February 9, 2010

Orca's Island 50km Race Report

I was so stoked for my first race of 2010. My last race was Run for the Toad in early October so it has been quite a break between races and I just couldn't wait to fly back to Van and then travel down to Orca's Island (one of the US San Juan Islands just south of Vancouver Island) with friends to race and hang out with running buddies.

I had trained harder than I normally would for a low key race like this. I've been pretty paranoid about losing my running ability with my move to Banff and I was determined not to let my fitness fall so people would thing I had turned into a slouch in Banff! But that said with long runs having been slow and snowy and any faster runs having been on the treadmill I was pretty unsure of where my fitness was at. All I could hope was that my altitude training would pay off!

I caught a super early flight on the Friday from Calgary to Vancouver and had a chilled day in the city shoppping and having lunch with non-running friends - awesome prep to forget about the race ahead as there would be plenty of anticipation as I travelled down with friends Mike, Jackie and 'other' Mike. So by the time we reached Camp Moran which is the base of Orca's race I was pretty dead beat and ready for some quick food and an early night. Despite being exhausted I didn't sleep great - but then I hadn't expected to with 11 other runners creaking and snoring in the bunks in our cabin! I had my alarm set for 6.30am, 2hrs before race start, but needless to say I was awake well before that (note to the guy who was eating dry cereal in the dark at 5.30am - it really is impossible to eat cereal quietly - though you did make a valiant attempt)

Race morning was awesome - I couldn't believe how warm 10 degrees was feeling after being used to running in minus 10 or colder, so I had no hesitation about wearing just shorts, t-shirt and arm warmers. It was clear skies too so we were confident that the rain would hold off. By 8.30am RD James Varner led us up to the start line and with a few brief words we were away. I went out pretty fast and clocked that I was ahead of Shawna (Wilksey) who I knew would give good competition and also noted that I couldn't see Krissy Moehl around (and rightly guessed that she had switched to the 25km). So 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 :)

I soon got into a steady pace and as usual noted that I sucked on the uphills compared to the runners around me but soon caught (and even passed) them on the downhills. I was happy with this and the fact that there were a few guys around me but just ran quietly along. As I looped back to Camp Moran for the first aid station at just over 9 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 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.

Orca's 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 til near the end so was pushing literally every step of the race. The power line 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. But that said, the rolling terrain in between is just awesome and there is a section where the 50kms runners run counter current to the 25kmers which I love just for the fact that we all pass a few encouraging words between ourselves and it's nice to spot out for friends on the 25km route.

So all was going great and I was happily running along with one other guy when we came upon an innocent enough looking junction an the approach to a lake. 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. I wasn't 100% sure as there had been no marking on either the trail to the left or the right so we went with the right hand trail as it looked the more major of the two and was more the natural progression of the trail that we had already been on. Once carrying along the lakeside Bill and I began to talk a bit as we were both doubting our choice of trail - ok, we still hadn't seen any flagging but this was normal - only junctions get marked and once on a trail there never is any flagging. We saw a fisherman and he said that all the other runners had gone straight on which gave us confidence that other runners had been this way too. But we then popped out of the lakeside trail and I saw the water for refuelling before heading up the Mount Constitution trail and knew I had appraoched this turn from the toher direction the year before. Now I was 90% sure we had gone the wrong way around the lake but still not 100% sure and also didn't know if that meant we had added or cut off mileage. As we headed up Mt Constitution Bill and I began to ask early start runners that we past how many runners they had seen go past already, and when one reported that at least 5 or 6 had been by I was so relieved - even if we had gone the wrong way we had gone a longer way so maybe we'd still be allowed in the race.

I lost Bill as I power hiked/ ran up Mt Constitution, looking for Glen who would be taking photos near the top. This is struly the most specatacular section of the race - as we approach the top views of the ocean and Mt Baker & Mt Rainier appear which are just stunning. But it was pretty soon that my hopes were shattered, I saw Glen and he said in disbelief 'Ellie, you're 2nd overall?' - Oh f**k'! I might be having a good day but I've not over taken Matt, Chris or Sean Meisenner, so I've definitely gone the wrong way.....and taken the short way around the lake. I was gutted, totally gutted - but other than running all the way down Mt Constitution, back around the entire lake and then back up Mt Constitution there was nothing I could do.

The volunteers at the top probably thought I was a pretty miserable first place female because I knew I was now out of the race, so again I quickly refuelled and got out of the aid station fast, not really in the mood to chat or admire the scenery. For the rest of the race - which was undulating rolls and a lot of downhills I just decided to carry on racing. 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!)

And I loved the final switchback downhills, I was in my element - warm weather, snow free trail and just having fun. I then hit the lake shore and knew I had about 15minms of rolling lakeside trail to go and I was pleased that I resolved to run every step and not walk even one little uphill. As I emerged back into Camp Moran and saw the finish line I slowed to a walk and looked out for James - I so wanted to check what I feared..........

and yep, I was DQ'd.

Oh well, that's a first for me and I've got to laugh because if not I'll go totally mad over what in reality is a low key, fun race. Plus I was pretty encouraged to hear that the lead runners had also gone the wrong way (but then turned around and corrected themselves) and the Chris Downie had ummed and ahhed and finally gone the right way. I was just glad that Chris could say that there was definietly no flagging at the junction, as I had started to think I should have slowed down more and would have seen flagging. So I'll just put it down to experience..and maybe study route maps and race descriptions a little more ahead of future races!

But all in all, it was 4h36mins when I crossed the finish line so think I would have finished just under 5hrs had I gone the right route which I am pretty happy with as it shows I don't seem to have lost my fitness. And I'll have a chance to double check in 6 days time when I'm running the Frozen Ass 50km in Calgary. Apparantly it's a really stright forward route......

Despite my little hiccup I'd still totally recommend Orca's for a fun filled weekend of beautiful trails and meeting trail runners. Check out the website and also Glen Tachiyama's awesome race photos



  1. Hey Ellie, sorry about the DQ but it sounds like you had a blast out on the trails anyhow! Good luck in the Frozen Ass 50km this weekend...I was hoping to do it this year but an injury has kept me away.

  2. Shitty! Last year I thought I'd gone wrong and sat on the side of the trail for 5 1/2min till Lint caught up, then it was tough to get my legs firing again. It's too bad there were slight flagging issues again this year cause it's such a beautiful course.

    Either way sounds like you're training has been going great Ellie, congrats on working that much harder in Banff and not loosing but improving your fitness level!

    Best of luck this weekend,

  3. Thanks Deb - i will post about the Frozen Ass too so you can see if it's worth doing next year - though maybe you ahve already done it in 2009?
    Gary - trouble with me is I hate to stop when I'm running. If only I had paused I might have reconsidered the route and been ok but you know what it's like when you're on a flow and with someone else you get the comfort you are going the right way even though we were both clueless! Oh well, I'm happy as I felt I had a decent run anyway. This weekend's course might be too flat - even for a roadie like me! Sure you can't join too and give Ryne a run for his money?!

  4. Ellie,
    So sorry you got off course. That sucks. I see 2 reasons why you went off.
    1. that intersection had markers but was vandalized, as James told me (that really sucks and bad stuff is going to happen to whoever did it).
    2. You and Bill were going too fast too hear me yelling. On the little downhill approach to that intersection, you and Bill cruised by me. I felt like I was going pretty fast so I glanced at my Garmin - 5:45 pace (per mile, not per km!)...and you guys were pulling away from me! I slowed for the intersection, noticed some logs built up over the right-hand trail (signal for Don't Go This Way!), so went left. You and Bill were flying so fast you didn't even notice hurdling the logs (some early-starters put the logs up after noticing there were no markers)!! After 20-30 seconds down the left trail, there was a good straight away, I didn't see you two, so I knew you had gone right. I stopped and yelled, but you obviously didn't hear me. Sorry.

    Great effort out there, though, Ellie. Good way to start off your year.

  5. Hey Sean, firstly sorry I didn't really get a chance to meet you properly on the w/e but I'm sure we'll cross paths at another race sometime soon! I totally think that flaggng had got removed as James had done an awesome job at the flagging and this was a critical junction yet nothing. Definitely bad karma on the way to whoever took it down. As for the 2nd option of Bill and I running too fast .....hmmm - possibly!!!! But if I don't blast it on the downhills I don't run fast as I suck on the uphills! I really am a bit of an airhead when running but even so I can't believe i would have lept over logs without noticing (but then again, you never know!). And finally - thank you for at least trying to yell for us. I'm thinking two way radios for all Montrail runners at future races so we can make sure we keep each other on track?!
    Hope you were happy with your race too?