Race: Deception Pass 25k

Runner: Tyler S

Race Date: 12/09/2018

Location: Deception Pass State Park, Whidbey Island, Washington

Results: 1st, 1:53:58

Strava Activity Link: https://www.strava.com/activities/2009134744

deception pass 25k race report
Photo: Glenn Tachiyama

3 Bests – What aspects of the race did you like the most?

  1. Terrain variety and scenery – From running 200′ above the water on a bridge, along a beach, crashing through underbrush, scrambling up a rocky peak, or cruising through a mature forest on a wide, groomed trail, this one has it all. Even the few highway crossings were a welcome change, getting some cheers and encouragement before ducking back into the woods.
  2. Start time – With a start time of 10am, I was able to wake up at a reasonable hour, have a normal morning routine, and make the 50 minute drive from home, all within a comfortable window.
  3. Post-race party! The reputation of this organization precedes it, and I’d heard a lot of tell about the caliber of the grub, folks, swag, and vibe. As much as I like to run fast, I like to chill hard, and it exceeded all my expectations.

Not so much – Aspects of the race that didn’t do it for you

Much of the race is run on really tight singletrack, and there are four lollipops which is fun but makes for a bit of traffic. This wasn’t really a challenge for me, and it was cool to exchange some encouragement with other runners, but this isn’t exactly the place to go for a screaming fast time or PR. The course also crosses the Deception Pass bridge twice, along a pretty narrow sidewalk with railings on both sides. We were told to slow down and not push the pedestrians off the bridge, and it worked out fine. I was lucky enough to only pass a few people, in groups no larger than 2 or 3, so it was easy to alert them and pass. If I’d been stuck behind a large family or group, however, it would have been frustrating to have to slow down or stop on such a fast section of the course.

Weird factor – What’s the weirdest thing about this race?

Besides finishing on a beach and taking place entirely on two islands and a bridge (three if you count Pass Island), it may also be haunted. As I ran along the eastern side of Goose Rock before the big ascent, I came into view of a small beach community across the water, far away. I heard hollering and cheering, but couldn’t see anyone, though I was running quite hard and focusing my eyes is usually futile that late in a race.

Highlights of your race – What did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?

From the beginning I decided to run a brisk pace and lead by myself, even without much course knowledge or any experience at this distance. I’ve really bought into my training lately and was rewarded with proof that it’s paying off. My best memory of the race was the final 5k, with all the climbing behind me and just running at breakneck pace trying to get that CR.

Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race

The first three miles are speedy but technical with lots of roots. Miles 3.5-8 contain lots of rollers and short, steep grades with a bit of bushwhacking and some oncoming traffic. After that, it’s much more smooth sailing, so keep the pace honest and you’ll make good time. Enjoy the solace of the Pass Lake loop (a decent climb here, but more gradual), and after you go south over the bridge, you can really open up your legs circumnavigating Goose Rock. Save some energy for the big climb up Goose Rock at mile ~12.3. It’s very steep but fortunately only about half a mile. For the last few miles it’s mostly downhill or flat, not including a twisty, technical root fest for the last mile, so open up that stride and make it count.

Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?

Definitely. Lots of water and trees. You run along a couple beaches, up a small mountain, and through a few nice stands of trees. The bridge is definitely a highlight, if you aren’t afraid of heights and wind gusts. The Pass Lake and Goose Rock Perimeter trails were my favorite segments of the course, being the most secluded and peaceful.

Difficulty – Is it a tough course?

I would say it is. A perfect mix between challenging, technical, and runnable. Having never been there before, nor done much research, I was surprised to learn early in the race that the footing was quite technical, with lots of rocks ranging from small and pointy to large and round, and an extreme amount of roots. In a few places, you have to blindly crash through some salal growing over the trail in a moment of faith, and there’s a tiny bit of sand running, for good measure.

Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?

My first time at an event run by the fabled Rainshadow Running, and it lived up to the hype. The race started on time, announcements were helpful, packet pick up was efficient, course was well marked, and easy to get to and park. Pesky park rangers and other buzzkills were also noticeably absent.

Competition – Is there a strong field?

I try to make a habit of expecting anything on race day, including a high level of competition. You never know who will show up, and even when you do, anything can happen. There were one or two others I had been expecting to mix it up with, but within the first couple miles I knew that if I pressed hard early on, I could hang on and win. At some point I realized I was on or near course record pace, so that kept me motivated on the lonely back half of the course.

Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.

I believe this race, as most Rainshadow events, typically sells out well in advance, but I was able to put my name on the bib transfer Google Sheet and take advantage of all the shuffling that happens. There’s no lottery, but it’s first come, first served so register early.

Aid Stations – Standard fare or anything special to know about the aid stations in terms of what’s available or when?

There was one aid station on this course, which runner passed at 5.5 and 7.3 miles. I did not stop or see the food, but according to their website standard fare is on offer. As a vegan I was in good hands at the finish line, munching on hummus and veggie wraps, chips, pizza, beer, and watermelon, and they even compost!

Weather and typical race conditions

This was my first time at Deception Pass, but I got the impression from the stunted vegetation and jagged rocks that this is a typically windy and harsh place, at least in December. The forecast had called for rain, and we were lucky enough to just miss it, after some light sprinkling on the drive down. The footing was good and ground mostly dry, but it could have easily been a bit slippery and muddy in parts.

Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next guy?

For this distance, all I needed was an 16oz hand bottle and one gel. I was also fortunate to not require any more clothing than shorts, a singlet, and shoes, but with the exposure of this course, any moisture could mean getting chilled fast, so prepare for anything.

Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?

Yes, the lollipops and relatively compact nature of the course mean there are lots of choke points that you’ll pass through several times. I saw my friends twice without them really trying; a motivated spectator could catch you 5 or 6 times!

How’s the Swag?

Excellent! Stickers and Buff-style face/neck warmers from sponsor Innovate were available to all runners at bib pick up, and the post-race celebration was one of the best I’ve enjoyed, with live music, a heated tent, wood-fired pizza made to order, beer, snacks, and lots of dogs. As the overall winner, I took home a custom commemorative growler, framed race logo, and a sweet beer koozie.

The Overall Score – How many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it?

5 stars! I would consider running the 50k distance on Saturday, camping out, and perhaps volunteering (from a chair?) for the 25k on Sunday if I return. Recommended for anyone seeking scenery, all kinds of terrain, and a comfortably medium-sized production in the heart of the Puget Sound.

deception pass 25k race report
Photo: Jon-Erik Jardine