Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Once more with feeling ~ Orcas 25k Race Report

You go back, Jack, do it again
Red skies at night, runners' delight.
Wheels turnin' 'round and 'round
You go back, Jack, do it again

"Do It Again" ~ Steely Dan
There was a time when I thought running the Orcas Island 25k was way beyond my scope.

Fifteen or 16 miles? On steep and technical trails? In the middle of winter? Who are these people doing these marvelous things that I could never do??

Now I know.

A few years later, I've run Orcas five times—so you might think it wouldn't continue to intimidate me. 

Nope. The thought of climbing Powerline and the Mount Constitution switchbacks still makes me anxious.

And yet I keep coming back. Probably because:

a) I'm not very bright
b) the quiche at Brown Bear Baking is awesome
c) the Orcas 25k is a blast
d) all of it
Somehow I always forget about the start of this race—which is weird, because my brain stem usually remembers vexing two-mile climbs on pavement. There have been years that I've walked some of this stretch, surprised yet again by its very existence...but this was not one of those years.

It's not like I was in super-great shape with my mental game on point. For unfortunate reasons, neither of those was true. But it's possible an utter lack of expectations helped me get out of my own way and just run.

Once off the road and onto the Mountain Lake Trail, the next four miles are downhill-ish, scenic, type-one fun. Lots of single track takes you on a rolling, runnable tour of Mountain Lake, Cascade Falls, and Cascade Lake, and eventually up to the North Arch aid station. I arrived there smiling, chatted with my friend John Maytum for a couple minutes, then grazed on some delightful aid station Oreos.

What, they're vegan...which means they're health food! Also, good Powerline fuel.

Tactical note: the best time to run Orcas is when Powerline is un-muddy. 
Administrative note: Powerline is almost never un-muddy.
2019 note: Powerline was un-muddy.

An un-muddy Powerline is a gift. Instead of slipping and sliding in boggy shoes, you can focus more intently on power-hiking past people who can't believe how steep it is and how it goes on forever.

Two miles up, gaining about 1,400 feet of elevation, the climbing eventually gives way to my favorite section of the course—two descending single-track miles through moss-covered forest. It's strangely quiet through here, as the trees seem to dampen the wind and any sound but your breathing and your shoes on the trail. 

It's so hypnotic that you don't even notice the hundreds of feet you're giving up, which you have to earn back on your way to the Mt. Constitution aid station. That climbing happens on my least favorite part of the course, which we'll ominously call "The Switchbacks," a never-ending climb of nearly 1,000 feet in the span of a mile.

Glenn! Beware the chipmunks!
(photo by Glenn Tachiyama.)
This is another stretch that changes dramatically if the course is wet. On those days, there are sections where the trail is literally a stream flowing over outcroppings of rock, on its way to the ocean or wherever such streams go on this island. An underground elfin brewpub would be my guess.

For a change, The Switchbacks were almost completely dry this year, and not nearly as debilitating as my brain stem wanted me to believe. The journey through their steep twists and turns took far less of a toll than usual, which boosted my attitude almost as much as the peanut m&ms (health food!) at the Mt. Constitution aid station.

The trip down from the high point on the island (2,400 feet) to the finish at Camp Moran (500 feet) is an exercise in risk tolerance. If you don't mind the prospect of a faceplant on some technical trail, you can fly. I know this not because I flew, but because I got passed by a dozen people who did.

Was I a little envious? Yes, I was. Was I willing to risk face and limb trying to keep up with them? Ha, no.

My "best possible speed" the last five miles felt quick enough compared to previous years—even the last mile, which can seem like it goes on forever.

Spoiler: it doesn't. 

And this year, I kind of wished it had.
"Thanks, James, it's good to be back.
And, yes, I do like your party hat."
Thanks, as always, to the amazing people at Rainshadow Running and Seven Hills Running Shop, not to mention the volunteers who make such things possible. 

Let's do it again.
Orcas Island 25k


68/256 (overall)

7/23 (M 50-59)

Hoka Torrent

Songs stuck in my head the entire time: 
"Requiem" ~ Mozart
"Do It Again" ~ Steely Dan
A toast to absent friends.

The flame of the inn is dim tonight
Too many vacant chairs
The sun has lost too much of its light
Too many songs have taken flight
Too many ghosts on the stairs

~Grantland Rice