Snap! I felt a pop at the back of my knee as I reached mile five along one of the most scenic sections of single track trail I’d ever traversed. Under different circumstances, I would have stopped, but with several miles to go on my Moran Constitutional Relay team’s penultimate leg, there was no time to waste. I jog/hiked the uphill sections, and skip-hobbled the flats and descents for 45 uncomfortable minutes, keeping my knee bent slightly so it wouldn’t hyperextend, which was my knee’s-never-been-hurt fear. Runners who’d backtracked after finishing coaxed me through the last half mile with promises of “You’re almost there.” Three and a half miles after my knee went bad, I stepped off the trail and onto the pavement at the busiest of the race’s six exchanges: Mountain Lake Landing, placed our team’s chip in a slot atop a sign, sloppy Operation Game-like, and passed it on to Tiffany, our team’s last runner.
Northwest Trail Run’s Moran Constitutional Relay (MCR) is a two-day, 70ish mile race along 38 miles of trail held on Orcas Island during the first weekend in October. The field is limited to 50 teams from two to six persons in size that compete against one another independent of age, team size or gender. Unlike the more popular Ragnar Trail events which run continuously from start to finish (each person runs the same three legs in different orders), MCR participants complete different legs, eight per team the first day and four the second, with a break in between. Race results include a comparison of performance by leg and by team.
Everything was lush green under clear skies outside the canopy of trees and the most exquisite layer of mist inside much of it. The light rain that fell Sunday took nothing away from the scenery. It was still spectacular. Most got the chance to spend some time entirely alone in the wilderness. Moran State Park is an island treasure, “Ocean beauty, beaches and boating? You won’t even miss them at Washington’s Moran State Park….saltwater recreation and views usually are the big visitor draws. Yet Moran, which covers a 5,252-acre, thickly forested swathe of Orcas Island, has no ocean access.¶What it does have, and what has made it one of the most popular destinations in the San Juans, are freshwater lakes for swimming, fishing and low-key boating; dozens of miles of hiking and mountain-biking trails, from gentle to thigh-burning; excellent campsites; and an iconic mountaintop-observation tower with sweeping views.”According to Wikipedia, “With a land area of 57.3 square miles and a population of 5,387 (2010 census), Orcas Island is slightly larger but less populous, than neighboring San Juan Island.” Oprah recently bought an estate on the island about two miles south of the course. We didn’t see her but did encounter a nice, unpretentious TV personality participant, who will remain nameless. Additionally, Uli Steidl, who has won the Seattle Marathon at least 10 times, sat with us at dinner. But to me, MCR was about the 257 participants who showed up and killed it.
Men dominated in speed, finishing first in nine of twelve legs: Christian Linfoot (Legs 1&12), Ben Ressler (Leg 2), Martin Perrin (Leg 3), Nick Hubbard (Legs 4&9), Mike Zanine (Leg 5), Mike Karas (Leg 6), Troy Haeseler (Leg 7) and Martin Criminale (Leg 10) but several women showed just how bada$$ the “weaker” sex can be: Erin Gjefle (no photo available) finished Leg 11 first with a women’s course record. Caroline Austin finished 2nd overall on Legs 4&12 and 1st on Leg 8, setting a women’s course record on 4&12 and an overall course record on Leg 8. Four women formed two two-person teams: Katie Duncan (Legs 1,2,7,8,9,12-38.9 mi) and Jenny Easterberg (Legs 3,4,5,6,9,10,11-40.2 mi), who completed the most climb of any participant (11,473′) and set a women’s course record on Leg 10 and Cate Burgess (Legs 2,4,5,8,11-30.1 mi) and Beth Macinko (Legs 1,3,6,7,9,10,11-41.3 mi), who completed the longest distance of any participant (take that Bob Foote). Tryggve Trivett, age 13, finished both of her legs (1&12) 11th overall and was the youngest competitor.
We paid to eat and sleep at the ELC, so we didn’t see much of the island outside the park except to and from the ferry terminal, which is where I learned a valuable lesson: not only must you obtain a reservation for the ferry trip from Orcas to Anacortes, you must use it wisely. With 90% of the ferry’s 144 vehicle capacity reserved, as few as 14 vehicles are allowed on from the standby line. We arrived at 2:00 pm with a 5:15 pm reservation and were placed in the standby line. Once the 3:15 left, I sent my teammates off as walk-ons and explained to two of the three onsite Washington State Ferries employees that I had a 5:15 reservation and wanted to use it if wasn’t going to make it on as a standby (I was in the outside lane, so it’d have been easy to move me) after showing them where I was in the line. Both assured me that I would, but when “my” ferry left without me, I realized that they were not only lazy, they were wrong. I waited for the 7:30 ferry. Don’t be like me: get a reservation on the 3:15 ferry or later and insist to be placed in the reservation line.
To assign our team’s legs, I poured over the distance and climb combinations for every four-member team from 2017. My original plan had us completing back to back legs the first day, but that didn’t fly with my teammates, so we went with Plan B, which became Plan C Saturday night. I ran legs 4, 8 and 11. The race begins on a Saturday morning at 7:30 am. Participants may camp or stay in the cabins that surround the primary congregation place, the Environmental Learning Center (ELC), mere steps from the start and finish each day, or elsewhere on the island. Trails pass towering old growth trees, lakes, streams, and waterfalls.
Ferry snafu aside, all four members of our (First Timer Four Pack) team, JoDee, Marci, Tiffany and I agreed that MRC was the best, most scenic, fun race EVER. With an average age of 50.3 years, we were thrilled not only to have an absolute blast but to finish midway through the pack (25th) while competing against larger (and smaller) teams with younger (and older) runners. I’ll be waiting with my mouse pointer poised over the REGISTER button when it opens for next year’s race. I hope you will too.