That went (unexpectedly) well! I ran my third Orcas Island 50K last weekend, managing to pick up a 26 minute (course) PR and finally get under the 6 hour mark on this monster of a 50K. Despite the brutal elevation profile, Orcas always feels low pressure, due to 1) everyone being out of “racing shape” in early February, 2) the festival/party atmosphere around the race, and 3) being on beautiful Orcas Island. I was feeling uncertain about this year’s race, as I had taken about a six week break from running in October / November, but everything just managed to click on race day.
Orcas Island 50K – the race
I rented a cabin near the race with some friends again this year. A real bed and a 10 minute drive to the starting line at Moran State Park were sure nice to have. In our cabin, the racers were Kelly Brennan, Jon Lueders, and me. It was a perfect morning for the race. No rain and a little warmer than usual for Feb (upper 40s, I’d guess). Heading to the starting line, I saw Justin Huff, who I only knew from Twitter. After a brief in-person greeting, we were at the start and ready to go. I loved James Varner warning us that anything made out of wood on the course gets slippery: “…like bridge and rocks. Well, rocks aren’t made of wood.”
The race started with a long road climb – about 1600 feet over 4 miles. It’s runnable, but sure knocks the freshness out of your legs quickly. The ultra-light jacket I was wearing became too hot after about 15 minutes. I had friends looking for me up the road, who nearly missed me because of my early-race costume change. I was enjoying conversations with friends during the climb, which had me running a bit more quickly than I should’ve been. I pulled back just before the summit, when the course left roads for good, and jumped onto soft single-track for a long decent.
For having 8400 feet of climbing, this course is extremely runnable! Miles 5 through 9 are nearly flat. I ran a pretty comfortable 9:00/mile pace through this stretch, recovering a bit from the climb, while still putting together a strong first third of the race. I’d been working with Matt Urbanski for coaching for the last two months, and all the tempo runs he’d had me doing were really paying off during this section of the course. At this point, I realized I was on pace for sub-six hours and feeling good, although remembering that some brutal pieces of the course were waiting for me.
After some rolling climbs and descents, we hit a high point at about mile 12.5, which is followed by fast, wide downhill trails for about 2 miles. I LOVE this part of the course. I love running downhill – and I love that at the bottom of this long descent the trail shots straight back up into a steep, hard climb. There is NO transition; it’s like a cruel joke. 7 min/miles downhill and – BAM – quads explode into major climb. But I knew it was coming and went with it. Feeling good, I passed a few people without blowing up on this climb.
There’s another wonderful, runnable four mile stretch after this. I took it very easy, as I knew the Power Line (have to use capital letters) climb was immediately after this section and aid station #3. The Power Line destroyed me 4 years ago, so I still felt nervous for it. This year, it went very well. I kept a quick hike for the two miles / 1500 feet of climbing. It helped me to know that the most beautiful section of the course was at the top of this climb. A long, soft trail with a slight decent for about three miles, weaving between pine saplings. I pushed HARD through this section, with the goal of getting to the top of Mt Constitution by five hours, knowing the six miles downhill to the finish would be easily doable within an hour. The final challenge is a set of steep switchbacks climbing to the summit. I was expecting about two mile for that climb, so was relieved to get to it and see a “Summit 1.2 miles” sign at the bottom.
I made it to Mt Constitution at about 4:50, feeling pretty spent by the effort. My buddy Jeff Barber was there to meet me with “Good job! Masazumi won.” Being a little grumpy, I jokingly asked him to not tell me about the people who had already finished the race while I was still running. It didn’t come off as jokingly as I meant it, I think… (also, way to go, Masazumi!)
My quads were pretty trashed at this point and I was feeling a little taxed, cardiovascularly. I could still move well on non-technical downhill stretches, but as the course got rocky and took frequent turns, I definitely suffered. As I started to hear the finish line festivities, I realized I could probably finish under 5:40 if I gave it one last push. It was meant to be, and I came across at 5:39.
It was a lot of fun to run such a solid, complete Orcas Island 50K. The wheels never came off and I was able to run a lot faster than I had in the past. The only downside of running faster: dealing with a lot of pain! The effort was hard, but felt totally worth it.