Race Recap: Orcas Island 25K

I’m way behind on blogging, but rather than try to go back in time and catch up where I left off, I want to share what I’m excited about now: my first trail race!

I ran the Orcas Island 25K this past weekend, which was 15.8 miles of running up and down Mt. Constitution with roughly 4,450’ of elevation gain and loss.

In other words, it was a killer first trail race. And it was amazing!

My friend Hallie talked me into it several months ago, back when it sounded impossible to me. She had run it a few times before, along with her husband Patrick (who routinely places in the top five) and various friends. The race is small and popular, so it relies on a lottery system.  I figured I would just enter the lottery and leave it up to fate.

Once my registration was approved and my credit card was charged, there was no turning back.

I didn’t come up with any sort of formal training plan for this race, but rather invited myself on Hallie’s weekend trail runs and tried to do longer and more frequent road runs to get my body used to higher mileage. I wouldn’t say I felt super prepared for the race when it came time to run; my longest trail run had been 10 miles, and my longest road run had been 12 miles. The longest time I had spent running was two hours; I anticipated spending about four hours on the course. Plus, I hadn’t even come close to tackling the kind of elevation I’d face. But no matter!

Hallie, Patrick, Aaron and I took the ferry out to Orcas Island on Friday afternoon, met up with two other couples who came to spectate and party, and then spent the evening enjoying burgers, garlic fries and local IPA at the Madrona Bar & Grill. A greasy, hearty dinner is the key to race-day success for me. It worked for the Chicago Marathon, and it worked this time. The IPA was to calm my nerves. 🙂

The race didn’t start until 9 a.m. on Saturday, so we got to sleep in until 7 (unheard of with a toddler! we left her with the grandparents), leisurely eat breakfast and get ready. We left our shared digs at 8:15 and arrived at the race start at 8:20 (gotta love a small race on a small island). In no time, we picked up our bibs and just had to kill a little time before the start. Hallie and Patrick did short warm-up runs, but I figured I’d need every shred of energy and leg strength I had to complete the race.

The weather was cloudy and cold, but not raining or snowing. The race director announced that there was no snow on the course… but there was four inches of slush near the summit instead! Good times.

9:00 came and off we went. The first few miles were steady uphill on roads, which I didn’t realize would be the case. (I didn’t really study the course at all. I like surprises, I guess.) I tried to run a steady pace without gassing my legs too much in anticipation of all the miles ahead. I didn’t really want to, but passed several people anyway.

Mile 1 — 10:21
Mile 2 — 10:35

We finally hit trail, and it was nice and runnable for a good while. Lots of people whom I had passed on the uphill started passing me. I’m a much more confident road/uphill runner than I am a trail/downhill runner. I’m super wary of tripping over rocks and roots, so where more experienced trail runners open up and let it rip, I slow down and get overly cautious. I’d like to work on that.

Mile 3 — 10:10
Mile 4 — 11:14
Mile 5 — 11:40
Mile 6 — 13:51

I ate my first vanilla bean Gu around mile 5 and hit the first aid station at mile 5.6, before anything very exciting had happened. The non-running couples had hiked up there, so they greeted me with cheers, which was awesome! I quickly refilled one of my water bottles, had a friend help me pop half of a Nuun tab in there, grabbed two Oreos, and took off.

The most difficult part of the course—the Powerline Trail—was just ahead. Hallie had advised me that Oreos would help. I fully believe in the power of Oreos.

The Powerline Trail climbs about 1,500’ over two miles and does not involve any form of running, but rather laborious hiking, what feels like straight up, while bent over at the waist so as to keep a low center of gravity and not tumble backward down the mountain.

Oddly I had been looking forward to the Powerline so I could take a break from running and just hike. Not that hiking such a steep incline is fun, but at least it was a good excuse to slow down and catch my breath. Sort of. It just wound up being a different kind of hurting.

Mile 7 — 21:43
Mile 8 — 18:03

As slow and arduous as the climb was, I passed a handful of people and gained some confidence on the way up. I wasn’t trying to pass anyone at all, but I locked into a steady hiking pace and it felt better to keep moving than to slow down and stay behind people who were hiking more slowly. I also ate one of those Oreos, so. Obviously that helped.

The other Oreo slowly disintegrated in my pocket until I scraped it out the next day.

Running again felt ah-mazing once the Powerline was over. It didn’t last too long, though.

Mile 9 — 11:12
Mile 10 — 13:28

The climb up to the summit of Mt. Constitution (and second aid station) at mile 10.7 was even more of a killer. One, because my legs were already tired. Two, because we reached the snow line and the trail was nothing but mud and slush. At least this portion of the course was switchbacks, so it felt slightly more manageable than the straight-up vibe of the Powerline. I ate my second vanilla bean Gu here.

I passed even more people on this portion. I was even complimented by a woman for being “strong on the climbs.” Another guy said, “Seeya on the downhill” as I passed him, because clearly he’d caught on to my strengths and weaknesses by this point. I laughed because he was right.

Mile 11 — 23:44

I was thrilled to reach the summit/aid station, but didn’t stay long because it was cold and windy and gross. I refilled my other water bottle, ate an orange slice, said hi to Ingunn’s husband JK (because I awkwardly recognized him from reading her blog/following her on social media for years) and headed back onto the course.

It was still slushy and muddy, but now I was going downhill, so I was immediately hesitant. I tried to walk along the side of the trail to avoid a big puddle, slipped on some snow and fell on my butt pretty much immediately. Great way to restart the race! But I was fine, and carried on. Slowly.

I ran into Aaron at mile 12! He was mountain biking all along the mountain during the race, and we just happened to cross paths. He followed me for a bit, took a few pictures and videos, then split off to continue his ride. That was a nice boost, even though I was already feeling great.

Mile 12 — 14:00
Mile 13 — 13:12

Here is where I became frustrated that I’m not a more skilled downhill runner. I got passed a lot, again. All those people I’d smoked on the climbs got their sweet revenge. I also started feeling the steep downhill take its toll on my knees, and my left IT band felt like it seized up every time I turned around a switchback. This led to a slooow mile 14, since I not only ran super slow, but stopped three or four times to massage/curse my IT band.

Mile 14 — 17:21

Once the trail flattened out a bit, I tried to pick up the pace and finish strong. I had been running alone for quite a while, but caught up to a small cluster of runners here, including Ingunn’s husband, and tried to hang onto them.

Mile 15 — 12:03

There were a few wretched little hills at the end. I passed one woman, then made one final push to pass Ingunn’s husband just because. (Nothing against him.) Despite my efforts, he passed me back in the final stretch and finished 0.03 seconds ahead of me. (I said, “Nice job, JK!” as he passed, which was probably super weird again, because I never did introduce myself or anything. Cool.)

Last 0.8 — 11:29

I finished in 3:41:57 — good for 107th place out of 242 finishers, and 37th female out of 120. Not too shabby! Patrick finished in 4th place, and Hallie scored a huge 24-minute PR. Those two just crush, crush, crush!

I was aiming to finish in four hours or faster, so I’m thrilled with my time—and even more thrilled that I enjoyed the race so much and finished with a smile on my face. I see so much room for improvement with my downhill running and look forward to working on it over the next year.

Will I run this race again? I’ll certainly enter the lottery.

And leave it up to fate.

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