The 50K on Orcas Island is the first running event I have ever done in two successive years and I plan to continue to enter every year. It is like summer camp for runners even though it is not summer and I never liked summer camp. Most people take the ferry over on Friday and make a weekend of the event and I plan to do that next year, but this year I got up at 3am and drove to catch the 5:35am ferry arriving on the island just before 7. The shuttle got us to the starting area just before 7:30am so I decided to jump in with the early start rather than sit around for an hour waiting for the race to start.
My goal going into this race was to take it easy and use it as a long training run for next month's 100 mile event at Coyote Two Moon. I hoped that the combination of having already done high mileage the week of the race combined with the smaller crowd of the early start would reduce the chances that I would get caught up in race adrenaline and go out too fast. I think this strategy worked for the most part. Scotty and I were actually late for the early start and started after everyone else had gone through so we did do a bit of catch up passing people at the beginning, but surprisingly quickly the runners had spread out and we were working up the first major climb, Mt. Pickett. I walked a lot of this climb and definitely took it easier than last year.
After coming back down and running into the field of 25K runners who were headed out towards Mt. Constitution, I arrived at a trail junction with a sign, 50K, 2nd time pointing to the right. I was sure that I had not been to this intersection before, but there was no sign for which way to go the 1st time through. Baffled, I stopped and pulled out the 3 page detailed description of the course from the race website which I had brought along just for situations like this. Unfortunately, I could not find any reference to an intersection we were to go through 2 times at this point in the race. Carsten, whom I had met earlier on the way up Mt. Pickett, arrived having backtracked to the confusing intersection. He said he came to a paved road, and I found in the course description that we should come to a paved road next, so we decided to proceed straight. As we continued, the route seemed to match the course description, but we didn't see any course marking. We were pretty sure something was wrong, but we knew we were near the aid station so continued on. We reached the aid station, which was back at the starting line, but when we explained that we thought we were lost, James Varner, the race director said we should have turned right at the intersection and we would need to backtrack and run the correct course to be credited with a finish. I was a little surprised given that we had run an equivalent if not longer distance, but it was for the best since we encountered several groups of additional runners who had taken the same wrong turn we had and we got them turned around. Gary Robbins was fixing the sign at the confusing intersection when we got back and we proceeded to the aid station for the second time. Note to race directors/people marking course: if you are going to have a sign marked "2nd time" at an intersection, make sure there is also a sign saying "first time". Otherwise our poor oxygen starved brains can't make sense of it!
The next section of the race, the power line trail, freaked me out last year because it so steep as you can see in the picture below. I was mentally prepared for the hike this year and it didn't seem so bad.
After running a fairly level trail around Mountain Lake, we headed back up Mt. Constitution but this second route is much more runnable than the power line trail. I was hoping for some good pictures from the summit, but the clouds/mist pretty had rolled in by this time pretty much obliterating the view.
I finished in 7 hr, 6 min over an hour slower than last year. Despite wanting to take it easier than last year, I was little surprised at how much slower I was since it still felt like I was working pretty hard. The Garmin totals for this year's race were 34 miles and 7800 feet of elevation gain compared to 30 miles and 6800 feet last year. There were some course changes this year which seemed minor to me, so I am not sure if the differences in mileage and elevation are real, just a result of getting lost, or reflect course changes. Did anyone else record greater elevation gain for the course this year?? You can see the whole course route on the island in Google Earth view below.
I spent the afternoon hanging around the finish line chatting, drinking beer and watching dogs misbehave. One dog managed to leap up and grab a giant cookie out of a small child's hand. The child thought he was holding the cookie up out of the way but it was really at perfect height for the dog. The cookies were definitely worth jumping for, but fortunately there were plenty to go around. Scott Krell took hospitality to a new level by setting up a burrito bar out of his van in the ferry parking lot and feeding lots of hungry runners including me! This is really a must do race, I can't recommend it enough.