Orcas Island 50k, grizzley bears, & great people

You never fully appreciate where you live until you go out and explore every inch of the land! The Orcas Island is a goldmine filled with a lot of trails, waterfalls, and some of the most beautiful scenery out there. I headed up there to start my year off with a 25k thrown by Rainshadow running. I met Cindy Desmarais and all her friends that evening and spent the night at their cabin. Great group of runners! I got the hookup form Ben Phenix I met at the Team RWB trail running camp. (Below: start of the 25k, can you find me?)ImageRace day! About 2 miles into the 25k, my prosthetic leg completely snapped at the pyramid where the socket is attached to the pilon. As I had my arms around a few runners shoulders heading back down to the road, I was laughing the whole way back because as the other runners were passing me I told them, “Hey! watch out for the grizzly bear! My legs gone! He took my leg!” “Hey watch out for a bloody leg disintegrated all over the trails!” They all laughed. Not able to finish the 25k, I was determined to come back for the 50k. I thought it was such a tease to only let me run a few miles of the course. I felt as though I never wanted anything more other than to come back for vengeance and make a good run on the trails. They weren’t ready for me, I said. My time will come. I apologize for the misleading title, there wasn’t an actual grizzly bear. #honesty. (To the left in the purple is Cindy & Ed in the red shirt who I have my arm around.) Image

I decided to stick around and cheer on the finishers. Let me introduce you to a beautiful young lady Mona, she grew up with a rare condition that stuns her muscles/bones from fully developing and has restricted movement. To the left is her twin sister leaning over and caregiver to the left. She is very funny and has a great sense of humor. We talked for a bit about my prosthetic, how shes doing in school and I showed her some of my pictures from my travels. She asks “who takes all the pictures of you?” i said, “I mostly take them with a self timer and sometimes it would take me half an hour to set it up and get a good shot” “Here let me show you the app! Why dont we take one now? smile! 5.. 4.. 3.. 2.. 1.. cheese!Image
I had a whole week to reassess my situation with my prosthetic, eat up, and stretch. I was now ready for the real thing. A week later> I was heading out on the ferry to Orcas Island right at the time the sun was setting. I got to Orcas in the evening, pre registered and set out to look for a campground. I found a spot near the shore, relaxed and ate some sweet potatoes w/coconut oil, quinoa, pasta and drank coconut water w/chia seeds. I also had a few krispy kreme doughnuts first time in years. I needed the carbs, right? I pulled out a sleeping bag and threw it on top of my car, climbed up and laid for a few hours watching the stars listening to Rod stewart and other classics. Caught a few shooting stars burning out into the unknown. ImageRace Day! take 2! All smiles! I go to the front for fun to turn around and give people this look like this will be effortless. Like seriously, I signed up for a 50k not a 5k! Everyone is wearing a long sleeve jacket. It was around 35 degrees. I was fully convinced it was going to get warmer through out the day. The time ticks, James is holding the microphone and announces, we take off and start running. The anticipation to fully put your character up to test the brutal trails. Course description: Beautiful, soft and well maintained single track trails through old growth forest with waterfalls, lakes, cascading creeks, and views of the Puget Sound, the surrounding islands, and on clear days the Cascade and Olympic Mountain Ranges, including Mt. Baker, Mt. Rainier and Mt. St Helens. About 8400ft of elevation gain on the loop course. There is just something to me about doing some old fashioned hard miles. They have no mercy and they will not get shorter. It is up to you to decide how far you are willing to push yourself. A majority of the trails are very narrow. Usually I need at least 3 feet to swing out my prosthetic leg and get a good whip motion going. To modify, I would turn to my side and skip until I got to wider ground. A few miles in we pass a waterfall. The peaceful sound of runners feet pounding the ground as the water crashes down beside us. It felt as if it was a scene from the Last of the Mohicans and I was Daniel Day-Lewis.

I make it to Mountain Landing(mile 6.4) in an hour and a half. Grabbed a few gels, drank some water & a salt tablet then took off. I start to get questions in my head, “why am I doing this in the first place?” What am trying to prove?” “can my leg just break like last time so I don’t have to go on any longer?” I’ll be okay! No one will care” and when I have kids someday, “what will I tell them? That its Ok to stop when things get tough?” Then I come to realize that I am not only doing this for me. I’m doing this for a whole lot of people that follow my story, I am representing amputees past present and future that are filled with doubts, people that have labeled themselves “disabled” My younger brothers that I would like for them to set out and conquer the world. I cannot teach or pass on any advice to people & tell them to believe in themselves and that they can do anything they set their heart and mind to if I don’t live it myself. Pain will only last for a few hours and eventually the miles will end. But its what you learn through those hours that will matter most. Some of your greatest moments will be right after your worst.

The trails kept getting more technical. Running narrow downhill is probably my least favorite. My prosthetic leg doesn’t bend at the knee and therefore I decline slowly one step at a time. I cough some speed at some of the wider downhills. I would throw my arms out and flap them like a bird and let my body lead and do what it naturally does. Image Around mile 12, I felt something in my sock moving around and It didn’t feel like it was a rock. It was a strange feeling I have never felt before. I realized that it was my 3rd toe nail detached from my skin barely holding on moving around between my other toes. The only thing I could think of is, Hoka One’s? Already? Why?.. For a second there I thought it was pretty cool. I stopped, clinched my teeth, tied my strings as hard as I could so I would have much less movement at my toes and carried on. I didn’t think about it much since.

There is a lot of walking that people do in trail running as the hills become steeper. There were a few moments where I told myself, “NO! They call this is a trailRUN not a walk!” That would get me moving to run again. I remember one vivid part where I was coming out from the tree line onto a bridge over water. The unexpected scenery change was as if the whole world stopped and I was the only one running. A very peaceful moment. A few miles later I started to develop some issues with my prosthetic. With all the movement, the gel from my seat started to slide out of my socket and I had to stop a few times to fix it. Also, my blade foot started to turn little by little inward 90 degrees and under me. I ran into Mike here and there on the trails, he is a bike mechanic who straighten out my prosthetic with a little allen wrench I carried in my handheld water bottle. I made it to the mile 20 North Arch aid station at 1:24, 6 minutes til cutoff time. While stuffing my face with a few oranges and bananas, the kind volunteer straightened out my prosthetic. I thanked him, grabbed a few gels and I headed out. (Below: Almost there! it was a little snowy there too.)ImageShortly after Ive reached the power line/climb. It consists of a steep hike of over 2000 ft of elevation in 2 miles. I’ll be honest, Long slow hikes up steep elevation is one of my favorite things. Its all about placing one foot in front of the other. By the time everyone made their way through it, it was muddy and slippery. I was the last one. I had to bear crawl at a few parts with my hands and hop on my foot up a few climbs. I kept mumbling “come on” as loud as I could to myself. There were a few mountain bikers in the area that helped me out and straightened out my leg as it was turning inward. Kept moving forward. About half way up, I stopped to realign out my prosthetic yet again. I placed the mini allen wrench on the black dirt by my water bottle. As I fixed it up and was all set to go, the wrench was nowhere to be found. I felt as if I was smeagol digging through the dirt looking for my precious 4mm allen wrench. I couldn’t find it and I didn’t want to waste any more time. I took off and within a quarter of a mile it started to turn inward again. Ive tried banging it against a tree and on the ground but that didn’t make it nudge. I kept moving forward. Once I made it to the flat ground, I couldn’t get a good running stride going. That’s when I knew If I didn’t cover any ground fast, I wasn’t going to make it. My heart started to beat faster and faster, I was desperate. I really wanted to finish it. I set a good pace by power walking.

I started to get really angry and tried to find someone to blame. And I had the perfect txt all planned out to send my prosthetist once I got my phone back. I told myself that this isn’t even fair. I am here to put my body through this and I cant even get a decent prosthetic leg working to allow me to suffer? But then I realized, my prosthetist Ryan, has been my biggest supporter through out my whole process. None of this is anybody’s fault. I don’t know any other hip-amputee that have ran more than a few miles. The parts that I’m using are made for weekend runners who put a few miles a week. The parts are weak. The people upstairs have no idea what I’m attempting to do. The running leg is not complete and I need to take this to a whole other level. Were still creating it every step along the way and were just here to learn. Every flaw is one step closer to the perfect model. It was 3:17 and I hear people talking. “I’m going to make it!” that’s the aid station! I’m still in!” Around the corner I come upon 2 ladies walking a dog. I was bummed. I kept moving. With all the walking, my adrenaline started to lower and I started to shiver a bit. The whole day was around 35-40 degrees. It did not get warmer. I thought the T-shirt was enough if I kept moving faster. It was 3:25 I had to be there in 5 minutes or I was out. I kept going faster and faster. It clicked to 3:30 and I knew I missed the time. I didnt care I kept trying to get up there, maybe I could bargain with the volunteers and they would let me finish. I would say, “but..but. I have one leg? Its a disadvantage?” Nope. I didn’t go there. If I want to show people that amputees with disabilities such as mine can do what highly trained athletes can do. Than I have to meet the standard myself. & that makes it even all the more fun for me. I am usually the last one to finish, and now I finally have something to compete against. One of the Volunteers Matt, was sweeping the course caught up to me gave me some food bars and we talked while making our way up.  We made it to Mt. Constitution Summit(25.8mile mark) close to 4pm. Missed it by about half an hour. A total of over 8,100ft of elevation was covered throughout in 8 and half hours. We hung around for a bit and took a few pictures. It was one of the best races I have ever ran. I raced it with and against myself. The anticipation of trying to make the last cutoff time made it feel more alive than ever.ImageJames Varner, thank you for throwing on one spectacular race and for giving me the opportunity to run it! Would like to thank Ben Phoenix for making the connection and getting one foot in the door for the races. I came into the events with nothing to loose and left with a stronger belief and mindset. Oh, & more broken leg parts. We live and we learn right? Learned a whole lot about myself and things I could improve on. Also a big thank you to all the crew and volunteers for taking the time of your day to come out and contribute.


Also make sure to stay updated with Team RWB for some great upcoming news! Big things are coming!


Memories from the Island









5 thoughts on “Orcas Island 50k, grizzley bears, & great people

  1. It was great playing leapfrog with you Saturday. I have never been more sore after a race and when I told James how evil he was, he told me I was welcome.

  2. Pingback: Orcas Island 50k – Results and Race Reports - Trail and Ultra Running Article Gallery

  3. Pingback: Daily News, Thurs, Feb 6

  4. I’m so glad UltraRunnerPodcast linked here so I could discover your blog and read your story. Great job out there! I’m going to share this with my 7th grade son because we just finished reading the young-adult novel “The Running Dream” together. You’ve probably heard of it — about a girl track star who loses her leg and learns to run again with a prosthetic. How cool it will be for him to see this real-life story and great pics. Keep it up!

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