Sunday, March 18, 2012

Chuckanut 50K: another comfort zone

As I said last week after Way Too Cool, I knew I was stepping out of my North California comfort zone with this race in Bellingham, on the border between Canada and the State of Washington, called the Evergreen State for a reason, the abundant forest nurtured by abundant rains... It is also unusual for me to fly to races, the carbon footprint being an excuse for me to focus on our local races as we are so blessed to have many in or near the Bay Area. And then there was this amazing convergence of competition to honor the 20th anniversary of this race with many 2:2x marathoners per Gary's term, that is guys running between 2:20 and 2:30 (and a few 2:1x ones actually!). Despite the rainy reputation of the area, I believe I wasn't the only one to be surprised by the weather conditions on this weekend. We actually had some trouble flying from San Francisco on Friday afternoon because of the bad weather coming from Seattle along the Pacific Coast. My plane was one hour late and Toshi and Judy's one almost 3 hours. With that, we only got to he hotel in Bellingham around 9pm. Thankfully, Gary was there early and was able to pick our bib numbers in the afternoon. Dave Mackey didn't have a room so Gary invited him to share ours, before another room became available with a last minute cancellation. With a room on his own and no family around, Dave had his best night for a long time, 8 straight hours! ;-)

Gary had run the race last year, placing 9th one week after taking 3rd at Way Too Cool. This year, Gary won WTC, setting a new Course Record (both overall and Masters) and he was excited about coming back for another back-to-back. Before going to bed, Gary shared his knowledge of the course and I'm grateful because that helped me visualize the whole profile. The sky was super clear at 10 pm so we fell asleep wishing for sweet dreams of a nice sunny run this Saturday. A look by the window at 6 am brought a different perspective though, with a good rain going. When we picked Gary at Starbucks, Dave said: "look, it's turning to snow!" (1st photo, credit Greg Lanctot)

Greg drove all of us to the start where we checked in then rushed back to the car when Dave announced that the start of our first wave wasn't at 8 but 7:50 am. So, here we are, at the start line by 7:48, in the cold rain, but no count down going. The start was actually at 8 and I was glad to wear my rain jacket, among many runners in singlets... (photo credit: Greg Lanctot)
Gary had told me that to aim at top 20 this year, you had to run the first 6 miles under 6 min/mile. I was happy not to shoot for such a goal... I settled for 7 min/mile for the first 4 miles, feeling like a back of a packer with maybe 50 runners in front of me. Just before the first aid station, Clayton Beach at mile 6.1, I passed Jen Shelton and mentioned to her how gracefully she was running, then Joelle Vaught and Toshi who were conversing and Brett Rivers from Tamalpa. Here is Greg's video at the entrance of the aid station (I'm the "yellow jacket" followed by Brett in blue, then Toshi and Joelle, Jen, Pam Smith, ...):
I went through the aid station without stopping and embarked in the first uphill of the day on Fragrance Lake Trail. It was still raining at the bottom but quickly turned to snow as we were gaining elevation with the snow starting sticking on the ground around 900 feet. I had a quick look at the quiet Fragrance Lake, still keeping a close eye on the many roots crossing the trail. We had a nice downhill section afterwards which was slightly muddy going through what looked to me as a rain forest. I was moving fast but had to stop to retie my shoe laces just before the second aid station on Cleator Road. I got passed by 3 runners in the meantime. I passed a couple of runners on the long and steady climb on this wide Cleator Road. At some point I decided to run in the few inches of fresh snow, getting more traction. Brett was a few yards ahead but didn't stop at the 3rd aid station so I lost sight of him. Indeed, I made a rather long stop there, asking a volunteer to refill my GU2O bottle. We were at the half marathon mark and I remembered the next aid was 7 miles away. After the aid station, I was following a tall runner who had some difficulties in this very technical section. After I passed him I really enjoyed hoping and jumping over roots, steps, rocks, the trail being not slippery but just soaked enough to provide a soft landing when jumping from rocks. I kept thinking of the fast and tall guys ahead and how impressive it must be to see them flying down. Needless to say, with the remoteness of the trail and the weather conditions, there were no spectators!

A couple volunteers were picking our numbers at the switchback marking the middle of the course. I don't recall exactly my time but it was slightly over 2 hours. After going down Chuckanut Ridge Trail we were now on North Lost Lake Trail which was very soaked and muddy. Here again, it felt almost better running in the fresh snow, aside from the muddy single track. I was thinking of how the trail will become after 650 runners have gone through... After 40 runners, it still looked beautiful, it seemed like running in the wonderful pictures Glenn Tachiyama shares in his Tribute to the Trails calendar (which raised $18,500 for the State of Washington trails this year). Glenn was actually shooting in the middle of the steep Chinscraper hill and got great shots of some of us sliding in the mud! (See in FaceBook his "Chinscrapper Flip & Slide" album.)

I passed a few runners before the fourth aid station located at the bottom this infamous Chinscrapper and didn't stop, excited to see what this beast was about. As Gary told me that everybody had to walk it, I felt not ashamed to do so too, although I was surprised to find some short downhill sections between steep uphills one. My Garmin indicated close to 1,100 feet at the aid station and almost 1,900 of the hill. I actually saw Brett a few switchbacks ahead but couldn't close the gap. Running with Tamalpa and training on the Dipsea trail, Brett has amazing strength in such uphills. It felt good to be done with this last hill, with 3 miles of downhill ahead to get back to sea level then the final flat 10K. I pushed the pace in the downhill feeling great, using Vespa and having only eaten one GU before Chinscrapper to get a boost. I caught up with Brett who was complaining about cramps. I kept pushing, getting my average pace down from around 9 min/mile at the top to 8:30 by the 5th aid station, Clayton Beach again. I didn't stop either at this aid station and kept moving fast, passing a few runners in the next 4 miles. With 2 miles to go, I passed a runner who was begging for gels. I stopped, had trouble opening my jacket pocket and gave him a GU. He was wearing bib #18 and it's only later that I found out he was actually the king of our sport, no less than favorite Max King. Poor Max was leading by mile 22 on Fragrance Lake Road and missed the sharp left turn where the course marshal wasn't posted yet. He kept going down and went of course for about 4 miles, killing any hope of a win with such competition just a few minutes behind him. Sage Canaday was just behind and made the same mistake but was fortunate enough to get warned by someone before going too far off course. I was of course far from the excitement going on at the front but read with some excitement the Byron's coverage of the race on his iRunFar tweet. As Gary said at the finish, it had some flavor of a championship! Here is a great shot from Greg of the top finishers (photo credit: Greg Lanctot):
From left: Dusty Caseria, Chase Parnell, Jason Schlarb, Tim Olson, Adam Campbell (bending), Mike Foote, Mike Wolfe, Gary Gellin, Dave Mackey.

I finished in 4:23 in 31st place and 6th M40-49. My strong finish showed that I could have pushed more along the way but, given the circumstances, especially the heavy workload during the week and my fighting of a virus since Monday, I was quite happy with this time, one week after my 4:06 Way Too Cool.
Of course, it was far behind Gary's performance who doubled too, with a 14th place this weekend (4:02) and 2nd M40-49 (behind Dave Mackey, 7th) after his overall win at WTC! At the front, there was much suspense in the men race especially after Max' errands. Jason Loutitt led for at least 15 miles but finished 8th. Winner Adam Campbell, from Canada, was still in third a few miles from the finish. On the women side, and also from Canada, Ellie Greenwood keeps dominating the ultra world and had a magisterial win, even improving the course record she set last year by 3 minutes despite the trail conditions. She finished 22nd overall in 2:09, 24 minutes ahead of the second woman, Jodee Adams-Moore, with Joelle Vaught 90 seconds behind in third.

The delicious home-made soup of Krissy's mom and the gas heaters under the food tent next to the finish line were most welcomed by all the runners. Apart from a few short rain showers, the afternoon ended up being mostly sunny. Krissy Moehl did a fantastic job directing her tenth Chuckanut and celebrating this 20th anniversary of this event.
At the amazing post-race party she thanked all the volunteers who helped making this event so successful and safe despite these winter conditions. In addition to overall and age group winners cash prizes and goodies, Krissy had many sponsor goodies left to give away and MC Scott Jurek had trouble coming up with enough ideas to pick lucky recipients.
After a few Irish songs by a hornpipe quartet to properly celebrate St Patrick's Day in addition to the great local beers, a rock band took over the stage to get us swinging until 9 pm.
The attendance was mostly composed of volunteers and their family and quite a few elite runners who had not left just after the race. Our Quicksilver gang represented California, clearly in minority today. Tropical John Medinger, Lisa and Tia Bodington were covering the event for their UltraRunning Magazine and a few Tamalpa runners completed this small Californian contingent (Dave, Brett, Gary Wang). Out team captain, Greg, in conjunction with Hal Koerner from Ashland's Rogue Valley Runners and Jimmy Dean Freeman from LA's Coyotes started an ultra running league this year. For this inaugural race, our team took third and Team Bend, first, winning an owl which matched quite well Jeff Browning's glasses! ;-)
The Rogue Valley team placed second and Tim Olson took home the second prize mushroom. Next league game will be Lake Sonoma then Leona Divide, both 50-milers.
Here is to mark the birth of the URRL, the Ultra Running Racing League, our Quicksilver team taking third this Saturday thanks to Toshi battling through the cold and the mud (and shopping for these fun awards in the afternoon with Greg):
 The party was great although I didn't know it was going to be outside. Between the low temperatures of the end of the day, the chilly wind and the Ocean humidity, my cold of last week which was better right after the race (yes, running a tough 50K can do wonders!), my cold worsen during the night and I completely lost my voice, with my throat hurting. Oh well, 3 weeks until American River 50 (miles), and likely another trip to Dubai in the meantime, ample time to recover and put in more training miles... (I went for a 10K recovery run upon coming back home this Sunday.)
To conclude, in addition to Krissy of course, I want to thank Greg (Lanctot) for getting me up there, out of my comfort zone. It's certainly challenging to compete in such a young and talented field but that keeps you younger... It was also a challenge to meet Winter so close to the Canadian border but the Brooks PureGrit were the perfect shoes for the day and made the run much more comfortable, as well as the rain jacket I kept all the way. I actually slipped only once during the whole race, as I missed one step while looking ahead to Brett on Chinscrapper, right before Glenn Tachiyama's professional eye and unforgiving camera; I look forward to seeing the shots he got of me when I was crawling up that large flat boulder on four legs... Overall, an amazing ultra celebration in winter conditions, I can now say that I was not only nuts enough to run a Chuckanut and that I did survive not just any Chuckanut but the XXth!

PS: a few more pictures in my Picasa album.


Anonymous said...

Tu t'es bien défendu malgré le temps et pas au top côté santé... sur les photos, tu es même très bien!
Tâche de prendre quand même un peu de repos d'ici Américan River.

Shir said...

Redemption! Great race, Jean, especially so soon after the WTC misadventure, and, as usual, an incredible play-by-play race report. I also rarely travel for races but this does sound like a special event (even if I cannot help being resentful of any large-scale race that lets its leaders get off course). Well done!