I drove up to Bellingham on Friday after work and checked into the Guest House Inn. I found the hotel online and the reviews weren't too bad. My needs were basic: somewhere to sleep that was close to the start and wasn't a dump. Other than loud kids in the hallway outside my room at 10:30pm it worked out nicely, especially at $60/night.
I set out my clothes and gear on Friday night and was in bed at 11pm. I slept with earplugs as I find they help me sleep more soundly. The consequence of the earplugs is that I worry that my alarm won't wake me up. I set four different alarms, three on my iPhone plus the hotel clock-radio. I made a mistake and set one of the iPhone alarms (as a calendar item) to go off at 3:40am instead of 5:40am. Oops. Luckily I got back to sleep pretty easily. When the next 3 alarms went off I got up, got dressed, ate a big bowl of cereal that I had brought and mixed up 2 flasks of Perpetuem slurry.
I packed up and drove the 3.5 miles south to Fairhaven Park. I found parking at a nearby school then walked over to pick up my race packet. With number in hand I had 45 minutes until the race started so I went back to the car to relax and finish getting ready. I put my race shoes on and filled my Nathan's bladder with a Heed/CarboPro/Nuun/S-Caps mixture. I walked back to Fairhaven Park for the start and had enough time to stretch for a minute before the horn sounded.
From the start in Fairhaven park the course heads South on the hard gravel paths of the Interurban trail. I started in the back of the pack so that I would be forced to keep a responsable pace for the first few miles. The runners around me were running about 9:30 - 10:00/mi pace so that's the pace I had to keep unless I wanted to start throwing elbows and push my way through the pack. The first few miles were on trails that I'd actually run once before on a trip to Bellingham in August of 2009. After 3 miles of gravel paths we got out onto a brief section of dirt trails along a creek. The field was starting to stretch out and the path wasn't so crowded through this section. I kept kept up with the runner in front of me and enjoyed the scenery. My plan was to hit the first aid station (6.1mi) in around an hour.
My timing was good as I hit the aid station in just over 59 minutes. I was all stocked up with food and drink so I didn't even break stride on my way through the station and on to a brief section of dirt trails going up the hillside and back down to the path that led us to the aid station. From there we departed the gravel and headed into the wooded Fragrance Lake trails. Almost immediately we started our first real climb and I took my first walking breaks going up the steepest sections. I burned myself out by the half-way point at Baker Lake last October so I wanted to take it easy on any tough uphill sections.
I was feeling pretty good and eating the Perpetuem slurry every 30 minutes. The trail was mostly uphill for the next two miles and then it was a series of rolling hills. We continued past Fragrance Lake and looked down on the Interurban trail that we'd run earlier. I came in to Aid station 2 (10.4mi) about 10 minutes under my 6hr pace estimate.
Again I didn't bother stopping for anything at the aid station. I was still feeling pretty good but beginning to feel the need to find a restroom. Luckily it wasn't urgent because there were no restrooms around and nowhere beside the trail that provided any privacy. The course headed South out of AS#2 and up Cleator rd. which is a fire road that climbs steadily for almost 3 miles. It's depressing to look up and see a long string of other people walking ahead of you. I mostly walked this section and took "run breaks" every few minutes to pick up the pace. My mile splits for these miles were in the 14 minute range. Near the top of Cleator rd I hit Aid station 3 (13.3mi) feeling good but my legs were starting to regret the climbing.
After Cleator I was pretty thirsty and the warming reservoir of Heed/CarboPro/Nuun on my back wasn't as tasty as it was a few hours before. I tried to chug a few cups of water at AS#3 but it was too cold to drink very fast. We turned off of Cleator rd. and headed down a dirt trail through a net-downhill section of the Chuckanut Ridge Trail. This part turned out to be very technical. Not much flat ground and plenty of narrow steep short descents that required full attention to keep from going out of control over the next 7 miles. There were also some fantastic views up along the ridge line of the surrounding valley and lakes to the East of the ridge. My training didn't prepare me nearly enough to keep a good pace over the technical trail with it's slippery rocks and rooted descents which required very precise foot placement and often a hand grabbing a nearby branch. I mis-judged one of the muddy off-camber sections on top of the ridge and took my only tumble of the day. Luckily I caught myself with my hands as I hit the deck. I was back up and running in a few seconds.
The up and down of the ridge really started to punish my quads. I was running the descents pretty well but the climbs slowed me to a walk. The weather was fantastic at the start, sunny skies and low-50s but up on the ridge trail it was windy and 10 degrees colder. By the time I hit AS#4 after 7 miles on the ridge trail my fingers were so cold that they were almost unusable. I'd only worn one pair of thin gloves and couldn't get my backpack open to refill the bladder inside. I had to ask one of the volunteers to help me. After he filled it I fumbled with the pack and managed to spill about 1/3 of it's contents trying to close it. The guy saw this and took pity topping it off again and closing it for me. This is the level of service that you're paying for at ultramarathons. Great volunteers. I had been good about eating every 30 minutes but I was getting tired of the taste of the Perpetuem. I had some soup and a few donut holes as I headed out of AS#4 a little behind on my 6 hour target pace.
Right out of the aid station was the toughest climb on the course, called "Chin Scraper." It wasn't just a cute name either. It was a little over a mile of narrow dirt trail that climbed almost 1,000 feet. My quads were starting to cramp in earnest from the pounding of the downhills which made Chin Scraper that much slower. I managed my worst mile split at this point, a 27:59 mile. The trail was steep enough that I almost needed to use my hands to help climb it. After reaching the top of the climb I was able to start jogging again on the now rolling hills. I arrived at the one on-course restroom at mile 23 but it was locked. I thought someone was using it but after a few minutes I knocked and never got an answer. Who closes a public restroom and why no port-o-potties!?
After a half mile of running through deep shoe-sucking mud, the course started down a 3 mile descent leading runners back to the Interurban trail to re-run the first 6 miles of the course in the opposite direction. I didn't think I could wait any longer for a bathroom so I started looking for a secluded spot along the side of the course where I could take care of business. After another half mile of looking I climbed down the side of the ridge and went behind a large tree. I'm not counting this as a Gingerbread Man. I looked for a bathroom over the previous 10 miles before punting.
After the pitstop I put on my iPod and started picking up the pace on the descent. The first song on my playlist was "Lose Yourself" by Eminem which has the perfect tempo for running. It's about 180 beats/min and easy to keep cadence with. I started feeling really good and at mile 24 had my best split of the day (8:34). My quads were still sore but I was able to ignore it for the most part during the descent.
After the trail flattened out I pulled into the final aid station (which had also been AS#1), chugged some flat soda and had a few bites of food before heading off for the flat final 6 miles. My legs were doing okay and I was holding about 9:00 - 9:30 miles. This included stopping to walk for a minute every mile and stretching my quads and IT bands. I knew that the chance for a sub-6 hour finish had passed by this point to I put it out of my mind and just tried to run as much as I could and enjoy the last hour of my race.
The last 6 miles went by faster than I remember them going by in the other direction earlier. Before I knew it I was almost back to Fairhaven park. It felt great to see the finish line and hear my name called as I crossed the timing mats.
Saturday was the 19th running of the Chuckanut 50K. It's usually a pretty competitive race but this year quite a few big names in the world of ultra running showed up. This lead to both the Mens and Womens course records falling. For the men it was 2009 & 2010 Ultrarunner of the year Geoff Roes, and for the women it was world 100K road champion Ellie Greenwood raising the bar. I kept with my middle-of-the-pack strategy and only saw the elite runners as I was eating my lunch at the post-race awards ceremony.
I stayed around for the awards to see who had won and to talk to some friends that I saw at the race. I thanked the Race Director Krissy Moehl for putting on such a great event and even found myself chatting with Udo Erasmus from Udo's Oil who were sponsoring the event and wound up giving out $1000 after both the course records fell. Talking to Udo was very interesting. He's very knowledgeable and can talk your ear off about oils and nutrition. He kept telling me to take more free samples. Nice guy.
I hit Dairy Queen and Starbucks for a treat and some caffeine before sitting down for the 3 hour drive home on sore legs. It was a great race but the logistics surrounding it (hotel, long drive, traffic, race selling out quickly) means that I probably won't be doing the race again soon. With so many 50K races held in the Pacific Northwest I want to try as many of them as I can. I didn't care so much for the 10 - 12 miles of gravel roads, but otherwise the course was very nice. I just wish that my training had gone better and I was able to get more hill running in before the race. Also, as I type this 4 days after the race I've had zero Piriformis pain. Nice!
The stats according to my Garmin:
Just as an example of how bad my Garmin 305 is with altitude, it only registered ascent/descent data for the last 18 miles of the race (?) and came up with nearly 12,000'. I don't swing my arms very much when I run so I don't know where these numbers are coming from. If I had to guess I'd say the course had about 5,000' total climbing.
Gear: It was in the low 50s and sunny so I wore shorts, a Craft base layer, and a long sleeve shirt. I started with a wind jacket but took it off about 7 miles into the race. I should have left the jacket in the car. I wore a thin pair of gloves but I needed two. I don't know why my hands get cold on long runs but I keep forgetting that it happens. I wore my Nathans 2L hydration backpack and filled it with food and my phone/keys. I ran in a new pair of New Balance MT101 shoes and loved them (as well as my Dry Max trail socks). I had a little bit of soreness under the ball of my left foot for a few hours after the race but otherwise my feet were happy and blister free.
Lessons for next time:
Consistency in training
More hilly trail runs (Mt. Si)
Wear less clothes but pack extra gloves
Keep working on my fueling strategy.