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The Inaugural Orcas 100 Miler: A Race Report

There have been conversations about ultra running getting away from its roots. Ultra running is a sport that was born by accident and the early focus was simply creating events where a community of runners could come together and celebrate while each of us finds out exactly where our limits lie. Rainshadow Running has created a race where every individual joined an incredible community the moment their inaugural 100 Miler started.

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Quick stop at Shaw Island before heading to Orcas Island.

From the moment I stepped into the ferry terminal I was welcomed. While I sat and waited I spotted several runners, just by looking at their shoes. Linda, one of the ladies who worked at the terminal, took an interest when she heard I was there to race. We must have talked for over half an hour about her sister that lives in Maine and what it is like living in the Pacific Northwest.
I decided not to bring a car to the island so I had to rely on the goodness of others to get around the island for the weekend. Josh Barringer, who I met while racing HURT last year, and his friend Sam Drove were kind enough to give me a ride to town and make a stop at the grocery store before continuing on to Camp Moran State Park where the race would start and finish.

There was an option to camp in the bunk houses which I took advantage of due to their affordability and that they are located at the start/finish area. I joked with roommate Evan Namkung (who I stalked on Strava and figured would finish 1st or 2nd) about how he somehow convinced his significant other Jennifer Rowton into a weekend of bunk beds and crewing.

So I guess we are going to run now
I am either in deep thought or still asleep.

That morning, everyone seemed excited to start but not so much to line up at the start. With some encouragement we came together and were off on the first climb of the race which consists of a runnable 3.5 miles of pavement that switchbacks its way towards the Mount Constitution summit. Absolutely nobody seemed to want to take the lead here, including me. I tucked in behind Katsu Saijo from Japan, letting him set pace while I tried to take in the scenery, passing several waterfalls and views of the surrounding San Juan Islands. Tomo Ihara, also from Japan and a friend from HURT, pulled up alongside us and we began to talk about how this climb will get harder as the race goes on.

 Photo by: Glenn Tachiyama http://www.tachifoto.net/
Photo by: Glenn Tachiyama, www.tachifoto.net/

Once into the woods the course immediately starts to descend and I have to admit not running on anything but snow and ice for several months lead me to running this harder than I should have. By the time we hit the first aid station I left it in 1st and immediately slowed down to let the front group catch and then pass. Coming from the deep Maine winter, my goal for this race was to go under 24 hours and enjoy the experience so I did not need to get caught up in the pace that was being set by Mitch Leblanc, who would later go on to crush the course and take the win.

There was a nice flow to the course, and after a climb we were gifted with a descent. There were several flat runnable sections that hugged the banks of the lakes before the trail would either enter an old growth forest on either double or single track. The only time this flow was interrupted was during the Powerline climb on each lap. I had done several workouts that were specific to this climb and I still did not feel prepared for it. Mentally it was more of a grind, as the grade of the trail was steep enough where I started having flashbacks to the Vertical Kilometer race at Whiteface Mountain the summer before. Unlike the VK though I had over 80 miles to go once at the top and 3 more trips up this very climb. The second kick in the pants is that this climb brings you almost to the summit of Mount Constitution before turning back into the woods for another long descent, forcing runners to then start the climb back up using a number of switchbacks.

On this descent I ended up rolling my left ankle twice in 10 minutes. I have a tendency to zone out and get lost in my own head during races. This was not a particularly technical stretch of trail but this silly error almost cost me the race as the ankle would continue to ache for the remainder of the race.

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The view from Mt. Constitution never got old.

It is eventually all worth it when the course comes out at the top of Mt. Constitution where there is an amazing view of neighboring islands before starting a 5-mile descent back to the start/finish.

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Photo by: Glenn Tachiyama, www.tachifoto.net/

Through miles 25-75 I slowly picked off a handful of strong runners. The 24-hour race I ran last summer taught me the importance of patience. My biggest concern was keeping the ankle together so that I could finish and it definitely had an effect on my lap splits (4:44, 5:40, 6:24, 6:42). One thing that did help was taking advantage of all of the little streams that swelled from the rain and would cut through the trail. I took any opportunity to soak my ankle I could, running directly through the runoff water which allowed me to ice it on the fly.

More often than not I get asked why anyone would choose to run (let alone try to run) 100 miles. I even ended up asking myself that very question in the middle of the night during my 3rd time up the Powerline trail during the Orcas 100. The reason is never condensed or simple though. My mind fixates on how easy it would be to give my ankle a break, finish this lap and call it good at 75 miles.

Often small things can break you from the emotional lows that accompany races of this length. At mile 75 I did my only shoe and sock change during the race. I made sure to sit down in a metal folding chair, as these do not provide the same level of comfort as the bucket seat camping chairs I am accustomed to spending hours in by the fire.

My first attempt of running a race without a crew had proved harder than I thought. There is something very motivating knowing there is a familiar face waiting for you ahead on a course. If it was not for the overwhelming encouragement and support of the volunteers, many of which spent the entire day and night at the aid stations, I do not believe I would have been successful at this race.

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Yet another amazing volunteer.

It is difficult to describe the strength I got from a complete stranger getting down on their hands and knees to help me with my mud soaked shoes and socks so that she could then help me wash and dry my feet. Small moments like this I tend to hold onto long after a race is over. They are powerful demonstrations of how good we can be to one another and they motivate me to be better.

The last lap was fairly uneventful. Due to the size of the loop runners get spread throughout so I spent most of my race running alone except when coming and going from aid stations. The last lap I started lapping people and their encouragement and well wishes made this my favorite loop of the entire race. In the predawn hours it is difficult to find reasons to be excited but each headlamp I saw ahead gave me something to focus on and pursue.

The short exchanges with these runners were a highlight of my race. We each knew what the other was going through and what we faced. The ones that I passed that would go on to finish hours later had a greater strength than I did. If someone told me that I would need to continue, as some runners did, for another 10 hours there is no way I would. Often these are the performances that leave me in awe; someone who commits completely to a goal and accepts whatever lies between them and their finish.

Shortly after finishing I made my way back to the bunkhouse and was greeted by Tomo popping his head out from the shower with beer in hand. Tomo has become a runner I admire, especially after watching him race at HURT. He has an ability to run some of the most evenly paced races which probably comes from running over 25 100 milers. I am not even sure if he is racing, because at mile 25 I came in as he was heading out but before leaving he started doing push ups, which I think both amazed and confused some of the volunteers. Now at 7:45AM after running a 100 miler he is double fisting craft pints and watching others finish.

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Tomo celebrating another 100 mile finish.

After a quick nap I was able to spend the day exploring the rest of the island with friends that had come up from Portland, Oregon. We were able to get in a tour of Island Hopping Brewery while enjoying their Camano Coffee Porter. After a real meal we stayed up playing some of the most intense games of Jenga I have ever been a part of.

Close friend from high school Adam
Close friend Adam from high school.

 

Mixer the size of a bathtub
Mixer the size of a bathtub.

 

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Can’t see the steam coming off this but there was steam. So fresh.

 

After race Party.
After party.

Sunday morning I stopped at the Brown Bear Baking before heading back to clean out our cabin to make it easier on the volunteers responsible for cleanup. Rainshadow Running held an awards party at the local theatre giving everyone the chance to catch up with others and hear how their races went. I spent my time waiting for the ferry back to Anacortes enjoying a beer with Chris Davidson and company in the back of his VW van.

Leaving the San Juan Islands.
Leaving the San Juan Islands.

While sitting in the Seattle airport waiting for a redeye flight back to Boston, the last 96 hours seemed to blur into one continuous day. I am grateful for the opportunity to race in yet another beautiful place and for the chance to participate in such a well-organized event. It will be fun to see how this race grows, as I believe it has everything anyone could want in a difficult 100 miler.

Quick stop to do some walking around Seattle.
Quick stop to do some walking around Seattle.

Goal: Run sub 24 hours

Result: 100 Miles (27,000ft of climbing) 4th Overall, 23:31:51

Equipment: 

WAA Ultra Carrier Shirt

WAA Ultra Rain Jacket (Coming to US)

WAA Ultra Soft Flasks

WAA Ultra Beanie (Coming to US)

North Face Better than Naked 5in Short 

Nathan Handheld

Nutrition: 

Mostly Tailwind

A dozen of Salted Caramel GU’s

PB and J 

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