” yell, and he waved a hand in response before vanishing around a corner. The runner in front of me jumped about 3 feet in the air as I yelled, oops.
At the aid station (after roughly 1:35) I ate a small PB&J sandwich, some pretzels, and took some chips and an Oreo for the trail. As it turned out, I was still holding that Oreo going up the bottom of the powerline climb 10 minutes later. Apparently my body didn’t want sugar. While hiking up the powerline, I caught up with the runner who had jumped earlier. Turns out his name was Jeff, and Orcas was his first ultra. Sorry I scared you! At this point I developed a blister on my right heel, which is rare for me. I don’t normally have issues on the back part of my foot; the only thing I can think of is that I didn’t have my shoes on snugly enough. I stopped to treat it but I didn’t have anything to cover it with, so I knew it would get worse. Next time I’ll bring some moleskin or a bandaid! I passed a few people on the powerline climb, and felt stronger than I did last year at that point, but then on the way down I lost energy. I was running carefully to avoid spraining my ankle at the same point as last year, and a few people passed me because of this.
When we finally reached the bottom and were headed around Mountain Lake, I felt crummy. Fortunately I was able to keep moving, since I knew the course and that soon we’d be starting the climb. I took an Edisc for electrolytes, but have since learned I need more salt during this portion of the race (more on that later). I was pleased with my ability to keep moving at a slow run instead of resorting to walking; I think this cost me a lot of time last year. I grabbed some water and started the ascent toward Mt Constitution at mile 19, and caught several runners during the climb. I was also passed by two speedsters, climbing with speed I could only dream of at that point in the race. I began to feel better as we neared the summit, and loved the views as we reached the top. I continued to enjoy the views while inhaling about 10 salt-covered potato pieces, a cup of mountain dew, then more salty chips and pretzels. Hmmm…salt, anyone?
I had planned to drop my pack and finish the final few miles using a handheld bottle and carrying a pack of Sharkies in case I needed them. I did this, which turned out to be a great plan, and started off down the switchbacks. My quads were screaming, but my blister actually felt better since there wasn’t much pressure on my heel going downhill. The descent seemed to go forever, but at least I was holding off the people coming down after me. Finally we reached the uphill section back toward the powerline, and my pace slowed precipitously. I tried to keep up a slow run but was mostly reduced to a walk as Randy, Carolyn, and others caught up to me. Randy seemed strong and I knew this year he wouldn’t have to sprint to beat 6:00 as he did in 2009. Carolyn and I struggled up the climb together, then ran the first part of the winding descent before starting the steep switchbacks down the other side toward Cascade Lake and the finish. She disappeared as my quads struggled to keep pace with the descent, even though I felt as though I was moving strongly. Drinking Cytomax instead of water was definitely helping at this point in the race.
After what seemed like forever, we reached the lake and a volunteer sent me toward the trail around the lake. I knew we had a bit left, but I wasn’t sure how much and was trying to figure out if I could make it under 6 hours. I was afraid to look across the lake to see how far I had left, so I concentrated on moving forward at a good pace and not walking except on the steepest hills. Eventually I came to a sign saying “1 mile to Campground,” and realized I could finish in less than 6 hours. I also remembered Randy’s reminder that the sign was really about 1.8 miles from the finish, and didn’t get too excited or start a finishing push. I came out of the woods and saw two volunteers who sent me up the last 200-meter hill toward the finish. I managed to run most of this, since I could hear the crowd cheering. A quick left down into the field and my friends were cheering for me as I crossed in 5:53:56, a new 50K PR for me. I found out that Randy and Carolyn had finished only a few minutes ahead of me, so I must have been running faster than I thought for the last portion. Randy and I managed to stand in the chilly lake for 14 minutes before taking refuge in the warm showers. Thankfully it was sunny all day! I had a great time at the race and will definitely miss trail ultras this summer while training on the road for Ironman.
Congrats to Brian, Jenny, Cheryl, and Brian, who finished the 25K trail race and had a great time doing it. People who saw us get out of the car at the Merritt rest stop on Sunday must have had a good laugh watching us hobble to the bathroom. Unfortunately Jeff had to DNF but he’ll be back out there soon with some awesome finishes.