Sunday, February 7, 2010

Orcas Island and Life in General

After quite the hiatus, Caroline and I returned to the trails this weekend for the Orcas Island 50K. The last ultra we actually raced together was Lost Lake 50K way back in June. As we tell Lost Lake race director Alvin, we are still haunted by that run. (In a nice way. Anyone who wants a challenge should sign up for that race this year!) We were coming off a streak of four ultras in two months (mainly because I was newly unemployed and actually had the time and energy), and we were tired and burned out before we even started the race. Add to that the course (tougher than any 50K I've done), and we were exhausted by race end.
I hung up the ultra hat and spent the rest of the summer rowing, while Caroline managed to complete her first 100 mile race, Cascade Crest. (And I'm still impressed by that feat!) I paced her for the last half of it. We reunited for a super casual Poker Run in Sisters in October, during which we took photos and breaks whenever we felt like it. I returned to the road to run the Seattle Marathon. And then we both went into a two month winter hibernation.

Poker Run: Good times in Sisters, Oregon

The year before, we'd taken the winter off and suffered through the mountain climbs of Orcas in early February. Next year, we vowed, we'd do regular long runs in the winter. Apparently we aren't the best at sticking to our ultra vows. We've put running on the back burner.
For both of us, the last two months have been unusually stressful and hectic on the career front. Caroline is an architect at Mithun, and she currently is managing a project in the San Francisco Bay Area. The job means she's been on an airplane every week. On the weekends, she tries to spend time with her boyfriend, Eric, and his three small children.
I've been embracing a number of writing projects in the last few months. After agonizing over the decision, I turned down a solid, full time job offer in early January. The move was risky, as I'm not sure whether any of the projects I'm working on will pan out. I'm putting together a book proposal, working on the early stages of a documentary film project, and applying for a Gates grant to work on a journalism project about family homelessness. It's quite possible that none will result in a paycheck. But I'm so happy to finally be working on writing projects that I care about, I decided to gamble. My father recently sent me a stat from the New Yorker that says you have to earn 2.5 times as much working for someone to achieve the same satisfaction as you do working for yourself. While it didn't say how they came about calculating that figure, I have no doubt that it's true in my case. I've never liked having someone telling me what to do, and there is not a single thing I miss about a boss or an office. Well, except for coffee breaks with my coworkers.
Aside from working on long term, more ambitious projects, I've also been finishing a contract project for a board game company. The gig, which is nearing completion, involves writing thousands of questions for a MGM movie trivia game and a Saturday Night Live game. It's been great work, but amazingly time consuming. It's made a definite dent in my weekend trail running time.
So Caroline and I signed up for Orcas with full awareness that we should have done a few more long runs over the past few months, yet confidence that we could slog our way through the course regardless. It's tough to say no to Orcas. The San Juan Islands are one of the most beautiful places on the planet. My parents live up there, guaranteeing a great pre-race meal and beds to sleep on. The Orcas race director, James, inevitably designs creative, steep, and interesting courses. Most of our friends in the ultra community were running it, and we always look forward to catching up with them. Prepared or not, we couldn't bail.
On the short drive to Camp Moran on Saturday morning, we decided that we'd try the early start for once. Most ultras offer the option, but as middle of the pack runners, we'd never taken it. But we figured the day would be more relaxing that way, and since we were already there, why not?
We were actually 15 minutes late to the early start, meaning we took off completely by ourselves. We ran solo for almost the entire day. We loved it. Neither Caroline nor I have ever enjoyed running in a huge pack of people, particularly on a narrow trail where someone is always passing or being passed. A group of two or three runners together is just about perfect. We ran through moss covered enchanted forests, climbed up Mt Constitution, and took in spectacular views of the islands and water. We enjoyed spring-like conditions, with sunny skies and temperatures nearing 60. Amazing for early February.

Caroline and I on Mt. Constitution. Photo thanks to Glenn Tachiyama, who shivered up there to get great runner pics!

The race unfolded with just two small hiccups. About halfway through, we came to an intersection with no marker in the forest. A very fast guy was passing us, and he seemed confident that we should go to the right. So we followed and ran along the lake to a self-service water stop just before the Mt. Constitution climb. At the finish, we learned that we were actually supposed to go left (the longer way around the lake), meaning we cut off about a mile or so from the entire run. Oops! Oh well. I felt I still got more miles than my body really needed, though our 6:24 finish time should probably be a little longer! We can look forward to that extra mile next year.
The second hitch came right after the aid station atop the mountain, with about one-quarter of the race left to go. My glute muscle seized up. I'm guessing the cold air up top had something to do with it. For the first time ever in an ultra, I considered dropping, because the pain was so intense and I worried about damaging it. For about 30 minutes of slow downhill running, alternating with walking, I was in total pain. I told Caroline to feel free to ditch me and run ahead, and she said, "Are you kidding? After what you saw me like in Cascade Crest? There's no way I'm leaving you." What a friend, right?
As we dropped in elevation, the temperature warmed quickly, and my glute stopped cramping. We ran the rest of the race easily and crossed the finish line together. The entire day was one of the most fun and enjoyable ultras we've ever done together. I am eternally grateful for having met such a compatible, quality running partner and friend.
One of our many conversations in the woods that day was our plans for this year. We decided we want to climb Mt. Rainier, do the Transrockies stage race as a team, and run a 100K. Caroline is also doing her first Ironman with her boyfriend in June, but I'm going to pass on that one. My other hobby, rowing, does not really leave a lot of time for two more sports!
At the Orcas after-party, our friend Matt Hart suggested we try Where's Waldo in Oregon as our first 100K. That sounded like the perfect plan (it's late summer, after Caroline's Ironman, which gives us plenty of time to ramp up the miles) until I received an email from the Miwok 100K race director this afternoon. She said that since I'm second on the wait list, and they'll likely take 10, I'm pretty much a sure thing for entry. In early May. Yikes! Sunday long runs, anyone??