Orcas Island Marathon Debut

from The Journey of a Thousand Miles


The Orcas Island Marathon is a new addition to the Bellingham Trail Running Series (BTRS) this year. It takes place in Moran State Park on beautiful Orcas Island, the largest of the San Juan Islands. Many people asked me why I picked this race to be my debut marathon with almost 6,000 feet of elevation gain and loss when I have never run a step over 20 miles. I was asking myself the same thing after a reconnaissance of the course!


Two weeks prior to the race, Tad and I spent the weekend on Orcas studying the course so that there would be no surprises come race day. We ran the first half on Friday and the second half on Saturday. After the preview I was pretty intimidated of the time it took us to run, the terrain and the idea of having to do both runs in one day.


There are three major climbs: a 2.4 mile climb up to Mount Pickett, a 2.4 mile climb up Coldwater Trail and a 1.1 mile climb up to Mount Constitution which stands at 2,409 feet.

Orcas Island Marathon Course Profile

My goals for this race were to gain experience with racing a longer distance, to learn how my body would respond to the demanding course and to evaluate success of my nutrition, gear and preparations.

It’s a sign!

I was as prepared as I could be. I made dinner reservations and ferry reservations two weeks in advance and packed for every weather condition. Funny enough my race bib number was my birthday date which happened to be the prior Wednesday.


As planned, I started out easy in the middle of the pack and slowly worked my way up. At about mile 4 or so I was in a nice little group with Maggie Harkins from Oregon and Alex Giebelhaus from Bellingham. We chatted about occupations and how important it is to find a job before you move to Bellingham. I started to pull away on the long climb up to Mount Pickett. At the top I was alone and the rain had started to pick up. A mile into the descent–7-8 miles into the race – a hail storm came through. How fitting is it that I had packed my new La Sportiva Hail Jacket. I stopped to put it on not knowing what the weather had in store for us the rest of the day just as I approached a couple doing the same thing. Thank you to the kind woman who saved me time and pulled it out of my pack for me.

Maggie and me hailing the Hail jacket in the hail.

Because I stopped, our running pack was able to regroup with the addition of Maggie’s boyfriend, Dan Kraft, from the Nike Trail Running Team. I enjoyed their company for the next 7 miles to the later part of the Coldwater Trail climb.
With about 9 miles to go, the terrain became more rolling and I changed gears into half-marathon mode (my usual race distance). After so much climbing and technical footing it felt really good to stride out and just run. I was prepared to push it up and over Mount Constitution, back down the switchbacks and around the lake to the finish. Even after 13 miles tacked on the front, I was really pleased that I felt strong.  

Less than 2 miles to go!

I had no idea I was in second overall with only local runner and friend Casey Schwenk 4 minutes up on me. Up the last climb I closed 8 minutes on him, but ran out of climbs to close any more as he maintained the gap into the finish. We both wore the La Sportiva Helios. Coincidence? No, because it’s the perfect shoe for any distance and terrain!


Full results here.


Me and Casey.

I gained confidence from this race moving forward. A quote that stuck in my head the week of the race was, Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst are our own fears,” by Rudyard Kipling. I have a really bad habit of thinking of everything that could possibly go wrong, but the reality is that rarely do those fears come to pass. And, if they do, we are able to rise to the occasion, respond to adversity and learn from the experience.


I want to give a big thank you to Candice Burt and Garrett Froelich for all of the work they put into making this race happen. It is no easy task marking a course and they went above and beyond with ribbons, arrows and signs. For more “Destination Trail Running Events for the Adventurous,” check out Destination Trail.


Thanks to all of the volunteers who helped with check in, aid stations and who pre-ran the course at 5:30am. Congratulations to all the members of the BTRS who raced; I am so proud of our Bellingham community.


Tad was amazing as usual. He spends so much time studying the course and figuring out where he can see me. He showed up in 8 different locations during the race.


Thank you La Sportiva for the shoes and gear that make racing on any terrain and through any weather possible.


I feel like my work at TerrainGym really kicked in for this race in particular. I can’t imagine finishing so strong after climbing 5,000+ feet without the strength training behind it.


Chris Lockwood and KerryGustafson are very special people in my life that allow me to show up to the starting line healthy and help me recover faster. I can’t thank them enough for the time they invest in me.


My prerace energy was Trail Butter. The slow-burning fuel is really beneficial for longer races as it postpones the use of so many sweet gels and chomps.


The Bellingham Distance Project is full of amazing friends and teammates who are so supportive and encouraging in every aspect of running and life. A special thanks to Lydia and Kyle Carrick who came out to the island to cheer me on. How fun to see you guys out there!


Time to rest and recover and start planning the next adventure which is back to the La Sportiva Mountain Cup, Don’t Fence Me In 30k in Helena, Montana on May 9th.

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