|Friendly deer on Orcas Island|
...but I'm probably going to fail miserably! Bear with me... So I went up to Orcas today to do some trail restoration work with other volunteers from the upcoming race next weekend. My alarm went off at 4:25 a.m., and an hour later, I was hopping in a car with two strangers with whom I'd coordinated a carpool up from Seattle - Don and Glenn. Both proved to be wonderful company for the ride up there. Don's done adventure racing and a handful of marathons, but this will just be his second ultra. Glenn gave up running races himself (with nearly 200 marathons under his belt...) to shoot them instead. He'll be photographing the race next weekend. While he and Don had crossed paths several times over the years (the ultrarunning community in the Northwest is incestuously small), they really hadn't caught up in over a decade, so it was fun to be a part of their "reunion."
We got there in plenty of time to grab a cup of coffee at the ferry landing in Anacortes and make quick friends with the passengers in the other cars bearing the requisite "26.2" and "140.6" bumper stickers. In total, there were about twenty of us who turned out to volunteer. Already on the ferry ride over to the island, I felt at home with these folks - chatting it up about all my favorite subjects: running, good food, and the Northwest in general.
The work itself involved a lot of getting dirty - slogging through ridiculously sloppy mud, wielding shovels, gathering rocks, aesthetically rearranging gargantuan logs, and essentially remaking an entire stretch of trail that wasn't draining properly. With the guidance of a geologist, we dug trenches where necessary, narrowed out and semi-rerouted the trail, rebuilt up the soil, bolstered the whole thing with rocks, and built up a bit of a gravel path where we could to assist in draining. It was awesome to examine the whole thing with the eye of an engineer - If it rains for three days straight, where is the water going to flow? How can we prevent the trail from flooding in a worst case scenario? I'll never look at trails the same way again.
My other favorite thing about them is that most of them are in their thirties, forties, fifties...there's a 72-year-old registered for the 50K! There was a couple, both 60, that came out for the work party today, who'd met at a triathlon years ago and have done all kinds of crazy 100-milers (etc.) together in the time since. Several of the forty-somethings commented on what an inspiration it was that they still had at least twenty years left in this fabulous sport. Doing the math on that for myself made me feel all the more psyched than I already am. Which is indescribably awesome. I feel like a child who's just stumbled into a magical world long before I was supposed to find out about it. What a paradise trail running is!
After we finished up trail work, we drove up to the top of Mount Constitution and climbed the tower there (the run next weekend crests the mountain, but it being a race, there won't be time for much tower-climbing or all too much sightseeing, of course.) The view was quite foggy, but still stunning to look out over all the water, the surrounding islands, and even Vancouver BC way off in the distance.
When we got back from that, we stood around talking and laughing and gorging on bananas and sour cream and onion chips for awhile before deciding to go back to the ferry landing, where I had a giant bowl of clam chowder and a big, refreshing glass of Fat Tire Ale. Over dinner, we were regaled with the (often hilarious) tales of various crazy ultras that people had done - ranging from the grueling 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon through Death Valley in July to a 100-miler that James, the race director for Orcas, had run in which he and the other two guys vying for second place all bonked at about mile 80 and were in various stages of miserable comatose-ness at the aid station. Good times.
|These guys give me craziness to aspire to.|
|I'd say that island + running + beer + sunset = unbeatable.|
Granted, ultrarunning doesn't get nearly the press coverage that road racing does...and road racing already gets only a fraction of the media coverage that other sports do. (Ann Trason, Scott Jurek < Paula Radcliffe, Alberto Salazar < LeBron James, David Beckham.) But the lack of recognition from the general populace doesn't stop these guys from garnering the respect, awe and admiration of those in the ultra community itself.