Orcas Island 50k

Near the summit of Mt. Constitution (mile 22)

Photo Courtesy: Glenn Tachiyama

Scott Wolfe and I did a power trip up to James Varner’s Orcas Island 50k this past weekend. What a cool race. Tons of stellar Pacific NW singletrack, complete with some “Varner Miles.” Yes, be prepared for a wee bit over 31 miles. My garmin logged 31.75 in a very heavily treed course. My best guess would be closer to 34 or 35 miles with nearly 8,000 feet of climbing. Ah yeah, Bronco Billy likes. The extra credit was fine with me. I need for Coyote Two Moon 100 miler in March. Plus, I knew the Varner Miles were coming. Bill Huggins and Padre (aka Justin Angle) had mentioned it was a bit long. So, I was mentally ready for some bonus miles. James is really putting together a great set of races in the NW. He’s also getting quite the reputation for making them kinda hard too. Again, keep it up James…builds character. Check out his schedule at rainshadowrunning.com.

Scott and I left Friday at 5:30am from Bend and arrived on the island at Camp Moran (race headquarters) at 6pm. 8 hours to Anacortes, WA, hour ferry ride and a half hour shuttle ride to the camp. Long day on the road, but all worth it. The course was stellar. It rained Friday night, but race morning dawned with no rain and in the 40s. Perfect for me with a sleeveless jersey and gloves.

After about a 15 minute jogging warm-up, I dropped my extra layers and met Scott, Padre, Huggnut and Adam at the start. At the start, a roadie named Justin took off like a shot and the rest of us settled into the groove in a chase pack (he would later get off course and finish well behind us). We were quickly on singletrack and climbing the first climb with Padre leading, me, then Seth Swanson. Soon Seth jumped ahead of me. So, Padre, Seth and I settled into a group with Wolfeman about 40 meters behind us, then a trailing group another 4o or so meters back with Huggnut, Adam and some other folks in that line.

We cruised along chatting as the early miles tucked behind us. This course has only 2 aids stations (plus a water only). 10.6, 19ish (water only) and 23 (at least by my garmin). As we were approaching the first aid at about mile 9.5 you traverse above the campground on nice singletrack and you can see the aid station. Well, I was due to take a gel and—something I typically warn newbies ultrarunners about—“don’t wait to eat…if it’s time to take a gel, even if you are 2 minutes from the aid station, take it!” Well, what did I do…yes, I waited. 7 or 8 minutes later, we were just arriving at the aid. Stupid. I was bonky. I took longer at the aid than Angle and Seth and lost contact with them.

Upon leaving, I surged to catch back up over the next mile or so, but my lack of calories caught up to me hard. I got within 40 yards of them by the start of the Powerlines climb (very steep) and bonked bad. Huggnut passed me, Adam passed me, I completely watched everyone quickly drop me and disappear out of sight down the trail above me on the hard climb. I was creeping up. I knew what I’d done and downed two gels, took an S cap, chugged water and kept plugging along until it caught up in my system. About mile 15 (3 or 4 miles later) I started feeling better and was able to get back into a decent rhythm. Soon I was through the water only spot and starting the long climb to the summit of Mt. Constitution (the high point) and the final aid station location.

I started feeling much better on this up and ran a ton with a few short hike breaks on very steep sections. Up toward the top I caught sight of Adam’s green Fleet Feet Seattle jersey and we came into the aid station nearly together. I asked him how he was doing…he just said, “Need calories!” and commenced to inhale a bunch of PB&J squares—I believe he ate all they had out on the paper plate and they had to make him more!

I topped off my two bottles with water and grabbed some gels (as I’d just taken my last one on the climb) and took off to try to catch Huggnut on the down. I was feeling really smooth on the downhill and within a half mile saw Huggins and passed him with a “how ya doin’, man?” and he just said “hangin’ in there.” I was hoping I might catch Seth or Angle if they blew up a little, but the remainder of the last 10 miles I just passed early starters. Come to find out, Padre and Seth ran super strong and consistent with Angle taking the win in 4h55m and Seth about 5 minutes back. I came across in 3rd in 5h13m, with Scott Wolfe in 4th about a minute and a half back (he had got off course a bit before the first aid station, along with roadie Justin).

All said and done, it was a great power trip to Orcas. Wolfe and I stopped in Yakima about halfway back on Sunday afternoon and did a shake out run up to the Yakima Skyline Trail on the Yakima Rim between Yakima and Ellensburg, WA. Which, is part of one of James’ other upcoming cool-looking races, the Yakima Skyline 50k. Looks like a sweet trail with spectacular views. Wow, James. I’m glad you’re doing all this hard work so we can go run these awesome courses. Hope to get out and support some of his events to keep them around. Giddyup!

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