Monday, June 28, 2010

2010 Orcas Island Report

While you're waiting for the Sun Mountain Report... here's my report on Orcas which was published in Ultrarunning Magazine

I'm going to let the runners tell the story of the 5th annual Orcas Island 50k: Matt Hart, our 2008 winner, in his first race after being injured for seemingly forever starts the tale "As the "gun" went off Yassine [Dibboun] pulled ahead and the adrenaline of not having raced for over a year and a half pushed me to the front. In the first 30 minutes Yassine slowly pulled away and my place in the lead pack faded. I was seeing numbers on my heart rate monitor I haven't seen in years." Dibboun furthers the story adding: "I started off feeling really good. Mile two or three a huge Great Horned Owl flew down right in front of me and perched on a tree right above the trail. It turned his head around 180 degrees and gave me a stare with his big eyes. I actually got a little scared and yelled just out of instinct. I was probably ahead of the others by a couple hundred yards. Eventually, we started hitting some tough climbs and Alex [Henry] and Dan [Olmstead] caught up to me. The three of us ran together until mile 10 or so. "

Last year's winner Ellie Greenwood fills us in on more of the action from the first third of the race: "I was in the front 6 or 7 so runners and the pace felt good but I was worried that I was just so excited that I would go out too fast. It felt great right away to be running on soft, spongy, snow free trails so I spent at least the first hour with a stupid grin on my face just from enjoying the spring like run. As I looped back to Camp Moran for the first aid station at just over [11] miles I was feeling strong. I was totally stoked, if a little suprised, to see Matt Hart and Chris Downie heading back out of the aid station and thus probably only 4 or so minutes ahead of me. Wow - either I had gone out way too fast or those mind numbing treadmill runs were paying off! I also didn't see Shawna so I knew I had got at least a bit of a lead on her. I never spend long at aid stations as I hate to stop on the run so I quickly downed some Coke, grabbed a handful of chips and was back out on the course." Shawna Wilskey, third last year, adds: "Ellie went out way fast, not really my thing, I am more of a 'see how I feel runner' most of the time, so consequently, I never saw her in the race. The beginning was rough for some reason for me this time. I struggled hard for 8 miles or so. My legs got tight and sore right away, so I ran convinced I would never run another 50k again, convinced I was going to pull my entry in the 100 milers I have entered this year, etc. etc. I had really done a number on myself mentally by the end of the first 8 miles. Ultra runners all know the drill… Soon it got sunny, warm, I was at the first marvelous aid station and all of that went away only to bring sheer enjoyment for the next 4 hours!"

Back up at the front of the race, Alex Henry share's his thoughts: "My race plan was to stay with the leaders until the top of the powerline climb, and then use that sustained downhill/flat section to create a gap before the Constitution climb. When I found myself pulling away on the climb itself, that was the first time that I started to think I had a realistic shot at winning the thing. I walked on every steep section of trail. I was really relieved early in the race when I saw Yassine and Dan hiking the steep sections too. Greenwood chimes in with: "[The] course is pretty variable - there are definitely some killer climbs but I have to admit they seemed more managebale this year than last, probably because last year I was in 3rd place until near the end so I was pushing literally every step of the race. The Power Line Trail climb has got to be the worst - just steep pitches and although the runner ahead of you might not look far ahead you can just never seem to catch anyone." And Dibboun contributes these details of what turned out to have been a key part of the men's race: "Going up [the Power Line Trail] I noticed that Alex and Dan were starting to pull away...especially Alex. I finally made the summit and was able to catch up with Dan O. Dan and I ran together for a couple more miles until we came to a junction that went right or left but no marking....ugh...we picked a way and ... then after a while we saw people running at us! Oh boy...wrong way...again! We ended up going like three or four miles out of our way when it was all said and done. We were given the choice to feel sorry for ourselves and to be a little angry, or we could accept it and enjoy the absolute beauty of the park and the weather. We chose the latter of the two." This sequence of events is where the men's race was won, Henry pulled ahead on the longest, steepest climb of the race and then a couple miles later at the fork in the trail at Mountian Lake he knew(from thorough studying of the course map and description prior to the race) which way to go despite the missing course markers.

Unfortunately it wasn't just 2nd and 3rd place men who got off course at the vandalized junction, Greenwood adds "So all was going great and I was happily running along with one other guy when we came upon an innocent enough looking junction... There was no marking and I paused for only a millisecond to shout ' I guess we go right?', 'Guess so' he shouted back and on we carried." She didn't find out she had gone the wrong(shorter) way around the lake until miles and couple thousand feet of elevation gain later and had this to say about how she approached the rest of the run "I resolved that even though I was now out of the race I didn't want people to think I was a quitter and I wanted to post a fast time so people would think that I would have won if only I had stayed on course. And of course I had a tiny glimmer of hope that I had gone the right way and the others had gone the wrong way (it would be worth mentioning at this point that I am the eternal optimist!)" A couple other of the top male runners also went the wrong way here or lost time trying to decide which way to go. Thankfully when Orcas veterans Eric Barnes and Steve Stoyles came to the junction they knew which way to go and were thoughtful enough to block off the incorrect direction and put an arrow in the dirt so we didn't lose anymore runners.

Alex Henry, who held on to win in just his second ultra, and later apologized for not thinking to stop and mark the correct direction says" I was definitely worried about being caught [from behind] until I ran into Yassine and Dan right after the bridge at the [opposite] end of the lake. Once I realized they had gone the wrong way, I was pretty sure I just had to keep it under control in order to win. However, this was a bittersweet feeling, because I would much rather have had them right at my heels than get an easy win.

Shawna Wilskey, who also got the win desipte having a seesaw battle with Ellen Parker(2nd) and Tia Gabalita(3rd), had this to say about her comeptition "at one point both ladies went by me like I was tied to a tree!" and about Greenwod and the race in general "what happened to her was unfortunate, as she was very fast that day, and deserved to win. For me, this race is where the 2010 ultrarunning season begins even though I don’t take down time in the winter. This is just such a stand out event, that it is the beginning of the spirit of the season."

And speaking of spirit, Matt Hart, who couldn't quite catch Chris Downie(2nd) held off probably the deepest field yet for third place, sums up the post race party (which included live music, lots of food made from scratch, 3 kegs, nuuntinis, bonfires, etc.) and the whole weekend in general real well with "I am an old man and haven't stayed up that late laughing in a long long time."