Despite growing up in the Methow and barely three hours from the ferry terminal, I hardly ever had visited the San Juans before moving to Seattle in 2014. We were a family of landlubbers, content to stay enclosed by mountains and terra firma; perhaps that's why I still to this day remain slightly disconcerted at the idea of bobbing around in open water, with opportunistic aquatic megafauna aiming to nibble on my wiggly bits. No thank you.
But with Alison's encouragement and a few recent trips to the islands I've become a convert, particularly to Orcas Island. It shares a pleasant feeling in my consciousness with the Methow, in that spending time there feels as though you're in a vortex, where common concerns and everyday troubles are put on hold in favor of quiet enjoyment of the terrain and friendly small-town attitudes. And the trails are excellent; for such a small (relatively) area, Orcas boasts some impressive terrain and low-trafficked routes for some great long runs. Frequently these trails get utilized for races, most recently Destination Trail's Orcas Trail Festival and 1/2+Full Marathons. We're proud sponsors of these events and so I was excited to have an opportunity to compete in one last weekend.
I've been taking a hearty dose of my own (initially strong-tasting, but now pleasant) medicine and focusing almost entirely on base-mileage for the past several weeks. Eschewing intensity or any form of (fun) hard training, I've chosen instead to work my weekly volume up to a level which can provide me a sufficient foundation to build upon. For the last few years I've casually leaned against the endurance base I developed over years and years while ski racing, and though it has provided me the ability to jump start my trail running, it certainly didn't give me running fitness. The difference between spending twenty hours per week on rollerskis and steep uphill training, and running 60-70 miles per week at a consistent pace is significant, but the returns on the altered investment I'm making are profound.
OK - to the race. The course didn't go up the infamous Powerline Hill as I hoped, but it still held some solid climbing, in some ways made more difficult because it was all ostensibly runnable. The start at Moran State Park led into a 2-mile perimeter run around Cascade Lake, before crossing the road and beginning the first of two massive climbs. As I've done in previous trail halfs and 25kms, I started and quickly sat in behind a few guys who took an immediate lunge to the front. Saturday's race didn't have the from-the-gun high pace like last year's Sun Mtn 25km or April's Yakima Skyline 25km, but I was fine with that; I wanted to have plenty of oompah for the climbs and figured as long as I didn't lose contact with the front, we could go as slow as they wanted. One guy in particular decided to set a land-speed record in the first two miles and he tore off like a scalded jackrabbit, leaving a few of his buddies quietly chortling behind me at his ambitious start.
When we hit the first climb up Cold Creek, however, the game changed. The first set of leaders drifted back and I found myself sitting in second, quietly and tightly drafting the leader who was looking to push a bit harder up the climb. The pace remained sustainable. Then a third man entered the mix, politely cruising by us on the left to take the helm. Seeing his confident move I quickly slid in to follow, and within a few minutes he and I had broken free from the original pack of seven to build a small lead in the first mile of the climb. He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named (J/k lol; his name is Dave and he's wicked fast and from Seattle) kept a very steady pace and cadence up the climb; I barnacled onto his shoulder and for the majority of the ascent felt good, and tried to convince myself it was him who was pushing his limits to maintain that clip. And yeah, he gradually started breathing more audibly, giving an occasional "phwah" exhalation to indulge my fantasy that he was getting more tired than I. But alas; we hit the top of the climb and as we rolled through the gap, he accelerated seamlessly and slowly began to pull away. I realized I had a fight ahead of me and pushed up my pace (ouch) to keep contact; he created a gap there which would stay (and grow, dangit) for the rest of the race.
The course rolled for about three miles after that, eventually drifting downhill to the base of our second climb up to the tippy-top of Mt Constitution. Despite some protestations from my slighly-distressed quads for the punishing pace through the descent, I kept our 30 second gap from growing by the time we reached the climb. But then it blew up faster than Rick Moranis' baby; Dave dug deep, found the puppy (not literally) and pulled away from me as he ran the entirety of the climb. I succumbed a bit, and had to alternate running and walking for much of it. I did feel a ton stronger (and this is true of the whole race) than I did at Yakima three weeks ago; being healthy and having already made a dent in my base-building process has helped a lot. But it didn't give me the gusto to catch Dave; by the summit he'd put two minutes on me and would grow that lead by the finish. From the top to the finish my goal was to keep my form intact, not drop the plow too badly, and not let myself get caught by third place. Not sure how the first two goals worked out but I did manage to stay in second, and by golly at the finish I didn't look like the trainwreck I was at Yakima. So yeah, a successful day.