Orcas Island 50k Race Report – Yvonne Naughton

Race: Orcas 50K

Runner: Yvonne Naughton

Race Date: 02/02/2019

Location: Orcas Island, WA

Results: 3rd Female

Photo: Glenn Tachiyama

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

  1. Location! It’s difficult to top a magical PNW island when it comes to running a trail race. Race weekend is a very special experience from riding the ferry, experiencing the slow pace and artsy vibes of island life, cruising along some of the greenest forests trails you’ll ever see, panoramic summit views from Seattle to Canada and the Cascades to the Puget Sound and an abundance of good food and beer in the quaint town of East Sound.
  2. Rainshadow Running! These guys know how to put on a great event. The pre and post race events and festivities are always fantastic. This year there was a pasta dinner the night before the race. After receiving your high five and hug from RD, James at the finish there was a smorgasbord of snacks waiting for you as well as freshly made pizza and beer. And as always there’s a live band playing in the Camp Moran Clubhouse which usually ensures that the celebrations go on well into the night.
  3. It’s a challenging course! With nearly 8500 feet of climbing this course is definitely going to make you work for it! The infamous ‘Powerline’ climb is definitely the toughest section of the course and tends to get all the attention but there’s plenty of other climbs that shouldn’t be discounted, especially Mt. Pickett and the switchbacks up to Mt. Constitution. To balance out all the climbing there’s plenty of rolling sections, technical, rocky, rooty parts and a couple of good old screaming downhills.

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

You’ll say you hate ‘Powerline’ but secretly you’ll be so proud of yourself for having conquered it and you’ll want to come back again and do it better!

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

More cool than weird but you can buy a thrift store item with the race logo on it. If you get to the merchandise stand early you can find some gems such as a denim jacket with the logo on the back, a cool flannel, cargo shorts with the logo on the leg and sometimes even a sweet dress. In the past when I didn’t find something I liked I actually bought an item, cut out the logo and sewed it on another shirt!

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

  1. Patience and pacing! Having completed each of the 25K, 50K and 100 mile distances at this event in the past I was very familiar with the course and knew I had to pace myself. I began patiently, committing to an easy, comfortable pace, having learned not to get caught up in the initial sprint up Mt. Constitution Road! Even on the early downhills it’s wise to be conservative. You still have the big climbs of Pickett, Powerline and Constitution. And that final five mile descent from the summit aid station is going to be painful and slow if you don’t have the quads for it! Be honest with yourself about your perceived effort and don’t let your ego get the better of you early in the race. I was 7th female at the first aid station, 5th at mile twenty, North Arch aid station and 3rd at the finish. Your patience will be rewarded.
  2. Grit and gratitude! The first ten miles or so didn’t go the best. I experienced some low abdominal pain that actually had me wondering if I had a hernia or ovarian cyst! Eventually I had to make an emergency stop in the bushes after which things settled down. Having had an unfortunately similar experience at the Boston Marathon last year I think my mistake has been snacking on popcorn the night before the race. You’d think I’d know better! As a pediatrician I sometimes recommend plain popcorn to parents of kids who are constipated as the roughage seems to help! But no sooner had I gotten my stomach sorted out than I miss-stepped crossing a creek on one of those aforementioned screaming downhills and landed face first in the soaking water! An awesome, multiple time Hardrock finisher was right behind me and actually picked me up by my shoulders and put me back on my feet! I was soaked and cold. I tend to get Raynauds and I started to worry about my fingers becoming unbearably painful. My quads and hip flexors had tightened under my wet shorts and I started to have doubts about my ability to haul myself up the Powerline! I questioned myself “Well are you going to drop?” Heck no! So the pep talk I gave myself was basically the faster you go, the quicker you finish and the sooner you’ll be warm with pizza and a beer in your hands! I put my head down and just started grinding away at the miles. Slowly I started gaining ground and getting back into the flow of some nice running. I arrived at the North Arch aid station which is at the base of Powerline with two other girls and we were told we were in third position. I was feeling better and up for the challenge. I was the second of the three to leave the aid station and as we huffed up the gnarly, seemingly endless trail I saw I was pulling away from the third girl and gaining on the other. Patiently I hiked, knowing not too push too hard, too fast. Any overtaking needed to happen organically without a sudden anaerobic push. There was still the Mt. Constitution switchbacks, the long descent and those few short but steep evil uphills right before the finish. Before long I was right beside the other girl. This was her first trip to Orcas and she was eager to know how much farther we had left to go on Powerline! I would be too! We chatted for a bit and then I gradually pulled away. The descent from the summit is one of my favorite stretches of trail and that day I ran it with so much gratitude for having overcome the initial difficulties I’d experienced and to be fortunate enough to be able to run in such a beautiful place.

Lessons for others – Share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner

  1. There’s a lot of climbing on the course. Make sure you incorporate power hiking in your training even if it’s on the treadmill or stairmaster. It’s not ridiculous to consider trekking poles for this 50k but practice using them.
  2. There’s long steep downhills on the course. You’ll need to get your quads in shape for these by practicing your downhill running in training.
  3. The course can be a little technical at times. Be familiar with rocks, roots and wet, wooden bridges and walkways.
  4. Remember there’s no bad weather just bad gear! If it’s wet and slick, shoes with good traction will really help and may even prevent you from getting injured. Consider carrying a rain jacket. It could rain on a whim! But it’ll certainly be colder at the top of Mt. Constitution and the extra layer will be helpful. Also consider putting extra items of clothing in ziplock so they stay dry in your pack if you’re rained on.
  5. Pace yourself.
  6. Pace yourself.
  7. Pace yourself.

Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race

As I mentioned the Powerline climb tends to get all the attention but there’s actually a lot of climbing before you even get to that point. Be patient and power hike as much as you need to. These early climbs are tough and if you blow all your energy on them you’re not going to have the legs for Powerline. I’ve seen people be reduced to almost a crawl and it looks like a soul destroying experience!

Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?

This is an insanely pretty course! There’s sections through the greenest moss covered forests you’ll probably ever see, rocky trails circumnavigating picturesque lakes, peek-a-boo views through tress over the surrounding islands, panoramic views all the way to Canada at the top of Mt. Constitution…if you’re prone to taking a lot of photos you might want to leave your camera behind or you may find the course sweeps catching up to you as you lose track of time happily snapping photos!

orcas island 50k race report
Photo: Glenn Tachiyama

Difficulty – Is it a tough course?

Yes! See above!

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

Rainshadow Running events are always well run. The pre and post race events and festivities are great. The aid stations are well stocked and well run by helpful and enthusiastic volunteers. There’s an engraved beer growler for the top three male and female finishers but everyone gets a finish line high five form the RD. You can pay extra for a Patagonia shirt with the race logo or get one of the thrift store items which also have the race logo.

Competition – Is there a strong field?

It varies from year to year. There always tends to be a strong field and some years you may even have some celebrity entrants such as Western States winner, Andrew Miller for instance.

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.

Sign up for the race is on Ultra Signup. Because the race is so popular it’s now a lottery. If you miss out though Rainshadow Running allows bib transfers and you’ll find the details of how to do this on their website. It’s very likely you’ll find a bib in the months before the race when people have schedule changes and need to change their plans. Also, be aware that this race is on an island that requires a ferry. On race weekend the ferries are busy and its recommended to make a reservation.

Weather and typical race conditions

February in the PNW. It can be chilly but sunny, raining or even snowing. Prepare for the worst!

Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?

This is definitely a friendly course for spectators. Some of the aid stations may require a hike to get to depending on the weather but if your friends are up for some hiking they can meet you at multiple points along the course. The finish line is also a great place for friends and family to hang out and wait for you to finish.

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

This is a top notch, must do at least once, five star race! I totally recommend it!

Yvonne Naughton is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about her or to work with Coach Yvonne, check out her coaching page.