2012 Chuckanut 50k

Mar 21st, 2012
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Chuckanut 50k - Chinscraper
~Mile 21, sprinting up Chinscraper
Photo: © Glenn Tachiyama

This was what I needed.

The winter here in Seattle simply will not end, and I’ve been feeling the effects. Though I “run hot,” temperature-wise, I don’t mentally consider myself a cold-weather runner, and to be frank, I’m tired of this shit. The end of 2011 and all of this year has had me yearning for the sun and the warm weather and the short, fast races that end half an hour before I would ever consider opening a vanilla gu. Despite this renewed need for speed, I signed up for the famed Chuckanut 50k. Not out of an intense desire to run the course; more to cross it off the bucket list. This was going to the 20th anniversary of what has essentially become the most competitive 50k in the country. Everyone who runs it enjoys it, and it’s only 100 minutes north of me. I felt kind of foolish calling myself an ultra-runner (only on facebook and to anyone I meet for the first time, but no one else, don’t worry) and having to later state “well, I’ve actually never run Chuckanut. Wait, where are you going?” when the topic would inevitably come up. So when they expanded the race to 1000 people, promising me I would not have to set my alarm on a Saturday in order to register, I went ahead and signed up, even if it didn’t fit into my spring/summer plans of track laps, short shorts and scalp burns. After Orcas ravaged my ankle, I recovered and was able to put in a few weekends worth of decent trail hill prep.

I didn’t have a great handle on what I could expect from myself on race day. I looked at 2011’s times, and estimated I should maybe gun for something in the 4:45-5:00 range. (This was a pill to swallow. Since Chuckanut is so competitive, that sort of time would have me finishing while many better runners were already in civilian clothes, three beers in.) I studied the elevation profile just so I wouldn’t be too surprised by climbs or descents. I packed 3 packs of Clif Bloks into one handy baggie that fit into my short’s pocket, stuffed a couple gels into a waist pouch thing, and filled one bottle with two nuun tablets (flavor: pink). I decided to wear my Brooks Launches. The tread wasn’t super…but I didn’t want to be wearing my mud-caked, workboot-esque Mizuno Wave Riders on a course that has about 14 miles of flat gravel road.

Orcas Island 50k
The big dogs about :02 into the race. Not pictured: Me.
Photo: © Michael Lebowitz/LongRun Picture Company

On race morning I tolerated Patrick‘s presence until the gun went off, and quickly found myself behind a guy with monster calves. While I was quietly admiring him and conniving a way to start a conversation with him, I realized it was Adam Hewey. Adam is a much better trail runner than I am, but on the roads we’re probably pretty even, so I just sat with him during the 6ish miles of flat road. After a few miles, Bill Huggins joined us. Bill is also usually faster than I am on the trails. On roads though, we’re all 2:50ish marathoners, so I enjoyed appearing to be in better company than is usually prudent for me at these types of races. Someone said “45 minutes” as we hit the first aid station and started the single track climb into the middle miles. I didn’t stop, having barely touched my bottle thus far. Neither did Adam, who soon disappeared ahead of me, his calves glistening in the morning light, threatening to explode. Bill stopped to stock up, so our sausage-fest was over for the time being.

And this is where I got what I needed. The month of trail climbing I’d done before this race gave me the legs to handle the ups and downs or Chuckanut’s middle miles, and the fucking amazing conditions found me actually by god *enjoying* myself once again on the trails. There were moments I forgot I was even “racing” (as much as someone like myself can claim to be “racing”), I was so distracted by the idyllic scenery and conditions. Adam Lint, hampered by a sore hamstring and a thimble-sized bladder, was in & out of my view throughout most of these miles. He’d pull away on a climb, I’d catch him back on a flat while he watered the trees. Snow was gently falling throughout most of these middle miles, the trails becoming less and less visible the higher we got. This culminated with a spectacular time along the ridge trail section. The day before, fellow first-timer Patrick was asking me if I had any idea why the ridge trail was labeled “difficult” on the course map even though it looked fairly tame, climbing-wise. I didn’t know. A mile into it though, I knew. The technical trail along with the fresh snow was providing an invigoratingly dangerous and fun stretch of miles. Later on, after I was done, Claire was commenting on the absurd amount of finishers ahead of me who’d come through the finish line with bloody knees. I’m guessing most of this blood was drawn on the ridge trail. I was relatively nimble enough to come out of it unscathed and relatively strong enough to not get passed by runners like an old lady on the interstate. I probably even held my place.

Chuckanut 50k - Chinscraper
~Mile 10
Photo: © Glenn Tachiyama

Sure enough though, party time ended. My muscles were getting tired and food intake was becoming more of a requirement than a suggestion. At a certain checkpoint in the late-teen miles I heard a guy with a clipboard announce I was in 50th place. And suddenly I had a focus, however-slight. I had no watch and no idea what I was on pace for…but I could easily keep tabs on my place from here on out (about a mile later I’d lose track). Bill Huggins finally caught back up to me early on in the famed Chinscraper climb (he’s in the jacket behind me in this glorious action shot of me) and while I figured I was done in terms of competing with him, I was mildly proud of myself for having held him off for as long as I did.

The climb ended more quickly than I was fearing and soon we were flying on down the Cleator Rd fire road. I found this ~3 mile stretch very similar in style to the 6ish mile drop from Suntop at the White River 50. This time though I handled my shit much better. No walking! No watch but I’m sure I was also dropping some respectable splits, able to go about as fast as could be expected considering the 21 prior miles and my garbage downhill form. I hit the last aid station, passed a couple stragglers, got passed by one guy who didn’t need aid, took a breath, and headed out for the horrible final 6.5 miles of flat gravel road to the finish.

This was the loneliness of the long distance runner. One of the earlier stragglers, a fast road guy who lives mere blocks from me, passed me…I then passed him back. Pam Smith, the eventual 4th place woman, passed me. And that’s it. Other than that, I was completely alone with my eye-rolling thoughts and weak attempts at motivation. I thought of my old high school xc buddies and how they would have loved this course, especially Clint. I thought of my college xc coach and his funny malapropisms…then remembered I didn’t run college xc. I thought of how I was just a few miles from being done with ultras for the year. DONE! Done with multi-hour long run weekend obligations. I tried to pretend I was chasing Brett down this road which was now a mere road 10k race against a bunch of jobber high school kids, not the final fifth of a 50k. I thought of my gf and how it was her birthday in two days and whether I should blow her a kiss when I see her at the finish, or do the mere wink + finger gunshot motion that cool guys do in movies. I thought about what the time on the hopefully-present digital clock at the finish line would read. “Wouldn’t it be cool if it said 4:20?” I thought to myself. Followed by “Ok let’s do a one minute surge. Count it out…1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 (look over my shoulder, see nobody)…..ehh fuck this.”

I knew I was getting close and I was definitely bonking. Out of Bloks though, I wasn’t about to fumble with a gu and get that shit all over my hands, so I just tried to hold on. A volunteer offered an “I’m sorry” smile, stating “five more minutes!” and I was surprised to find that unlike Scott McCoubrey, she actually seemed to overestimate the distance…or underestimate me. I could soon hear cheering…then I could see flags…then thank god a finish line. The clock was suddenly all up in my business and I was initially a little disappointed to see 4:39 (pdf), 47th place. Minutes later though, less delirious and less focused on “4:20,” I became solidly happy. This was a very worthy effort. No idea how the course Saturday compared to years past, but I have to guess it ran slower with the snow and mud. Though I’m in much better shape than at Orcas, that’s not saying much and it is still just mid-March. The only real walking occurred on Chinscraper.

The course itself and the conditions/weather was, as I mentioned earlier, fantastic. I immediately started recommending the races to other people on simply these merits, even though it was the only time in Chuckanut’s 20 years that it snowed. [Edit: Trisha Steidl corrects me in the comments. Still, snow is rare.] I couldn’t help myself though; this was the type of thing I’d given up road racing for. With a slew of sub-par trail performances recently, I’d lost sight of that. The strongest memory I have of the race, other than Pam Smith’s butt getting smaller and smaller after she passed me at mile 28, was giggling like a little kid with Adam Lint in the beginning of the ridge line trail. Forgetting for a minute that I was racing and this was supposed to be serious business.

Many thanks to all who volunteered, even though I shattered my “least amount of time wasted at aid stations” PR. I was enjoying myself out there, but my core temperature stayed high with my effort. Those standing still at an aid station, or sitting in a lawn chair with a clipboard, probably weren’t as lucky. Thanks to Krissy Moehl and Ellen Parker for opening up the race to 1000 and letting me sleep in on sign-up day. Your race is everything I heard it’d be and more. And of course thanks to Claire for being there at the miserably rainy start, the sunny finish, and in general.

Gear I used but was not provided or compensated for in any way:
Brooks Launch shoes (Hewey says Brooks is killing this pair)
Cougar Mtn Series socks (that’s as much as I know about them)
Length-wise, my least offensive shorts (Nike)
No underwear (sore later that night :( )
Old Seattle Running Company tech shirt by Brooks (navy blue)
$2 Target threadbare gloves with functional tear in pointer fingers to enhance usability and appear more homeless.
Some head/ear band thing I have no idea where I got it but really accentuates my baldness.
Band Aid brand nipple guards

1.5 Clif Bars (Coconut Chocolate & Oatmeal Raisin)
Odwalla smoothie (12 oz)
1 cup Rodeway Inn coffee (ass)
Water (~12 oz)

During the race:
3 packs of Clif Bloks (citrus, orange, wild cherry)
2 vanilla Gu (took 1 vanilla Clif Shot from an aid station but never used it)
1 bottle strawberry lemonade Nuun, refilled a few times with whatever sport drink they were peddling at aid stations (let’s call it ~36 oz all told).

  • Trishalr2

    Nice write-up.  This was not the first time there was snow on the course.  There was snow several years ago, when Uli was racing and I wasn’t (hence why I can’t remember the year, though I’m not even sure which years I raced it anyway….).  Ask him.

  • jayaresea

    whoops. i think i read on another person’s recap that it was the first snow year. uli tends to lie though so i’ll just take your word for it.

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