Friday, March 22, 2013

Chuckanut 50k

2013 got off to a pretty good start. I ran a 3:43 50k, hungover, on New Year's Day. I notched up my highest mileage month ever and even set a PB for 8k (partly because I hadn't run an 8k race for nearly two years, but let's not dwell on that). After a shaky start, I had a decent run at the Orcas Island 50k, and followed up a week later with a respectable sub-1:20 at the First Half half-marathon.

Then the wheels started to come off. Within a few hours of crossing the finish line at the First Half, a calf strain that had been lurking in the background made itself known and I was reduced to a sad, limping mess. A week off running altogether followed, and after that, another week of greatly reduced mileage. Just as I was about to start getting back into action, I managed to roll my flimsy left ankle which slowed my comeback and - on top of that - some forgetfulness in the lube department prior to a couple of long runs in the rain left my inner thighs a veritable horror show of chafing to further retard my rehabilitation.

So, it's fair to say that coming into Chuckanut I wasn't feeling exactly thrilled about my running. I approached the race with two main goals. Firstly, to not injure myself. Secondly, to at least put in a decent effort and hopefully run a sub-5 hour race. The race itself is known as one of the faster 50k runs due to the fact that the first 10 km and the last 10 km are run over the essentially flat, wide open Interurban trail. The middle 30 km is more interesting with a mixture of climbs, technical trails and quad-thrashing descents. We'd attempted to familiarise ourselves with course by running this middle section a couple of weeks earlier, with predictably hilarious results. The race is also notable for attracting a ridiculously competitive field, with the list of previous winners reading like a Who's Who of ultrarunning.

Anyway, I was pretty excited to arrive at package pickup on the Friday afternoon. Mostly because at last year's race (which I was forced to pull out of after only 7 km due to injury), we amassed a staggering amount of loot thanks to the generosity of the various sponsors, and my own complete shamelessness.
Not bad, eh?

Sadly, they seemed to have learned from last year's shenanigans, although I still managed a decent haul of mini Clif bars and some slightly strange truffly things.

After meeting up with Alex and Meghan here, we headed to downtown Fairhaven to grab an early dinner. We were fortunate enough to arrive at a local establishment just before Happy Hour ended; Alex and I each enjoyed a $3 glass of house wine that tasted exactly like a $3 glass of house wine.

As we headed to our hotel we tried our best to ignore the torrential rain that engulfed us and attempted to remain optimistic about the conditions for the following day. Entering the lobby we were slightly perplexed to find it full of exuberant teenagers involved in some kind of singing/dancing rehearsal. I noted the look of alarm creeping into Alex's expression - a reasonable night's sleep was high on our list of priorities - and tried to remain calm. We were given key cards to room 105 - only a few short steps from the lobby currently filled with over-sugared adolescents. Fortunately, on our third attempt, we managed to secure a room on the third floor that seemed relatively free of disturbances. Indeed the only sound to be heard all night was the soothing rhythm of my incessant snoring.

We awoke at 5 am in darkness, and after the customary oatmeal guzzling frenzy, completed our usual pre-race preparations, which in this case involved spraying each other's backs with some kind of fancy triathlon lube that Alex had acquired. You might be thinking that this all sounds a little unnecessary, but try running for several hours in the pouring rain wearing a backpack and let me know how it goes.

We arrived at the start line an hour before the start of the race and expertly parked in a lake-sized puddle. The next hour was spent milling around, making frequent trips to the portapotties and shmoozing with some of the local ultra-running superstars such as Gary Robbins and Ed McCarthy. I tried a short warm-up jog and decided that my body was a broken, creaky mess and I should probably save myself for the race.

(L-R): Me, Alex, Meghan and Sabrina. All smiles. For now.

And then we were off. Too busy chatting, I'd positioned myself way too far back, so I spent the first few hundred metres darting around people trying to creep a little further forward. I soon spotted my friend Ather, who I'd run with/against at the Cougar Mountain 50k last October and had met again at Orcas Island. We're pretty similar speed-wise, so we took the opportunity to run together for the opening Interurban section, gradually warming up into a reasonable pace, although even at this stage it somehow felt like a harder effort than it really should do.

Before long we took a left on to the Fragrance Lake trail. As we started a fairly substantial climb, Ather predictably pulled ahead of me and I assumed I'd not see him again until the end of the race. Quite a few people passed me during the ascent, but I'd been prepared for this knowing that climbs such this are one of the weaker aspects of my running toolkit. A fun rolling section followed, then we hit some cool switchbacky downhills, got photographed by the legendary Glenn Tachiyama, before being dumped out on to Cleator Road.

Photo: Glenn Tachiyama

The next section was a long, uphill grind on a gravel road. There wasn't much to do here except knuckle down, trudge onwards and exchange obscenities with your fellow runners. I was determined to run this whole section, no matter how pedestrian my pace, out of fear that if I stopped running I'd find it hard to start again. Eventually, I arrived at the next aid station which marked the start of the Ridge trail. Ordinarily, this would be a fun technical section, but with the roots and rocks slick with rain and my ankle only just healed, I backed off  the pace and probably lost a few minutes in the interest of avoiding injury. A few more people passed me, but I was relieved to exit this section unscathed. Meghan, it emerged later, was not quite so fortunate.

A long, rolling, muddy trail took us back and I hit something of a low at this point. Everything seemed to be aching, the field had thinned out sufficiently that I was running on my own, and I'd stupidly tried to predict my finishing time based on what my Garmin was telling me and it didn't look good. After an eternity of slowly trudging through the boggy trail, I was relieved to hit a downhill section which took us to the base of Chinscraper.

I'd heard that Chinscraper was a formidable climb to test the stoutest of hearts. I'd also heard that it really wasn't that bad at all. The latter was closer to the truth. Maybe twenty minutes of uphill powerhiking and it was done. A quick wave to Glenn again, then we were back out onto a gravel road.
Thanks again, Glenn!

Now, finally, knowing that it was mostly downhill for the remaining 15 km of the race, I started to feel warmed up. Blasting down the hill, I quickly passed a few runners that had overtaken me on Chinscraper. "Pound It Out!" I exhorted, trying to spread the running mantra of the FITS Socks 2013 Canadian Race Team. They just looked bemused. Nevertheless, I was finally starting to enjoy the race and clicked off a few quick kilometres.

I soon arrived back on the Fragrance Lake trail that we'd earlier climbed and threw myself into it with reckless abandon. I skipped over roots, hurled myself around switchbacks, and generally had a ridiculous amount of fun. I regained ground on several more runners, and emerged somewhat exhilarated back on to the Interurban trail for the final stretch home. As I launched into the trail, I spotted the familiar shirt and baseball cap of Ather a short distance ahead on the trail. I called his name out in friendly greeting, but it seems he couldn't hear me. As I trotted up to him, he began putting his headphones on with a certain sense of grimness. I think I offered up some words of encouragement, but this late into the race, I could well have been spouting complete gibberish.

The wide open trail that had seemed so easy at the start of the race now seemed interminable. I was incredibly lucky in that I found myself running alongside North Vancouver trail celebrity Nicola Gildersleeve, and we formed a pact to drag each other through the remaining few kilometres, taking it in turns to try and keep the pace somewhat honest. A cold, insistent rain had started and only hastened our resolve to get this thing done. We crossed the line together, as if we'd entered into an unspoken agreement. Relief was the overwhelming emotion, but I was also pleased that I'd managed a fairly strong finish, and decided that my finishing time of 4:45 was actually not too bad at all.

Our VFAC team-mate Rebecca, who'd been forced to pull out of the race due to injury was there at the finish line and had been doing an amazing supporting job all morning, despite the nasty weather conditions. A few minutes after I'd crossed the line, Alex followed, having had run an outstanding race and pushed herself right to the brink. Meghan wasn't far behind her, although we missed her as we'd left the finish area pretty swiftly in an effort to avoid hypothermia setting in. After a few minutes in the car with the heating on full blast, I remembered the six-pack of Blue Moon in the trunk, cracked one, and felt a whole lot better.
Seriously, this is the best photo out of a bunch. Yeah, I know.

Somewhat warmed up, we headed back to the finish line to steal more mini Clif bars, drink some soup and chatted with another VFACer, Mary, who'd just completed a very impressive ultra d├ębut, placing third female master.

So, in the end, I think it turned out okay. I didn't get injured. I put in a pretty solid run. And by Tuesday, I'd more or less resumed regular training, somehow feeling less broken than I had in the week before the run. Obviously, I'm grateful to my sponsors, FITS Sock Co. and Powered By Chocolate Milk for their support. I wore FITS Performance Trail Socks and they coped admirably with the wet, muddy conditions. No blisters here!

And of course, thanks to all the volunteers and supporters that braved horrible conditions to get us through. It was a blast!

My Strava entry for the run.
Official results.
Alex's Race Report.
Nicola's Race Report.

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