Sunday, February 07, 2010

Orcas Island 25K, Year Four

I probably should have taken an ice bath. Problem is, we didn't get home till after 10:00 and I just wanted a shower and bed. As a result, I'm moving a tad slow today, though I did run four miles this morning. But, let's go back to the beginning - I ran the 25K solo, did not get lost and got a 21 minute PR! And to top it all off, it was perfect weather, clear, moderate temps and simply beautiful.

As I have said in the past, this is my favorite race ever. It felt a little different this year, with 350 participants, compared to the first few years when it was small. There were so many people we didn't recognize, while in the past it was like a racing reunion. Though really, the same old friends were there - they just weren't as easy to spot. Eric, Steve and I were able to get away by noon on Friday, making the long trek to Anacortes to catch an early ferry. I think this was the first time we got to cross in the daylight, and it was a warm, sunny day with stunning views of the islands. It's a long ferry ride, about an hour to an hour and a half, depending on stops at other islands. We kicked back and enjoyed our down time. After we arrived, checked in and cooked dinner we headed over to race central for some socializing. There is an option to stay at the camp (think summer camp), so there are plenty of people hanging out, and a big pot-luck style dinner. As usual, we chose to stay in some nearby condos, with all the luxuries, and just drop in on the festivities.

The next morning we were up bright and early for the race. Eric and Steve took the early start with a bunch of others and I had about an hour to kill till my race started. Fortunately, plenty of friends were around and the time passed quickly. Once the regular start 50K crowd moved out, it was our turn. We had a good-sized crowd, and I moved to the back with some other friends. It was an uphill start on a gravel access road, then a turn onto the trails.

Even though this was my fourth year of running this race, I was feeling anxious. I've always had a buddy with me in the past, but not this year. Given my left-right deficiencies and my lack of spatial skills (map-reading) I was worried about getting lost. Eric even took the directions I had printed out and drew left/right arrows on it for me - just to be sure I really knew where I was going. James (RD) assured me the course was well-marked and that I would be fine, and he was right. The other runners I knew are all a bit faster than me, but one of them introduced me to a friend of hers who was running with an injury. That was wonderful, as we leap-frogged all day. We were usually out of sight of each other, giving me the sense that I was alone in the deep, dark forest, but I could see his distinctive foot prints ahead of me most of the time, or if I was ahead, I knew he wasn't too far behind. Even if I did get lost, I'd have someone lost with me, which in my mind, made it all better!

This is a tough race - for the 50K runners, there is over 7000 feet of climbing. For the 25K runners, there is over 3000 feet of climbing. According to my Garmin, we climbed about 2000 feet in the first six miles, then dropped about 1300 feet in 3.5 miles, then back up 800 feet in the next 2.5 miles. Then back down to the start. It's no wonder my quads hurt today! At the beginning some of the trails are wide and smooth, but most of the trails are rocky, rooty single track. I passed one guy who was cursing a blue streak as we climbed at the beginning - he appeared to be upset about the big climb. I wondered how a person could sign up for a race that takes you up to the top of Mount Constitution and be surprised about climbing! I was glad to get past him. There were two sections where our race shared the trail with the 50K racers for a short time, going in opposite directions. I got to see Eric and Steve once, and heard their monkey calls the second time. I got lots of encouragement from all our friends as we crossed paths each time.

The highlight of my day was as I finally made the ridge that leads to the peak. The trail climbs out of the woods, opening to a view point. I stopped for a minute, all alone, to look. The only sound I could hear was the wind rushing through the trees. To the north, I could see Canada, straight ahead, across the Sound, the Islands, Bellingham and Mt. Baker, then the line of the Cascade Mountains leading all the way to Mt. Rainier in the south. It was an amazing moment of satisfaction, beauty and serenity. Then I turned to tackle the rest of the climb to the top. The trails follows the cliff side with sheer drops to the water below on the right. It's a spot where caution is essential, yet the view kept catching my eye whenever there was a break in the thin line of trees. Simply amazing.

I made it to the look-out tower and the aid station. I grabbed a Pepsi from my drop bag and headed right into the tower to climb to the top. I didn't stay long up there because the wind was fierce and cold. Back down, grab a snack at the aid station, a quick trip to the restrooms and I was out. I'm sure my PR came from two things: first, the trails were beautiful - no snow this year and barely any mud. Second, since I was alone, I kept moving. No potty breaks, no picture breaks, no hanging out at the tower. It was nice to PR, and I'm glad I ran it alone for the boost in confidence it gave me, but I'll take slower times and running with friends any day!

Running into the finish line made me feel like a rock star - the sun was shining, everyone who had finished was sitting on the lawn, the post race band was playing outside, and many of the runners were shouting my name as I crossed. What an experience! James knows how to take care of runners: a band, a massage therapist, soup, bread, and beer. It's awesome. I waited for the guys to come in - they PR'd as well, then after they cleaned up and enjoyed some of the post-race atmosphere, we headed for the ferry line. Another buddy was there ahead of us, with the roof up on his camper-van, ready to cook and party. He made everyone breakfast burritos, and all the runners in the ferry line hung out and socialized. Again, the ferry was full of racers and the post-race party continued. It's no wonder I love this race!

Finally, my training for Pac Rim hasn't gone as well as I hoped. I've gotten the races in, and I've managed to keep a base mileage of about 35 miles a week, but I had a nasty chest cold that lasted two weeks and had me missing runs and sleeping lots. I was relieved to wake up Friday morning feeling good, with a slight cough, but no sign of the sore throat I'd had. I'm hoping it's all past now and I can get back to some serious training!


Joe said...

Great report, Michelle. Congrats on the solo run, keeping on the correct path and not slipping into the ocean!!

Sounds like a really fun day... congrats to Eric as well!!

Sarah said...

Sounds like a really great day! Congrats on your PR too.

Anne said...

Wow! That sounds like an amazing experience. Great race report and good job on the PR and on staying on the trail :)

Anonymous said...

You are a rock star girl. Congratulations on a great race.

Anne said...

Hooray for another PR, and for learning to trust yourself on the course. I loved that moment before you descended, when you must have felt on top of the world.

justrun said...

Congrats, Michelle! I've gotten to where I expect this report every year now. :)
Hope you continue to feel better and healthy!

Wes said...

That sounds like such a lovely race. Congrats on the huge PR!!

Mud Pies and Froggy Tales said...

Way to go! I love this race as well, although this was my first year I hope to do many more! I did the 50K (wow, it was tough!), and loved every minute. Thanks for the recap. I posted about the race on my blog too!

Darrell said...

I love having an annual race. It sounds like it was a whole new experience this time around. Hooray for the PR! and the wonderful views.

olga said...

Michelle, as much as you and I love to run with friends, seems that you, like me, run better (faster) by yourself! I saw the pictures, the day was beautiful!

Irene said...

Funny, I was just thinking about you, wondering if you were doing any more races, then, there you are!

It sounds like the conditions were in your favor this year! Congratulations on a new PR. Those always feel good. :)

Sunshine said...

Happy Valentines Day.
Best wishes for training.