Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Orcas Island 50k - One Beautiful Race

Views of Mt. Baker and surrounding islands from
Mt. Constitution
photo courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama
Orcas 50k is put on by Rainshadow Running and this is the event that they started with (I believe) and has been on my list for a couple of years. I had to DNS last year due to lingering ITB issues so I was raring to go this year. The race is itself just an excuse to hang out on Orcas Island (a couple of hours + ferry ride from Seattle) with a bunch of ultra runners for a couple of days. There is food (potluck) and fun the night before and we all camp out in bunkhouses at Moran State Park then night before (or all weekend for many).

Shoes before & after. Guess the course was a little
muddy in spots.
The weather promised to be great all weekend and it was. A bit chilly on the morning of the race but you knew that wouldn't last long. I decided on a short sleeve shirt under the long sleeve shirt and gloves that I could ditch at aid as I pleased. I left the stocking cap behind and chose the regular brimmed hat as I figured I'd be over the cap once I started the climb to Mount Pickett. I also like the brim rather than sunglasses which I ultimately just get frustrated with later in races. When I pulled out my shoes I noticed I had a dime sized hole in the upper by my pinky toe (left shoe) but I didn't bring another pair. Time for new shoes and just suck it up and deal - ultimately this was not an issue.

The first loop takes you up Mt Pickett and back to the start and Aid Station #1. My goal here was to start slow and not blow my race early which happened in several races last year. This loop was supposed to be 10-11 miles so I figured 2:00 - 2:15 would be a good time. I took it easy, starting in the back with several Seattle runners (Ben, Michael, Simon) and we got in place in the middle / back of the conga line and started the day. The sun was gorgeous rising through the trees of the old growth forest as we ran south & east toward the climbs. The herd inevitably thinned out but it was nice to not feel overexerted early on. We stayed in line as we marched up the mountain and we picked up several other runners I know (Yitka, Daniel, Candice). It was nice to be in a line where I knew so many runners and I realized I'd been running and racing for a long time.

Cascade Falls
photo courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama
Once we got to the top the single track broke onto service road for the mile descent. Overall I felt really good here and I let the other guys take off as I hung back with Candice to conserve. It seems I've always blown by her early on in races and then paid for it late and with her coming around me at mile 28 or so. This wouldn't happen today as she unfortunately caught her foot on a root and twisted her ankle while we were chatting (for which I feel guilty for distracting her). I made sure she was ok as she got up and tested it out (it was pretty tender - was glad it was not broken) and she gave me the ok to take off. I caught back up to Simon who had passed me during this incident and we paced for awhile but I let the legs out ever so conservatively on the descent. Got my photo op at Cascade Falls and rolled my way into aid at 1:59. I didn't feel that was too fast; in fact I felt pretty good. Got through aid in 2:35 and took off feeling pretty good.

Camp Moran - start / finish / aid #1 / party venue
We had a little out & back from here to the trail so the customary "good jobs" to those coming into aid and I saw Candice wasn't too far behind which relieved me. She did unfortunately drop here as she said she had no strength for the descents (her ankle post-race was pretty swollen). I took it easy as we rounded the lake to the north to start the first big climb of the day - The Powerline. This is aptly named after the service road running under the powerlines that work their way to the top of the mountain. There were some muddy parts as we got up to this climb (not a good time to be messing with my food I realized) and the road up was a pretty rutted out road. The line of people up was the typical humorous sight and I dug in to settle on a pace. The climb had steep sections - hard to get a heel plant but necessary as I didn't want to burn out my calves. I focused on that. I was catching early starters by this point and got into a good rhythm and notched it up a half step thinking this was a good place to test myself. I was passed by a few and caught a few so this all seemed reasonable.

Thankfully the top came and the running started again in earnest. I had a good open pace going and a wonderful floor on the old growth single track and opened it up to 4th gear (out of five). This felt pretty relaxed but with a slight push. Ran with a couple of guys for awhile and got down to the lake in no time. This was a section we'd repeat coming back up for the final descent so I was happy to get through this without seeing any leaders. The journey around the lake was nice but a bit of the bumpy up and down so I started to pace back to save something for Constitution coming up next. I took a slight spill at the south end of the lake on the rocks and banged my knee but seemed ok (although I think I ruined my big toe here) and eventually turned north and started to head up.

Near the top of Constitution
photo courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama
I knew I was a bit spent so eased it off a bit - slight jogging or hiking on uphills. Hit the "water only" aid station at mile 18 in 3:58 (1:56 split) so that seemed pretty good. I only took water here as I had plenty of fuel (and had been fueling well all day) and had a short bio break - 2:35 aid time. Given that I was a bit wiped I told myself that I was taking it easy up to Constitution to get a little energy back. That stretch was tough - steep switchbacks with slight running opportunities that made you think "I have to run this." Got passed a lot on this section but that was ok - I was in my zone which was none too fast. I got up to Aid #2 - mile 22-ish - in 5:06 (1:05 split) so that was a slow four miles! Got refueled at aid, rested a bit, and got some vaseline on my thighs as things were starting to chafe down there. I was pretty tired but it was time to go and recover on the run.

Mount Constitution from the road - doesn't look
too bad from down here
Started down and I didn't have a lot of push in my legs so I took the opportunity on this downhill to rest up a bit. This was a shorter section (thankfully, as that meant the next up was not going to be as long a climb) and eventually turned uphill onto previously run path to start back up. I had recovered so ran / power hiked my way up. Hit "mile 26" in just under six hours so I was happy about that given that I thought I could hit sub 7:00 - not bad for me on this course. There was a bit more to climb to get to the top then the descent started. I pushed a bit on the downs which was easy at the start but fatigue and more technical trails loomed. I broke out into some sun and rocks and did some knee damage as I skidded against a rock wall (oddly I banged up my opposite hand here too). This slowed me down for a stretch but I hit better trails down low so still pushed on.

Finishing with Simon
photo courtesy of Martin Taylor
Hit the bottom at the lake at 6:35 and figured I was within striking distance. I then saw a sign for 2.7 miles (a state park sign, not race) and "knew" I wasn't going to run sub 10's around the lake (it occurs to me now this was the full lake loop, not just to the camp). I stopped & walked and ate something then took off. It was pretty hilly for an "around the lake" run so there was plenty of hiking followed by running. I was probably not running as quickly here as I could and probably not starting my runs as early after a climb and I was pretty done at this point. Came out of this and toward the start and Simon caught up to me and we ran in together. I saw 7:03 and instantly scolded myself for not pushing harder around the lake but what was done was done.

Post race - a little dinged up but happy to be
finished and having a beer
photo courtesy of Yitka Winn
Post race was great to catch up with everyone on their runs, grab some beer & food and then take a shower. Overall I ran a hard race save for the last couple of miles. I may have still pushed the issue too early although I don't feel that I pushed too hard up powerline or down off it. Like everyone I always feel my training lacks on the ups & downs when I'm going through the suffering of the race. My fueling felt good although I was sweating early and often and may have been "over electrolyted" on the first loop as my shorts were full of sweat and salt later on thus causing the chafing. I tolerate Nuun well but should have had it cut a bit rather than full strength. I'm pretty satisfied with my race and have some things to work on the next few weeks.

Shoes: Inov8 X-Talon 190s
Socks: Injinji Performance
Fuel: Mostly Perpetuem, some aid, margarita bloks, sport beans, GU, Chips Ahoy Reese's Cookies
Post race with Ben, Michael & Glenn
photo courtesy of Yitka Winn