After 31 miles, runners speed down the last hill of the race, closer and closer to the finish, where spectators and other runners cheer them on. As they cross the finish line, the crowd erupts with applause.
Rainshadow Running held the Orcas Island 50k on Jan. 28 at Moran State Park. With the runners traveling over 30 miles, many are preparing for future races, while others find the race important to their mental and physical health.
The Orcas Island 50k climbs 8,500 feet in elevation up Mount Constitution; running along rivers and lakes, participants witness beautiful views throughout.
Race Director James Varner started Rainshadow Running in 2006, beginning with the Orcas Island run.
"I spent four or five days running all the trails here in the park and immediately realized this is a beautiful place, and it deserved to have a race," Varner said.
Ultra marathons – anything over 26.2 miles – include preparation and training from participants. Many runners average over 40 miles of training a week.
"I try to get on the trails every weekend and try to do a 3-5 hour run a couple times a month," Kelly MacDonald, a 50k finisher, said.
MacDonald tries to get in 50-55 miles a week to help with consistency.
After moving from the East Coast over the summer, MacDonald took on the race in preparation for the upcoming Western States Endurance Run and as part of her bucket list. She finished ninth for the women with a time of 6:32:17.
"Even [on the East Coast] I had heard of this race. This always comes up as a bucket list race," MacDonald said.
Jessica Ingersoll said her fiance and fellow runner Brad Bodle, his brother, and dad, also runners in the race, aim to get in 40-50 miles a week. Some are long, around 13 miles, and others are shorter and focused more on speed.
Other methods of training used are based on the runner's personal preferences.
Grady Olson, a runner in the 50k, finds running 2-3 times a week, biking for lower body strength and weight training at least once a week is what works best for him. Olson finished with a time of 6:16:15.
"They have to do a lot of hiking. … You know that you’re going to be on your feet for hours and hours," said Jeannie Bodle, the mother and wife of three runners.
When running the race, participants have to keep their minds sharp, focusing on the challenge ahead.
"The biggest thing is to always focus and keep relaxed," Olson said.
"I try not to push it too much and to do what I'm better at, which is climbing and descending," Shelaine Dolce said.
Dolce finished second for the women and first in her age group with a time of 5:50:37.
Her husband, Justin Dolce, another race participant, said he isn't great at climbing so he focuses on the descents.
Spectator Lauren Dove, the girlfriend of runner Kevin Bodle, said how amazing it is watching the dedication and the hours they put into running.
Even though there is a great amount of training for these races, runners in ultra marathons love what they do.
"The thrill, the exhilaration, you feel absolutely amazing afterwards and even during the worst of it you're like ‘This is still pretty OK,’" Olson said.
Mental health is a big contributor to the appeal of ultra marathons.
"During some pretty low times in my life, the mountains are always there, the running community is super supportive and it’s a great way to get away from the screens and social media and totally unplug," MacDonald said.
Running gives people different benefits, from improving their physical and mental health to finding a community of “cool people,” MacDonald said.
"For myself, if I didn't run, I don't know where I would be," Olson said.
MacDonald says a lot of the races out west feature different distances, so new runners can sign up for a shorter event and build up their stamina.
"It's probably not as intimidating as they think, and they should give it a try," Varner said.
Rainshadow Running puts on multiple races, mainly in Washington with a few in Oregon and Colorado. Check out all their races for the rest of the year here.
For photos of the Orcas Island 50k, click here.
Briana Tuvey (she/her) is the photo and social media editor for The Front this quarter. She just finished her third year at Western and is majoring in visual journalism with a minor in psychology and sociology. She enjoys photography, reading, watching soccer (especially Sounders FC), and spending time with her friends and family.
You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.