Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Chuckanut 50k

March 17, 2012

For a couple of years now, I've been contemplating trying some ultra races (anything longer than a marathon). I know quite a few people who compete in races up to a 100 Miles and more and while I'm not certain I ever want to go quite that far, I did want to give some "shorter" ultras a crack. All races from short track events all the way up to marathon and beyond are challenging in their own way. It always amuses me when someone comments about a 5k being easy because it is short since it is obvious that they have never run one at effort. While it doesn't last long, it really hurts to push at that intensity. As hard as these shorter races may be, there is something enticing about the challenge of longer races. They really are an accomplishment and it is certainly harder to pull off successful race.

I choose Chuckanut as my first race since I know a couple people who have done it in previous years and have indicated it was a good course. I also knew that it had been attracting a competitive field the last couple of years so I could certainly get a chance to see how I stacked up against some serious talent. It also worked out timing wise by being able to slot it in 4 weeks out from Boston as I also figured that I could train for both Boston and Chuckanut at the same time. They are not exactly the same (more hills are required for Chuckanut and more overall time), but they still both require longer training runs that I normally do. My training went fairly well although I probably could have run a few more hilly long runs. Since I raced at 5 Island Race Series races, I had to tack on long runs after each race. I had not tried this tactic before and I was a little worried that doing a long run after a race effort would turn out to be brutal, it actually worked well. The legs were of course fatigued from racing, but energy levels were generally good and most of the runs felt they they were done with quality.

As the race day approached and I checked out the registered racers, it turned out competitive was a bit of an understatement. The large field (up to 1000 were being allowing this year as a 20th anniversary celebration) and previous competitive nature of the race had attracted some of the best ultra runners in North America. It was shaping up to be possibly the most competitive 50k in US this year. I Run Far had a great summary of the stellar field. I had set modest goals for this race, not quite knowing how I would fair over the new distance. The base goal was just to finish, but that really wasn't in doubt unless I somehow got injured. Ideally, I wanted to race a smart race and more or less maintain my pace and position throughout. Since the race was so stacked, I wasn't anticipating a high finish even if everything went as planned. Based on previous results of other people I know, I was hoping to finish in the 4 hour range.

Fast forward to race day. Sonja (who was also racing) and I had to get up pretty early for the first wave start at 8am. Unfortunately, the weather was anything but enticing with temps hovering just a few degrees above freezing and a steady rain pelting down. At higher elevations, the rain was coming down as snow so we all knew traction could be an issue.

Given the competitive field, it was no surprise that the race started pretty briskly. Jason Loutitt quickly moved out in front of the main pack. I had no intention of running with the leaders and instead settled into a approximate 4 min/km pace. The first (and last) 10k of the course is on a mostly flat wide gravel trail so keeping up a good pace is fairly easy. After 10k I figured I was in about 25th spot and I hoped to pick off of few fast starters as the race wore on. I chatted a bit with Mark Nelson who was also running is first 50k. He hadn't done a lot of longer runs so it was be interesting to see how he fared.

The race course map (click to expand)

I arrived at the first aid station at the Fragrance Lake Trailhead (10.7 km) in 43:42, which was pretty much bang on with my plan. I was feeling OK at this point, if a little sluggish. I hoped the upcoming climbs would rev me up and as we started the first climb I did manage to get a bit of a boost by out climbing those behind me and reeling in a couple if front of me. The climb was a solid 300m and brought us up past the snow level - just a thin layer, but I would see lot of the white stuff for the next 25k+.

We were treated to some nice single track down to the next aid station at Cleator Road after 5.9 km on the single track (it took 31:31). Next came a long gradual climb of about 400m on Cleator Road. As soon as I hit this climb, I found my legs felt like they were already toast - they were very heavy and felt fatigued as if I had done a massive workout the previous day. This was quite disappointing as we were not even 20k into the race so I knew it was going to be a long day. While not particularly steep, the climb was excruciating for my heavy legs and it felt like I was just crawling along and 4.5 km felt at least twice as long as it really was (it took 24:58) . I didn't really lose a lot of ground to anyone else, but if I had felt good, I know I could have gained some time here. I was so relieved to finally reach the next aid station at the start of the Chuckanut Ridge Trail and give my battered legs a bit of relief.

Right away, I passed a couple of guys on the technical ridge trail. There was more snow here no traction was a bit of an issue. I really didn't want to have a fall at this point - I wasn't particularly worried about injury, but a fall can really mess up your rhythm. I was feeling better, but still seemed to lack any racing gear and the legs were not getting any fresher. About halfway down, one guy went bombing past me - I don't know if he started too slow or made a wrong turn, but keeping up to him was not an option for me in my condition. Shortly after, another guy slowly caught up to me and tucked in behind for awhile. We ended up running together for the remainder of the ridge trail and all of the North Lost Lake Trail.

He was just ahead as we arrived at the forth checkpoint at the base of the last climb (7.2 km in 36:29). This climb with the somewhat ominous name of "Chinscaper" doesn't gain a lot of elevation with a modest 175m climb, but is the steepest on the course. I expected it to hurt my already tired legs. Somehow though I managed to run nearly all of it except a few small sections. Although my "run" was about as fast as a granny with a walker. After an agonizing 15:30 (over only 1.8 km), I finally peaked out and knew all the major climbing was finally over.

A long decent on road followed. The first part was on Cleator Road where we saw some of the other racers heading up towards the 3rd aid station. I was damn happy to not have to climb that one again. My legs were doing OK on the decent, but I still didn't have the ability to hammer too hard - I could only keep a steady pace going. The guy I had run with for a while slowly pulled ahead and disappeared into the distance. A little while later I was passed again by a fast moving runner. I was actually ready to see the end of the downhill when I finally made it to the last aid station after 5.9 km in 25:06. Not really a great pace considering the significant elevation loss.

Now I knew exactly what was left. About 10 km on the same trail we came in on. While I wasn't going to set any speed records, at least felt I could move at a reasonable pace since the flat trail didn't punish the legs too much. Unfortunately, I didn't have as much left in the tank as some others and I got passed by about 4 people along the way including the woman's winner Ellie Greenwood on her way to breaking her own course record. I really wanted to be able to stick with some of these people, but it wasn't happening - I only had one speed - a mediocre 4:30ish pace. Near the finish one mild hill wasn't fun, but eventually made it to the finish after a 46:26 final 10.1 km. I finished in 4:11:44 in 24th place. Not quite what I was looking for, but considering that I felt off for the whole race, my time wasn't actually too bad.

It was great to see that Adam Campbell, a fellow Canadian, pulled at an impressive win over very deep field. He narrowly beat out 2nd place Sage Canaday by just 33s. Race favorite, Max King, went off course due to unprepared marshals and marking and ended up finishing well back. Jason held a high position until late it the race when he cracked and faded to 9th. Mark Nelson faded in the 2nd half, but managed to get the job done. Ellie put over 2 min into me in the last 6km or so setting the new woman's course record in 4:09:27. Sonja managed a solid 20th place finish in the woman's division with a 5:33:44 so it was great to see her finish strong. Results.

While definitely not what I wanted in terms of time and how I felt, some things went well. I didn't crack, didn't cramp, didn't have any blisters or hammer any toes. Probably because I couldn't push hard, my recovery also went very well, even doing a hill workout 3 days later. I was using a Salomon hydration vest with bottles in the front that worked pretty well except some tough to reach pockets and bottles that gave me some minor rib bruising. My hydration and nutation was sufficient although I could probably have taken it a few more calories (I estimate that I probably took in about 600 calories in Gatorade, Carbo Pro, home made shot blocks, a gel, and sport beans. On the the next race, the Boston marathon.

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