Wow, what a day!
First, we got incredibly lucky with the weather, and I’m so grateful. Historically, Chuckanut trail conditions are wet, cold, very muddy, and sometimes even snow-covered. So a dry, overcast day with a low of 40 and high of 57 was pure perfection!
Overall, this race is one of the most organized I’ve ever raced. I understand why it’s a Pacific Northwest classic. The volunteers were friendly and helpful, which is always appreciated. The trail was marked extremely well with pink for the course and yellow for the wrong way. Additionally, there were motivational/entertaining signs throughout the entire course along the lines of “Dance up this hill!”, “Run like a robber!” and my favorite being: “If you’re reading this, you’re not moving. The clock hasn’t stopped. Get moving!” Those little signs really gave you a boost and were even occasionally helpful e.g. “Slippery as slug slime!”
As you can see from the map below, the race is broken out into six distinct sections, so I’ll structure the report accordingly, so you can follow along.
Interurban Trail (orange on the map):
The first 6 miles are mostly flat and an easy run. Like everyone, we wanted to make the most of the flat grade, but at the same time didn’t want to trash our legs right away. We maintained an easy pace, but still moved along at a decent clip. There’s an aid station at the end of this section where we saw some acquaintances before heading up the first real incline.
Fragrance Lake Trail (pink):
From our navigationally-challenged reconnaissance run here weeks ago, we were familiar with this section, and I’m glad we were. Switchbacks up…for a long while. It helped to know that it was there so it wasn’t too demoralizing. We did well on the climb and even caught a few people.
Two Dollar Trail (pink, part II):
This is my favorite part of the trail from the reconnaissance run. We knew it would be runnable, and Two Dollar Trail did not disappoint. We really enjoyed this section and were able to make good progress. This past week our coach had us working on technique for downhills/technical sections, and it really helped here – fast feet! I was feeling a bit more confident as we went along. Unfortunately, this is a short section. We were at Cleator Road before we knew it.
Cleator Road (green):
I’ll admit that I was dreading this section. It’s about 3 miles of unlovely, pothole-laden paved forest road. It has a fairly steady incline that’s just enough to sap your motivation. At one point Adam said to me, “You know, if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be doing this.” I inwardly panicked a bit, thinking of what he’d be doing on a Saturday morning instead – visiting coffee shops and record stores, and certainly not running endless miles in the forest. I replied, “Uhh…I’m sorry?” “No, no! I mean I wouldn’t be doing this awesome thing otherwise.” “OH. Great!”
I’m glad Adam was with me as we were able to push each other when the other was flagging. We’d walk some and when there was a slightly flatter bit or be otherwise inspired we’d say, “okay, run until wood pile/mossy tree/gravel pothole?” We were able to pass a few people here as well. Also, due to the overlapping route, we saw the top two runners whiz past us. They’d already sprinted over the Ridge, across Lost Lake and up Chinscraper sections – we couldn’t believe how far ahead they were! If you were curious, they both finished around 3:40. Sigh. Wonder what it’s like to be that fast? A question for the ages.
Ridge Trail (purple):
We got to the top of Cleator, and to an Irish/St. Patrick’s themed aid station. Cries of “water, electrolytes, whiskey!” filled our ears. The whiskey (a.k.a. liquid courage) tempted Adam, but he wisely declined. Too many miles to go! The very technical Ridge Trail awaited. Again, I’m glad we’d run parts of this before so we were mentally prepared for it. We weren’t as daring as others on this section and got passed by a number of folks (one ruefully proclaimed as he passed, “I guess I’m not as concerned for my safety!”). This section was so very un-runnable! Shockingly, neither of us rolled an ankle, but I did fall twice. Once was a smooth slo-mo slide on a big rock slab. Another was a root that caused me to fly forward and nearly brain myself on a tree. No harm done, but this type of terrain frustrates me because it seems impossible to really make forward progress. It’s hard to be agile and fast when you feel as if you’re one step away from a busted ankle. Some might find that thrilling, but for anyone who knows me, ‘thrills’ are not my idea of fun. 🙂
Near the end of this part we heard some cheering in the distance. This was a surprise to us because we were nowhere near the next aid station. Instead, we were cheered on by rainbow and tutu-clad cheerleaders going the opposite direction. If it were further in the race, I may have thought we were hallucinating, but they were just some fantastic folks who brought smiles to our faces during this tricky part.
North Lost Lake Trail (purple, part II):
We finally got off the Ridge – hooray! We could finally run again! Although I will admit that the Ridge Trail sapped our strength more than I had expected. Even after a snack break, I felt a bit shattered. Though we were on very runnable trail, it was tough to get going again. To be fair, we were about halfway through the race, and that’s typically when my legs start to feel it.
We ended up leading a group of runners for a few miles and made some good time. This also was the only section with mud. Thankfully, it was fairly easy to avoid. I can see how in other years this part would have giant, shoe-swallowing mudholes. Again, the weather was in our favor and allowed us to move fairly quickly.
We knew all about Chinscraper, but only by reputation. We skipped this section during the reconnaissance run due to the imminent threat of mountain bikes, so I feared the worst. However, we knew this was the last real push before it was all downhill to the end. Our training had included some good, steep hill workouts at Tiger and Squak mountains, so honestly, I didn’t think it was that bad. (And from a flatlander like myself, that means something!) Granted, we had resigned ourselves to walking this mile all along. It was a nice place to chat with another fellow runner and enjoy the amazing ridiculousness of this entire ultraunning adventure. There was a spectator sitting by the side of trail who was cheering everyone on as they went up. Everyone appreciated his kind words on the way up! Also, Glenn Tachiyama, our local favorite race photographer, was right at the top of a particularly gnarly bit of trail. Here we are, with smiles…
Before we knew it, we were at the top and back at the Irish/St. Patrick’s-themed aid station at the top of Cleator. (I momentarily considered a shot of whiskey, but figured it might be courting disaster. Alas, a dram would have to wait!) At this point, I was very pleased with how well were doing. We were way ahead of the cutoffs, and still feeling good. I had some astoundingly tasty orange slices (that I only seem to have at races), and also tried out one of my coach’s suggestions of Chuao Chocolate – Oh My S’mores. Yeah… that was great. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of trying chocolate before! (Thanks, Jess!) Anyway, the Celtic music blasting out of the speakers cheered me further, and we headed out with high spirits.
Fragrance Lake/Interurban Trail (red):
Now it was all downhill! We were moving along at a good clip and feeling good. Until… at about mile 23, Adam’s knee decided to throw a tantrum. This knee pain is something he’s experienced in the past, but hasn’t had issues with it in this training cycle. Much to our chagrin, the pain reared its ugly head. Unfortunately, the only way to deal with it is to walk. So walk we did. He was able to manage quarter mile stints of running now and then, which helped move us along.
He was frustrated because otherwise he felt good, and so did I! If not for his treacherous knee, we could’ve kept running with no problem. We probably could have shaved nearly an hour off our finishing time.
As people passed by us, they gave us encouragement, but we both wanted to say, “no, really, we’re fine! We have the energy, it’s just that his knee…gah, nevermind.” We knew that we totally had gas in the tank! It was encouraging to feel this way after already running a marathon distance.
The walk allowed us to enjoy the views of Chuckanut Bay that we hadn’t had the time to see in the beginning. I also reminded him that this really was a training run for us for Scotland, so our finishing time didn’t matter. I just wanted to finish before the cutoff, and even with our walking I knew we’d easily manage that.
We knew the last section would be tough mentally. However, like all races, it surprised us in the way it was difficult. It was another reminder that each race is different and it’s incredibly difficult to predict how it will challenge you.
As we got closer to the finish we saw more locals who cheered us on and said encouraging things to us stinky runners with pinned-on numbers. We were able to run the last half mile and finish strong.
Some quick numbers:
Finishing time: 7:31:47
Elevation gain: ~5,500 feet
Calories consumed: ~850 (7 Glutino Oreos, 1 small tortilla with a slice of ham and shredded cheese, bite of potato, half an orange, 1/4 Chuao Chocolate Oh My S’mores)
The week up to this race, I was quite nervous. I didn’t have any crazy expectations for us (beforehand we’d already convinced ourselves in the car it was okay not to win, lol), and I just wanted to finish ahead of the cutoffs. Our reconnaissance run was helpful, and I’m glad we did it. However, knowing how difficult some of those sections were got into my head.
I forgot the cardinal rule: trust in your training! That’s one of the many reasons we have a coach, and after all of my races I should know better by now. Aside from Adam’s knee issue, we did far better than I thought we would, so thanks Alison (of Cascade Endurance)!
Now, if you’ll excuse me, we have a couch to sit on and many things to eat… 🙂