Orcas Island 50k
|photo credit to Adam Gaston and Mother Nature|
The race was, thankfully, much less traumatic. I had what felt like a great run for me - 6:14, felt good all of the way, never had to walk except where I chose to, and had a ton of fun. My lovely wife Angel also had a great run - 6:43, 15th woman in a really competitive field, and came in smiling and raving about how great it was. The weather and trails were perfect, and the course was typical amazing Rainshadow Running fare. Glenn Tachiyama was there, which I always love, because the race photos are spectacular. In this photo, I personally look like a knock-kneed dunce, which is to say that he captures the action as it really is (that's how I look in all race photos).
I'd tell you more about my run, but really, who gives a crap how my race went? Are you surprised that I felt tired on the uphills, or that I got a second wind after I took all of that Adderall and drank all of that Steel Reserve? The real story here was the event itself. I'm still a relative newcomer to this trail racing thing, but this event was up there with the top 2 - 3 best experiences I've had running. (Right now the list probably stands as 1) White River 50 Mile, 2) Orcas 50k, 3) Circumnavigation of Mt St Helens). It's known as an iconic race - probably the most iconic of Rainshadow's events - and it lives up to the proverbial billing. Chuckanut is next month, but it's going to have to do a lot to convince me that Orcas isn't the best 50k in Washington. Orcas was one of those events that encapsulates the best of everything ultrarunning should be - a bunch of smelly friends hanging out in paradise, running until they barf, eating a ton of food, and drinking (free with the cost of admission!) beer until they fall asleep happy and in some level of moderate skeleto-muscular distress. Elites and world class athletes hang out with the rest of us, and people who manage to complete an ultra for the first time are celebrated as much as the winners (well, almost...). It really is the sport that every other sport wishes it could be, and Orcas was a great example of why.
It you're looking for particular things to recommend this year's event, here's my brainstormed list:
- The weather was perfect, so the views were spectacular. The weather is always perfect and the views are always spectacular on Orcas in February.
- There were a couple of amazing performances put in. Maxwell Ferguson (SRC!!) destroyed a really competitive field on a ridiculously tough new course by 15 minutes in 4:21, and Jodee Adams-Moore ran an equally ridiculous 5:01 on the women's side. Her performance actually trumps Max's because of the whole 'potential to handle childbirth' thing.
- There was a huge list of other notable runners: Jenn Shelton of "Born to Run" fame. (You can't swing a dead cat at a PNW race without hitting someone with a BTR connection.), Jason Loutitt who's won a bunch of notable races, Rod Bien who has the course record at Cascade Crest, the Adams Hewey and Lint, and a bunch of the other best runners in the Pacific Northwest (and a significant number of Californians).
- There was an even huger list of non-notable runners who were tons of fun. For such a reputably hard race, there seemed to be a lot of first time ultra-runners (congrats especially to our friends Callista Salazar and Broeck Jones!), and for me it's always at least as great to watch them come in as it is to see the fast people run. Most people are grimacing when they finish for the first time, but are glowing within a couple of minutes of realizing what they've just managed to get their bodies to do.
- The RDs and volunteers were awesome, as is always the case with Rainshadow.
- There was a party happening pretty much all weekend. Pine Hearts at the Brewery on Friday, followed by running on Saturday, followed by the Pine Hearts also somehow managing to make us lasagna for lunch, then pizza for dinner, then play a long set of bluegrass. And one of them ran the race.
- There were four kegs of beer, and somehow all of the food and drinks were covered in the really pretty nominal cost of the race. (You pay a bunch more for a typical big marathon and all you get is a lousy tech shirt and stale bagels.)
- Jenn Shelton, in particular, demonstrated the physical divide between the elites and the rest of us by putting on an impressive several-hour performance on the dance floor a couple of hours after the race.
- I didn't get one because I'm cheap, but the shirts for the event are a combination of cool and hilarious. They have great custom art screenprinted on the back of shirts they found at thrift shops and the lost and found ("This is f$#@ing awesome!", but Rainshadow was doing it before it was cool).
- The bunk houses were only like $15/person, the mattresses were comfortable, the bathrooms were clean, and nothing reeked noticeably of urine.
- The course was seriously spectacular. As far as running goes, the first 22 miles or so were perfectly paced between climbs with fantastic views and rolling singletrack on typical soft PNW trails past a surprisingly large number of waterfalls and lakes (how do they fit so much water on that little island?). Personally, I felt like that part of the course flew by. Then you get smacked in the face by a massive several mile, lots of thousands of feet climb up the Powerline trail (trails with 'line' in the name are usually painful b/c they go the shortest distance between two points up the hill), which trashes your legs for the last 8 or so miles. You top out on Mt. Constitution (try not to get angry at the people who drove there and are talking on their cell phones eating sandwiches) with the amazing view of Mt Baker and the Puget Sound above, and finish on 5 miles of perfect flowing downhill. It's changed frequently due to snow and kinks being ironed out, but this year the course really was a pretty perfect combination of tough climbing and fun running.