02 February 2013

Orcas Island 50k trail run

Time for an attitude adjustment! It's Orcas Island 50k time.

This is the first time I have entered a running race with no particular personal ambitions. I have not been training much these last three weeks due to injury (I sprained my left ankle pretty bad) and I have not been doing any speed work or quality tempo work and I'm getting over (read: I still have) a cold so the goal was just to finish.

Not just to finish, but finish and have fun while running. :)

[That's a pretty tentative looking smile there...]

First of all, how about a shout out to David Mann. I found out yesterday that he's a sometimes reader of this blog. Assuming the person that claimed they also read this last week still does, that makes three if you count me. Like me, David is a former bicycle racer that is trying to convert to running. Go David!

How do you put less pressure on yourself when you are running a 'race'? One way is to leave your malfunctioning GPS watch at home. Okay, I didn't actually leave it at home but when it could not find any satellites in time for the start I just set the display to the time of day and said to hell with my pace. Another is to carry a camera and to use it. It's hard to get all worked up about your time when you are constantly stopping to take pictures.

Although it was logistically possible to take the first ferry Saturday morning and make the start in time that seemed foolish so instead I caught the 4:00 PM ferry Friday, drove to the start and slept in my van after some food and a good read. Way more relaxing.

The start/finish was in Moran State Park on Orcas Island. The cafeteria cabin was where you checked in, got your number and where everyone milled around before stepping outside.


Naturally I waited until the last minute to step outside and this probably contributed to my GPS not getting a signal in time as the start was maybe only five minutes later. We got a super brief talk inside, walked up a hill, staged and then were told we were starting in 30 seconds.


I'm not so good at pacing myself so I had to come up with a plan. That plan was to find Win Van Pelt and run with him. He's super experienced and I figured that his pace would be pretty appropriate for me today. I took me a bit to find him at the start but I did and then after about half a mile of running caught up to him. And promptly shot some video. :)

At the start Win was talking to this guy named John who I ended up seeing quite a lot of today.
Win and I ran for a bit. I was really trying to keep the effort down but every once in a while Win would pass people so I had to do likewise in order not to get gapped. But it was okay, my ankle felt great and I did not feel like we were going to hard.

After a bit of trail we popped out onto the paved road that heads up to the top of Mount Constitution. We had crossed a couple of roads already and run a bit of dirt road so I figured we would get off just as quickly as we got on but no... we ran almost all the way up to the top on the pavement!

This might sound grueling but we took it nice and easy. On the climb I discovered that John was going a bit faster than Win and since I wanted to run with Win I waited for him a couple of times and took pictures. No biggie.


At the top it was GORGEOUS. We had climbed through all the fog and into the sun and you could see for miles! And here was the first big descent. Yes!

We were cruising down the descent at a pretty good clip and I was loving it. I kept glancing away from the trail to enjoy the scenery and that might have been a contributing factor but regardless, just minutes into the descent I planted my left foot and rolled my ankle. Hard. Damn.

I think I almost started crying. Not so much from the pain - it did hurt - but from the frustration! My ankle was just starting to heal up nicely and I was already stressed about losing training time and now this? I think what went through my mind was something like, "FUCK FUCK FUCK!"

I didn't fall down but I had to grab a tree for support as my left foot would not support any weight at first. What was I going to do? I wasn't even to the first aid station so going down seemed more prudent than backtracking all the way to the start. Being the optimist I headed down the mountain.

Limp, hop, limp, hop... I was totally walking. After a bit I tried to jog but it was this completely awkward, asymmetrical gait that just felt wrong. I knew that favoring one side over the other is what messed up my back and right glute/hamstring after my initial injury so after a while I willed myself to jog normally to see if I could stand it. I could. Barely.

The mind is an interesting organ. I don't think I got a flood of endorphins or anything and there was no massive reward waiting for me at the finish line if I did indeed finish but slowly I sped up. I think perhaps more than anything it was the will not to favor one side over the other that got me moving faster.

At the bottom of the descent was the first aid station and not being in great spirits I just grabbed a quarter sandwich and headed out. Trying to eat the dry bread with peanut butter while breathing hard was helping me feel sorry for myself. :)

It was flat here and the surface was great so I gassed it a little and the ankle did not complain anymore than it already was and eventually I caught up to John (red top) and Win (blue top).

By now a pattern had emerged. John was fastest on the climbs, Win was fastest on the descents and Win took the least time at aid stations. I was kind of bouncing around trying to run with both of these guys but unlike a bike ride, runners seem to not be especially worried about whether or not they are alone. We would pull into an aid station and I would get a drink, grab some food and turn around to look for Win and would just see him disappearing from view through the trees. I would hightail it out of there, slowly catch up to him and then settle back into a calmer rhythm.

If there is one thing this run is known for it's the Powerline climb. Just after aid station #3 you bang a right and the trail goes up. And by 'up' I mean you have to crane your neck to see the top. Actually, you can't see the top, the trail just disappears as it climbs toward the sky. On a good day you need to use your hands in one or two sections and heaven forbid it's sloppy wet... I can't even imagine what it would be like trying to find enough traction to make it up this hill. Here is the best I was able to capture the grade. That's John in the white shirt.

It's also long! I had ample time to think about all kinds of things like all the berms and jumps I saw. obviously this is a downhill mountain biker's playground and there were some serious gaps and ramps. Very cool. We were also in the sun. Early on as it got warmer I had taken off my hat and gloves but then running around one of the lakes it got cold again and my hands got stiff so I put the gloves back on. Climbing up here I was quite warm but for some reason I opted to keep my gloves and arm warmers on. I suspect it was just to much effort for me to shed clothing although I saw tons of other people doing it.

As we hiked and hiked and hiked I noticed that John and I had left Win behind. I felt kind of bad about this but I also wanted to finish ASAP and get the hell off my ankle. I might have also justified leaving Win as he never waited for me at the aid stations. Whatever. Just as I was thinking our group had thinned from three to two who should I meet sitting by the trail but Kevin Smythe. He looked worked and his smile a bit forced so I asked him if he needed anything and he said no so John and I carried on.

About 2/3 or 3/4 of the way up this climb is a big descent! You roll through yet more amazing forest and it was absolutely killing me to have to put on the brakes as much as I was because of my ankle. By the time we got to the bottom Kevin had caught us! Nice.

And then the trail went up again. Ouch. Another monster hike was in store. I gotta say, the transitions seem rather abrupt on Orcas.

Kevin and I gapped John a little on this hike but not by much at all and at the top I suggested to Kevin that we wait. He agreed and we only had to hang out for maybe 30 seconds. Up here at the last aid station (#4) I decided I better fill up the tank so ate more than I usually do at any one food stop. I didn't want to have to worry about eating on the biggest descent of the day and risk yet another ankle incident.

Did I mention that I forgot to charge my camera battery before starting this run? Of course it ran out of juice just before I summited so I was not able to capture the view from the top.

We took off down the hill and very shortly John was dropped. I found out later he had some (thankfully brief) stomach issues. In all honestly my stomach was complaining from all the food and drink I had just shoved inside it and I was not feeling super either. We were moving! After dropping John we passed one guy, a couple, two more solo people and then we were alone. Luckily my stomach slowly started to improve and for the last part of the descent I felt pretty good were it not for my ankle. I was concentrating like a maniac on this descent trying desperately not to stick my left foot in any treacherous places. I kept wanting to look up and enjoy the view but kept my eyes glued to the trail. Focus!

At the bottom I knew my legs were hammered. Kevin was amazing me! Not only had he come good enough to catch us he then led most of the descent and did so at a pace that was as fast as I could go with my ankle. And his chatter quotient seemed to be increasing all the way.

I recognized the beach at the bottom so knew that we were less than 1.5 miles from the finish. There were a few twists and turns and one small detour but basically the trail paralleled the road and then we ran back the same last half mile or so that we did at the start.

Note that parallel to the road does NOT mean it gained and lost the same amount of elevation as the road... There were a couple of little pitches that had me wincing. On the second one I had to ask Kevin to slow down if he wanted company to the finish and lucky for me he did. Thanks Kevin.

With about 500 m to go Kevin started talking about how he just loves to sprint when he gets to the finish line. You go Kevin, I was not able to sprint.

As I crossed the line I got a high five from James Varner. I thought it was pretty cool that he was still out here congratulating folks 1.5 hours after the winner had finished. Thanks James.
After finishing I went for a short walk, changed my clothes, tried to stretch a little, put my compression socks on and got busy with my usual post-run routine:

  • Some recovery lasagna.
  • Some recovery butternut squash soup.
  • A giant recovery turkey sandwich with all the fixings.
  • Three recovery chocolate chip cookies.

When I finally drove down to the ferry dock I also had:

I probably drank some water too...

What a freaking excellent day! It's kind of funny how this stellar day was balanced out by my stupid ass ankle injury. Massive shame. I bet the conditions have not been this good for the Orcas race ever? I think I would like to come back, even if it's not so dry and warm. [He says now having no idea how he will feel in 12 months.]

Big thanks to Win, John and Kevin for the company throughout the day. It was awesome running with you guys. Win - sorry to leave you behind when you were no doubt suffering. :( I think now I need to take several days (at least a week?) Off from running and let my ankle really, really heal. It sucks but I have bigger fish to fry later in the summer. Here's hoping I am able to do so.

Here all the pictures and video.

Sleep 7
Waking HR  
Body Weight  
Body Fat  
Breakfast 5:45 AM - apple sauce, banana, 1 scoop protein powder, 3 scoops Perpetuem, bottle w/2 scoops HEED
Workout Food 2 liter bladder of water, 2 cups water, 4 cups of some random sports drink, I cup Coke, half a peanut butter & honey sandwich, potato chips, 1.5 flasks Hammer Gel, 1 GU, 8 Endurolytes
Injuries re-sprained my already sprained left ankle one hour in
Therapy compression socks after the race
Time of Day 8:30 AM
Workout Type race
Weather low 40s to 50, foggy at first but sun for the majority, perfect trails with very little mud
Course 8,400' of vertical gain
I had to walk not only the Powerline climb but also the one after it and parts of others before it.
Results 9th - Men 40-49
47th - Overall
official results
Time 6:04:09
Distance 50 km
Equipment Ultraspire Surge
Clothing Teko organic SIN3RGI Light Minicrew, Brooks 5" Essential Run Short, Craft Active Extreme Short Sleeve Baselayer, Brooks Podium SS shirt, The North Face running arm warmers, SmartWool beanie, Polypropylene gloves


  1. Martin, loved reading about your Orcas 50K. You have inspired me and given me hope! I too enjoy running (about 4 years now) but struggle with that little devil that sits on my shoulder and says 'you don't have time to do this! Anyway, I was off to a great start this winter; Signed up for a couple of early half-marathons, then yesterday got whacked HARD in the outside of my r. knee by a banshee dog at the dog park. If you can run a 50k on a not quite healed ankle, then I'm confident I'll be able to stick to my goals. Keep up the good work. You now have a faithful blog follower!
    Nancy Erickson

  2. @Nancy - thanks for the kind words! I'm so sorry to hear about your knee... sometimes I think the human body is just way too fragile. :( Then again, we put it through a ton of abuse without even realizing it. Good luck sticking with your goals and thanks too for reading.


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