Orcas Island 50k 2016

by | Feb 13, 2016 | Running, Travel, Ultra Marathon | 1 comment

Smiles were never forced and rarely forgotten, although once 18 miles were under my belt they occasionally had to be remembered. Despite the hurt and blur of it all these middle miles were likely the most notable, because it was here I pushed through the drawl of revealed weaknesses. The incredible doses of elevation gain and loss during this 50k run proved both ascending and descending to be strong suits of mine—I was even deemed Strider during this race as a result—resumed running at a steady pace, however, is where my legs turned to jello.

orcas 50k - meegs stretching
orcas 50k - travels with charley
orcas 50k - basco bailey
orcas 50k - basco bailey gifts roses
orcas 50k - brandon drake fights wind
orcas 50k - yakima ferry rope
Orcas 50k - ferry booth
orcas 50k - brandon drake - territory run co. beanie
orcas 50k - territory run co. camp mug

“It’s all downhill from here,” humorously taunts race director James Varner as nearly 300 runners slog up Mt. Constitution Road. In the middle of this pack traveled Alyson Drake, Brandon Drake, Meaghan McCluskey, our newfound friend Josh Serbonich and myself. After four miles of pavement many runners began murmuring that they thought this was [supposed to be] a trail race, but to me pavement seemed the perfect steady, non-technical warm up. Soon enough we hit the apex and all turned to a soft pine needle ladened descent. Few hit the brakes. Passing the first aid station was a literal blur as Brandon and myself cruised on toward the lakes region. It was an honor to run with Brandon for so much of the race and with nearly every person we encountered he would say, “super day!” The lakeshore came alarmingly close to the trail in several areas and at these times miniature sloughs were navigated. The mud suctioned to my shoes as I squish-squashed through these little areas, but to my surprise and delight the course was overall quite dry. Soon thereafter volunteers witnessed joyous exclamation and heel claps upon our arrival of the Pickett aid station. In less than one minute we were refueled and cruising downhill again. After passing through a well lit open area of rolling single track and reaching Cascade Falls I began to fade a little. Up until this point I had playfully and thoughtlessly run at Brandon’s general pace, but now began to pull back into my own rhythm. This adjustment took greater tolls on my psyche than I had anticipated, but then again this very struggle is my favorite to overcome.

orcas 50k - L-R: Brandon Drake, Josh Serbonich, Meaghan McCluskey, Alyson Drake, James Holk, Kathryn Holk
Orcas 50k - James Holk running atop Mt. Constitution - photo by Glenn Tachiyama
orcas 50k - volunteer and race official Kathryn Holk
orcas 50k - finish line
orcas 50k - Meaghan McCluskey at mile 31
orcas 50k - moran state park
orcas 50k - James Varner

The clang and clamor of a cowbell indicated aid station three wasn’t far off. What a blessed sound this was each and every time! Rounding a corner revealed wild applause and I was soon met with the highlight of the course—two youngsters stood at the entrance with arms extended—mustering what little strength was left I ran full force to give them proper high fives. Later I was again encouraged by them atop Mt. Constitution, but I first had to endure the course’s greatest elevation profile. Alternating between multiple mountaineering techniques I made fast progress on this leg of the course, luckily without my inner quads seizing up as they had done earlier in the day. Although I agree it was daunting, the power line road was by no means the crux for me. Actually, easy as it seemed, what came next was one of the greatest struggles for many runners, myself included. The back and north side of Constitution is a solitary, dark landscape of immense beauty, but confidence markers were few and far between. Under the dim canopy of dense evergreens my gaze turned to daze. Did I just pass an intersection? Which way did the course markers indicate? Having not seen any pink tape in what felt like an hour filled my mind with doubts about being off course. The elapsed time before I saw the flicker of blue from another runner’s jacket ahead of me was likely closer to fifteen minutes, but it was enough to make some people turn back to ensure they were on route. As I caught up to this blue figure we arrived at the base of Constitution to make the final ascent. Uff da! “Home’s just over that mountain,” right? Upon the summit I finally looked at my watch for the first time and was pleased to see I was at just under five and a half hours. The clouds parted momentarily and I stared off toward Canada. The call of an aid station volunteer snapped me back to reality, “Alright number 145, no more dilly dallying. You have five miles to go!” And with that I lent forward, let my legs drift behind me, and went pounding downhill with everything I had left.

orcas 50k - chalk information board
orcas 50k - top 10 men and women
orcas 50k - broom and dust pan
orcas 50k - wood stove
orcas 50k - rain shadow running pint glasses
orcas 50k - L-R: Meaghan McCluskey, Kathryn Holk, Alyson Drake, Brandon Drake, James Holk

Participating in a race has never been a high priority in my life and that is why this was my first. Period. To my delight it didn’t feel like a race whatsoever, but instead a group of friends out for a long run. The camaraderie was incredible and inspiring, both on and off the course, and this is what will have me coming back for more weekends on slick bridge crossings, pummeling slopes, hairpin transitions, and ridiculous climbs. Even the littlest hill at mile 30 was worth it–the one everyone spoke of welling up the greatest hatred you never knew you had–because by mile 31 strangers became brothers and sisters through the common bond of endured hardships.

Thank you: Rainshadow Running, James Varner, and all of the volunteers for putting on such an amazing race! Glenn Tachiyama for the fantastic race day course photos and super quick turnaround time on publishing them. Camp Moran and Moran State Park for hosting such a beautiful race location. Tyler Green and Benjamin Turman for spurring me on to enter this race and helping me become a better runner. Meaghan McCluskey for driving us from Portland to Orcas Island and back again, along with the rest of the “Five of Seven” crew for being awesome travel companions. A special thanks to my wife Kathryn for being so supportive in these first steps of my journey into ultra running. And to everyone who helped along the way who I have forgotten to mention, thank you!

orcas 50k - bonfire