I can’t believe I’m just now getting to this. I’ve been trying to find the time to sit down and write about this amazing, epic adventure of a race for a few weeks now but it seems like every I try, life just gets in the way. And let’s be honest, rehashing a 100 mile race like this can’t be done at half speed. A race like this deserves the time and attention it took to actually complete it in the first place. And not documenting it just feels wrong. Like it just came and went and was never thought of again. But the truth is, I think about it all the time.
Since this race recap is so long, I’ll give you the results up front so you don’t have to keep reading if you don’t want to. Spoiler alert, I finished. And my official finish time was 29:48:14. Back to the recap…
Every time I think I can’t do something, I bring myself back to the last power line climb and laugh to myself and say, yep, I can do that and nearly every day since, I’ve felt this weird sense of lightness, gratitude and well, pride. I’m fucking proud of myself. I’ve never been so fucking proud of myself.
So just a few days ago, while sitting on a plane (at 5:45 in the morning) headed to Amarillo, Texas to be with my grandma while she’s in the hospital, I finally started writing this big ass Orcas Island 100 race recap. And I think in some ways it has to be done this way. This race report needed to be inspired not just by the race itself but the very person who inspires me to be strong and keep going even when I don’t think I can. And it had to be done over the course of a few days. Like I said, it deserves that same time and attention.
Leading up to the race, I really didn’t talk about the race or even share with people that I was doing it. I was a little silent about it, actually. And given my usual tendency for social media oversharing, that might seem odd.
But I had my reasons. For starters, I’ve had my fair share of 100 mile disappointments; each one leaving me with major self doubt. And I didn’t feel like talking to other people about it – and hearing the doubt in their voices (even if it that part was just in my head). I was also really afraid of this race. The self doubt coupled with my fear of a super challenging course, of failing and of being totally alone during the night portion of the course was almost crippling at times. So instead of talking about it, I just stopped thinking about it.
And then all of a sudden, it was the middle of February. My family had just been visiting for a long weekend. We had been busy. And I hadn’t really thought about the race at all. They left on a Monday and we were leaving for Orcas Island that Thursday. By Tuesday, shit got really real. I started to back off a little with all the yoga. I ran a few miles. I skipped the squats at bootcamp. I liberally ate bread. And cheese. And everything else in sight.
I spent most of my Wednesday afternoon packing drop bags and worrying about the weather on the island. I packed, repacked and agonized over my drop bags even though I almost NEVER use them.
But I wanted to be prepared for anything and everything. I didn’t want weather or my stomach to take me out of yet another race. I wanted to finish. I had set my mind on finishing. And if a drop bag was going to be the difference, I was determined to have the perfect drop bags. Extra socks, extra warm layers, hand warmers, food, extra gloves, rain jackets and basically all the things…
We took off for the island early Thursday morning. It was still dark out when we left and Casey encouraged me to sleep (he’s truly the best) so that I could get as much sleep as possible before the many hours of no sleep. I slept a little on the drive, on and off, but mostly off on the way to the ferry and tried to keep my mind off the race.
I didn’t want to think about the weather or the course or my training but it was haunting my thoughts (was it going to rain, snow, hail…or be super windy? Would I have enough gear to stay warm? Was I physically fit enough?). Once on the ferry, I tried to ignore the pit in my stomach and enjoy the beautiful, albeit windy ride with my family.
Once we made it to Orcas Island, we decided to grab some food at the Brown Bear Bakery (best decision EVER) and then headed up to do a little hiking.
My legs were aching for some movement after all of the car time and I wanted to be good and loose and maybe even a little familiar with the course before race day. We headed up to Mt. Constitution, took in the views and then hiked a little ways down the trail. We saw some ribbons – course markings – and I thought to myself, I can do this. I can totally do this. We still had a few hours to kill and made our way to Cascade Lakes which would be one of the aid stations along the course and it started to make me feel a little more at ease.
Just before 4 pm on Thursday, we headed off to the race pre-briefing and check in. Camp Moran was already teeming with runners – looking all fit and runner like – and I had to breathe a little deeper as I am always a nervous, anxious wreck at race check-ins. I know it sounds stupid but they always make me feel anxious. Being around other anxious runners makes me feel anxious and sometimes even inadequate. I always imagine them judging me or wondering why I’m there. Silly, I know…but true. I was relieved when I finally found my friend Evan, his girlfriend and their families. Evan was the one who had inspired me to run this race in the first place; after pacing him at Big Horn 100, I felt so motivated and knew I wanted to give this whole 100 mile thing another go . He had also been encouraging me for the past several months to stop doubting myself. Every time I said I’d be happy with finishing half of the race, he’d tell me not to say that and to commit to finishing all of it.
After grabbing my snazzy thrift store race t-shirt and sitting through a long (but useful) race briefing, we made our way to get some last minute groceries and then to our Airbnb to retire for the rest of the night. We ate pizza, watched DVDs and prepared for an early bed time.
Friday morning, I was up before my alarm. The race start wasn’t until 8 am so I had plenty of time to get ready and out the door. I wanted to be there around 7 as I have major anxiety about being late after starting Pine to Palm after the gun went off. Once we were all checked in, I found Evan and his crew and tried not to think too much about the race.
At about 10 till 8, Evan and I made our way to the start line together – and then separated a bit – I knew I would be hanging out much farther back once the gun went off. And while standing there in the sea of runners, I thought to myself holy fucking shit, this is happening. And we were off.
The first 3.5 miles of the first 25 mile loop was a steep climb up the road, basically the same road we had driven up to the top of Mt. Constitution the day before. I decided to run the majority of the first hill, only stopping to walk a few steps every 15 minutes or so to take in sips of water and bites of peanut butter rice balls. While running uphill this early in a 100 mile race might not seem like the best decision, I knew it was the right one for me.
I wanted to finish loop one quickly so I could get as much of loop two finished before it was dark because I’m such an anxious night runner. When it gets dark, I feel like my vision just plain fails me, or my headlamp fails or worse yet, my eyes start to play their mean, tired tricks. Is that a….tiger? A bloody gingerbread man? No, no it’s just a bush. And its really not just the fact that its dark (and kind of creepy at times); its also the fact that the light bouncing off my headlamp sometimes makes me feel a little nauseous.
Anyway, I finished the 3.5 mile climb pretty quickly and then found myself on a steep, somewhat harrowing descent for another mile and a half or so. Rocks, roots, mud, slippery things were all around us as we twisted and turned down into the the first aid station at Mountain Lake. Despite the somewhat risky decision to go balls to the wall and run down that first hill, I was feeling pretty good and skated right on through without taking anything from the aid station. I ran the whole way around the lake until we got to the first part of our climb up to Mt. Pickett (which I kept calling Pittock – thanks to living in Portland).
At the time, the climb seemed manageable and fun. Even runnable. I remember running parts of it and stopping to walk a few times to eat and drink (I was doing a combination of peanut butter rice balls and Tailwind for the first loop). Once we made it to the top of Mt. Pickett, it was a pretty rolling, single-track trail into Cascade Lake.
At Cascade Lake, I remember asking one of the volunteers if the big climb was up ahead of us but the truth was, I already knew the answer. I guess I just wasn’t really sure what to expect from a big climb in a course that boasts over 26,000 feet of gain. I ate a peanut butter and jelly at the aid and grabbed a handful of gummy bears to go and made my way to Mt. Constitution.
After some runnable miles out of the aid station, I hit the climb. I could see how challenging it was going to be just looking up at the power lines. But I really had no idea just how challenging. It was steep – practically vertical – and unforgiving. I remembered what they said at the pre race briefing, “just believe that it will never end, and then you’ll be happy when it does.” I tried not to think about the top (even with all of the false summits) or really anything else but moving forward. And I kept pressing on. One foot in front of the other for what seemed like an eternity.
Eventually I came to a turn and was greeted by a steep, rocky descent on single-track and switchbacks. There were a few times that I imagined myself hitting a root and flying over the edge. But the flying part felt good after all the hurt on the climb. And just when I thought I was safe, I was climbing again. Only this time, up 30+ LONG switchbacks to the top of Mt. Constitution.
I was counting steps (1,2,3,4….10…..20…100…and no, I’m not kidding), singing to myself and doing everything I could to keep my mind off what my legs were actually doing. And when I finally reached the top, I celebrated with a little dance at the aid station. As I came in, volunteers started telling me I was the third woman to come through. But the truth is, I didn’t even want to think about placing, I just wanted to stay focused and think about finishing. And I knew this loop would be significantly faster than my next three – meaning plenty of time for some faster women to catch me. After a few pb&j’s and more gummy bears, the aid station volunteers convinced me to climb to the top of the tower – you know, for extra credit – at that time, it seemed like a good idea and I went ahead and did it.
By that point, I was feeling great and the next 5 or so miles back to Camp Moran went by in a blur. I was flying on the downhills, running steadily on the uphills and came in to see Casey and Abbie waiting for me with one down and three to go. I downed some SOS Rehydrate, ate a few snickerdoodles and replenished my rice ball supply and did my first wet shirt change (of which there would be many). First loop finish time was 5:39 (wayyy faster than I had anticipated finishing that loop).
I was in such good spirits heading off for loop two that I was practically skipping up the 3.5 mile road climb, or at least it felt like skipping. In reality I was walking and eating. Casey passed me in the car which was a nice energy boost and I was all smiles and waving at him and Abbie as they continued to drive up the hill. My pace had slowed a little – and I figured I’d finish the second loop a good 45 minutes to an hour slower than the first – meaning I would still be making good enough time to have a super slow third and fourth loop.
The second loop was when I started to notice just how difficult the course was. The Mt. Pickett climb was no longer feeling easy and runnable. It seemed a lot longer than I remembered from the first loop and so much more challenging. Needless to say, there was a LOT more walking. I did my best to run all of the flats and downhills between Pickett and the big climb but my pace was slowing down considerably.
And once I was going up the power line climb for the second time, it was dark and windy and I noticed how much my legs, lungs and butt were burning. Just like Pickett, it was seeming much longer and less doable than the first go. I started to think about the fact that I still had to do it two more times and was starting to question whether I would be able to. I made my way up to the top of the tower (extra credit as they told me) for the second time and tried to shake the negative thoughts and just focus on getting myself to mile 50.
I made it to mile 50 around 9 pm – meaning loop two had taken me about an hour more than the first loop. I felt pretty good about the time I was making and decided to take a little more time at the aid station to get good and prepared for the long night ahead of me. I did my third dry shirt and sports bra change, added a few more layers, and grabbed my second handheld light (my Nathan Zephyr Fire 300) out of my pack because my headlamp really wasn’t giving me enough light in the dense fog. I drank some broth, grabbed a big handful of gummy bears and stashed some cookies (and an extra flashlight) in my pack before getting my butt back out on the course.
It was dark, damp and windy while I made my way up the 3.5 mile road climb for the third time. I’m not sure if it was the dark or just the fact that my legs were burning but the climb was killing me. I ate all of the gummy bears I was holding on to in the first few minutes of the climb and then moved on to the cookies – I could tell my body was needing more and more fuel and I was determined to keep the calories coming. I didn’t want to have my lack of nutrition be the thing that took me out of the race again.
Casey and Abbie drove past me on the climb and gave me a much needed boost. It was weird to hear the waterfall that I had seen on the climb two times before sloshing about somewhere nearby. It was almost startling. I remember shining my lights in the direction I thought it might be coming from but the fog was way too thick for me to make anything out. And then I came up to a clearing in the trees – a view point – and knew I was nearing the top of the climb. I took another bite of cookie and powered up the road.
I got to the turn (and finally back on the trails) and knew I had a steep, technical descent in front of me. I was having a really hard time with the visibility. My headlamp was basically doing nothing for me through the thick fog and my handheld, while very bright, just didn’t seem like enough given how challenging the footing was. I made my way down slowly and cautiously. Practically in tears. Because honestly, I was pretty scared I was going to fall over the edge or face first into the rocks. I struggled all the way down to Mountain Lake (the first aid station on the loop) and started feeling a little panicky about what was up ahead.
Going from Mountain Lake to Cascade Lake for the third time was essentially a blur. A slow, long, dark and foggy blur. I spent most of the time trying to figure out where to step or messing with my lights all the while dreading the big climb and thinking about the weather. I remember climbing to the top of Mt. Pickett – searching in the dark for that elevation sign which I never did find – and thinking to myself, the next time I’m up here, I’ll say goodbye and f*$% you, Mt. Pickett.
Once at Cascade Lake, the wind had picked up and I noticed a big drop in temperature. I picked up some new hand warmers out of my drop bag and spent some time at the aid station drinking hot broth to keep my core temperature up as much as possible. I also scarfed down a few more pb&j’s and stashed another supply of gummy bears and cookies in the front of my pack so I could make it up the big climb.
The third power line climb was the second hardest part of the race (the fourth power climb officially being the hardest thing I’ve ever done). It was dark. It had started to rain. And I was all alone. My mind was starting to play tricks on me. Everything was becoming something it wasn’t. And I kept shaking my head as if I could shake away the bushes becoming creatures.
When I finally got to the top, I was a zombie. The volunteers at the top of Mt. Constitution were dancing and laughing – doing everything they could to stay warm and keep everyone in good spirits so late in the night and so late in the race. They were just what I needed at that time. I spent a little time there – huddled in the tent – enjoying some food and some much needed smiles. I can remember seeing Diana, one of the volunteers dancing around with a huge smile on her face and it instantly made me feel like I could keep going. It wasn’t quite enough for tower climb #3…because I didn’t do it….but it was just what I needed to get up and keep moving.
I said goodbye and made my towards mile 75. The 5 mile descent from Constitution to Camp Moran (70-75) was no picnic in the dark. I wanted to fly down the same way I had the first few times but my legs weren’t doing much. And my lights were getting even more dim. I was really struggling to keep my mind right as I made my way down. I tried to eat a little more. I tried to sing. I tried to think of anything but what I was doing. But for whatever reason, I couldn’t shake my demons. They were there – staring me in the face – challenging my strength. The last mile or so into Camp Moran, I hit my first real bonk. It had started raining a lot harder and it was pretty cold.
And to make matters worse, I was having major deja vu of Antelope Canyon. First, Evan passed me (meaning yes, he lapped me on yet another 100 mile course) and then the rain had started turning into snow. It was all too much. I kept thinking, crap, this is it. This is how I DNF’ed at Antelope Canyon… after all these miles of hard work…..how is this happening?!?!?! And the more I thought about it, the more I drifted into negative (and dangerous!) territory. And worse yet, I hadn’t eaten anything since the top of Mt. Constitution – which sure was only 5 miles apart – but it was cold, my body was tired and I needed to keep the fuel coming to stay in this race.
I came into mile 75 like a complete zombie. I stood out in the rain like a crazy person and when Jen and Evan’s mom came out to help me and offer me support, I stared right past them and only muttered that I was waiting for Casey. They tried to reason with me that I should wait for Casey inside and eventually had to go in and find him. He came out and got me to follow him inside. He brought me food and just put it in front of me and instructed me to eat. And I did. Next, he placed a beanie in my hands and I put it over my head like a petulant child (like there, I did something…). And then James (the race director) flashed a big smile my way and asked me if I was excited for my final loop. And in the crankiest way possible, I said sarcastically, oh yeah, I’m so super pumped about climbing that hill again. So pumped that I still have an entire loop to run…in the RAIN. And SNOW.
After reluctantly saying goodbye to Casey, I practically stomped off up the road. I started trudging up the 3.5 road climb and it started to hit me…this was the last time I was going to have to do this. I ate some of the gummy bears that Casey had strategically placed in the front pocket of my pack and despite the rain and cold, I started to turn my mind around. I tried to focus on the positive. The finish line. The fact that I wouldn’t have to climb up the road again. And the fact that, the sun was about to rise (it was just about 6 am).
Once I made it to the trail for the steep, rocky descent into Mountain Lake, the sun had started peeking through. It was enough to ditch a light but not quite enough to ditch all of the lights. It was a little easier than the previous loop given there was so much more light but I was still struggling.
Once I was at Mountain Lake for the final time, the sun was up. It was morning. The first light of day. My favorite part of the day (on a normal day, anyway). And I tried to use that to fuel my body with positive energy. I had made a decision early on that I would run around the lake on every loop. And I did. I ran around the lake, counting my footsteps and talking to myself the whole way around.
The fourth and final climb to Pickett was pretty slow. It seemed long. Hard. And strangely, I was kind of hot. The sun was up, the rain had stopped. And I was using every last ounce of energy to get to the top. And once I saw that elevation sign – I gave it a big old goodbye and f%^& YOU! And while that little gesture gave me a much needed boost, I have to be honest, the next several miles were nothing short of difficult.
I started to feel tired. Not just physically but also mentally. My eyes felt heavy. My mind felt a little fuzzy. And my legs felt like lead. But I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and concentrating on forward movement.
Pickett to Cascade seemed like an eternity. I kept thinking I was there and then would turn a corner and see nothing but endless trail in front of me. When I finally did make it to Cascade for the fourth and final time, my mind took a turn for the worse. I went from feeling strong enough to run some flats, to feeling like I could barely move. I’m not sure if it was really that my legs felt that tired or if a lot of it was due to the fact that I knew the big climb was coming.
Either way, I was in a bad place. So bad that when I started the final climb, I just started crying. Silently. To myself. Just tears streaming down my face. And I kept on crying almost the whole way up the power line climb. Until I saw Glenn Tachiyama (the race photographer). I could see him in the distance wearing a green jacket, sort of crouched down low like photographers do to get the shot. What exactly he was taking a picture of….well I wasn’t quite sure…and quite frankly, I didn’t care. All I cared about was that he was there. And I decided I didn’t want him to see me crying. I started to pick up my painfully slow pace and did my best to wipe the tears away. He was the first person I had seen since the aid station and I was so glad he was there.
I kept climbing, getting closer and closer. Excited to hear him say, great job. Excited to see him smile. But as I got closer to him, I started to realize it wasn’t Glenn. It wasn’t anybody. It was a log covered in green moss. I shook my head, trying to shake out the hallucinations and resumed the endless climb. I made it to the top of the power line climb and felt defeated and out of energy.
I ate more gummy bears but realized I needed more than that if I was going to make it up the final 30+ switchbacks. But I was just about to the downhill portion and decided I’d save the calories for the bottom of the switchback climb.
I hit the descent and tried to run as much of it as possible. And managed to do it, even with my legs burning the way they were. On gummy bears. Once I made it down the hill and got to the final climb, I ate a Honeystinger waffle, chugged some SOS and decided to start my count. 1, 2, 3….10….300…600…steps 1, 2, 3…..30….switchbacks. I shed a few more tears and just as I was about to let it full on rip (helllloooo, big cry coming), I saw a guy walking down towards me. And I was positive it was a real guy, not a hallucination. And he looked so happy. He saw me and yelled down, only like 2 more miles to go!
And I almost crumbled. I thought 2 more miles? What? How? No. I thought I was almost there. And just before the tears started, he said, no just kidding, more like 200 feet. Really funny. Hearing that was what I needed. I powered up the rest of the climb and when I saw the aid station, I almost cried happy tears.
I kind of wanted to sit down. I kind of wanted to stay and hang out at the aid station. But when I realized I was at mile 95, only 5.8 miles to go, I decided there was no need to even stop. And it was like something else took over my mind and body and I flew the final five miles. It was almost surreal.
When I got to the final segment, I could hear the finish line. And I started to cry a little. Happy tears this time. And just continued to fly until I was there. Crossing. In pure and total bliss. Abbie was there wagging her whole body in excitement and of course Casey was there cheering me in. I sprinted through the finish line and then immediately sat down in the grass – Abbie promptly sat in my lap – and Casey helped me out of my shoes.
After a little while, I asked Casey what my finish time was and when he said 29:48, I thought he was making shit up. I thought there was no way I could’ve done under 30 hours. And he told me that he had debated telling me that I could make it under 30 if I hustled the last 5 miles. And then thought better of it. But I had done it. Unknowingly. Which was almost more amazing.
We sat for awhile longer, grabbed some pizza and cheered the next few runners in. And then made our way back home to shower, sleep for a few hours, eat dinner and then back to sleep before we had to get up for breakfast at Brown Bear Bakery and the race awards ceremony.
I ended up 5th woman and 23rd overall. Even more impressive was my friend Evan who came in 2nd place overall with a time of 19:44 (and yes, that’s a full 10 hours ahead of me….) 🙂
This race was an epic adventure. It was a difficult physical challenge. But more importantly, it was a difficult mental challenge. It taught me I can go a lot farther and that I am stronger than I think I am. It also taught me to stop doubting myself so much. Because in the end, I finished. And I finished stronger than I ever thought I would.
Congrats to all my fellow runners! You all are an inspiration and should be SO proud of what you have accomplished!
Stay sweaty friends!