Orcas 100 Race Report

A long race is hard to summarize in a few words, so this post will be annoyingly lengthy (both for the reader and the writer). If you want the abridged version, it is:

I came to have fun, I had a lot of fun. Also, there were almost never any women in front of me, and several men got tired or hurt later on. I hate running slow, I didn’t train enough for steep downhills, I wanted it to be over, then it was, and I’m really just in it for the friends.

I actually remember a lot more about after the race than during it, but no one wants to read those stories, so I’ll try to recap the race itself as well as I can (as a disclaimer, if you’re looking for some magic tricks, there aren’t any- save yourself the time and skip to the end).

Before I start the long blah blah blah, a sincerest thanks to everyone at Rainshadow and everyone who volunteered at Orcas 100. It was one of the best weekends of my life, and that was 99% due to the people I was surrounded by. I appreciate every hug, high five, PBJ square, kind word, smile, and snot-covered potato chip. The race was so well run and so much fun to participate in, that it makes me not want to ever leave the Northwest. Okay, done stalling, here’s the longer version:

Pre-race: I headed up to Orcas on Thursday morning, keen to get settled and see friends. No nerves whatsoever, but I was feeling pretty ramped up  because I had the whole week off work and no outlet for my abundance of energy. I wore my gold pants because I wanted to channel my spirit animal, Alicia Woodside (ironically her blog is titled NOT running for gold). That means, I wanted to ENJOY the race. After a long stint of being competitive and then injured, I hadn’t really raced with joy in a year or more. I didn’t care about my placement (although I did, just a little) but I really wanted to prove to myself that I was healthy and could finish.

I got a ride up to Orcas with Ben Perri, a newly discovered awesome person, and chatted bar and running stuff. He introduced me to wedgies*, so we’re now friends for life. The ferry ride over was great, chatting with other runners and volunteers, watching for whales, enjoying the views.

At Camp Moran, I checked in and pitched in on the merchandise table for the afternoon, which meant I not only kept busy and calm but got to meet lots of my fellow runners! After putting together my kit for race day, I had a dinner of sweet potato cakes and baked tofu, some terra chips, and a protein shake. No exact science here, just what sounded good when I was cooking Wednesday night.

I took a few minutes to write down what it would take for me to drop, and all of the reasons I might want to drop but shouldn’t. I also wrote a list of mantras to repeat during the race. The plan was to read these at a low point if I needed to. I never did. I was sleepy by 8 and fell fast asleep.

*wedgie= chocolate covered cheesecake slices

Race Day(s): The nerves kicked in. I was excited, but intimidated. I ate some PB oatmeal, but was too jittery to find my honey. I love the time before a race when everyone walks around and scopes each other out, checks out gear, makes last minute adjustments. It’s so much contained energy, usually in a limited amount of space.

I made a last-minute call to switch from my Scott Kinabalus to the Pearl Izumi Trail N3, with the idea that more stability might be better on the slick and steep trails. (Traction is really similar between the two, in my experience). I felt good at the start, happy and excited. I started off with more layers than needed because my biggest fear was getting cold. I dropped the Brooks jacket I had at Mountain Lake and never picked it up again.

On the road climb the first time up, I felt stronger than expected, and just tried to maintain a 60% effort. Ran with Selina Danko for a little while, chatting about her adventures in longer distances, and enjoyed the easy grade. When we hit the downhill, I took off in the front and that’s the last I saw of Selina or another woman. This really surprised me- I expected many of the tough cookie ladies out there to go out faster- I thought my only chances at placement would be coming from behind in the second half.

The first lap flew by, with the climbs easier than I anticipated (yes, even Powerline) and my mood buoyed by being far ahead of schedule (I predicted 7 hours for the first lap, and actual time was around 5:15). Second lap was much the same, although I added a little time on each of the climbs, and teetered on the edge of nausea as I came down from Pickett and climbed up Powerline. I made a point to get ginger ale and solid food at the top. I was happy to get to Constiution again right as darkness fell, but I could tell immediately that the night time would slow me down considerably- I felt much more unsteady on my feet, and my lighting system wasn’t working as well as I’d liked. Nevertheless, hitting 50 felt great, and I had started up the music on the 2nd time up Powerline and my mood was riding high when I came into Camp Moran (doing the whip and nae nae as documented by Elizabeth).


I started Lap 3 at 7:10, and was actually looking forward to the road climb. I had good tunes going, food to eat, and was ahead of schedule almost 3 hours at this point. I passed a few guys going up Olga Rd and didn’t see another runner for the next 30 miles. I don’t remember much of the third lap, only the sense that things were taking longer than I wanted and that even though I felt I was moving the same speed, I was slowing my pace by a minute or more per mile. Just as doing better than expected boosts my mood, doing worse than expected tanks it. I spent the hours between Mountain Lake and Cascade annoyed at my progress (with the small exception of 5 minutes of perogie-induced euphoria after Pickett). Powerline felt much tougher in the dark, but I made it up, and finally up to Constitution. It was snowing!! I ate some broth at the aid station, put on my windbreaker and a warmer hat, and kept on going-  ready to start that last lap. My excitement at the snow quickly faded as it got heavier and heavier, reflecting in my headlamp like TV static. I had to stop a half mile after Constitution and layer up more when I realized the snow was heavy and wet and not going to stop anytime soon. The heavy snow made it hard to see the trail and I had my slowest descent of the whole race- almost an hour and 45 from the top back to Camp Moran. I came in 40 minutes later than I expected at 1:55 am- a fairly demoralizing way to start the last lap after such a strong start.

this amount of snow was exciting… not so much when it kept falling

Lap 4 was the lap that was never going to end. I knew logically I was on the last road climb, the last time around Mountain Lake, etc. but my body brain was convinced I was going to be running forever and this was bullshit. I thought I was moving fast but I wasn’t. I thought I could run the small hills but everything seemed to be big. Also, when 70 people run over a muddy trail 3 times, it gets ridiculously muddy. I was most worried about hurting myself, so I took it insanely easy on the first two downhills. I cursed out loud at the section between Mountain Lake and Pickett, convinced I’d gone wrong because surely I should almost be at the freaking aid station by now! I put the music back on. I spent 10 minutes at Pickett trying to change my batteries before Matt Barry just loaned me his extra headlamp. I made it Cascade not being able to think about 11 more miles- it sounded really long. I had some Red Bull, tucked a Rice Krispie into my jacket, and headed out into the early morning light. Powerline went surprisingly well the last time, as the sun came up behind me, and I made it up to Constitution in just under 2 hours- still my slowest time, but not too far off previous laps. Miles 75-95 had taken just as long as all of Lap 3, and just as long as miles 0-30, so I was beating myself up a little for not pushing a little harder earlier in  Lap 4.

I had it in my head that I could finish under 26 hours (my original estimate was 29 for a good race, but at one point in lap 2, I thought 24 was possible) so as I left Constitution at 8:40, that was my goal. I had 1:20 to make it 5 miles. I made it .5 miles, and suddenly got a screaming blister.SERIOUSLY??! I tried to run through it but couldn’t- I pulled over to the side, got out my kit, taped it up, it was wet so the tape fell right off, dried, taped, fell over, dried and taped and made it on my way again. My ankles were screaming- the steep downhills had been beating them up all day and they were done. I was saying out loud all of the things I could have when I got done: sitting down, pizza, beer, sitting down, ice, pizza, coffee, beer, sitting down, new socks, etc. I checked my watch incessantly, trying to run as hard as I could without breaking my protesting ankles.

I hit the last bit of trail with a tight time limit, needing to hit 10 minute miles- I ran more than I felt like, I pushed hard, and crossed the line at 25:58:42- 3 hours faster than planned. (also, 2 hours slower than my 2nd lap self thought I could go, but that girl’s crazy).

I sat down, immediately, on the closest thing, which was a big rock. Justin got this very unflattering photo.




Then I ate everything, drank everything, had a hard time walking, napped, cheered on friends, sold some merchandise, cleaned cabins, collected prizes, drank more, ate more, drank more, hung out with friends, recovered.

The Gear List:

Pearl Izumi Trail N3*- these were amazing! only went down once, and the trails were nasty. drained well enough for the copious lake-puddles on course.
Smartwool Socks– changed once
Black Diamond Spot Headlamp- love this, but changing batteries is a pain
UD Ultra Vesta w/ chest bottles*– comfortable, holds everything. I use chest bottles because that’s the only way I drink enough.
Black Diamond Women’s Z-Poles- used on Powerline first two times, carried for whole 4th lap
Hind Tights (from Ross, $12, awesome!)- for fun
Pettet Endurance Project Longsleeve – I have probably 700+ miles in this shirt. I love it.
Pearl Izumi Windbreaker- one of my all-time favorite layers. packs tiny and makes me warm.
Pearl Izumi Seven Hills Shortsleeve*
Pearl Izumi  Thermal Conductive gloves*- my go-to gloves
Mountain Hardwear Outdry Mitt- kept my hands dry and toasty. Had mediums, which were too large but still worked well.
UD Cap
Pearl Izumi Headband/Ear Warmer*
Under Armour Fleece Hat


check out more photos at justin’s blog: justinrichardsphoto

Special thanks to: Seven Hills Running Shop, Rainshadow Running (James, Matt, Kerri, and Elizabeth), Justin; Ben, Ian , Colton, Joel, Diana, Aspire Adventure Running, every other awesome volunteer this weekend; people who kept me company on the run- Selina, Alex, Caleb, and Brian; my mom for inspiration, and a million other people I can’t remember right now. Also, avocado sushi, Tiger Mt, and beer.



Training for a 100 in the Middle of Winter

I signed up for Orcas 100 as soon as registration was announced, convinced that like other awesome Rainshadow races, it would sell out in a day or two. This left me very little time to think through what running a 100 in February meant. Plus, who can resist when goaded by race advertising such as “are you tough enough?”?  Now, with the  training done, and most of the taper too, all that’s left is to stretch and pack and reflect on a few of the lessons I learned in this particularly tough training season.

But first, the saga of my hamstring in 2015

I’ve been battling with hamstring strain since last winter, when the intensity of the pain in my upper hamstring forced me to drop from Orcas 50k after just 7 miles. It was the first race I’ve ever dropped from, and although my physical therapy appointment confirmed that I made the right choice, it was a tough ego blow. So I have a little score to settle with the long climbs and mud of Moran State Park. I was 75% recovered when I tackled White River 50 and Wonderland Trail just 7 days apart, and as anyone with injury experience can predict, that’s a dangerous zone for re-injury. Less than a week after finishing the Wonderland trail, I headed to Alaska with aching legs, hopped into a sea kayak for 3 days, didn’t stretch because I’m dumb, and then tried to bomb the Mt. Marathon course. I woke up the next day with an ache I hadn’t had since March, and despite a few weeks of stretching and a few PT visits, I realized that I’d put my recovery almost back at square one. I dropped myself from IMTUF, scheduled some ART treatments, and started focusing on recovering- again. That was my entire fall. Finally around Novermber, I felt healthy enough to start focusing on training for Orcas. And so began a lot of running in the grossest time of the year in the Pacific Northwest.

A few lessons learned in hundreds of miles of rainy winter running:
1) You can’t always wait on internal motivation

As much as I would like to be the person who just loves to go run in the rain and mud, I’m not. It’s just not as fun for me. I didn’t keep great track but I’d guess that 60% or more of my long runs were in rain. I was not springing out of bed to go get wet and cold. I’d have a coffee, then another one, and eventually make it to the trail by 10 am, and then spend a long time gearing up inside my cozy Subaru before finally getting started. I never skipped a run, I never cut one short due to rain, but that was due to stubbornness and grit, not necessarily a love of the process.

2) You can only do what you can do.

It was with a great fear of re-injury that I trained for Orcas. I had a general plan for building mileage, but during each run I evaluated how my hamstring felt, and adjusted elevation, pace, and distance to keep out of that dangerous radiating ache zone that I know means injury is at the doorstep. I probably ran 80% of what’d normally do for a 100, and had to continually remind myself that it was okay to cut back. My weekly mileage peaked at 65, and I only had 5 weeks above 50 miles. That being said, I got in several weekend back-to-back combos of 40+ miles, several long rainy runs in the mountains, and some quality loop work at Discovery and Carkeek. Early on, I kept my vertical work mild, as I knew that was the fastest way to re-injury. I added in some good hill repeats at Tiger later on in training but I’m scared my climbing muscles won’t be as strong as they should be, and having not done more than 30 miles in one go since July makes 100 all the more intimidating.

3) But you can do more than you think

Some of my best runs came at times when I felt like there was no way of getting in the miles I needed. From 20 milers in the rain on Friday night after a long work week, to sleep-deprived Discovery sessions, I surprised myself many times in the course of the training. I even ran 24 miles at a blistering 8:45 pace and followed up with a tough mountain 21 the next day. It helped to focus on these good surprises when runs started to go unexpectedly bad.

4) You need the good stuff

In a long slog, having a jacket you really like, your favorite music, gloves that keep you warm, and a fancy latte to look forward to makes a big difference. Sure, you might be able to get it done with the bare minimum, but there’s no sense in further depriving yourself when you’re spending your weekend running in the rain. Treat yourself a little- you earn it.
Orcas Island 100 is only 4 days away. The forecast is for rain and cold. I’m not excited about that part, but I think I’m ready.