It is always hard to know where I am in my fitness before a race. In the days leading up to The Chuckanut 50k, I was not very optimistic. My training was not what I hoped for and I was very down on myself. I did not have the strong uphill legs to really take on the hills the way I had in the past. For training, it was hard to waste the money on a gym membership or do everything outside. I did not get a membership and the weather did not cooperate. I was greeted too often with slick roads, snow, and short hours. I did invest in a coach so I would get back in the game early on. However, I, unfortunately, did not get as much guidance as I hoped for. So I had to, two months in, go back to training on my own.
The week leading up to the race, I looked over the course and made a gear list. I did not get good sleep all that week. But I packed what I needed and drove to Bellingham with my parents. We chose a new route to drive over. It was a very pretty drive. In one part, the snow-covered rolling fields were dreamy. The wind made a mist of the snow rise and cover all we could see. It then faded into a pale blue sky with white fluffy clouds to complete the painting.
We drove up part of the coast to Fairhaven. I stopped in the Fairhaven Running Store to get my number. Afterward, we went to the hotel and I started to lay out a few things. I did a few hip strengthing exercises and stretches and then sat in the hotel chair. I sat there alone with my legs crossed and feet up in the chair. Putting my hands together and closing my eyes, focusing on imagining the start of the race. I saw it, felt it, and breathed it in. I saw last year where I pushed from the start and climbed strong but I burnt out by the halfway point. I brought my mind back to the point where the gun went off and I focused on finding an easy rhythm. Resolving to not push my pace to what I wished I could hold or not taking a chance of not doing my best and having regret. Sitting there, I remembered almost every turn of the trail and every time I wanted to quit, those little moments drove me forward. I decided that each time I wanted to stop last time and walk was for a reason. This time, instead of focusing on getting discouraged, I would take that moment to remember how much I love running. Then take a short walk break and refuel, then push on> There is no such thing as a perfect race and if I am honest, I never wanted to have one. I want to run strong but no matter what comes my way, I believe I am stronger for all the struggles.
Getting back into the present, I headed to the pick up. I went through the sponsors’ booths and met Heather from Pro-tec Athletics. She gave me a Pro-Tec product catalog in which my Run The Rut photo was used showing off my use of the K-tape. I really enjoyed talking to her. Afterward, I went to dinner with my parents at Applebees. Once back at the hotel, I finished my layout and went to bed. I woke, had a long warm shower, dressed and made use of the hot chocolate packets and whipped cream (meant for waffles.) We got ready and headed to the race start arriving with 25 minutes to go enough time to grab a few photos. I decided to take off a lot of the layers that I was wearing and go more minimal with the exception of my jacket which I packed in my hydration pack. Taking a few deep breaths, I lined up roughly 40 runners back and we took off.
I tried to hold back but I can’t stop going with a good feeling and honestly, I believe you should embrace any good feeling that comes your way. I ended up passing quite a few; finding my rhythm but still not overdoing it. My pace had put me in a similar position as last year as we came to the one place you can see elites coming back up the trail. I was doing much better on nutrition than I had last year so I passed the first aid station by at mile seven. Immediately, we started climbing up the real trail and I found my legs were not there. It was definitely a hard climb; I had to hike most of it and jog where I could. A few runners passed me on this hill but as soon as we hit the downhill I realized I still had legs that no one else had. It was here, where I passed Riccardo who I had met previously at Pine to Palm. I did not know he would be there but I knew he was a much stronger runner than me. So, I was very surprised to catch him. I continued to catch and pass more athletes that I normally would not been able to. Thinking about it, these downhill slick switchbacks are my specialty as I could do reverse 180 degree turns and slow down very little. I finished the downhill with a jump for the observers and settled into a strong chug up the fire road passing the second aid station. I was in positive energy still and I was focusing on keeping it going.
A few minutes on the road climb, there was a half inch of snow which grew to four and made the uphill a bit of a struggle for most to find traction. It definitely made it more of a workout for me. I had to keep my focus on my feet and manage my effort. When we hit the snow, there was a small path on the left where most were running on. I was following a couple of runners up the hill but occasionally I stepped out on the snow where traction was good, navigating through the slick and actually passing a few as I went. I expected them to keep up, but I was keeping my focus where I needed it, on my feet. I only looked back once and there was only one runner on me as we came to the ridge. The rest had faded out of sight. He passed me before we came to the ridge which is the most fun part of this whole race. I love this trail so much and I was easily keeping up with the runner; he eventually yielded the lead to me. There was little to no snow here so I was finding it easy to keep a rhythm and even passing a few runners. I eventually had to let two runners go by later on as my energy began to wane.
It was about this time that I was coming to the third aid station. On the downhill, I was letting out a few “Whoop Whoops” to show my excitement. Here, I started asking if there were any electrolytes capsules but they only had electrolytes drinks which historically don’t work for me. I went on through without grabbing anything. My good friend and past coach, David Laney was there taking numbers. We exchanged greetings and I jogged till I was out of sight of the aid station and started to walk. It was here that last year I fell off the pace and never recovered. Given there were three inches, I decided walking was not a bad decision. So I forced myself to eat two gels and a peppermint candy. I let myself have my moment but I started to up my effort slowly. I was still walking to not overexert myself but I was able to run where dirt became visible and then I started to come upon another runner. He was wearing Altra Elite gear so I figured he was a fast runner. I passed him in a dirt patch before we hit snow again. After 10 minutes of trudging, I looked back and he was nowhere to be seen. I was truly confused as I thought I was not moving that fast.
As I came to the top of this climb and out of the snow, I picked up the pace on the downhill. I still had a lot of speed in my legs and I cruised; soaking up the feeling I was getting on these trails. I remembered how glad I was to get through to this section last year. Thankfully, I was wearing a much softer shoe than last time so I was able to push on the downhills much easier. At the bottom of Chinscraper, I asked for electrolytes again at that aid station there. Again, they only had pre-made electrolyte drink mix. I was not going to make it up this hill without some. So I made the decision to make do. I emptied the last of my water bottle and had him pour about 6oz in my bottle which I chugged down. I then had it refilled with water and took off, thanking them as I left. This hill is called Chinscraper for a reason but after doing Run the Rut last year this is just another climb my legs could not take. Every time there was an easier grade, I tried to run but I had to manage my legs. I was very glad I decided to tape up my calves because they very nearly cramped up on this hill. As I made my way nearly to the top, Riccardo caught up and passed me. This reminded me of last year when my brother caught me here. In its own way, this felt similar to last year as I ran after him. Like running with a long lost friend.
We jumped into the downhill with vigor and excitement. Which was met with five inches of snow. He put some distance between us. He is the stronger runner, but I was back in my element once again. Three miles later the snow slowly faded to a hard packed downhill trail. At this point, I had lost sight of Riccardo. I saw him soon enough as he was taking a pit stop in the trees. I barely got 5 seconds between us as he came back into the race. I was not wasting the downhill; flying as much as I was able to fly through the switchbacks. I was using my full skill, passing a few runners on the descent and using reverse 180’s turns on the tight turns.
At times I wonder if it is beneficial for me to run the way I do as it does take a lot of strength to run fast on the downhill. My quads are never what hold me back. It is usually my hamstrings and that is what came next. I dropped back on to the flat trail and as predicted my quads were not complaining too much from my effort. But, my calves and hamstrings were still on edge. Riccardo pulled up next to me as I tried to find a rhythm on this dreaded flat ground. A mile before on the trail, a hiker told me I was in 18th place so even with losing a place where I was still in the top 20. That would be cool to say but at that moment I half wished I did not know what I had to lose. My legs did not get much better but I found a manageable pace for the last four miles. I was chased down the road by two other runners and we closed upon another which I passed on a steep downhill dip and climb. I was not letting up my pace but my guts were not going to hold out.
Two miles to go, I puked and let two runners go by. I got up and tried to get back in rhythm. I was a good amount slower and any form of a hill I encountered forced me to a walk. What I realized, compared to last year, my headspace was much better. Normally being burnt out, I just get to the finish….eventually! But I had a positivity through the race; just trying to have a great race. So the race went on and I still had one thing to do. I took a little time, but I got it back. As I came closer to the finish, we were directed to finish in a different way than last year. My parents were there as I entered on to the last piece of trail. I guess I was earlier than expected. Another minute and the finish was in sight; let the celebration begin. I sprinted hard and jumped over the line with my signature jump.