Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Jbob's Volcanic 50k Race Report - Mt. St. Helens - September 6, 2014

Holy shit, this thing is still active?!


The race runs entirely on the Loowit Trail,
plus the trail connecting it to Marble Mountain Snow Park. 
First things first, this race runs like a 50 miler, despite that fact that it's only 32+ miles. The terrain is breathtaking, leaving you breathless by its beauty and breathing hard by its ruggedness. The trail is a complete variety of everything, and I'll try to break it down in my report below. But here's a short video of the course if you'd rather not read: Course Preview



The forecast for the nearby town of Cougar, WA was 95 degrees, which is kind of hot. Despite the heat, I still felt like I could break the 6 hour mark for the course (my 2012 course record was 6:03:54, and the 2013 course record was 6:01:19 by friend/teammate/competitor Jacob Puzey). Having ran around the mountain on 4 different occasions, I knew the course well enough to know exactly what I had to do to break the course record. Nobody was going to push me to run faster or slower than I wanted to, I had a plan and I was going to stick with it. It was just a matter if my legs would stay cramp-free for the final push.

Goal #1: Break the course record
Goal #2: Win
Goal #3: Don't break anything below the belt

7:00 AM START

An uphill climb is never an easy way to start a race. Matt Palilla, Taylor Spike, several others, and myself ran a steady pace for the 2.25 mile climb to the Loowit trail. Taylor jumped in front briefly, but I re-attained the lead when he missed the turn onto the Loowit (easy to do). It didn't matter, we all ran and hiked together and made good company. Plus, the scenery was stunning.

Photo I took in 2012. This is about mile 3, looking towards Mt. Adams
As the trail leveled out, I let my stride go a little bit to run a good pace before getting to the field of lava rocks. For anyone wanting to know what it's like to navigate through the lava rocks, imagine Indiana Jones spelling "Jahovah" in Latin with his feet. You need to pick your footing well, otherwise you could seriously twist your ankle or fall into an endless abyss (not really, but you get the idea).

The beginning of the lava rocks, about mile 4. Photo by Paul Nelson.
The beginning of the lava rocks, about mile 4. Photo by Paul Nelson.
Photo I took in 2012.
There ended up being 5 of us who were navigating the rocks together. The previous weekend, I went for a training run through this section of the course, so the memory was pretty fresh for me. Otherwise, it would have been very easy to make a wrong turn or to take an unnecessarily hard route to find the cairns or wooden posts. We made great time and didn't really make any wrong turns, except for that one time. After traversing two different fields of lava rocks and doing some technical dancing, our group of 5 runners arrived at Aid Station #1.

AID STATION #1 - Mile 6.32 - 1 hour 15 minutes Elapsed

After a quick water top off from sweethearts Anne Crispino-Taylor and TJ Ford (and company), we all jetted. The trail turned fun and twisty, going in and out of the mountain's many little valleys. We then came to a long downhill section, and I let it go like an ice princess. Hoping to make great time on the downhills, I hammered down the trail and pulled away from the guys behind me. After reaching the bottom and crossing a steep rocky river channel (completely dry), I expected the guys to catch up with me shortly thereafter on the climb. However, my hiking and sporadic running kept me steady enough to stay ahead, and when I arrived at the long descent to the Toutle River, I ran hard through the shaded forest with determination to get to Aid Station #2 faster than my split from the 2012 race.

AID STATION #2 - Mile 12.2 - 2 hours 8 minutes Elapsed (7 minutes faster than my 2012 split)

Photo taken in 2012 of the steep
and rocky Toutle channel crossing.
Situated on the south side of the Toutle River crossing was Aid Station #2, where Brian Donnelly filled my bottles with water. Brian is the current speed record holder for the Oregon Section of the Pacific Crest Trail, and he finished the 2012 Volcanic 50k in 6:14 with a cracked rib that he attained at this very same river crossing. He's a tough mother f***er, and an extremely modest and kind human being. Thanks Brian, Sarah, and everybody else for the sendoff. I only spent about 30 seconds at the aid station, but it gave me a lot of energy.

Knowing the next 8 miles were going to be hot, exposed, technical, and slow...I had 3 important To Do items at Aid Station #2: Quench my thirst before I leave, get both my 26 oz water bottles completely full, and get baptized in the Toutle River from head to toe. Having run out of water on this section before, I committed to using my water bottles for ONLY drinking. Being hot and uncomfortable is much more bearable when you're not dying of thirst, so any dousing of the head and neck would have to come from random silty streams that were somewhat few and far between.

Photo taken in 2012,
the sandy climb out of the Toutle basin.
Climbing out of the Toutle felt solid and steady, running most of the trail until the open and sandy section which sucks to run in. Whilst hiking, I took a shot of Trail Butter and made sure my fuel consumption was adequate. Nearing the top of the climb, I saw my friends far below on the first open switchback and climbing strong. I kept looking over my shoulder for the next 2 miles before I switched my focus solely on the trail ahead.



Photo taken in 2012,
Old trees leveled by the blast
The North Side of the mountain is truly amazing. Old trees that were blown over during the eruption on 1980 were still lying down as petrified remnants of a past life. Two separate herds totaling 40+ elk were startled by my presence and galloped across the trail in front of me, so close that I had to stop to let them pass. The terrain soon changed from rolling hills to a flat lunar landscape, the remains of a 34 year old mountain landslide. Spirit Lake to the north was still full of floating trees that were blown away by the blast. And as if it were a mirage in a desert, a natural spring somehow appears with perfectly clean water bursting out of nearby rocks. At this spring lies Aid Station #3.

The blast zone, photo taken in 2013.

AID STATION #3 - Mile 20.25 - 3 hours 45 minutes Elapsed

Joe Kleffner (3rd place finisher in 2012), Bob Baker, and company were manning the aid station that literally takes hours to drive/hike to. There's no water in the world that tastes as good as the natural spring water that was bursting out of the ground, it's life giving shit. After some coke and a quick soak, off I ran...when all of a sudden I heard the sound of a helicopter.

Now, the RDs and the photographer were teasing the night before that a helicopter might show up to take photos of the racers, but I didn't think they were serious. Holy crap, I felt like I was running from the cops as they flew circles around me, with Paul hanging halfway out of the chopper with his 3' camera lens. It had to be one of the coolest race experiences I've ever had, getting chased by a chopper whilst running around an active volcano.

It's the cops!
Photo by Paul Nelson from the chopper.
Mile 21-ish. Photo by Paul Nelson from the chopper.
Terrain.
Photo by Paul Nelson from the chopper.
Running happy around Mile 21-ish. Photo by Paul Nelson from the chopper.
The climb up Windy Pass (the highest point in the course) has only a handful of switchbacks, and before long I was flying down the other side and through the flat Plains of Abraham. Soon, Aid Station #4 came into view at the Ape Canyon trail junction.

AID STATION #4 - MILE 24.3 - 4 hours 26 minutes Elapsed (9 minutes faster than my 2012 split) 

In 2012, it took me about 1 hour 30 minutes to get from this Aid Station to the finish on cramping legs. My legs were feeling great at the moment, so I felt like I had a decent shot at getting to the finish line significantly faster. With 8 crazy miles to go, I spent a good minute fueling up for the final push. There's no reason to hold back anything now.

Arriving at Aid Station #4.
Photo by Paul Nelson.
Photo by Paul Nelson.
As soon as I began running, my legs felt somewhat tired. There was some moderate climbing out of the aid station, and I couldn't push myself to run any of it. For the first time during the race, I freaked out. If I can't run hills, I'm screwed! Game over man! But after a short little downhill section, my legs began to recover on the downs enough to run most of the ups. My legs settled into a groove, and I was happy with how well I was moving in and out of the technical valleys and periodic forested trail. When I arrived at the final lava rock field, I kept looking at my watch. The rock field was a lot bigger than I remembered it being, and time was slipping away. Well, so much for breaking 5:45...can I still break 5:50?

Emerging from the field of lava rocks with 2.25 miles to go, I had 15 minutes to break 5:50. After some final frantic rock dodging and trail finding, I let loose a low 6-something pace on the rocky double-track trail. No matter what my legs were telling me, my mind was content to suffer with the goal in mind. It...was...the...longest...2....miles....ever...But at least it was downhill. When I finally saw the cars through the trees and heard the cowbells ringing, my watch said 5:49. Not knowing how many seconds I had left, I sprinted the final 100 meters and was beyond relieved to see the time clock with 23 seconds to spare!


RESULTS: 5:49:37 - 1st out of 192 Finishers
Pace: ~10:49 min/mile
New Course Record by 11 minutes and 42 seconds

Photos by Eric Lubell using Paul Nelson's camera.
Man hug from Moe Codino.
Photos by Eric Lubell using Paul Nelson's camera.
Proud, happy, and redeemed. My victory in 2012 never sat well with me, given that I took the lead because 3 of the front runners made a wrong turn. This time, I was able to raise the bar on my own terms with a time that I'm satisfied with. This record is by no means out of reach, and I expect someone to break it within the next couple years. But as soon as someone breaks it, I'll be back to try to reclaim it.

Kudos to the Race Directors. Go Beyond Racing did an amazing job organizing this race! This race is so incredibly unique, it has a lot of potential to become a true classic. Trevor, Renee, and Todd had to deal with challenging logistics for this race to be the success that is was, and I'm grateful for their tireless passion to allow people to run in such beautiful places. Check out the rest of their races, they're all great.

Volunteers. Thank you for spending your Labor Day as sherpas, transporting hundreds of pounds of water on your backs to the aid stations. Thank you for spending your Friday marking the course. Thank you for spending all day Saturday hiking food to each of the aid stations, and for making sure everyone stayed fueled, hydrated, and safe. Thank you for the cooking at the finish line, the food was phenomenal, and the Ketchup was the best I ever had (Red Duck Ketchup, check it out, it's delicious and made locally in Eugene). I've never known a 50k to demand so much from its volunteers, and this race definitely couldn't happen without you.

Paul Nelson Photography. Thank you Paul for your passion in capturing the moments that get us hella likes on Facebook. You've got a great eye, and you give us all something to take away from one of the hardest 50K races out there.

Paul Nelson, everyone.

TIPS

If this race will be your first time around Mt. St. Helens, here are some general tips:

  • Figure our how long you think your splits will be between aid stations, and multiply that time by 1.5. This course is technical and will slow you down more than you'd expect. The gaps between Aid #2 to Aid #3 and from Aid #4 to the Finish are especially long and slow.
  • If it's a hot day, there's a good chance you'll run out of water from Aid #2 to Aid #3 and from Aid #4 to the Finish. It's happened to me several times during training runs, and most the streams are too silty to drink without a filter. Be smart with your water.
  • You have a 62% chance of making at least 1 wrong turn, whether it be in the lava rock field, or some trail junction. The lay of the land makes it hard to distinguish between trail junctions, and they're easy to miss. So when the sun is beating down on you, you're low on water, and you're really tired, make sure you pay attention to the course markers AND the Loowit Trail signs. The front runners from the 2012 race had ran around Mt. St. Helens just weeks before the race, and they all made a wrong turn during the race that cost them at least 10-15 minutes. It happens to everybody.
  • Don't let this be your first ultra. Some people have done it, but it's not recommended.
  • Be kind to the volunteers, they put in days of work for you to run this race.
  • Start out conservative. This year's 3rd place finisher, Nick Kopp, told me before the race that he was going to just take it easy and take a bunch of pictures. Because he started out in 20th place and ran easy at the start of the race, he had enough energy late in the race to finish 3rd while feeling great. This year's 2nd place finisher, the legendary Will Emerson, ran a similarly smart race.
  • Wear sunscreen (and maybe some kind of hat), this race is incredibly exposed.
  • Enjoy the views! I've never run a more scenic race.

MY SUPPORT

This is a special shout out to those who have helped me to greatly improve my running throughout the year:

Trail Butter is a Portland based company, and it's been my pre-race food for the past 2 years. It's a slow-burning fuel comprised of a blend of almonds, peanuts, and hazelnuts (and other ingredients), and it's so freakin' delicious. I never go on a long run without it, especially since it's about 700-800 calories per pouch.


They have been incredibly supportive of my running this year. They both offer ultrarunning coaching, fitness classes, and adventure runs. They currently offer monthly memberships for endless bootcamp classes, speed sessions, yoga, and discounts at Fit Right NW, Udo's Oil, and apparel. Check it out the PACK membership if you're interested.


Floating has been a huge benefit to my training and recovery. I've been floating before and after my races for the past 2 years, and it's become something that my body frequently craves. It offers my body a chance to de-stress and relax both physically and mentally, and there are other lots of other benefits. Check out their website for more information.


Since 2012, this man has helped me through injuries including plantar fasciitis, IT band issues, morton's neuroma, and plenty others. His philosophy of treatment is based on long term healing and injury prevention practices that not only help me become more knowledgable about my injuries, but also help me understand how to prevent those injuries in the future. I trust this man with my life, and he's been a large reason why I've been able to stay injury free all year.



FINAL WORDS
Why does Taylor Swift announce her new album MONTHS before it's released? I've had it pre-ordered for weeks now, and I still have to wait 1.5 months. WTF.



Thanks everyone!

Much Love,

Jbob

Monday, June 23, 2014

Jbob's Western States Mantra

I've lost myself again. Anybody got a stud finder?


Western States Silver Buckles shimmering behind me
at the 2013 Western States award ceremony. Photo by THE Mike Davis.

THE WESTERN STATES 100

This race is undoubtedly the biggest race of my life (so far), and I'm going to give it hell. I'm aiming to finish before midnight (19 hours), which I believe I'm fully capable of, but anything can happen over the course of 100 miles.

If you want to follow along on my progress, the race starts on June 28th at 5am, and you can use the following resources for live updates:

I will appreciate any good vibes you're willing to send me on race day.


MY MANTRA

For years, my favorite Mantra has been "Love Hurts. This must be Love". It was written on my arms during my first 100 mile race in 2011, and it has since been ingrained in my attitude towards long distance running. However this year, a new mantra somehow took over and has helped me to finish strong in several of my races. This new mantra stems from one of my favorite soccer commercials from the 2010 world cup: "Write the Future".





It's a simple idea, and it's fueled all of my top 3 finishes this year (Orcas Island 50k, Capitol Peak 50m, Macdonald Forest 50k). It's both inspiration for the runner's low and encouragement for my legs to keep running hard, knowing that I still have the power to change the course of the future.

Alternatively, the chant "I believe that we will win!" will also be stuck in my head during the race:




SPECIAL THANKS


It's been a crazy journey, especially with studying for the Professional Engineer exam and looking for a new place to live, all the while spending my weekends running and racing. With everything finally settled down, I'm now able to focus solely on my run at Western States. I feel like I'm as prepared as I can be, and I'm grateful for those who have helped me along my road to Western States, including Trail Butter, the Float ShoppeAnimal Athletics, and Ultra U.

I especially want to thank my family for wanting to crew me, and Andrew Miller for his commitment to pace me.

And thank you to my friends who have only encouraged me as I struggled to maintain some kind of social life.

And thanks to all the Race Directors and Volunteers who have worked hard to maintain the Western States trail, especially after the American Fire roughed up a good portion of it last August. I can't wait for race day.


FINAL THOUGHTS

I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win! 

It's so damn catchy...




Much Love,

Jbob

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Hagg Lake Double (50K and 25K) - February 15th & 16th 2014 - Forest Grove, OR

Running the Hagg Lake Double in 2014 was one of the most painful running experiences of my life.

Photo by Paul Nelson.

SATURDAY - THE HAGG LAKE 50K

Snowmageddon in PDX!
Rollin' to the start in my PT Cruiser, the rain was falling steadily. The "snowmageddon" that devastated Portland the weekend prior, compiled with about 1 inch of forecasted rainfall between Friday night and Saturday night, prompted general expectations of muddy trails. But by the end of the race on Saturday, most people were calling this THE MUDDIEST year in the race's 12 year existence.

My body was feeling pretty good at the start, and my confidence was high. In 2013, I somehow pulled the 3rd fastest 50K time out of my ass (on a dry course), and that prior success was giving me all kinds of swagger. My goal for the day was for a top 3 finish, and my plan was run the race like I had nothing to lose.

THE COURSE

Okay, so this is my 4th blog about this race. Instead of diving into the intimate details of the course, I will say that it starts with a short 1.5 mile out-n-back on a gravel road before going around the lake twice for the 50k (once for the 25k).

For those that lack imagination, check out this 4 minute video of the course that some handsome guy made with his GoBro.

COURSE VIDEO


3.....2.....1....ka-CHOW!

I took off like a cocky lightening McQueen. Taking advantage of the dry road, I pushed the pace to a barely uncomfortable uphill effort. Jacob Puzey FLEW by me on the downhill last year, so I wanted to get a little head start on him. Shortly after reaching the turnaround first (King of the Mountain?), I hauled downhill. Soon enough, Jacob Puzey flew past me, followed by Gordo Freeman. Then to my delight, they "allowed" me to catch up to them. By the time we reached the start/finish and entered the Hagg Lake trail, there were about 6 of us running together in a party train. Nobody was trying to win the damn race at this point, and it turned into an enjoyable group run.

Photo by Paul Nelson.
The mud was sloppy, but navigable. Some portions of the trail were turning into definitive bodies of water, and the uphills were like running on banana peels. The party train didn't break apart until the Dam road (mile 7). My flat road running pales in comparison to Zach and Jacob, but I ran OH so hard to keep up with them on the pavement. As we jumped back onto the slick trail, it was just the 3 of us running together.

At the first aid station, Zach Gingerich actually drank water. That was the first time I've ever seen Zach drink anything during an ultra, and both Jacob and I were in disbelief. Given that Zach was the 2010 Badwater champion, I can't imagine how low his thirst threshold is when running in 45 degree rain.

The three of us chatted for the next several miles and enjoyed each other's company, and I ended up in the lead by way of courtesy. Eventually, I had to bail off into the blackberry bushes to drop it like it's hot. In the amount of time it took me to pull my pants down, I went from 1st to 5th place. Holy shit! I had no idea that Neil Olson and Monkey Boy were so close behind us, but I probably should have expected it. Nonetheless, I fell behind by about 1 minute and instantly felt lonely. The next several miles were spent trying to rejoin the party, which may have exacerbated issues that would eventually lead to my demise.


Photo by Paul Nelson.
The rain was absolutely ceaseless, and the trails collected much of the runoff as it flowed towards the lake. The mud was getting thicker, my shirtless body was getting colder, and my frustrations were beginning to bruise my feet. It was so hard to grip anything, I started pounding my feet into the mucky muck, desperately searching for traction. My hip flexors were also getting sore from trudging with mud covered boots and dragging my feet through ankle deep mud/water. The course was tearing me apart. As the first lap ended, I gave up pursuing the front runners and decided to coast the rest of the race. After putting on a shirt (sorry ladies), I began lap 2 with a 'survival' mentality.

The mud was much worse on the 2nd lap due to both the rain and the 300 pairs of footprints that morphed the trail into something real muddy and ugly....mugly. Runners were passing me here and there, but I didn't care anymore. I just wanted to finish the race with enough of legs for a 25k the next day, and ideally without serious injury. My mind started visualizing the growler in my hands in all it's glory (the prize for completing both the 50K & 25K), because there was very little else that could possibly prompt a positive attitude...growler...growler...growler.....1984 Kevin Bacon...growler...

Photo by Paul Nelson.
At last, the finish line cometh, ending a suffer fest that left my hip flexors pulled and my feet bruised. Jumping in Hagg Lake certainly helped, but the damage was done.


RESULTS: 4:18:33, 7th out of 210 Finishers
PACE: ~8:19 min/mile

Shivering from the Hagg Lake soak, Dana shuttled me to my car (thanks Dana!), and I helped myself to some brief nudity, dry clothes, and my car's heat vent. The rest of the day was spent eating grilled cheese, drinking hot chocolate, and cheering in my friends as they finished. The rain may damper my spirits, but it will never douse my Love for this stupid race and the community that it gathers.


RECOVERY - SATURDAY NIGHT

Recovery consisted of pizza, skinny jeans, and watching Footloose (1984) with some good friends. Best night ever.


SUNDAY - THE HAGG LAKE 25K

Holy mother of OW! Waking up, my feet were so sensitive to any pressure on my forefoot(s). But this was my 3rd time doing the Hagg Lake Double (50K + 25K), and every year there was always something that made running the 25k seem impossible. So I sucked it up, put on some dry shoes, and journeyed back out to Hagg Lake...with by GoBro.

Every GoPro needs a GoBro. Photo by Paul Nelson.
My description of running the 25K could be summed up in one sentence:

ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..mierda..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..shit..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..balls..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..Taylor Swift..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..ow..

I seriously thought I may have had a Jone's Fracture in my right foot, mainly from running off trail on the cambered grass surface. It was bad. Twice I seriously debated dropping out, but I somehow found enough reasons to finish the 25k. One of those reasons was to complete my GoBro video of the course. Being one of the muddiest Hagg Lake years to date, I felt compelled to document the race not only for myself, but for everyone else to send to their "spartan race" friends and show them what a real mud course looks like.

Also, running with Megan was another reason why I was able to finish the race. Given that she was running with a fractured pinky toe, we became suffer partners and helped each other stay positive by singing Timbers chants, songs from Grease, and various pop songs. Megan, thank you.

RESULTS: 2:59:46, 125th out of 280 Finishers
PACE: 11:34 min/mile

Me and Megan! Photo by Paul Nelson (Dana Katz).

Growler time. Photo by Paul Nelson (Dana Katz).

Me, having a moment. Photo by Ann Peterson.


THANK YOU

Thank you Trail Butter, I'm honored to be a part of the Team this year! I Love this stuff.

Photo by Paul Nelson.



Thank you Float Shoppe for the peace of mind, and for the recovery.




Thank you Sean Meissner for being out of town.




Thank you Paul Nelson, and everyone else who was out there taking photos!!!


And last but not least, thank you Race Directors and Volunteers for enduring the cold weather to help hundreds of masochists finish the muddiest race of their lives. You all were amazing.


FINAL WORDS

I'll definitely be there for the Hagg Lake Double next year.


Much Love,

Jbob

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Jbob's Orcas Island 50k Race Report - February 1 - 2014

I want to know what Love is...I want you to show me!

Sunset on Orcas Island.
THE MINDSET
Orcas Island would be my first race in over 6 months. The physical impacts of running the Bighorn 100 were aggravated while running the Mt. Hood 50 mile race in July last year, and I opted to give myself a long recovery period through the winter. After all, taking a break from crazy ultra running for at least a couple months allows the body a chance to be happy instead of being pissed off all the time.

Building up training for the Orcas Island 50k was not a smooth road.  In the month of January, there were 4 "injuries" that could have mentally prevented me from running this race.
  1. A seemingly chronic ache located where my right achilles meets the lower part of my calf, which has been coming and going for the past 3 months.
  2. A likely case of Morton's Neuroma that started causing bruise-like pain on the bottom of my left middle toe, forcing me to run in Hokas through half the month until it went away. The use of toe spacers, golf ball massaging, and icing seemed to help the healing process.
  3. A rolled ankle (or minor sprain) 1 week prior to the race that didn't pop, yet caused minor swelling and stiffness in my left foot.
  4. Sore hip flexors from falling hard after rolling my ankle (see injury 3). My hip flexors likely suffered from the impact and strain of landing on my knees while cruising downhill. They were plenty sore throughout the week, but started to feel better just a few days prior to the race.
Thankfully, none of these issues affected my race, however, I never felt 100% confident that I would run the race without dropping out.

THE COURSE





RACE DAY MORNING

Many runners opted for the early start at 7:30am, including most of my Portland friends. The course was slow and tough, and everyone wanted to make sure they had plenty of time to finish. Also, anyone who starts early gets to see how the race unfolds when the 8:30am front-runners come passing by. I was excited to be able to see my early-start friends during the race, and it gave me something to look forward to.

3...2...1...SHAMU!


Adam Hewey's mustache, leading the way. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.
The race started on a gradual downhill, and Adam Hewey's mustache assertively jumped into the lead before the road turned to rolling single track. The trail ran through gorgeous foliage and streams of probably delicious island runoff, and slowly but surely I found myself in a comfortable position (top 10-ish). Andrew Miller and I started to run together just before the first climb up the Mt. Constitution road (asphalt). Not before too long, Andrew kicked into a pace that put me out of my comfort zone. I stayed with him, and together we kept within site distance of the most of the runners in front of us (Jonathan, Hal, Jodee, Hayden). By the time the climb ended, my legs felt worked.


Andrew (eventual winner),
Jonathan (red), and Me (blue shorts).
Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.
Beginning the first long descent, Andrew pulled away like a fearless teenager and just flew down the technical terrain. I mean, that kid was footloose. Andrew and I stayed close until we hit Aid Station 1 (mile 6.4), and then he bolted out of sight while I filled one of my water bottles. That would be the last I saw of him during the race. As a matter of fact, I didn't see a single front runner between the miles of 6.4 and 21, which allowed me to focus on running my own race.

The trail along Mountain Lake and Twin Lakes was rolling, beautiful, and serene. My legs recovered well along this stretch, and before too long, I was running happy! My legs felt strong on the hills, and I enjoyed interacting with the early starters. One of the early start runners in particular was having issues going down a set of stairs, and then I realized that he was running with a prosthetic leg. Turns out his name is Edward, and he originally attempted the 25k race held the previous weekend, but his prosthetic broke after only 2 miles. After that happened, he resolved to run the 50k the following weekend with a new prosthetic, and you can read his blog here. Inspiring guy!

The climb up to Mt. Pickett was gradual and runnable. The open areas of the forest had a fresh dusting of snow from the previous week that gave a sparking white contrast to the lush green ferns and moss covered trees. It was so pretty, it made ME feel pretty just being there! The next uphill climb involved a series of switchbacks that were steep enough to hike, followed by a quick downhill to Aid Station 2 (mile 14.2). I left the aid station with a mouthful of grapes and peanut m&ms for me to nom nom on the downhill. The trails mostly rolled downhill towards Aid Station 3 (mile 20.6), and this aid station was the gateway to the Powerline Trail. Knowing what was ahead of me, I ingested calories and salt prior to leaving the aid station. As I left the aid station Andrew's father told me to go catch his son. Really? I asked. Go get him! He replied. Okay! Said my mouth.


The Power Line Trail
during a past race.
Photo from the website.
The Power line trail is what some people would call a female dog. It climbs ~2,000' in ~2 miles, and it's steep enough in places to get on all fours if you really wanted to.  When I reached the Power Line Trail, I finally saw a couple of the front runners hiking laboriously up the trail. After shoving another GU in my gut, I hiked steadily with hands on knees, slowly closing the gap. Hayden Teachout (just ahead of me) dropped his water bottle, but he quickly caught it with his foot, otherwise it would have tumbled all...the way...to the bottom. Close call for him. He looked like he was struggling, but I felt awesome despite my quivering calves. Every now and then, the trail would turn gradually runnable, and I pushed myself to run every runnable stretch that I could. Hal was hiking in the distance, but I couldn't quite close the gap. He just stayed 100 yards ahead as we both hiked and ran at the same pace.

At last! The climb gave way to a ~2 mile descent, and my legs shifted gears. Running steady, I slowly caught and passed Hal. As always, he had a big smile on his face and offered words of encouragement as I ran by. The trail soon turned into a steep (but not too steep) climb, the last significant climb to the top of Mt. Constitution. I tried running, but hiking was a wiser choice at this point. Some switchbacks were runnable, but it was mostly a hike-fest. After about 1.5 miles of ascent, the trail dumped into the aid station on the top of Mt. Constitution (mile 25.8). The views were PHENOMENAL! I knew a couple of the volunteers at the aid station, but I didn't recognize them since my mind was too focused on what my body needed. Quickly downing coke, salt, and calories, someone told me I was 3rd male and 4th overall with Jodi just minutes in front of me. The last 6 miles of the race were mostly downhill, and my feet were ready to set sail. After thanking the volunteers, I flew down the trail with the hopes of a top 3 finish. Get on your horse, Jbob!



Near the top of Mt. Constitution. Photo by the stellar Glenn Tachiyama.
Shortly after running past Glenn Tachiyama (photographer), my right hamstring quivered. Gah! No no no no no, not now! The transition from the uphill push up Mt. Constitution to the downhill push for the finish line was not a smooth one. Fearing a total cramp of my hamstring, I stopped to stretch it for 10 seconds before restarting into my downhill gear. Now, my mind was filled with the fear of an impending cramping. My mantra at the time:...don't cramp, don't cramp, don't cramp, don't cramp... 

A pack of mountain bikers appeared on the trail before me, and it took my mind off things for a bit while trying to keep up with them. The last rider kept looking back at me to see if I was gaining on them, and they stopped at the next intersection and let me pass. Score 1 for the runner.


Within a mile of the finish, I saw her. Jodee was still going strong, and she was hiking the last hill on tired legs. My legs were tired too, but I was slowly closing the gap. I had no idea that I was within a mile of the finish line at this point, so I kept my pace strong/conservative considering my legs were borderline quivering. When we hit the homestretch, I knew there was no way I was going to catch her. She'll always be the one that got away...and I'm okay with that, because she's outside of my age group/gender and she earned it.



RESULTS: 4:46:59, 3rd male (4th overall) out of 200 Finishers
PACE: ~9:10 min/mile

After hugging the Race Director, James Varner, my right hamstring seized and I was on the ground in pain...smiling and laughing. There wasn't a single moment during the race where I wished I was done, and that says a lot about how much I enjoyed the course. My mood was blissful as I was lying on the grass laughing, full of joy and gratitude that my body held itself to the very end.



Mad Props: Andrew Miller, 17 years old, won the race with the 3rd fastest time ever! He's a humble kid and super kind hearted. I'm excited to see how well he runs at Zane Grey 50m this year.


Beer'd.
Photo Credit: Gary Wang.
After showering at the nearby bunkhouse, I cheered on my friends and enjoyed great food/beer as the after race celebration was slowly getting started. Most of the runners stuck around for a while, and the party went well into the night with a live bluegrass band The Pine Hearts playing their hearts out. Eventually, the evening turned dark, the lights went down, and people started dancing. I was amazed at how limber some of these runners were, considering they just ran a tough 50K. One guy was jigging so aggressively, I prayed for his legs.


Samantha, Ann, T.J., Kevin, and Jesse! Photo Credi: T.J. Ford's Camera
T.J., Samantha, and me. Photo Credit: T.J. Ford's camera
The Pine Hearts! Photo Credit: T.J. Ford.
Not every race ends in a party that goes until 2 am, and certainly not every race celebrates community & achievement quite like a Rainshadow race. I would return and run the Orcas Island 50K again in a heartbeat, and YOU should definitely consider running the 25K or 50K someday.

Thank you James Varner, the volunteers, Glenn Tachiyama, Project Talaria, and everyone else who helped make this race happen.


Also, a special thanks to those who've helped me in my journey, especially: The Float Shoppe (Recovery), Trailbutter (Sustenance), and Dr. Brad Farra (Sports Chiropractor).


Shout out to my bunk mates who helped make my weekend so special: T.J., Ann, Annie, Samantha, Jesse, and Kevin. Love you guys!


Trailbutter on Orcas Island

The improved "Tribute to the Trails Calendar" at my work
Thanks for reading!

Much Love,

Jbob