Sunday, October 10, 2010

Pleasurable Pain in Paradise

I have just returned to southern Oregon after an absolutely fantastic two-week road trip.  After taking a few days to recover in Bend from a 50k there, I made my way to the northern coast of Washington, loaded Mama on a ferry and arrived on Orcas Island on a Wednesday evening.

From the moment I drove off the ferry I knew I was in a special place.  I drove to the farside of the the island to scope out all the spots that others had suggested.  After seeing all my options I felt an overwhelming pull to set-up in the enchanting Moran State Park, centrally located on the island and home to the Triple Ripple Trail Festival, my reason for being there.
Mt. Baker from the ferry line.
I found a ridiculously awesome campsite.  Not only was this a very fancy campground with running water, hot showers and stunning views, but my campsite had its own beach of the south-end of Cascade Lake.  I settled in, made dinner and unwinded after my two days of commuting from Bend.

The beach on my campsite.
I am so glad I arrived with plenty of time before the races began.  I had three nights and two whole days to kick it.  Those two days were so nice.  With fortyish miles of trails starting from my campground, I had plenty of entertainment.  I went for a short run both mornings and then walked around the rest of the day.  The dark old-growth forest is....I don't even know.  Very special.  I loved it.  The trails were perfect.  I was very excited to run on the trails during the races, while at the same time thinking I might be too chill to run hard. 

One spot on the many beautiful trails in Moran State Park
On Friday afternoon, I checked in, then returned to the campground and went to bed very early.  In the morning, I hiked a couple of miles to the Mountain Lake, the start of the four mile.  I was least stoked about the four mile.  It was one flat lap around Mountain Lake.  My plan was to pretend I was fast and just see how long I could hold on.  It turns out that is about two miles.  I felt like I was flying for a while.  I had already slowed down by the time I hit the two mile mark.  I was able to hold on as I saw the girl ahead of me get farther away and the one behind gaining on me.  Knowing when I had .7 mile left I turned it up, but was dry heaving with .4 left.  Luckily, I finished, without puking.  

My efforts landed me in second place for the women.  Prizes were awarded to the top overall male and female and then first place in four or five age groups.  For winning my age group, I was awarded a fresh/still warm loaf of bread.  It smelled so delicious I promptly gave it away, so I wouldn’t get any funny ideas later.  After stretching in the sun and meeting with other runners, I caught a ride back to the campground.

Between races I tore myself away from my private beach and moved Mama over to the compound the festival was basing out of.  It was less than a half a mile away from where I was, but I wanted to be where the action was.  There were cabins and tent space available, but I opted for Mama.  After settling in, I chatted with more people and stretched preparing for the hillclimb set for 3pm.

The 4-mile start/finish.
10k Hill Climb
The 10k started with a flat couple of miles around Cascade Lake before starting to climb.  Liz from Portland, who won the female side of things in the four mile, jumped ahead from the beginning and I never saw her until the very end.  Actually I never saw anyone again.  I felt fast around the lake and then strong on the climb.  I switched between running and power hiking.  The trail was absolutely awesome.  Gaining elevation, we passed through numerous mini ecosystems.  Mostly old-growth forest.  With a mile or two from the finish the course flattened out into small rolling hills and was incredibly fast.  It probably would have been advantageous to check out the map and profile beforehand because I thought it was steep all the way up.  Suddenly we came around the side of the mountain which opened up to views of the ocean, other islands and Mt. Rainier.  I tried to ignore it because it was the fastest and most technical spot on the course.  I hauled it the last mile and caught a glimpse of Liz on some switchbacks.  I kicked it into high gear, but it was too late.  We were already at the finish. 

The finish was at the summit of Mt. Constitution, the highest point in the San Juan islands.  We lucked out with clear skies and could see for miles.  A stone tower at the top allowed for a 360 view.  I took in the views while the rest of the runners finished before being shuttled back down. My second place female finish, again, won me my age group, for which I received a box of GU. 

Back at the compound the awards were followed by a Chi Running workshop, an awesome dinner, and live music from a local band.  Dancing was definitely the best way to stay loose for the 30k the next day.   As I was heading back to Mama, I thought about what a fun day it was.  I love this event.  The idea had sounded perfect to me and it was everything I hoped I would be. 

The 10k Hillclimb Finish.
This was the race I was most confident about.  After chatting it up over coffee, I did a brief warm-up, then bolted off the start line.  After the 50k in Bend the week before where I realized I have lots to learn as far as racing that distance and pushing myself, I decided I would just go as hard as I can and finish with nothing left.  That seems obvious, but somehow I finished that 50k with so much energy.  Anyway I went out hard.  I took the female lead from the beginning and tried not to look back.

For the first half of the race I felt incredible.  I don’t know if I’ve ever felt that good running.  The first half was mostly uphill mixed with some flatish parts on some of the best stretches of trail I have ever been on.  It was so fun.  Everything was working.  There was a long steep climb.  I could see someone gaining on me on the switchbacks.  Finally I got to the top and started flying down.  I could tell there was someone about to pass me.  We hit an aid station at mile 10 and when I stopped for water, a girl blew past me and I never saw her again.  The last 8 miles were downhill, definitely my strongest suit, but I couldn’t catch her.  I was beat.  Suddenly I could feel the day before.  But I held on.  I cruised on the sweet single track through the dark forest.  A few miles were flat and I found that hard to push myself, but mostly I was carried downhill.  The last two miles were a bit scary.  I barely held on.  I felt like I could fall off the trail.  I dragged myself over the tiny little inclines.  A downed tree very close to the finish added a nice and confusing obstacle, in which nettle tore me up while trying to navigate through the lush ditch around it.  I crossed the finish line accomplishing my goal of finishing with nothing left. 

View from the summit of Mt. Constitution (10k finish)
I stuffed my face from the moment I finished...and haven't really stopped yet.  It took me a couple of hours to feel like I had it together.  We were served another awesome local, organic meal, which tasted good, but wasn’t sitting.  Finally a beer sounded good, and after two I was good to go. 

Once again I got the age group award.  This time two bars of local soap.  I loved the prizes.  I loved everything about this event.  Every detail was thought of.  They nailed it.  It was such a fun weekend.  I tried to explain to the race directors that I do fun stuff all the time (I’ve pretty much dedicated myself to that) and this was way up there.

As everyone started to leave, I hung around, as I had nothing to do, and I was in no hurry to get off the island.  I agreed to give someone a ride to the Seattle airport the next day, so was put up for the night in a nice big empty house.   I hung out with the crew who put the event on, as they unwinded from the virgin voyage into race directing.  A splendid evening after a splendid weekend on a splendid island.  Perfection. 

The next day, my new buddy, Brian, and I rented a couple of kayaks and paddled around the Eastsound after breakfast in town.  A nice relaxing and imperative thing to do on a visit to Orcas.  We spent a few hours paddling through the smooth water and pulled out just as some rain, the first of my trip there, rolled in. 

After saying our goodbyes we headed to the other side of the island, caught a ferry, and made it to Seattle to sleep before Brian caught a plane the next morning.  Dropping him off at the airport began my daylong journey down I-5 back to southern Oregon.  Perfect timing and a call from a friend lead to me picking up someone at the Medford airport that night before getting back here around midnight. 

I had been gone about two weeks.  And what an awesome two weeks it was.  I’ve returned with even more motivation to run…although my body isn’t quite ready yet.  I plan to just chill here, help out around the compound, and run.  There is a trail marathon in a month nearby.  Other than that no plans except to move somewhere(?) for winter.  Its pretty wide open.