It’s good to have goals.
After a limp year in 2017 where I seemed to spend more time nursing dodgy ankles and cheering at the edge of a footy pitch than on trails, I was going into this race unsure of myself but with a previous Orcas Island run on my mind.
3:15:55 to beat.
Rain drumming heavily during the night kept me awake. The event promised to be miserable. The wind was gusty. Patio doors in the quirky downstairs room I was sharing with four lovely naked ladies rattled and shook.
Heeding these cues I pushed my usual race day choice of t-shirt and arm warmers to one side, and opted for a long sleeved thermal Mizuno top, topped with extra Team7Hills tee instead. I panic packed more layers and a raincoat, stuffing what I could into the back of my hydration vest. This was my worst mistake of the day.
The weather was a big tease. After a tempestuous night the day dawned to mild skies. I carried far too much weight in my pack, and spent a good portion of the race languishing in regret and wishing fervently that I could offload some baggage. Anywhere. I dreamed of just ditching my pack in a bush, or thrusting it into some poor unsuspecting hiker’s arms. Thank goodness I at least made a last minute decision to peel off my top layer when in the cosy warmth of Camp Moran.
Spirits were high at check-in. Camp Moran was abuzz with geared up runners ready to be unleashed on the trail. Nerves were pushed to the side and forgotten in the social throng. Almost too much socialising…immersed in idle chat at the start line countdown we suddenly had seconds to spare. A wall of selfie taking runners in front of me also didn’t seem to have noticed our imminent release. I quickly darted in front of them and lost contact with my own gang. We were off.
The Orcas Island 25k is a race of three parts:
A good 5.4 mile warm up to the aid station at North Arch
Battle plan here was to run it. Run it and not stop. Run all the hills. Run steady and strong. I stuck to my goal, but the looming spectre of Mt Constitution curbed my enthusiasm and did keep me in check. I was soon passed by MCM, and then Bill Sepeda, a stream of other people, and then a dog. That was fun. Usually I am with the dog that is doing the passing. Happy dog, owner, and I bounced around each other for quite some time before I finally managed to gain some ground and drop them.
A delicious treat sandwiched between two hard toils.
This section is headlined by the dreaded Power Line. Nothing ever prepares me for this crazy straight up climb, or for the hard switchback slog up to Mt Constitution that book ends this stretch. The middle section between the two versions of uphill pain is where it’s at though. I prefer to focus on and salivate over the juicy, lush green and mossy section that is the reward for so much hard work.
I hit Power Line with MCM ahead of me, a ways in front of me, but in sight, thanks to his florescent yellow top with Team7 target on his back. I simply focused on reeling in that sucker. Bill was making the climb too. Achilles and calves screamed their way up the ridiculous grade, but I gained on them all the way up.
I didn’t catch mountain goat MCM, but I caught up with Bill at the top of Power Line. This was a short lived victory. He creams the downhills. I was certain that I would be seeing him again and he quickly snatched back the lead as he flew past as soon as he got his legs back.
Steeling myself I pressured my legs to run what few steps they could. Power Line behind us, they shook themselves out and got back into a rhythm to start storming the trail. The hunt for MCM was back on.
After Power Line the hill grade / run effort ratio changes. Strangely, when faced with hills that were once considered completely runnable during the first third of this race, after Power Line, mind and legs decide that these babies are now power hike material. Still, I kept pushing hard and it paid off. One super thickly English “Excuuse me! Coming through on your left please old chap!” and I was free of hounding MCM’s neon t-shirt.
After a wonderful exhilarating flight down the glorious downhills the switchbacks that relentlessly climb to the top of Mount Constitution hit me like a wall. I tackled the upward toil without pause but was shocked and disappointed to hear a gaggle of voices build back up behind me. Gleefully I retook Bill again on this climb, but got passed several times myself.
Confidence faltered and then rebounded. Mind reassured legs that I could soon launch myself off the summit and push hard again on the long steep descent.
Screaming downhill from Mount Constitution to the finish.
The summit of Mt Constitution came and went as I ignored the call of the aid station and blasted straight through, hot on the heels of a couple of ladies. It was a surprising battle but I finally earned myself an “on your left” before we got as far as Glenn Tachiyama. Glenn was hunkered down and taking photos against a backdrop of what is usually a stunning panorama of water and islands and mountains, but which was a wall of thick grey today. (Header Photo Credit: Glenn Tachiyama)
I had put enough distance between us to run past Glenn solo, and then really lost them chugging onward through the icy slush when I turned on “Don’t Give A Crap About Puddles” mode. The summit was cold. Really cold. Toes were instantly frigid. The slush on trail woke me up, but sent my feet into numb shock. I was running with stiff limbs, a drippy nose, and eyes that felt like they were freezing over. I let loose and exalted in sploshing my way through the muck. Thick puddles splashing heavy drops high up my legs. I ran with exhilaration, and the knowledge that no doubt Bill was freight training along the trail behind me. New goal – keep ahead of Bill as long as I could on the downhill.
With Wild Bill at my back I started reeling in more and more runners. Importantly, I started passing women. Aside from keeping Bill at bay, I didn’t care about the men! Feeling pretty damn great and still moving well with reserves in the tank, I started to wonder if perhaps this run could be good enough to make top ten? Where was I in the pack? I felt like I was strong, running on rails, and making far speedier time than last year. Hope was kindled and fuelled me on in a hurry.
Hitting the bottom of the downhill mountain dash I darted out past a park shelter and towards the homeward stretch. Here, I knew a final round of pesky hills awaited to be hurdled. I bounded up onto the first hill and with that step my inner thigh lit up. A screaming cramp! It threatened to cripple me! Ignoring the twisting, writhing muscle I pledged to keep on moving and refused to relent. Grabbing my thigh and kneading it furiously I willed myself to conquer the course. A few steps of painful hiking, sucking breath, then determination rebounded. It was a hateful, plodding run that carried me within sight of the finish before a final last ditch desperate charge to claim my high five from James Varner.
A glance at the clock swiped the buzz from my elation somewhat. Despite what felt like a glorious run, a run that I was convinced far exceeded last year’s effort, I did PR, but was disappointed to barely come in under last year’s time!
3:14:00 and 12th lady home.
Strava – 2018 Orcas Island 25k
I could honestly say that I raced this year. First time in a long time! Past injury woes didn’t haunt me. Did not succumb to my usual pissing around when self doubt turns me to mush. I worked hard the whole way and am immensely satisfied with this run.
Of course, I am also consoling myself with the observation that this year’s winning times were both about 15 minutes slower than years past!
Shoe: Salewa Lite Train
No Orcas Island race report would be complete without at least one mention of the delightful ferry ride and all the orcas and other sea life we saw synchronised ballet dancing from its windows on the way over. Thanks to my dad for the illustration.