Thursday, February 11, 2016

Orcas Island 50k and the trails that always seem to go UP!

(If on a desktop- some music to enjoy)

I can't help but to think about why I choose to run,
what motivates me to go the distance?
Not something distinct nor an answer I can fully grasp.
Not because I don't know- it's not so simple to put into words.
Memories of my first ultra distance and joining Team in Trainings "Ultra Team" holds the biggest weight in my reason. It is where it all started.
It's where my passion for the outdoors was merely a small match lit flame, well that flame has now become a wild fire with embers that only get hotter with each passing day.
During that time I've met some of the most incredible people that would inspire me to not only be the best version of Sawna that I could be, but also to live life in this present moment and when the going gets tough...
to never give up, never surrender.
Both on the trails and in our day to day life.

This past weekend was a reminder of why I continue to sign up for these "races". Not to race but to be apart of this wonderful community.
Without this community I would've never known about Orcas Island or the San Juan region. I would've never traveled to Portland, the Colombia Rover Gorge area, Yachats beach on Oregon's Coast, or Squamish and Arizona's Fountain Hills. I've been to all these places because of my passion for the trails and the like minded souls that I've been so lucky to meet.
The community has open my eyes and my heart to natures beauty and for that I am forever thankful.
Now, lets get to it.

Clouds, mist, darkness fill my vision and all of sudden I'm in front of Gelsons.
It's 11am, Saturday February 5th and it's 80 degrees out.
A normal Saturday as I pick up coffee at the Oaks on Franklin right by my house on the cusp of Griffith Park.
It's just a normal Saturday, but wait a second- it isn't.
I went to bed last night, mind you, yes I had a couple beers during dinner but how the hell did I get from Orcas Island to Los Angeles?
I'm silently freaking out as my heart is nearly breaking through my chest.
I'm supposed to be running Orcas Island 50k at this very second.
Sweat drips down my face.
I feel my cheeks get bright red.
A drip of sweat dribbles down my back that gives me goosebumps.
I would've had to catch a ride to the ferry, taken the ferry, then have gotten a 2 hour ride to the airport AND THEN to fly from Seattle airport to LAX all within the night.
This isn't realistic!
I log onto Facebook and sure enough Carlos is posting photos of the beautiful trails and all the pre race ordeal and how I just- POOF disappeared.
A week later Melissa and Carlos are standing in my parents kitchen telling me how much fun Orcas was, how beautiful the trails were and how weird it was that I decided to go home.
At that point I was nearing a breaking point, I was so frustrated that they didn't believe me that I had just appeared at home and that I don't remember any of my travels.
Was this some kind of intervention?
Two beers doesn't necessarily make me an alcoholic but how would I have gotten home and not remembered. I get the look from Melissa.
She asks me if she needs to take me to the hospital.
I'm dripping with sweat.
"We think you're going insane".

It's dark. I'm soaked in my sweat.
My hair is completely drenched.
Where am I? It's pitch black.
I'm pretty sure I've fallen asleep in some sort of Sauna.
I locate my phone.
11:34 pm
February 4th.
I can barely make out the cabin room I had fallen asleep in just a mere couple hours ago.
But it feels like it's been weeks.
A nightmare.
I crawl out of my sweat soaked sleeping bag and stumble outside to the brisk cool moist air that is Orcas Island.
A let out a loud sigh.
It was a dream, Sawna.
It was only a dream.

Friday, February 4th.
Wake up time: 4:30am
A car ride to the airport.
An airplane LAX->SEA.
A car ride to the ferry.
The ferry to the Island.
A car ride to Camp Moran.
Travel time: 6am-5:30pm
Beer me please.

Saturday, February 5th.
Race day.
The wood outside our bunkhouse was moist from the wetness in the air.
The grass shiny from the morning dew while the light slowly peaked through the trees and the sun rises.
It's almost start time and everyone gathers outside on a incline waiting for James to countdown.
It's surprisingly warm.
Most of us packed for the worst weather, but Mother Nature delighted us with one of the most beautiful days Orcas seen in weeks.
I jokingly tell a few PNW friends that I brought the good weather from Los Angeles.
It wasn't a joke- I really did! ;)

It's difficult to describe the day properly.
The first 15.23 miles felt as though I could catch my breath.
I told myself that I signed up for this race purposely not as a race but to truly understand why everyone says this is the most beautiful place- to enjoy it fully.

Since my body wasn't completely agreeing with what I was doing, rather than stress about it, I took advantage of the situation and slowed down, stopped a few times to take photos and really grasped my surroundings.

I was running through a fairytale.
Moss covered logs in the distance almost teasingly resembling a person in a bright green jacket, tall trunks of cognac colored bark mixed with fluorescent green high above me as the light peaks through as though taping me on the shoulder just to say hi.
Ray jumps into my memory.
Never give up, never surrender.
Memories of his inspiring words at our previous years send off dinners fill my eyes with tears.
You would've loved this.

At no point did my body hurt.
Something I'm not too familiar with seeing that a majority of 2015 races and training runs were spent injured.
It took 15 miles for my breathing to regulate and for my body to feel good and warm.
A majority of the run I spent talking to fellow runners, friends I've met at previous races or had met merely on social media.

(Glenn surprised me. I didn't see him. Support photographers)

I've seen a plethora of photos and both films from Project Talaria (2013) and (2014) and The Ginger Runner and although well portrayed, Orcas Island needs to be experienced first hand.
It's a constant eyegasm.
In every direction.

Up to mile 20 aid station you have nothing but beautiful lush fluorescent green everywhere but a runnable single track that you were on. One foot in front of the other.

A few root filled sections making it pretty technical. Darn you roots- I'm busy staring around me can't you see how incredible you're home is!
There was a section were Hillary caught up to me. It was an open area, a small waterfall to the left with the stream we had to run across. It was a vast area filled with sporadic tall moss filled trees. What can you do but stop and admire your surroundings?

Sections I forced myself to hike just to spend a little extra time taking deep breaths of this magical air.
Pure, wonderful, exhilarating oxygen filling me lungs.
Expecting to see a hobbit run by me or a fairy to land on my shoulder to whisper magical tales to me as a giggle at how tiny she is.
(Ok so I am slightly insane).
"This is the life" I thought.
I caught myself whistling from pure happiness.
Something I do occasionally.
(Habits of the slightly crazed).

After aid station 20 you have the "Powerline" trail that climbs over 2k-ish in feet in a matter of 2 miles.
This section has always been described as something you should be afraid of. A story one would tell around the campfire to scare all the little scout members before bed to give them nightmares.
But this is far from a story. It's very much real life and I've already had one nightmare to last me a while.
Never give up, never surrender... I repeated to myself and continued forward.
My jacket already safely tucked into my pack, beads of sweat dripping off my face, my side braid soaked, both hands on my quads as I continued upward.
Constant deceiving points where you think the climbing has ceased- that you've reached the top.
You think.
I begin running in what I believe is a runnable section but soon, gravity getting the best of me inevitably forced to slow down back to a hike. I soon realize I've entered he next stage of the climb and look straight up in amazement that this thing- this "trail" continues unapologetically.
My hands back on my quads as I begin my power hike once again,
keeping my speed consistent with a reminder that it doesn't feel much different than Joan's Peak back home.
This isn't so bad.
Sweat stings my eyes.
One foot in front of the other.
I reach the top of the Powerline and smile in amazement.
That was awesome!

I reach into my pack for a bite of the heavenly trailbutter packed tortilla I've saved from the aid station. I may or may not have dropped a few times and picked it right back up.
"Mhhhhh taste good" I thought to myself as I quickly commented back at how gross I was.

From Powerline, you have a nice descent before entering the net climb up to Mt. Constitution and inevitably the final aidstation.
This wide open downhill aided me in catching my breath and essentially filled my lungs with love.
Love for this beautiful island and the opportunity to run here.
At that point I had found a rythym in speed and was surprised at how regulated I was able to keep my breathing.
I didn't want to push myself too hard knowing there was still some climbing left.
Onward and upward to Mt Constitution.
Not as steep as the Powerline trail but grueling just the same.
Hands back on my quads as I felt myself ease back into the climb.
Pizza and beer.
Pizza and beer.
Whoa- massive calves man.
Pizza and beer.
Pizza and beer.
The idea of endless drink and food with the best company at the finish line somewhat took power over my thoughts.
I continued to think of only that for the next mile.
My thought may have been out loud too considering there was some gasping agreements for some local brewskies.
Eventually I passed the man with massive quads, a low gaspy good job escaped my mouth.
A broke into a jog nearing the top.
I can see blue skies through the tree and in the distance I can hear cheering.
The excitment one feels on Christmas eve, or celebrating a birthday- pure, magical, unaltered happiness.
I would've gave myself a pat on the back for surviving if I wasn't focused on actually getting to the aid station.
Im almost there.

I fee like I'm sprinting, but in reality I'm probably crawling.
I could only imagine my current doppelganger would be the girl from The Ring crawling out of the well toward the TV Screen but in this case toward the aid station as I have just conquered the most difficult section of the course.
The finally aid station!
At that point I ran back into Joel, whom I spent a majority of the race with until he mountain goat'd up Powerline.
I grabbed another trailbutter packed tortilla to go, a cup of Coke as a celebratory drink and off we went to the vistas of Mt. Constitution.
I kid you not my face was full of snot the second I realized Glenn was off the side of the trail snapping photos.
Well, it's reality.
I battle we may all lose whilst running in somewhat cold temperatures.
At some point you get tired of consistently blowing snot rockets to the side in fear that you'll hit someone.
Lets be frank, we all do it. (Right?)
This is a real fear of mine.
That's the truth.

I grab my tortilla goodness.
Being pretty winded at the time, I found it rather difficult to run and chew simultaneously.
It was the first time, prior mile 15, that I was gasping for air.
However, mid gasp, the view from Mt. Constitution stole any thought process available.
It's stunning. Every shade a blue in the distance.
The water sparkled and shimmered in raw beauty.
Never give up, never surrender I remember.
At the point Joel politely passes me, Gazelle like, flying down the descent out of sight.
I slowly found my rythym, enjoying what was left of natures gift for the day.
Easing in to what was to be the last mile my left quad suddenly seized up into a cramp.
My left leg catapolting outward- I immediately put pressure on the cramp area to easy the pain.
I continue to jog, it hurt more to walk at that point as I self massaged the area.
A couple of deep breaths and sips of water later it simply disappeared.
At the point I would've been completely happy with walking whatever distance I had left.
I was in paradise.
I was high off life and nothing could bring me down.
As I continued to run, I no longer had to hold my inner tight and was able to ease back into a normal pace when I could hear he cheering in the distance.
It's over already?
That's it?
I'm almost done?
"No, that's not right" I tell myself.
But sure enough I was one climb away from giving Jame a nice high five and having a beer in hand.
What has a beginning always has an end and to me this race ended to quickly.
I felt myself wanting to hug a nearby tree and not continue forward to stay in this moment a bit longer.
No I'm not signing up for Orcas 100 any time in the near future if that's what you're thinking.
One high five and several hugs from friends later I was beer in hand and on the sidelines cheering.
You bet I had a big fat grin on my face.
That was incredible.

Rainshadow Races are known for not only their epic landscaped trails, but also their after parties.
Finishers get freshly made pizza and snacks galore as well as kegs normally line the door with local beers.
Once both Melissa and Carlos finished along with JC joining us- it was almost picture perfect.
I just ran one of the most beautiful trails and I'm here at a table joined with my friends from LA along with friends from Seattle and Portland that I've met at other races.
You look around and despite the dirty covered clothes, the sweat stained faces, everyone face was accessorized with the biggest smile.

The rest of the weekend was icing on the cake.
The following morning we packed everything up, ate breakfast at a local diner, and headed to the ferry.
Little did we know, half the race participants would be leaving at the same time.
Parked behind one friend, next to another- it was another social event.

Back in Seattle we stayed another day to, you know, do tourist things.
Play arcade games.
Eat potatoes.
Eat french fries.
Play endless basketball until your arms hurt.
More potatoes.
Tall buildings.
Eat more potatoes.
See wonderful friends.
Eat a cinnamon roll... probably made of potatoes.

Needles to say it was a wonderful adventure of a weekend.

I am so thankful to have the opportunity to be apart of this wonderful community- I have made countless friends to which I don't know how my life would be now if not for them and their constant motivation.
Memories flood back to Ultra Season 2013.
Each season of Team in Training, whether you are training for a Marathon, a Century ride, a Ironman; etc, your team honored teammate.
An honored teammate may not be someone who is participating in the actual event but an individual who you are training in honor of, essentially someone who has had cancer and is either currently battling it or has overcome it.
For Ultra Team 2013 and on it was Ray.
He was THE MAN.
His humor, his constant positivity and encouragement- you never would've thought he was ever sick.
He would tell us how he continued to go the distance, continue to run even though no one thought he could- and HE DID.
Cancer is not a joke, no matter what form.
I can't help but to get tearied eyed on this plane as I write this, but you never really know how fragile time is until it is gone.
This weekend I promised to celebrate a life.
One that was passionate, inspiring,and articulated life so flawlessly with always a little kick of humor.

With every sunlight that peaked through the trees I thought of you.
With the sparkling of the lake shinning back as to say good job- I thought of you.
When powerline seemed endless but I was nearing the top- I thought of you.
Never give up, never surrender.

Till next time,
Peace, love and happiness.

** I should probably edit this... but I'm not.
It's too hot. My skin is melting.

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