Wednesday, February 8, 2012

From Orcas to Rainier: A Weekend to Remember

This past weekend, I was blessed with more sunshine than the Pacific Northwest has collectively seen in months - and was further blessed with the coincidence of two of my greatest winter adventures having been long slated for this very weekend: (1) the Orcas Island 50K race and (2) three glorious days of backcountry snowshoeing/sledding/hutting it up down by Mt. Rainier.

Part I: Orcas Island 50K Race Report

Running on Orcas Island feels like it's become a little part of my soul at this point. It being the first trail race I ever ran, two years ago now, it holds by nature a special place within me - but it's also just hands down my favorite race. I love the camaraderie of a weekend on the island, potluckin' and campin' and runnin' and eatin' and drinkin' (though just soda for me this year!) and geekin' it up big time with other addicts. I love the course. I love the views. I love seeing what kind of crazy stuff my friend Tom will be eating and wearing and saying at 6:30 a.m. the morning of.

Exhibit A: Tom, Orcas 25K in 2010, Original photo courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama; Photoshopped commentary courtesy of Ryan Schmid

This year, however, was my first time tackling the 50K distance, rather than the 25K. Aside from discovering the day before race day that my tried-and-true running shoes had separated from their soles, and aside from discovering race morning that I'd forgotten to pack my running shorts, the real disaster didn't occur until Race Director Extraordinaire James yelled "Go!"...

Despite promising myself I wouldn't do this anymore, I started off way too fast. All my training has been so solid over the last few months - high mileage, more speed and hills than ever before, no injuries (knock on wood) - that it's hard to squelch the soaring optimism that's been stalking me at the beginning of my recent races. But squelch it I must, or else I wind up suffering for hours at its hand.

I knew after the first mile that I'd gone out too fast. Unfortunately, because I was running in a single-file line on single track with a still-too-optimistic ego to negotiate with, I still didn't reel myself in when I should have. Too proud to let myself get passed in those first few miles, I pushed too hard for yet another mile or two - at which point the course began its first of three steady mountain climbs, and I fell apart.

8,000 feet of elevation gain

So, over the course of the next mile or two, roughly 50 people passed me. I pulled over to the side to let the herds go by while I gasped to catch my breath, tried to nurse liveliness into my brick legs, and contemplated with a mix of glee and disgust the opportunity I'd have at mile 9.5 to drop out of the race completely. The kind of self-berating that usually accompanies this sort of contemplation can be especially cruel. To put it mildly, the next few miles were a challenge.

Fortunately, after cresting Mt. Pickett and backing significantly off the blistering pace at which I'd hurled myself over the starting line, I started to feel decent again. I caught up with Candice, who unfortunately had twisted her ankle pretty badly and was padding along at a pace I was able to match comfortably for a couple miles to the first aid station. Although I wish it had been under better circumstances, her company for those couple miles was a godsend, wrenching me out of my self-deprecating mental soundtrack and reminding me of one of the aspects I love most about this sport: the awesomeness of people you run the trails with. (Candice, may your ankle heal up swiftly!)

The rest of the race was pretty fantastic. 21 more miles to go after that first aid station, and with the help of some Endurolytes and the realist runner in me overtaking the optimist one, I enjoyed a relatively solid, steady race.

Me running by Cascade Falls. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.

The sunshine atop Mt. Constitution was blinding, the views impeccable, and the company on the trails delightful as ever. As I've gotten more involved in the local trail running community over the past year, the entire weekend was sweetened by the sight of all those familiar faces before, during and after the race. Shoutouts to all those, old friends and new, who kept me company during those long, beautiful hours on the trails of Orcas!

Aside from some calf and quad cramping around mile 24, I felt strong the rest of the way. The climbs were invigorating, the descents adrenaline-charged, and the feeling of crossing the finish line - of being able to stop running - a fine pleasure indeed. I crossed in 6:31, right around where I hoped/expected to (the realist runner in me, again, at least) and spent the rest of the day celebrating with various characters among the fantastic cadre of friends I've made in this sport - Glenn, Tom, Ryan, Ben, Tracy, Michael, Jeff, Alex, Scott, Andrew (notably, though, nearly all dudes...where the ladies at?!)

After much celebrating and merriment at the finish line, we headed off to the ferry landing, bound for Seattle and, in my case, a good night's rest before the next big adventure.

Part II: Hut Up or Shut Up

So. I got to stay here for two nights

with eight of my favorite people

where we went snowshoeing,

watched sunsets,

ate food in our union suits,

and spent the better part of our days sledding.

Video by Cambajamba.

I would like to be as indulgently prolix in my descriptions of High Hut as I've been in my ramblings about Orcas, but I gotta be honest: Cam beat me to it with his epic retelling of our journey. Please check out his spectacular account of our shenanigans on the mountain. I doubt if I could tell it better.

Alan and I at sunset up at High Hut. 'Tis a good life we lead.