Race Report: Orcas Island 50K

I finally made it to Orcas Island!  And it was definitely worth the wait.



It was an awesome weekend with the girls complete with a US border search, a haunted mansion, waterfalls, massive old growth groves, thrift store gems...oh and a little running thrown in...50K and 2800m of elevation gain.  Here is a quick recap of the weekend to try and entice you to check it out for yourself!

The Orcas Island 50K has been on my list for a few years now.  One of many fantastic race courses organized by Rainshadow Running in the PNW, the Orcas Island 50K (along with the 25K and new 100mile event) is known for it's unique base camp venue, gorgeous scenery in Moran State Park and a (near guaranteed) February weather sufferfest.  But that's not what sold me...

It was the thrift store race shirt.  That's right, the Orcas Island race is quite possibly the only event where the swag includes an absolutely random thrift store top ablazed in the race logo.  Yup.  Beyond good.  

Crystal, Lynn and I made our way to Orcas via the Duke Point ferry then through the US border, then down to Anacortes for the Washington State boat over to the Island.  During the summer months you can catch a ferry right from Van Isle in Sidney to Orcas Island but this wasn't an option for us in February unfortunately.  We packed our cooler, loaded up the car and headed off to the US of A.  Roaaaaaaad Triiiiiiip!  Along the way we learned a very valuable lesson from the friendly US customs agents...  One that involves 4 bananas, 2 apples (without stickers), 1 orange, 3 morons and a cooler.  Let's just say it was an educational 1 hour diversion and we were glad we had allowed for extra time on that leg between ferries!!
When we finally made it to Anacortes one mother of a storm had kicked up in earnest.  70k an hour winds and 90k gusts made for an interesting ferry crossing on the smaller Orcas Island boat I tell you!  It's not very often that you hear the 'don't walk around' warning on the loud speaker!  Ugh.

As for accommodation, we lucked out and stayed at the best place on Orcas Island.  Rosario Resort is just 5 minutes from Moran State Park and race central and it is absolutely loaded with character...and ghosts aparently.  It was only after we had booked our rooms did the google inform us that there have been many ghost sightings at the 100 year old resort.  Eeek!  And did it ever look the part.  The resort sits on a huge private bay and the property holds many historical buildings, heritage homes, a haunted mansion, a marina, pools, tennis courts and lodge style rooms.  It was fantastic and would also be the perfect spot to stay with a large group or the family for a weekend adventure to explore the islands endless trails.  The onsite lounge/restaurant was beyond stylin with turn of the century details, a roaring fire, eclectic furnature and 1930's cocktails.  And the pizza was amazing.  I would go back in a heart beat- be sure to check it out!

OK OK the race!
Race morning, the wind was gone, the rain had completely stopped and the sun was even threatening to peek out!  And it was WARM!  We really lucked out.  Like really.  It had snowed on the 25k course just the weekend before!

Leg 1: 10.25kms with a 500m climb over the first 9k. :57mins.
The race start gave us a bit of a suprise as the acttual course appeared to differ from the map/profile that we had been expecting.  Rather than a gradual/rolling 3miles, the course jumped right onto the Constitution mountain road and forced us into the 500m steady climb pretty much right off the line. Ooops.  I should have warmed up.  Mistake #1.   We arrived at the race a bit late and here I was thinking I would shake out my legs in the start!  Nope.  Right up the guts and my body went into instant revolt.  

Side note: I have been dealing with whiplash symptoms over the past 5 weeks (Note to self: don't try to learn how to cross-country ski on the 'black' runs during race season.  Who knew cross country trails had black runs anyways?) and I had spent January recovering, getting treatments and skipping workout after workout.  Race week arrived, but my tissues were still not very happy.  My headaches and neck/back aches were still in full force by race weekend so I knew that I would have to take it easy and not do anything stupid.  Orca's was to be a training weekend for me rather than a 'race' and I had to keep my eye on the prize... So, my body, as always, was in charge of the pace for the day.   

Within 10 minutes of the start my glutes/hams and pretty much every muscle that extends my body started burning.  Like, 'you just pulled me AND I'm going anaerobic on you too', burn.  I felt completely rigid from my head to my heels and worried that I had strained the works.  My fascia was absolutely pissed already and it revolted against the lack of warm up and up the guts start.   I've never felt anything quite like it at the start of a long run!  And so...I bowed down to my body and took the pace waaaay back to keep it under the burn.  Pure tissue madness. 

Once I embraced the pace I let them all go.  The talkers and the speedsters, the plodders and the lopers, the boys and all the girls.  Eye on the prize!  I did not want to piss my body off any further.  It would be a long race and hope it will be a long season- if I am lucky!

That 9k was the most I have run on the road in about 9 years lol, but up we went and the views were pretty awesome from the various lookouts along the way.  Before I knew it the course tucked into the woods and we were on trail for the remainder of the day.  A lovely descent and a tight pack of racers jostling for their downhills spots made for a slow go which was just fine by me on this day.  I wanted to ease into the descending and test out my tissues...crossing fingers they weren't hooped for the day.  A little tender but I was optomistic that they would calm down rather than blow up over the coming miles.  Into Aid at :57 minutes I was very pleasantly suprised but we figure they had shorted the leg with the change at the start.  I was feeling better and focusing on staying relaxed and enjoying the day finally.  It really takes about an hour to relax in an ultra...or two...or three...depending on how far you are going:)

Leg 2: 13kms to a course total of 23.4k. 1.5hours.
Flattest sections along with 2 good steep hills.
I ran right through aid as I had everything I needed with me for the first couple of legs.  The flat section around Mountain Lake was lovely.  Undulating, lake views, non-technical path, and big oh so big trees.  Forest streams, massive cedars and many beautiful waterfalls filled me up along the way.  I just had to reach out and touch those big giants to take some of that wild energy!  What a fantastic park!  The climb up to the first of two peaks was steeper and longer than I had anticipated.  Likely it was just my perspective on the day.  I had to work my pace on the descents to even hope to make up for my painful climbing pace due to the issues with my tissues.  Slow and steady up, moderate on the flats to try and recover and then lean into the downs.  Soon the ultra cat and mouse game was in full force and we all knew who we could expect to pass us and who we could expect to catch at various spots on the course.  While others held back on the descents I relaxed and smiled and felt freedom from the strain.  Up and down and up...

I settled in on the climbs and enjoyed the ultra banter coming from silly ultra men in short shorts and tall socks..."Did you drunk dial this ultra too?  What was going through your mind at the time?..." Blog coming on why I love ultra runners next lol... 

Leg 3: 10km to a course total of 33km. 1.25 hours.
What happened there? Downhill all the way?  I fell off my pace on this leg somewhere but I still can't figure that one out.  Falling apart a little..  
I skipped aid again, feeling content to keep going and knowing that I had what I needed for the next leg, so I trucked on.  I thought there was one more hill to climb but I was mistaken and what  lovely suprise...it was down down down hurray!  My legs were finally starting to loosen up and I could begin to let things go on this descent.  But I was saving the big hammer for the final leg...a 9k descent to the finish.  I was almost giddy thinking about reaching that point in the course.  I coldn't wait to drain the tank on that descent!  This leg was stunning, however, and once again we travelled through forest paths, past rushing waterfalls and then Cascade Lake (so close to my car and the start!).  One of my favourite sections of the course ran along the backside of Cascade Lake...along rocky shores, through narrow singletrack and past crooked wind hardened shrubs and trees.  It reminded me of my hometown, along Thetis Lake in Victoria...a beautiful distraction.  

Near the end of this section, I remember being so pumped to get to the start of Leg 4...to get that infamous Powerline trail done.  On the way up the peaks of Leg 2 I had promised myself I would be grabbing my poles for the Powerline.  No way was I going to suffer through the weakness I had been feeling and put unnecessary strain on my tissues.  My legs needed all the help they could get.  I heard the cheers of Aid 3 and jogged my way up the steep hill towards my poles.

My favourite tree:)
Leg 4: 8.25km with one mofo of a climb, 500m over 3.5kms then more.  1.5hrs...sloooooow.
 Into aid and I finally got to puruse my drop bag for all of my goodies.  I filled my water bottles, down a Gu with caffeine for the climb and eyed up my poles.  They were tied together with flagging tape.  My legs felt fine just standing there.  I couldn't be bothered to untie them.  I grabbed a bag of salty chips and my music instead.  "I'll be fiiiiiiiiine" I thought... HA.
I should have taken my poles.

The Powerline. 
Just watch last years GingerRunner film from the race and you will see the potential for carnage this leg has.  It looked just like 'SlugFest' in the Canadian Death Race and I had experienced this type of wicked, muddy vertical before.  Every good ultra has one (read: hard ultra)...the climb you hear about even before you sign up for the race.  In Orcas, it is the powerline.  Two back to back climbs with the potential for sliding backwards if the conditions are right.  Luckily the ground wasn't slippery at all and it was easy to get traction on the climb up.  BUT it sure was steep.  Hands on knees then hands on hips then powerswinging those arms, then dance running whenever there was a chance.  I switched continuously through my climbing moves, every single one of them feeling pathetic and lacking the drive I was looking for.  Except for the dance running.  Those moves are always fine!  When the right song comes on, I feel like I have wings and moves!  Up up up it pulls me.  Poles would have saved a heck of a lot of energy in the legs and made the climb much more efficient.  Mistake #2...next time!

It was up and flat and UP again and then we were marching and running and clawing our way to the peak, the pinnacle, the big  kahuna of the day!  Constitution Mountain summit!  I could hear the cheers and I was overcome with joy.  For me, this was my finish line.  I just had to get to the top and then I could float downhill all the way to the finish knowing there would be no more epic climbs.

Leg 5: 9kms 600m descent...some rolling torture hills to the finishline but nearly all down. 55mins.  Bad...very bad.
I was a smiles at the Aid station.  Grinning from ear to ear.  In my mind I was done!  I am a lover of the downhills- the longer the better and my quads just seem to eat it up.  I grabbed one more Gu and some water and leaned forward, letting gravity do her thing.  Here we go!  But then...to my shock and dismay...my ultra nemisiss returned...

Not the heart burrrrrrrrrn!

Yup.  Chest pain, burning soft ball in throat, threatening to hurl.  Heartburn.  I've never had it in my 'real life' but twice prior in ultra's I had been struck down to a near crawl on my hands and knees from the heartburn after 10-15hours of racing.  It is likely a combination of gels (which I don't eat during my real life) and jostling.  I had figured out a system to manage it and took heart burn medication before races lasting more than 10 hours.  Well folks, things change.  It came on at the 5hour mark, killed my joy and taught me a lesson.  Mistake #3.  So sad.  My glory finish was not to be.  Like a kid who drops their icecream cone before the first lick, I went through the stages of grief in mere moments.  Grasping my chest, I accepted the reality and dug into my 'self care bag of tricks' for that heart burn pill.  I knew it wouldn't likely be effective after the fact (learned that the hard way in Squamish 50m!) but it was all I could do.  I stopped and walked.  I walked down the beautiful flowing, rolling, dreamy, creamy descent.  I cautiously started jogging after a few minutes but was quickly forced to walk again.  All of my friends ran away.  I had to let them go.  A downhillers tragedy lol.

Woe is me!  Eventually the medication did begin to kick in and I was able to jog easily for the final descent, controlling my pace, avoiding any unnecessary impact and literally clutching my chest to provide pressure and some relief from the burn.  I had pressure points on my sternum after the race from the pressure- but it did help.  Up and down and up and down, alternating walking and running I did what I could with what I had to reach the finish.  I was just SO relieved that I had finished and that I was able to run it in to the end.  After my lasat two heart burn incidents I thought I might have to walk the entire 9k to the finish.  Perspective is a powerful thing and I was so grateful that I was able to run! 

6hours and 11minutes or so...off the mark in the end but very happy that I was able to make due with what my body had to offer me on the day.  Thanks body.  You are the best:).

Post race I chugged water and then trucked off to get another 7kms.  Running back on course and cheerleading all the way.  I had an extra 20k on my books for the weekend, but the heart burn just wouldn't let up so I called it quits at 7k.

Post race life is the good life at Rainshadow events!  They do such a great job and the vibe is just awesome.  Relaxed, friendly, beer drinking, pizza eating, folk band playing, toe tapping good.  I got to catch up with some new race friends, cheer in Team ELM and enjoy the post race bliss.


I was so proud of my buddies, Crystal and Lynn for completing their first ultra in complete style, that it brought a swell to my heart and a tear to my eye.  They did so great.  Followed their race plan to a T, had a wonderful experience, no major issues, and finished the race looking like they could have done it all again.  Well done ladies.  You are superstars!  And officially addicted to ultrarunning I am sure.

Sunday morning rolled around and I found myself back on course, re-running my favourite section along the lake.  22k bonus for a 72k total weekend run...good nuf. 

Orca's Island you were fantastic.  I am sure we will meet again one day...and I don't do many things twice;).

Hangin with the band!Gear

  • Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin 5 Vest

  • Salomon speedcross shoes

  • 1 Pro-bar, 1/2 cliff bar, 1 pack (gagged em down) Lemon Cliffe Blocks, 1 fruite bar, salty chips, 3 (yup) Gu's, 6 S-cap salt tabs.