chuckanut 50k

While heading out along Chuckanut Ridge yesterday, I was a bit nervous about the 150′ dropoff just over to my right.  Because of mud and (slippery) rocks, the footing was iffy.  There were helpful signs along the way, telling us to be careful.  I could help but wonder whether anyone had flown off the cliff due to reading the signs instead of paying attention to the trail.

climbing the “little chinscraper” near mile 21 – photo courtesy of glenn tachiyama (check out his great chuckanut pictures here)

I’ve wanted to do the Chuckanut 50k for several years now.  I’d heard it was both beautiful and very challenging, and was not disappointed.  Coming off three road marathons on flat/fast courses(Bellingham Bay, Philadelphia, and Houston), I knew I’d need to hit the trail and some significant hillwork prior to Chuckanut.  But life intervened a bit.  Time constraints meant my long runs were mostly on roads, or nearby trails (not as hilly as I needed).  As most I was able to click off about 3000′ of ascent, less than half the amount I’d get at Chuckanut.  For better or worse, it wouldn’t be the first time I’d undertrained for the course.  I would just have to get out and try my best.

The morning before the event, I was driving my eldest daughter to school, and telling her that I was feeling a higher than average element of doubt about Chuckanut.  Anytime you line up to run a marathon or ultra, you can’t help but be aware that there are no guarantees.  50k is a long way to go.  She pointed out that she felt the same way when she performed.  I said “so you’re telling me to quit whining and to just go out and do this. aren’t you?”.  “Well – yeah, but I know you can” she said.  It’s great when we can learn from our kids, isn’t it?  I thought a lot about this brief conversation the next day when I was running Chuckanut Ridge.  Thanks Kayla!

looking out to bellingham bay, the evening before.  I ran up that pier while doing the bellingham bay marathon in september of 2011.

Got to Bellingham in time to catch packet pickup as it opened up.  It was a small affair – bib, shirt, and then a bit of SWAG.  But it was SWAG one could actually use – CLIF bars, Udo’s Oil samplers, and some nice dark chocolate with Udo’s in it.  I walked over to the Big Fat Fish Company in Fairhaven, and enjoyed some nice grilled salmon.  Had to pass on the steamed clams, as they would violate the “don’t try anything for the first time just before an event” rule.  Oh well.  I spent a little while hanging out at a bookstore, and then turned in.

ready to go.  my shoes will never be that green again.

After a breakfast that included a couple of hard-boiled egg whites, and two bananas, I headed out to the start.  We were along the Chuckanut Bay waterfront, several blocks from the Fairhaven district.  I went out to watch the first wave go off at eight – with ultrarunning legend Scott Jurek sending the runners off, and then lined up myself.  At 8:10 am we started our adventure.

chuckanut2012-start

at the start of the first wave – photo courtesy of glenn tachiyama

I got to catch up with Marathon Maniac Guy Yogi for several miles.  I’d run with Guy several times in the past – we swapped stories about events and family.  As we wound along the mostly level Interurban Trail during the first 10k, it felt like the miles were pretty much breezing by.  This is what good company does.

We got our first taste of technical running when we turned onto the Fragrance Lake Trail.  I fueled up a bit, and started on the single track.  Several miles later, we were rewarded with a beautiful trip around snowy Fragrance Lake.  Part of me wished I’d brought a camera, but mostly I was happy to just focus on keeping moving.

At this point, I felt great.  At the 10.4 mile mark, we hit aid station #2.  I was happy to see some familiar faces there.  And it was a well-timed boost too – as we commenced a 2.9 mile climb up Cleator Road.  This was a long winding dirt road – the footing was a bit slippery, as we were running on snow, slush, and mud.  As we approached the top of Chuckanut Mountain, the frontrunners screamed by us – pounding down the icy hill at a fairly breakneck pace.

Mile 13.3 is where things got interesting.  We turned onto the Ridge Trail, which was a fairly narrow single-track with a sheer drop-off just a few feet off to the right.  The trail was pretty slippery, and the footing tricky.  I rationalized that I’d probably be able grab a tree were I to fall, but took it a bit easy nonetheless.

After traversing the ridge, we turned onto Lost Lake Road.  Not sure who thought the lake was lost – it looked like the road was actually a shallow lake or stream.  And so we plodded along through the mud and water.  Around this point was when I started feeling lots of pain in my feet.  I’d had a long-standing issue with metatarsal inflammation in my left foot, and now the right was also talking to me.  If I’d strike a stone or root on the ball of my foot, I’d whimper audibly.  Hopefully my fellow runners thought I was singing or blissfully hallucinating.

looking up the steep section of chinscraper, photo courtesy of gary yang (approval pending)

Just past the 20 mile mark, we came upon aid station #4, with the signs telling us we were about to hit the famed “Chinscraper”.  Much of this was a steep and steady climb, much like less-forgiving trails I’d run on Tiger Mountain, or Mount Si.  Just past midway, we came to a very steep ascent requiring hands and knees to scrabble up the hill.  It could just as easily have been named the “anything” scraper – it was that easy to lose footing.  It was on this stretch that we really got our money’s worth.

After cresting the Chinscraper, we got back onto Cleator Road, this time pointed downhill.  My splits here were the fast, but nothing like the frontrunners.  There was about a thirteen minute pace spread between the trip up Chinscraper and the descent.  This continued along Frangrance Lake Road, the descent totalling about 4 miles.  It felt great to go all out here, but I paid for it shortly after.

At mile 24.6, we hit the final aid station at Clayton Beach.  I’d been out here while running the 2010 Last Chance Marathon, so knew I had a fairly level 6.55 miles to go.  The next three miles I managed to keep a steady 9-9 1/2 minute per mile pace.  There were a couple of up and down spots with a 2-3 miles to go, and I started walking.  Not much left in the tank.  Less than a short training run to go, I was able to pick it up, but mixed in some walking.

I recognized the last stretch towards Fairhaven Park, and coaxed a good pace for the final half mile.  Crossing the finish felt great – because I was really done.  50k #3 was in the books.  Highlights – only took one fall, and no bonus miles.  Aside from the hill-training deficit, not a bad day at all.

added 3/19/2012 : check out this brief writeup of the race by ultra runner magazine

Charts and Graphs for Running Geeks

time 6:35:46.4
pace 12:51/mile
overall 379/547
age group 82/104
gender 282/374
checkpoint rank time pace
aid #3 389 2:38:49 11:56/mile
middle run 390 2:16:26 16:51/mile
to finish 379 1:40:30 10:41/mile

results from http://www.buduracing.com/raceresults/20120317_821.pdf#view=Fit

Splits charts for trail events a not useful, other than perhaps being another look at the elevation chart.  That is to say – you sort of trace the elevation changes by looking at when the splits slow down.  Not 100% accurate (notable exception being splits #29 and 30 below), but a good indicator.

My heart rate monitor wasn’t working yesterday, but it would have been interesting to look at my numbers on the final 10k, along the Interurban Trail to see whether my perceived fatigue was reflected in elevated HR.  There are issues with the way my GPS tracks elevation changes (the Times Global Trainer is not a device I’d recommend for a number of reasons).  Indeed you can see the inclines reflected in my longer splits in the middle miles.

The numbers are off and there’s a bit of noise, but the overall shape of the course looks like this :

The map is confusing, with many twisty parts, but the course description posted on the event site is very good.

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