The first two races of the year are done and done. My first ever trail race was Bridal Trails in 2008, I was training for the Boston Marathon and Allen Skytta said I had to be part of his team along with Tanya Hoffman and Owen Connell. I was to run two 5 mile "laps" of a muddy horse track at night through a twisty, deep, forest lit with glow sticks and packed with other runners. So I did. I was hooked and blame my entire trail career on Allen and his poor decision making.
Since 2008, I have had some great runs at Bridal Trails. It is a 50k made up of 6 loops around the perimeter of a State Park designated for horsey people and the poop machines they ride. The mud and whatnot is usually quite deep, the weather traditionally crappy and the single aid station stocked with friendly faces and the usual ultra fare. One year I ran the 50k solo in a pair of Santa boxers because... I had a pair. This year I decide to go hatless and instead wear a tall blonde wig and a head lamp because... I have one. It was a very cold race day and I was glad for the wig as it proved to be quite warm and, dare I say, attractive. At least that's what I gathered from the comments at the start line. The frigid conditions meant the horsemuffins and the mud were frozen solid making the track much, much faster than usual. I was cold and it was light out which, If one runs really fast, can last for the first 3.5 loops as the race starts at 3:15pm with dark descending at around 4:30pm or whenever one's wig slides down over one's eyes. I usually run races slower at the start and then pick it up as the race progresses. Bridal Trails is different as I try to put in as many miles as possible before the forest closes around me like an eyeslitless burka. I got in almost 4 laps before the lights went on and the wig came off. The ground was killing my feet as the frozen mud was uneven and I was pounding it with a new pair of shoes I was testing out. Having no idea where I was in the standings I thought I was either first or second. Much to my surprise I was first! Then they noticed I didn't have the wig and I wasn't a woman so I was relegated to second place Men's. Lesson learned on that front. Fun race, my second fastest 50k ever as I came in at 3:44. Next year I'm thinking Abe Lincoln- Ultra Runner.
If you haven't been to the Orcas Island 50k, it is hard to explain. Imagine a summer camp with cabins and a lodge at the base of a mountain covered in old growth forrest at the edge of an island dangling off the West coast like a snot rocket that didn't quite clear. Add in a pot luck, a bunch of beer, a bluegrass band, thrift store shirts, about 250 runners and the best race direction, course and volunteers anyone could ask for and you would start to scratch the surface of what James Varner's race is like.
This was my fifth Orcas 50k. I have finished 16th, 6th, 5th and 5th. Each year the course changes slightly. This year it was totally remodeled. The old course had 4000-5000 ft of climbing, this year's was 8,500 ft. I loves to climb. My race plan was to let the super stacked field go and burn out on the climbs, then collect the carnage in the last two major climbs which start at mile 20. So I did. I ran smart and measured up the first two climbs chatting with Jason Hynd. The views from Mt. Pickett were ah-maze-ang. Blue skies, San Juan Islands, low fog, Mt. Baker lurking in the back round like a naughty volcano. We descended to the second aid station and I felt like I was starting to wake up. Motoring around lake Will-It-Never-End, I was looking forward to the mile 20 aid station where Gary Robbins (Hurt 100 Mile Course Record Holder Eh!) was playing caddy to my chocolate croissant. I stuffed it down my throat in about...17 minutes as I tried to eat and climb up the mountain at the same time. A random fellow told me I was now in 13th place which translates to mean I was in 14th place as random fellows on the trail always give false information. "One more mile to the aid station!" snicker, snicker. Anyway, I felt great and powered the climb catching a few people on the way. I pushed the downhill rollers on my way to the final climb. I knew I needed to punish the last climb at it was, The Last Climb. I ran almost the entire way up the back of Mt. Constitution and passed four more souls before hitting the aid station at the top. The next four miles were zigzaggy downhill and I pushed it hard. I wanted to leave it all on the course but kept wondering why? I knew no one was going to catch me and my place was secure so why push? Because I was challenging myself. I wanted to run my best time, I wanted to know I left it all out there. I got to the 1 mile left sign and charged harder, then much to my wondering eyes did appear, Matt Cecill from Victoria, who kicked my ass at Deception Pass 50k in December. We were about half a mile from the finish and he was surprised and disappointed to see me. We exchanged pleasantries and I felt kinda bad passing him because he's a really nice guy but this was a race. We came to a steep, short hill and I knew if I sprinted it I would send him the message that I was still burning strong. I did, all the way to the finish. My bib number was 123 my finish time was 4:56 I got 7th place and 8 a ton of food in the lodge afterwards. Because you are trapped on an Island, time slows down, conversations go longer and no one really finishes than leaves. Everyone sticks around and mingles until the drive to the ferry dock where you wait and mingle more until you get on the boat and then go upstairs to mingle your way back to the mainland. I'll be back next year to run my 6th Orcas 50k. I am lucky to have this race so close to home.