Monday, February 7, 2011

2011 Orcas Island 50k

Orcas 50k nearing the top of Mt. Constitution.  Photo courtesy of Glenn Takiyama.  You can purchase his photos by sending him an email at  See the pics at
Orcas Island 50k, my first race in the Washington Ultra Series.  Yes, I am doing the series again.  Last year you had to do 4 of the 7 races in the series, this year you have to do 6 of the 10.  So I plan to do these races:

Orcas 50k (done)
Chuckanut 50k
Yakima Skyline Rim 50k
Capitol Peak 50 mile
Sun Mountain 50 mile
Cle Elum Ridge 50k
White River 50 mile

Hmm, that's seven.  I'm pretty excited about all the above mentioned races.  I am looking forward to PRing at Chuckanut, Capitol Peak, Cle Elum and White River.  The other races will be new for me this year.  Speaking of PRs, I beat my last year's Orcas 50k time by 20 minutes, even with an extra mile added to the course, so my PR was probably about 30 minutes considering that.  This year my finishing time was 6:36:00 for the 50k.

My time was good enough to be 8th place woman.  Here's where it's a little complicated: a group of runners mistakenly cut 5 miles off the course and at least 3 of those runners were women who placed ahead of me, with their 5 miles shorter course.  When these runners got to the first aid station in 4.5 miles instead of 9.5, they realized what happened a few of them informed the race director.  It is pretty common for runners to get lost or off course on trail runs, especially ultras.  There are so many intersections to mark on long races that there are often spots where markings can get removed or just be plain hard to interpret.     

The 2010 Orcas 50k was my first ultra and I was underprepared for it.  I have never been so sore from anything than I was for that race.  The night after the race and the next day my chest hurt and I had to roll to get off the bed and crawl to move around the house.  Well, Crawl for a few minutes then I was able to pull myself up using a counter top.  This year I was able to go for a run the day after the race, although I only went 3 miles and walked half of it.  I also ran today (2 days after the race) for 40 minutes and only felt hamstring tightness at the tendon attachment and an overall heavy, tired feeling.  Last year there would have been no way I could have run even 3 days after the race.  Training is paying off!

Orcas Island Weekend
I arrived on Orcas island early Friday morning to help James with the anything he needed help with for the race.  I was sent to pick up groceries for the aid stations and some other supplies in town with Allen.  Here is what the list looked like (it will give you an idea of what ultra aid stations are stocked with):
8 big bags of candy bars
2 more bottles of peanut butter
4 more bottles of jelly
15 loaves of bread
4 big bags of m&m's
4 big bars of gummy bears
8 bags of potato chips
1 big box of hot cocoa
30 bottles of soda
600 nine oz cups
15 gallons of water

All this stuff was in addition to what James had already purchased for the race: Nuun, succeed electrolyte tabs, GU gel, salt, potatoes, cookies, hot soup, fruit.

After our big shopping spree, we helped get the main lodge at Camp Moran ready for all the runners who would be arriving to check in and get their lodging assignments.  One of the special things about the Orcas race is that runners can stay at the Camp the night before and after the race, making it into a whole weekend experience.  And it's a great deal, only $40 for 2 nights. The lodging is camp style with a bunch of bunks in a one room house.
Race volunteers: Paul, Linda, me, and Al
L to R: Race director James Varner, volunteers Brandon, Ellen, and Paul
Special Orcas race t-shirts that James and I picked out at a thrift store and Wild Bill printed the logo on were set out on tables for runners to take their pick.  It is one of James' great ideas and yet anotehr reason the Orcas race is so fun and quirky.  As the shuttles from the ferry arrived with runners the lodge filled up and we had a potluck style dinner that felt like a reunion of friends and running family.
Paul's picks, Orcas t-shirts
trying on the shirts, jackets, sweaters, vests...
The Race
I have to say, I forgot how difficult this course is.  There are 3 major climbs: Mt. Pickett is over 2,000 feet gain, Powerline is also about 2,000 feet but a lot steeper and more relentless than the other two, and Little Summit/Mt. Constitution climb is about 1500-1600 feet gain.  There is also a 700 foot climb after the last summit of Constitution (about mile 24 to mile 27) on North Boundary Trail.  This last smaller climb feels pretty rough on tired legs, and is worth mentioning.

My race strategy was to go out easy enough for the first 15 miles that I'd have the energy to power through the second half of the race, with minimal walking.  I'd rather pass people in the last 10 miles of an ultra than be the one who is getting passed.  To accomplish this, I have learned to not go out to hard and to conserve enough energy that I can keep up a good pace (no walking it in) for the last 6-10 miles.  I was able to stick to my strategy for the race, but I really felt like I lost a lot of time on the climbs.  I would get passed by the same people on the uphill, then I'd pass them on the downhill.  This year's Orcas race taught me that I need to work on my uphill training.  More hill repeats and more jogging up mild, but long inclines.
Morning of the race, Camp Moran lodge, was like a reunion of puff jackets, esp Patagonia puff jackets!
Photographer Glenn, Sara, and Lukas
My fuel
During the race I ended up consuming less water than I usually do for a 50k.  It is a pretty valuable lesson to learn how much or little you can race on whether it be food or water.  The more you have to carry, the harder you have to work.  Alternately, if you don't carry enough you could bonk (or worse) and lose even more time than you would by carrying too much.  Here is the break down of what I ate/drank:

~2 hand held water bottles of water (22 oz each), 1 hand held water bottle of Nuun (electrolyte) water (22 oz), 3- 9 oz cups of water at aid station, total of 73 oz water for whole race.
~5 salt stick electrolyte pills
~1.5 Vespa pouches (and 1 Vespa 45 mins before the race)
~8 GU gels
~one 5 hour energy drink
~1.5 bananas

Late Runners
When the cut-off time for the 50k was reached (8 hours from reg. start) and a handful of runners had still not returned, James sent me up to the intersection at Cold Springs to scout out the trail and see if the runners were up there and if the course markings were still up.  If the course markings were at the intersection it would tell us if the Sweepers had come through the intersection.  Sweepers are runners that volunteer to run the course after all the racers and take down the course markings and make sure all the runners make it back safely.

The markings were still up at the intersection when I got there in the dark, at about 6:30pm.  At this point I didn't quite know what to do.  How long should I wait for the runners?  I decided to run the trail back toward Mt. Constitution, the direction that the racers and sweepers would be coming from, if they hadn't already passed through the intersection.  I went another mile down the trail and it was so quiet, lonely and dark.  It didn't feel like there were any runners out there, so I ran the 1.5 miles back to my car.

At my car I met up with the park ranger who informed me that the racers had returned to camp.  Yay!  So I drove back to the lodge to join the party.  Doing that extra 3 miles helped move some of the soreness in my legs, and I was glad that I had jogged it.

Post Race
Needless to say I was pretty hungry for the post race soup, burritos, and beer from Boundary Bay Brewery.  The post race festivities included the above mentioned food and drinks, plus live music, massage, friends, and as it got dark, a big bonfire outside.
James helps with the bonfire
I show off the Boundary Bay beer
Herb Reeves (left), Washington Ultra Series creator, and James


  1. Nice race report,sounds like fun. Sun Mountain 50k is on my list for this year. Looking forward to it.

  2. Nice report! I like the comparison from last year because it makes me hopeful. My garmin said 11 at the 9 mile mark and i still cant figure out if i took a wrong turn or it was off somehow. It was a pleasure to meet you and James and I plan to return. I met some great people and was able to run 4 miles and join a yoga class before returning home to Colorado. See you next year!

  3. Hey Candice! Great job at Orcas! A huge PR for you.....that's great. See you at Chuckanut. Nice to see you out there.....


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