02 February 2019

Orcas Island 50k

4th time's the charm!

I have been knocking on the door of six hours at the Rainshadow Running Orcas Island 50k for some time and finally managed to get there. I was not the fittest I have ever been but we had a super day and my pacing definitely is much better than it used to be so today really was a case of (my more) experience(d) (self) triumphing over (my more) youth(ful) (self).

Thanks to James Varner for doing what he does so well!

Here is my history at this race.

2013 - 6:04
This year I (re)sprained my ankle pretty badly early on which cost me some time as I slowly recovered and accelerated.

2015 - 6:02
No physical ailments this year, but it was really wet and muddy which slowed everyone down.

2017 - 6:07
I fractured my fibula one mile from the finish! That cost me 10-15 minutes.

2019 - 5:49

My previous efforts indicate I had a sub-six run in me all the time so it's super satisfying to finally pull it off. Showing up healthy and finally having an incident-free day sure helps. :)

Pacing has been my mission ever since the beginning of last year. I know, I know, why not all the time? Well as anyone that competes knows, it can be hard to actually execute a plan. I always thought I was okay at pacing myself but the truth was I needed to start even slower. Last year I finally began to walk the talk. and it has paid off big time.

What changed? Two things.
  1. I got older. Seriously, I knew I was not getting any faster so I tried to focus on the things I could improve like being more efficient at aid stations, my fueling, and pacing.
  2. I got a Stryd running power meter. I have used power meters for years racing bicycles but until recently there were no good options for running. Stryd is great! It's incredibly consistent (much more important than accurate - but it also appears to be very accurate), super easy to use, and power is the most objective and reliable indicator of how much work you are doing. I wear it for pretty much every run and race.
The start was very chill. I got there early, picked up my number, and relaxed in my car. With about 15 minutes to go I walked over, did a light warmup, listened to James' pre-race announcement, and we were off.

Speaking of pacing, it always surprises me how many people appear to be gunning for a 10k PR in an ultra. I started near the front just to try and avoid getting mired in the herd but at least 80 people passed me in the first two miles. On the other hand, only one person passed me between mile two and the finish.

Once I had been running for a few minutes I switched my watch to the screen with heart rate and power. Whoops... looks like I had forgotten to put on my heart rate strap. Oh well, that data is nice to have but I really only use my Stryd for pacing so tried to not let it bother me.

Based on an excellent run at last year's Chuckanut 50k, I guessed I could average 285 watts today. Proving that I'm not perfect at pacing, I made two mistakes. Last March I was fitter than I am now (and last year I already had a race under my belt come February) and this race starts with a big climb and I let my power sneak up a little too high. On the paved climb, I kept seeing 300-320 watts and on this day that was just a little too much. It always feels easy at the beginning of an ultra, right? In the end, I averaged 260 watts and faded a bit in the last six miles. My climbing felt pretty good, but my flat running (lack of fitness) and descending (lack of strength) was not the best it has been. Kind of a bummer too because I love to run downhill!

Looking at the aid stations in advance I figured I would only need to stop twice. I usually run with two 24 oz bottles which is a lot of fluid on a cool day so figured I only needed to stop at mile 13 and 20. Turns out that was perfect.

Ever since I switched to liquid food as my primary fuel aid stations have gotten much easier. I just pull up with a bag of powder in my hand, dump it in an empty bottle, and get it filled up with water. Done. Both times I showed up at aid stations today they were not crowded so I was even able to ask a volunteer to do this for me and was able to calmly eat a gel while getting serviced. Nice!

Another thing that has let me run worry free and focus on my pacing has been my shoes. I can't overstate how important comfy shoes are. They should not rub or bind, they should not impact your toes on descents, and you should feel like you have control. My Topo shoes do all that.

I dressed perfectly today. I had on a little more than some other runners but these days I don't run very hot and it worked out. I was warm at the top of the first climb but it cooled off again on the Power Line climb so no problem.

Here are some highlights.
  • Orcas Island is so freaking green! There are several, long sections of this run where the trail or road is totally surrounded by fields of vivid moss. It looks like the trail has been cut through a big, fluffy, green quilt! So beautiful.
  • I felt good on all the climbs. Even on Power Line and the subsequent climb I was still doing okay. I love trekking poles!
  • I ran for a while with this guy in sandals that would burst into song every so often. The first number I heard sounded like an original as it was about descending too fast and needing to recover. Later on he sang Macho Man by the Villiage People. Twice.
  • I was hoping to see some of my friends during the run which didn't happen. But I saw a ton at the finish! So cool to be a part of this community.
  • On the Power Line climb I caught this 20 something named Chris. After just a few seconds of hiking together, he spouts off with, "I thought I was going to be the only Clydesdale in the front of the pack." I gotta say, Chris was super game. He was running all the flatter sections and smoked the descent after Power Line. And he was a huge talker. You know, all the stuff someone who is running their first ultra would say.
    • "Boy, I sure am thirsty!"
    • "Man, this climb is hard!"
    • "Wow, I am so psyched!"
    • "My friends aren't going to believe this!"
  • On the Power Line climb I heard this one guy say to another behind me, "If your ass was any tighter, you would split your tights." I'm pretty sure that he meant it as a compliment (and in retrospect, I'm pretty sure it was Chris that said this), but at the time I almost laughed out loud. Truth be told, the guy the talker was referencing did have a very athletic ass.
  • About one mile from the bottom of the last descent (that's about 2.5 miles from the finish) this guy in a bright orange shirt passed me. I saw him behind me for a couple of miles but could not hold him off. To his credit, he was very polite and told me I had a good chance of going sub 6. Until then I had not dared to look at my watch, after he told me this I glanced down and saw I had about 22 minutes to get to the finish. With only about 1.5 miles to go that was a real morale booster.
  • I think I set a personal record for least calories consumed during a 50k. I sort of wanted more but every time I tried to drink in the second half of the race I would start to burp. I figured less was more on this day. Luckily it worked out.
  • My weight is the heaviest it has ever been since I started running ultras and this was my best time on this course. Take that body image.
  • It's only the beginning of the year but even after running this race my toenails were perfect.

Here are all my pictures.

Nutrition (before)
Nutrition (during)
Nutrition (after)
Here is my Stryd power file.

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