Orcas Island 50k, a 'Whale' of a race...ok, enough with the cheesy puns...
Who's This Guy With The Resume?
As we lined up to start the event I knew that someone by the name of Adam Lint would be the guy to beat. I had no idea what Adam looked like, how old he was, or even where he was from. All I knew was that the guy had laid down some pretty solid and consistent results in the last twelve months, and longer than that I'm sure, although I did not know more than his most recent resume. As I scanned the few guys at the front of the pack I assumed that one very fit looking, slim, taller, and marginally older than myself, guy must've been Adam. With under two minutes to go I heard someone say,
"Hey Adam, how was the drive?"
I turned around to see a guy wearing shorts, a singlet, red gloves, a hat on backwards, and sporting the largest and most impressive 'mutton chops' I've seen in a number of years!
"Huh", I thought to myself, "So that's the guy. At least I won't confuse him for anyone else in the pack once we're running!"
(Photo Credit, Glenn Tachiyama)
With that we were off, and Adam wasted little time in shooting to the front of the pack. I knew that 'Orcas' consisted of four separate climbs, two gradual and two steep, and each with a corresponding downhill. The course also saved the biggest and baddest descent as the finale. This was then followed by a short flat section around a lake to the finish line. In the days leading up to the race, as I glanced over the course profile, I could not help but salivate, it was EXACTLY what I looked for in an ultra run, very little flat terrain, big climbs, steep descents, and almost all singletrack! I couldn't wait to get this thing underway!
As we hit the first climb there was a pack of six of us running together. It took Adam all of a few hundred meters before he started to distance himself from us and I took stock of the fact that I was going to have to destroy myself on the downslopes to have any shot at keeping up with this guy.
In the pre-race announcements James mentioned that there was no 'confidence flagging' on course, and that you could go up to a few miles at a time without any markings, but that each intersection would be flagged accordingly. The race is billed as a 'Fat Ass' event, so this was all in line with what is to be expected heading into such a run. Unfortunately Adam missed the pre-race talk and just a few km into the race, while probably a minute up on the field, he was all of a sudden doubling back to us.
"I think I went wrong, there's no markings!"
We gave him the breakdown and shortly thereafter he disappeared again like he was somehow sporting four legs instead of just two.
I eventually felt warmed up enough to make a move on the pack and slowly started to pass the runners in front of me until I knew I was sitting in second place. Again I saw Adam heading back towards me, and at the next intersection we both took a second to confirm that we were heading in the right direction. As was already the drill, I blinked, he vanished.
It's Nice To Run With Someone. Sure Is, Pardon Me...
Once I topped out on the second climb (the first being very gradual) I knew that I had to immediately see what kind of downhill runner Adam was. Downhilling has always been my strongest suit and if Adam could match my pace in any way then the race would surely be for second place on the day. I caught up to him after about a km, as the course flattened slightly, and this lead into a small incline. We managed to chat for a bit and he commented on how it was nice to have another runner to pace off of as running solo for 50k can sometimes be a drag. I agreed with Adam as we crested that small climb, and immediately after those words left my mouth I invested every ounce of energy in my body into trying to drop him on the downslope! I was able to gain a gap and thereby realized what the rest of the day would have to be for me. I needed to destroy each descent (and my legs in the process) to have a legitimate shot at making a race out of this thing. I was guessing that I'd need at least a 3-5 minute lead heading into the last big climb on the day to have any chance at holding him off until the finish line.
As I hit the ten mile / sixteen km aid station, and turn around, the course sends you back against the pack for about half a km. Adam and I exchanged high fives, and I figured my lead to be about ninety seconds. A minute later I just caught a glimpse of third-fifth and I knew it was between Adam and I on the day.
He Really Is A Mountain Goat!
As I headed into the third, and steepest climb of the race, starting at about mile nineteen, I was very surprised that I had managed to fend off Adam during the previous section, the flattest on the day. The course became so steep that you were forced onto all fours at times and I was loving EVERY second of it...
"Ain't no way Mountain Goat Boy can run this shit! He couldn't possibly make time on me here!!" (I would later learn that he indeed did end up running the ENTIRE climb!!)
Eventually we popped out onto an open powerline section where you could see what lay ahead. I instantly grinned from ear to ear, SWEET, bring on the nastiness! I pushed my 'power hiking' hard and made sure to shoulder check at the top of each clear section. No Adam to be seen. So far so good!
As I topped out on the climb I ran around a corner and there was a three foot section of 'warning' tape stretched out directly across the trail. My main goal on the day was to not get lost. I ALWAYS get lost, and frankly I'm kinda getting sick of doing 'custom distances' in trail races. Up until that point in the race, which was about mile twenty, km thirty two, I had stopped numerous times at intersections of question. On more than one occasion I ran up and down the trail ensuring that I was making the right directional choice. Now I was faced with what appeared to be a sign telling me 'NOT THIS WAY!", so I panicked. Adam was surely coming hard somewhere just down the trail. I turned around and ran back to the last piece of flagging tape...which was all of fifteen feet behind me...shit, now what?! I started looking into the bushes on the side of the trail...must be a hidden trail in here somewhere! After ten of fifteen seconds of this foolishness I ran back to the 'warning tape', took a deep breath, and stepped over it...I was still alive...and there was snow and ice on the trail up ahead...it was JUST 'warning tape' to watch my step up ahead...at least I didn't take wrong turn!
This was another open section of terrain, and as I was about to disappear on the far side of the clearing I glanced over my shoulder...DAMMIT, mountain goat was just coming over the top...and he didn't fall for the ole 'warning tape trick' like I did either. Thankfully, this was the absolute top and I knew what lay just up ahead, more beautiful quad burning terrain awaited me and my Montrail Wildwoods (pretty subtle Montrail plug there eh!).
The 25k racers were coming up the trail, and I got a boost by seeing most of my B.C. brethren approaching on the singletrack and cheering me on. This was my absolute FAVORITE section of the race. The terrain was plush and flowed ever so nicely, the forest was dense, the grade was just so that I could let loose and not for a second contemplate how many stitches I would endure should I snag a tree branch or inadvertently step on a slug somewhere. I relished this terrain, but as the grade grew steeper I knew exactly what I had to accomplish. I was once again blinking tears out of my eyes as I tried to see how fast I could get my feet to turn over the dirt beneath them. The kilometers evaporated and I started to wonder if I'd somehow missed some flagging. It had felt like forever since I'd seen anything, but it was too late to turn back now, so I just kept my eyes peeled and my Montrails rolling.
I let out a huge sigh of relief when just a few minutes later I spotted the magical flagging tape off to my left. I bolted up the slight incline and again laid into the terrain as it fell away beneath me. Eventually I bottomed out at a lake, and I dreaded having to actually propel myself without the aid of gravity! I was confident that I'd widened my lead on Adam, and now I had to put my head down and really focus on not giving away any of that lead on the flat terrain that paralleled the lake. Just down the trail there was a steep set of switchbacks and I took stock of my time as I climbed them. I managed to clear them without spotting my competition and thereby knew I had at least a two minute gap at that point.
This Looks Like A Comfy Rock
I was not enjoying the run along the water. It's not that the terrain was not as nice as the entire course up until that point had been, it was that I had not spotted any flagging tape in what felt like an eternity. I just kept reminding myself that it had all made sense so far, just trust the course, the flagging will be there when you need it, just as it has been throughout the first 30km. Right now there were no other options to choose from, so no flagging was necessary. I kept going over this in my head and forcing my legs to keep pace, slowing down in uncertainty would be the worst think I could do. 'Run for the next intersection, the tape will be there to guide you my son'...or something like that anyways!
Finally, after what felt like at least four km, but in hindsight was nowhere near that distance, I spotted an upcoming intersection. I upped my pace, hit the four way, and spun my head a full 360 degrees...nothing...no tape...no markings anywhere...I double checked...I triple checked...
I actually didn't yell the profanity as I have done on numerous similar occasions in the past. Maybe it was because I am growing accustomed to getting lost out there. I was most disgusted with myself than anything. I had but ONE GOAL on the day, DON'T GET LOST, and I couldn't even attain that one simple task! I dropped my butt onto a rock while wallowing in self pity. THIS SUCKS! I looked up at the trail signage and had no damn idea where I was or how to get back to the start finish area. I was initially trying to guess which way would be the fastest exit, but after a slight moment of clarity realized I have never DNFed an ultra and I most certainly was not about to start now. I was training for bigger stuff later in the year, I might as well double back and see where I missed my turn and finish this thing off. I started to walk the trail but was getting cold so I slowly started into a jogging pace. I made it maybe a hundred meters down the trail...and as I looked up Adam was running straight for me...I had turned off my competitor switch and just wasn't thinking clearly,
"Adam, we blew it man, we missed a turn somewhere..."
"Naw. This is right, I know we run around a lake and then head back up again!"
We headed back to the intersection together and confirmed that there was no flagging in place. Adam had a vague idea of the course however and he was convinced we were supposed to head right. Sure enough, just down the trail and around the corner there was flagging and a bridge that we had run past about twenty km earlier.
I said shit more so because I knew that I now had to start racing again! My lead over Adam was gone and no matter how hard I tried to convince myself otherwise, we both knew he was now in the drivers seat for the final fifteen km. Adam was kind enough to let me lead through the next section and as we approached the beginning of the final ascent, or as I now know it to be, 'the beginning of the end', I was still in front. In hindsight I should have threw my arms out to the side,
"Sorry Adam, there doesn't seem to be anywhere to let you by on this narrow singletrack trail. Oh well, I'm sure once we reach the top there will be somewhere wide enough to allow me pull off to the side."
Instead I conceded,
"You should probably lead this out..."
And like a Ninja Smoke Bomb, Mr. Lint became a pigment of my imagination...
Toes And Quads To Headquarters, "Why Do You Hate Us?"
This final climb was torture on so many levels. My legs did not want to get going again after I gave them a 'way out' just a few minutes prior, and my mind was not coping well with the fact that it was becoming crystal clear that 'the race' was for all intents and purposes, pretty much done. I kept telling myself to suck it up, forget what had happened, nothing else mattered, I had a new problem at hand, and I had to figure out a way to solve it in under fourteen kms. Unfortunately Adam was already outside of my 'rock throwing range', so I put my head down and slogged it out. I found some solace in the absolutely spectacular panoramic view we were presented with up top, although all I wanted to do at that point was to sit down and take it all in!
(Photo Credit, Glenn Tachiyama)
I knew by the time I had topped out on the last climb, at about 42km, that Adam would have accrued quite a safety blanket over me. None the less, I still damn near killed myself on the final descent to at least limit my losses and hopefully still lay down a solid finish time. I even kept telling myself that maybe he would 'bonk' before the finish, even if his 2008 results seemed to hint at the fact that the guy knew what he was doing in terms of not bonking!
I could feel my toes thumping into the ends of my shoes, and I knew I would pay for my efforts in the days to follow. It did not matter though, I came to race, and race I did. I eventually found the finish line in 4h38m32s to claim second on the day. Adam had smoked the course in 4h32m49s. When I spoke of my miscue after the race I had guesstimated my error to have cost me about 3.5 minutes, thanks to the wonders of modern technology I was able to download my GPS data and honestly tell you it was 4m43s. At least I know I do not exaggerate the details of such occurrences. That time folly is neither here nor there, Adam was most certainly the faster runner on the day and it was an absolute pleasure racing against a runner of his caliber. I may have even given him a scare for a few minutes out there, and that alone is worth the price of admission to me!
A big congrats to my Montrail-Mountain Hardware teammate Ellie Greenwood on a hard fought 1st place female finish as well. Apparently she was in third with under ten miles to go and in the end she pulled out the win by just over one minute!
FULL RESULTS HERE
A HUGE THANKS to James Varner and Alison Hanks, for a simply AMAZING weekend of fun and good times. AND, what would a race be without the volunteers, especially team Montrail member Matt Hart and his hard work in pumping out 600 cookies on the day!
-Montrail Wildwood shoes
-Carbo Pro 1200
-1/3 pack of shot blocks
Orcas Island will be on my annual calendar from here on out. Absolutely, bar none, best bang for buck race out there, and an instant 50k classic course in my mind. More to come on the 'rest of the weekend', in the days to come.