Saturday, March 17, 2007

Chuckanut 50K - Bellingham WA

This was my first ultra so I had a lot of anticipation building up for this over the last month. But less pressure since my only goal was to finish respectably. To me that meant above the median and under six hours.

I drove to Bellingham the night before the race, a painful traffic-filled two hours from SeaTac airport.Perhaps I should fly in to Bellingham if I do it again? We stayed at the Fairhaven Village Inn, a few blocks from the race start - a nice little hotel. We walked a few blocks through the Fairhaven neighborhood and had a late dinner at the Mambo Italian Cafe: excellent pasta and a bottle of chianti.

Race morning dawned rainy and cold. But I felt good and looked forward to the race. I found a crucial pre-race latte at the Safeway on the way to Fairhaven Park. We got to the park around 7am in plenty of time to pick up the packet and a race chip. A chip-timed trail race? Thats a first for me.

I relaxed in the car for an hour chatting with Rebecca about fueling strategies for the upcoming rest stops where she was going to meet me. I didn't eat anything prior to the race, although we had bars, gels, and pretzels that could have served the purpose (I could have even gotten something better such as oatmeal at the Safeway on the way). I never eat before races, but this was to prove to be a bad move before this particular race. I vow to eat something before all future ultras.

I decided to bring my cellphone since my propensity for taking wrong turns could really hurt in such a long race. I changed into some surfer-style shorts that nestled my cellphone nicely. Unfortunately these shorts would end up chafing my important assets by the end of the race. Vaseline next time - another ultra learning. I wore two long sleeve running shirts, a fleece, a rainshell, and fleece running cap. This made me a lot more comfortable in the cold. But no tights! I'll never do that unless they come with matching cape or something. I topped it off with my trusty Oakley MP3 sunglasses, which looked particularly ridiculous on this gray day. Luckily the lenses retract, which looks even stranger! For the impending mud, I chose Adidas TR9s as my race blades.

The race started just a few minutes after eight AM, up a small hill in the park and past a subdivision and onto the trail proper. I picked a leisurely pace, probably around 9 minute miles, dialed in, and tried to just enjoy the trail amidst the drizzle. The mud wasn't too bad in the beginning despite the rain.

I hit the first rest stop at around an hour and five minutes. I drank some Red Bull that Rebecca had for me. But just wasn't hungry yet (another mistake not to force myself to eat). I surrendered my fleece and shell to Rebecca and headed out back onto the trail. We now turned up a steep hill gaining over a thousand feet very quickly. Back down another hill and we again climbed over one thousand feet going past Fragrance Lake before the third rest stop. I felt great the whole time and perhaps attacked the hill more than I should have, passing several smarter, wiser runners. I sucked down a gel packet during the climb when I started to feel just a bit rundown. Finally I saw Rebecca again at the third rest stop at around two hours and fifteen minutes. I drank some more Red Bull and grabbed a Clif bar and gel packet to go. This was where I really should have stopped to eat.

I left the rest stop and passed several runners on the trail as we headed across and down a fairly technical ridge.

At one point a couple younger faster guys passed me which surprised me since I had thought I was "hanging back" quite a bit earlier and had started to hit my speed. As I headed out into open space, I ate a Hammer gel. Towards the end of the descent my recently injured groin muscles started to ache. I lost quite a bit of speed as I approached the bottom of the ridge. We turned back on a long muddy plateau trail for several miles past Lost Lake. We then turned right off of that trail and started climbing back up to the summit. There was one quick hill of a couple hundred feet, and then we started up a seemingly vertical climb up seven hundred feet or so. This is apparently known as the Chinscraper. Normally I love such steep hills, and have a couple of real doozies approaching this steepness on my daily run. But on this day, I'm assuming due to my poor fueling discipline I truly bonked. I tried eating my Clif bar but I really don't like them, and it was of course too late to help. I finished the last hundred feet walking upwards in a total catatonic daze, getting passed by at least ten runners. And I did wonder for a moment what the hell I was doing there.

Finally I got over the top and ran down to an open area (ahead of the rest stop) where Rebecca was waiting in the rental car. I gulped down chicken soup (delicious!), pretzels, nuts, Red Bull. Anything I could get my hands on. I changed into fresh shoes (lightweight Teva X1s now that the technical stuff was done) and socks and felt like a new man. I had a little under ninety minutes to get there and do what was supposedly a little over 11 miles.

I ran down the hill feeling strong, but I was slowed a bit by the treacherous mud. It was fireroad, but very slick and my Adidas TR9s would have allowed me to go a bit faster. Still I felt great and was whooping with exhilaration. After a mile or so, the trail turned off to the left and backward off of the fireroad. With less mud on the singletrack, I really turned it on and passed two or three runners. After around four miles I met Rebecca again at the final rest stop where I drank another Red Bull and took off on a "flat trail" for the supposedly 6.5 miles to the finish. I had a little under an hour to get there which I thought should be easy enough to do, and was contemplating a 5:50 finish. I was running consistently under 8 minute miles from mile marker to mile marker on the trail. So when it seemed that there should just be a half mile left, imagine my surprise when spectators called out "just a couple miles to go". I had to really push it then to keep it under 6 hours. I'd venture that the last leg is really more like 7.5 miles than 6.5. Oh well, everyone had to do the same course and it wouldn't be a trail run without being longer than advertised. But hey Krissy Moehl, can you check that last measurement for next year?

Regardless, I felt great for these last few miles and passed six or so runners. On the last little minhill, I caught up to Dominic Alexander. He pulled away from me with a quarter mile left. But, though I often kick in the finish, I chose not to chase him down at the finish. Such things aren't done at ultras are they? Anyway, thats my excuse and I'm sticking to it. I finished in 5:58:45, 116th out of 256 runners.

Woods, steep climbs, singletrack, ridges with vistas: what a beautiful race. I will definitely be back next year.