Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Unpacking the Orcas Island Experience (Warning: Nonsense!)

Photos by Ian Burton unless noted

Some of the best things in life are free, like having your super swell girlfriend accept your marriage proposal. Others are damn hard work and sometimes require monumental effort (presumably like nurturing and sustaining said marriage). The Orcas Island 50k ranks somewhere toward the latter end of that scale.

The view from the deck of our Island abode.
Not pictured: Whales, Ferries, Running, Proposal...
Island days run like mainland months it seems and as I sit here having just this evening physically unpacked from Orcas I find myself still pondering how to mentally unpack a year in the San Juan Islands. It would be easy for this to simply be a pro forma race report with a rote blow-by-blow of how the race went for me and what it means in the context of my training and or goals but somehow the 10th iteration of Rainshadow Running's iconic race pair took on a greater meaning for me.

It was sometime around when the lottery was held that I blocked out Jan 30 - Feb 8 on my calendar for the Orcas 25k & 50k. I had a couple friends set to run the 25k, a couple friends and myself scheduled to run the 50k so why not make a week of it? Of course as it turned out I had significantly more than a couple friends with which I rode the ferry, was provided various lodgings by, shared in chili, rib, loin, bacon, egg, potato, beer and baked goods feasts with. And even more teammates and new and old friends who ran tough trails in alternately scintillating and foreboding conditions and shared yet more feasting on pizza, beer and ill-advised dance moves (on my part at least). And then there were the choice few with whom I shared a Doe Bay soak and Schvitz.   Finally there was the one who accepted the aforementioned proposal of marriage - thanks for topping the perfect Island experience and rendering the actual running outcome an academic footnote.

Doe Bay Spa & Soaking Tubs - Not to be missed!

All that being said there was a lot of running had by a lot of stellar folk, a lot of hard battles waged and won on the trail, Team 7hills, replete with exquisite new singlets courtesy Seven Hill Running Shop and Pearl Izumi had a Monster showing with a staggering 40% of the top 10 and solid showings across the board in athletic prowess, fortitude and smarts (knowing to call it quits and lick wounds). Particular shout-outs reserved for Phil 'I smell a comeback' Kochik and Chris 'gutting out a tough one' Barry!

Also, major props for Andrew Miller's repeat victory; perhaps not as statistically unlikely as a Super Bowl repeat but.... no, it's still too soon. And it's always fun to see a couple former Sounders out there, with Roger Levesque posting a stout #28 and Nate Jaqua nabbing 2nd place - watch out for these pro's! The women's race appeared to contain even more intrigue this year with a reportedly breathless sprint between 2nd and 3rd place finishers Olga Nevtrinos and Emily Morehouse in the final seconds.

Feeling strong and smooth coming out of Mountain Lake Aid
Photo - Glenn Tachiyama
As for myself, armchair punditry aside, I had a bit of a mixed day. I was running well and what I thought was smart coming through Aid #1 at Mountain Lake. I had taken ample hiking breaks on the road section and let the race flow by me as pace dictated. I felt like I was running my race and not getting swept along as I so often do. Hindsight would lambaste me for not taking salt at Aid #1, but I am not sure this was solely to blame for my eventual capitulation. In any case, it was rumored that there weren't S-caps to be had here. Around mile 12, on the muddy bomb down Pickett just a couple shy of Aid #2 my left calf began to cramp up. It was never greatly debilitating and a quick stop and stretch seemed to do the trick. But it kept coming back. I took a couple of S-caps provided by a fellow runner and things eventually seemed to resolve. But I think even by Aid #2 it was too late. Stubbornness had caused the rest of my leg to compensate in ways I wasn't trained to do and before long descending became something of a chore and borderline painful. By about mile 19, somewhere between Mt. Pickett and North Arch I was calculating where I might need to bail in order to most quickly engage in pizza, beer and begin my recovery. Seeing Gretchen killing it out there and getting roadside cheers from Joe and Ann buoyed my spirits and banished such thoughts.

Some soul searching and stretching at the South End Campground - some 2-300 yards from Camp - yielded a seemingly insurmountable left knee area ache on the downhill. But at the same time nothing was amiss on the uphill, I was still hiking like a true mountain man (Phil tells me the correct term is Lumbersexual). Getting some timely stretching advice and encouragement from Dave Melanson (of Project Talaria) and his friend Mary made me believe again and seeing Glenn at the bridge was the icing on the cake even if the slippery bridge and my leaden legs rendered the resulting photos somewhat tepid on my part (nothing but love for the awesome work you do Glenn, I'm just waiting for the day when I have something to contribute to that too!). I was officially back on track... until I wasn't.

Once out of sight progress to North Arch was achingly slow in the literal sense. But then again once things turned uphill hope was restored. A pep talk from friends and family at Aid #3 and a boatload of snack foods gave way to a rationalization that most of the rest of the course was climbing (FALSE!) and so off I went to the Power-line Climb and damned if it didn't feel great and I didn't start to pass people again... until it and I actually didn't. Somewhere around the top of the Power-line my climbing legs gave out and what I'd thought to be a manageable hamstring issue turned out to be an IT band. Much like my first time out, the otherwise unparalleled cruise from Power-line to Mt. Constitution ended with a peg-legged crawl to a car ride down from Aid #4. But it was OK. Somehow it didn't matter and it was just as enjoyable as it could have otherwise been.

I'm healing up already and I think that despite stubbornness and suggestibility I didn't too any long-term damage. The calf is already well on the mend and my thoughts are with the broken wrist and punctured Achilles tendon (?) that were sustained elsewhere on the course. By comparison I can handle a week or so of being humbled by a flight of stairs or a gentle slope. I'll sure as hell be back at it in no time and I'm not going to wait to block out that week for 2016. Although seeing as we live in the future these days I'll actually just set it to be a 'recurring event'.

The running, the pizza, the dancing, the spa, the feasts, the rest and all the love you can handle are what awaits the intrepid Island traveler. There's so much more to a week in the San Juans, but for that I'd have to spin you a yarn over a run, a beer or both.

#Team7Hills + finery - join here and check out the shop!
Photo - Glenn Tachiyama
The Orcas Island Chamber of Commerce Salutes you!
Camp Moran - site of much finishing, high-fiving and general cavorting

Another one in the books - DNF 2 of 2 for 2015.
I'm coming for you Gorge 100k, and this time its personal