I used to think that completing a 100 mile race was out of reach, but after several years of consistently running marathons and several 50k’s and 50 mile races I decided it was time to give it a shot. There are many easier 100 mile races than the inaugural Orcas Island 100 by Rainshadow Running, but after running the 50k in 2015, I decided that the inaugural Orcas Island 100 would be my first. The course is amazing and provides serious challenge. The course consisted of four 25 mile loops with each loop gaining and losing around 6500’ of elevation per lap. The course had a little of everything, a steep road climb up the Mt. Constitution road at the beginning, a runnable descent through forest, with a short ascent to Mt. Pickett, followed by another runnable section before the killer powerline climb up to the summit to Mt. Constitution. This is truly an amazing course. I am glad to say that I was able to finish the race in 33 hours and 42 minutes. There are three keys that contributed to my successful finish and that is the focus of the rest of my race report – training, nutrition, and equipment.
As I mentioned the course had 6500’ of elevation gain and loss per lap – for a total of around 26000’ feet of total gain and loss over the 100 miles. One of the generally accepted colloquialisms is that a runner should train for the course that they will be racing. Juneau, Alaska provided a great proving ground to prepare for the race. There were several key training runs that allowed me to prepare for Orcas. Two trails in particular allowed me to practice elevation training – the Mt. Roberts tram trail from my work place in downtown, and the Perseverance trail. The Mt. Roberts tram run allowed me to get in a 5 mile round trip with 2000 feet of elevation gain and loss during lunch. I generally ran this trail every Wednesday. The Perseverance trail allowed me to get in 9 miles with around 1200 feet of gain and loss and I generally ran this trail on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then on the weekend I could combine these two trails for a 9 mile run with 2800 gain per lap and would try to do at least two repeats of this loop for my long runs. To supplement my running, I used the Beachbody Insanity program twice a week, generally Tuesday’s and Thursday’s in the morning. I took Monday’s and Friday’s off from running, but did some upper body weight lifting or went for recovery hikes. My mileage varied, usually around 50 miles a week with a couple in the 60 to 70 mile range, and one 100 mile week where I ran the Disney Dopey Challenge in January that consisted of a 5k, 10k, half marathon, and marathon on consecutive days – this mileage along with walking in the park every day with my family totaled over 100 miles that week, but that was my only week at the mileage.
I called out the trails because the elevation gain and loss on my trail runs made a huge difference in my approach at Orcas. The beginning of the race features a long climb up the Mt. Constitution road before hitting a single track decent. The second steep climb came later in the loop at the Powerline trail up Mt. Constitution. Both of these climbs were at least 2000’ in gain. I had done a lot of climbing during training that mimicked these climbs, so I was able to power hike these ascents and felt comfortable that I had the stamina to stay steady up the climb without spiking my heart rate and expending energy at an exponential rate. I also knew that it would take me about an hour to make these ascents. This is a particularly important time that I confirmed during my first lap and made a huge difference in my mental game especially at night and later in the race when I was tired. The climbs are long, but I could check my watch and know where I should be on the climb and not be discouraged if I was only 20 or 30 minutes into my ascent. I was able to consistently make the climbs in an hour on every lap through the race and after the first lap often found that I was able to pass other runners who were struggling with the climbs.
I think the training tip to train for the course you are going to run should have a second part – train in the weather you expect to run in. This can be challenging but the weather in Southeast Alaska was actually perfect. Our fall and winters are wet with some snow in the higher elevations. I don’t think that I did a training run that was not wet, windy or on trails that were muddy with a mix of snow and ice. This was a boon because Orcas threw a little of everything at us during the race. The beginning of the race was pleasant and overcast with temperatures in the 40s but once night fell light rain and snow moved in and I think that contributed too many runners dropping out. However, I was right in my element having trained in the rain and snow all fall and winter so the inclement weather did not bother me and I had the right equipment to stay comfortable in the rain and snow. When the sun rose, the skies cleared and there was a nice day with temperatures in the upper 40s/low 50s to finish the race in. If I had been running a race with hotter temperatures and lots of sunshine, I am not sure I would have been as prepared. If possible I highly encourage training in the weather you expect to run in, and fortunately the weather in Southeast Alaska cooperated.
The second key that helped me be successful was my nutrition plan. One of the best pieces of advice I received from ultrarunnners who live here in Juneau was to try and limit the energy spikes that come from eating and of course to practice your nutrition plan ahead of time during training runs. This philosophy worked well for me, I used Gu Energy Gels, Honey Stinger Chews and most importantly CarboPro. These three items were the key to my nutrition plan. I also had the goal to try and get in at least three hundred calories an hour. Since the course was a loop with four aid stations and the start/finish and the race allowed drop bags at four of the five aid stations, I was able to make sure I had everything I needed for my own nutrition and did not have to rely on the aid stations. I have a tolerant stomach and nothing really has upset it so far and that was the case during the race, no upset stomach. I stuck to my Gu, Honey Stinger chews and CarboPro. I supplemented my personal stash with a hot broth and a little bit of coffee at the aid stations and Bacon at the Mt. Constitution aid station! I think the CarboPro was the key to my nutrition though, I put a scoop in my water bottle at four of the five aid stations though out the race, and this allowed me to stay on an even keel energy wise throughout the race. The one mistake I made was I didn’t have any CarboPro left for my last climb up Mt. Constitution so I substituted Coke in my water bottle and after the initial carbonation explosion, I was able to sip on it for the climb and still maintain steady energy. I know some runners have varying opinions on caffeine intake but I really enjoyed drinking a little coffee at the aid stations starting with my second loop. I also took a few S-Caps during each lap, but with the cooler weather I never felt like I was electrolyte deficient or had any cramping, but took some as a precautionary measure.
The final key is having the right gear for the race. I wore Opedix Dual Tec 2.0 tights with a pair of Nike ProCombat compression shorts underneath the tights and a pair of Nike running shorts over the top. I prefer more modesty than the tights provide by themselves which is why I wear shorts over the top. I did not change my tights or shorts throughout the entire race. I wore various wicking tec shirts that I changed every lap. I really looked forward to a dry shirt at the beginning of every lap. During the day time sections of the race I also wore a Helly Hansen windshirt and light Costco brand gloves that I also changed every lap. At night when precipitation began to fall I switched to a Merrell Vapur hardshell jacket which is fully waterproof and kept the snow and rain out and kept me from overheating through ¾ sleeve length pit zips.
For footwear I used the Altra Lone Peak 2.5’s for the first three laps, and Inov8 TrailRoc 255’s for my last lap. The Lone Peak’s did a good job on the muddy trails and I had fairly good traction even when the course turned into a complete quagmire. I switched the last lap just to shake things up a bit and try something different. For socks, I used Injinji brand and put on a new pair every lap. This really helped with blisters and chaffing in addition to using Body Glide in between my toes every lap. I did get a few blisters on my pinkie toes and third toe where they overlap, but these were expected and did not affect my ability to run.
I always run with my Ultimate Direction 20oz hand bottle. It is several years old and well broken in. I am comfortable running with it and is use the pocket on the outside of the body for trash storage. The wide mouth bottle also made it easy to add CarboPro at the aid stations. In addition to the handheld, I used the Ultimate Direction Jurek 2.0 Vest. It has two large pockets on the front, one that I used for a Hydrapak soft flask and the other pocket I used to keep Honey Stinger chews and other snacks that I thought I might want in between aid stations and my headlamp and a Buff. The vest also has two gel pockets under the larger vest pockets which I reloaded at every aid station. The back of the vest features a large pocket big enough for a jacket or other gear, but I didn’t use this part of the vest because of the ability to stop at an aid station every five miles or so.
I know running with music can be controversial, but I think it really helps especially when entering the pain cave. I used my iPod nano for music during the daytime portions of the run, and listened to Podcasts during the night section of the run. Having the music and podcasts really helped distract myself from the pain I was feeling especially on the last lap.
I know I said there were three keys to my success but there are really four – and the most important was my crew. My beautiful wife and daughter and a buddy and his girlfriend were there for me at every station. They were amazing with encouragement and making sure I had everything that I needed. I was able to come into the aid station and sit down while they emptied my trash, got me coffee or aid station food, and applied biofreeze on my achy legs and ankles. There was nothing better than rolling into an aid station and seeing their smiling faces and the eye contact that reinforced that I could keep going.
Overall, the Orcas Island 100 was an amazing experience and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to run a 100 mile race. Rainshadow Running does an amazing job putting together stellar aid stations and makes sure the runner has a positive experience.