Sunday, March 16, 2008

Chuckanut Mountain 50K

We got lucky on race day in Bellingham, WA. When we arrived at the start on Saturday morning it was raining consistently. Deciding how many layers to wear and how many pairs of gloves to put in my drop bag was the biggest concern I had. I knew this would be a strong and consistent run but just how fast or slow I wasn’t sure. I set a goal for 5:42 because last year I ran 5:45 and had a great race with no prior events like OC100K on my legs. Though training for OC100K gave me better leg turnover my ability to maneuver up and down on trails was for sure compromised. Even though the training should translate I was sure my trail speed was down based on the few training runs we have done in the gorge.

Decked out in our “Black Saturday” shirts Steve, Micheal, Kris, Trisha and I were ready for whatever the day brought. We were already having so much fun that the relentless rain couldn’t dim our smiles. As we began lining up the rain slowed. After Krissy gave us the “Go” the rain stopped and we were treated to a dry Chuckanut. I have run this race two other times in pouring rain. The runners were all fast on the 6.3 miles out to aid station 1. This is nothing new for this course since the first and last 6 miles are on rolling bike path which is all runnable. I ran the 6.3 mile in a comfortable 53 minutes. I felt like I was running steady and not overdoing it. With a quick crew from Darin I was on my way to the first climbing portion of the race. Last year I did really well on the climbs running almost everything except the “Chinscraper” on the backside. I was anxious to see what I would be able to run today. As we leave the aid station our first bit of climbing is done on single track with nice switchbacks. Last year I ran all of this but this year it was a different story. I was forced to run/walk most this climb because my legs and glutes lacked the endurance and strength. Towards the end of this section is some of funnest down hill running on the course! It's generally always muddy, somewhat steep and curvy but a total blast to barrell down. If you grew up on skis this is fun! I arrived at aid station 2 slower than last year. The section is 4.2 miles and I was 5 minutes slower….ouch! I was working hard but could only go as fast as my legs would allow. After aid station 2 we continue to climb for another 2.9 miles but instead of single track trail it is a perfectly graded gravel road. The pitch is totally runnable if you are in shape for it and last year I busted up this road running the whole thing. This year I was able to run about 60% but broke up the running with 10 steps of walking when it made sense. To my surprise I was 1 minute faster implementing this approach? My glutes seemed to be my biggest demon of the day as they were already very fatigued at mile 13.4.

(photo by: Glen Tachiyama)

At aid station 3 I caught up with Kris who had just arrived and was rummaging through her drop bag. We left together to run the ridge trail. This section is long and takes almost 2 hours to complete for my fitness. Right after leaving we ran along the high cliffy ridge on a very technical trail with large smooth slippery rocks. It rolls along but the ups and downs are quick but steep. With the slippery rocks navigation and footing are important or you will be sliding down on your bum and it’s not soft! Kris and I rocked this section but when a tree split the trail I chose the right side and Kris took the left beating me around and busted so far ahead I couldn’t catch her. I watched her take on the downhill like a was exciting to see her having so much fun on her 3rd 50K. She was strong and determined as was I but she out played me and I never saw her again. After descending down the ridge we are dumped onto and old creek bed or jeep road. It’s hard to tell which it was or is now but the mud was abundant. With a slight upward grade this section can be nagging and take a lot of focus and determination to run. I tried to stay on task and propel myself to the last big climb up “Little Chinscraper” named after the famous climb at Wasatch 100M. Since I have run Wasatch 3 times I am very familiar with the real “Chinscraper” so I know what’s coming. Fortunately Chuckanuts version is shorter and not as steep as the real deal but it’s a knee knocker for sure. Since my climbing skill is weak right now I was expecting to dog this hill but I was surprised to find myself right on the heals of other runners. I was still slow on this section compared to last year but only by 2 minutes. At this point I determined my hiking skills are pretty (photo by: Glen Tachiyama) good it's the uphill running that will need some attention. Once at the top (aid station 4) I gave Darin one of my handhelds, filled another with water, grabbed gels, dropped my hat, drank a Red Bull and got pumped for the last 10 miles. This next section is mine! I love these 3.6 miles downhill and I ran it fast last year but this year I knew I could beat my 7:24 pace. I also had 3 girls on my tail and if I wanted to shake them this was my only chance. I needed to gap them now because I knew I didn’t have any gapping talents in me for the last 6.5 miles. I busted down this section in 26 minutes or 7:14 pace passing runners like they were standing still. This was about the best running I did all day. I could feel my quads talking to me but, “Hey”…..I only had 6.5 miles of rolling stuff to the finish. I didn’t need to stop at aid station 5 and I didn’t want to give anyone I passed the opportunity to get me back easy. I knew how hard these 6.5 miles of rolling bike path was on tired legs. Last year I did it at an 8:54 pace which is fast for me so how would I do this year? After leaving the aid station I took a quick glance to see who was creeping up on me and none were woman but there were 3 men hot on my heals. I cranked up my music, shot another gel and tried to focus on a short but swift stride. With tied up hips, whipped quads and non-existent glutes my turnover was slow but seemed fast. I tried to keep my arms moving to force my legs to move which helped a lot. Within about 10 minutes I was passed by 2 guys I creamed on the downhill but I held everyone else off with my sub 10 minute mile finish. Arriving at the last turn heading for the finish line I glance at my watch and see 5:45 but by the time I crossed the line it was 5:46 or an 11:09 overall pace. Micheal was waiting at the finish for me but Kris was already dressed as she came running out of the building screaming with excitement. Huge hugs for all of us to each other, very warm feelings on job well done. It was so cool. Kris finished in 5:38:??, Micheal in 5:39:?? so we were all so close to each other. Steve finished in 6:14 and Trisha battled hard for her first every 50K in 7:55.

I was pleased with my race. I felt strong and healthy but my time reflects my trail fitness at this point. Scott believes that the road will translate and for many I am sure it does. For me it comes down to a lack of trail running strength. I am a super efficient road runner, a good climber and a strong down hill runner. I lack efficiency on the rollers. I need practice, practice and more practice to be good at that. Chuckanut Mountain 50K is a great race to determine your ultra fitness early in the season. The current course offers it all, rollers, long and short climbs, long descents, flats, single track, gravel road and technical trail. By the time you’re finished you will know your strengths and weaknesses. It’s perfect timing to get training plans in order for long spring and summer ultras. Yesterday I learned that my single track running needs work along with my long steady climbing and my ability run run rollers isn't great. I felt pretty good about the technical stuff and the flats. My glutes will be getting a workout in the future because they lacked the strength and endurance necessary for serious trail running. Another wonderful thing about Chuckanut is the reunion of runners. A ton of friends were there and it was great fun to hang out, talk and getting post race massages. What a great road trip! Seeing Trisha complete her first Ultra race on such a tough course was just the icing on the cake.


  1. Well, if you lack efficiency on the rollers, what is me then?? :) I bet those glutes were from OC100k flat non-changing repetitive motion. I had my glutes and hams locked up the whole last section. I am amazed at your ability to run uphill, I could never do it, but I think a lot of it comes with body composition territory. When you are as light as you are, it's easier to carry yourself up, but the hike with strong push-off is where I am good at. Was the last section really 6.5 and not 5.5? Doesn't matter, really. You ran strong, and Leona will be right when your trail legs are back, but road legs not lost! It was fun to see you guys, and I am looking forward Black Saturdays! Man, as Gail said, I should take on this year as a build-up and stop expceting too much...

  2. It was great fun and inspiring to watch and help you guys out for the day.

  3. Good work, Rhonda, at Chuckanut! Yes, the course does have it all but we could use without the Interurban path out and back (maybe in 2009 it will be gone). Yes, Olga, that section really is 6.5 miles. And by the way, the upper ridge loop is more than the listed mileage. How much more, I'm not telling!

  4. Doug, thanks, that makes me feel a bit least I wasn't crawling:) You have great website! I am looking forward a change of the Chuck course in 2009. May be I won't give up 50k's after all:)

  5. Great race report - it is nice to have the details because I've only run in the PNW once and it helps to visualize what kind of course you are talking about. Sounds like you stayed focused and were really able to figure out what you need to work on.

    I agree with Olga about the repetitive, flat motion from the roads probably contributing to some of your discomfort. Since that is pretty much all I run, I tend to have most issues with glutes/hams. I'm trying to focus on balancing that out, so I'll be interested to see what you come up with :)

    Great finish! I want to hear more about "gapping". What does that mean? Whatever it is, very cool that you were able to stay strong and consistent at the end!

  6. By the smile and composed look in ALL of your photos, I'm thinking you didn't run hard enough! Great report-your support for everyone is world-class. Thanks, K