This year I ran my slowest time at Chuckanut, but it was in no way what I'd call my worst race. I wasn't trained nearly where I should have been, I knew it, and so I planned a race accordingly. I mentioned vague times to a few people, but by race morning I had one real goal: enjoy it and don't blow up. On the drive from Seattle to Fairhaven Jon and I were talking about other ultras and longer distances, and I had another thought that took hold as I left the starting line: If I can't finish this 50k without bonking or struggling in, how will I even run farther? So finishing strong and "managing" a good race became my mantra.
The rain had stopped by the time we were at the parking lot/start, and it was actually a pleasant morning. Gray skies and 50 degrees, and several friends hanging around relaxed. Jon and I found bathrooms without long lines, jogged a bit to warm up, and got set to go.
I talked with a friend out of the gate for a mile, then slowly picked it up along the Interurban Trail and tucked in with some Canadians. I consciously made an effort to *not* pass them, and that was smart. We hit the aid at 50:29, and since the revised start makes that stretch slightly over 10k (6.75 by the Canuck's Garmin), I wouldn't have wanted to be there any sooner.
I passed a few people on the initial stretch to Fragrance Lake, but as soon as the course got steeper I again made the tactical choice to slow down. I sat behind a girl who was trading hiking/running, and just echoed what she was doing. I told myself it was making things simpler for me mentally, because I let her determine the pace. We stuck together, maybe one or two eventually passed us, and then at Fragrance I moved past her and hooked in with another small group to Cleator. I was feeling fine, but I knew that I've felt "fine" there before and didn't want to overdo. Ended up with a 43:14 split.
I had planned my hike breaks on Cleator based on where it's steepest, and followed that plan (walked at 8 minutes for two minutes, again at 11 or so for a minute, and then one more of my choosing before one of the last three turns). I thought this worked well, and my time really wasn't that much slower than normal. I focused on fueling during this stretch, I may have taken two gels and I really tried to drain a whole handheld bottle. 31:19 to the Ridge, and as a misty rain started I felt ok. I took my time through the Ridge aid station and three people who I'd passed snuck by, but I let them and didn't think about it. I was trying to not worry about people around me, and focused on waiting for a strong finish. Incidentally, I wasn't paying attention at all to my time at this point. For once I wasn't doing mental calculations or predictions and adding unnecessary stress.
The Ridge was fine, I ran with a guy who sounded like he would have been in pretty good shape. He followed me until the descent, then I stopped when he hit the gravel trail to tie a shoe and let him go (36:21 split), but caught him again on the climb out of Lost Lake. I probably was caught by four people on that uphill because that was also a stretch of increased walking. I was playing it very cautiously knowing Chinscraper was coming, and I had felt a twinge of a cramp. Even on the descent to Chinscraper's aid station I tried to hold off from letting go full bore by staying right on a guy's heels but no more (he and I ended up spending most of the last 10 trading back and forth, which was nice). I hit Chinscraper at 47:18 for the split, but more importantly, 3:28 overall. I had a potato here as well. Although 5 hours at that point was a real long-shot (though within range if things went ok down the hill), I knew that I'd stay until 5:30, which I could live with.
I hiked CS with about five or six others in a pack, which is the first year I've walked that much. The guy ahead of me (Maksim, who I mentioned before) kept offering to let us pass, and we kept declining. I was firmly in the "don't screw it up here" mindset, and I'm glad about that. I fueled and drank, then came off the hill with one woman from the group -- and unbelievably had my right hamstring cramp up as soon as the road rolled downhill. I collected myself, swallowed two s-caps and walk a few steps, then got going and really eased down Cleator to the cutoff, and still tried to keep it easy down there. By Fragrance (a new part of the course I am very thankful for) I was with Maksim again, and I again tucked in with him down to the aid and Interurban. I wasn't in spectacular shape and probably went a little slower there than I would have liked (51:40 for the split, which I believe is around 3 miles), but I had managed through a cramp and was in a pretty good mindset to finish things up. Certainly better mentally than I've been in other years, if a little farther back on the clock.
So there was the Interurban, the old nemesis. I took my time through the aid, made a joke with a guy about starting our cool down, and took off walking for 30 seconds to take a deep breath and get ready. This is where I've always felt lonely and beaten down. But I started to jog and a guy pulled up next to me. We ran together for a minute and then started talking. We kept chatting away (he was a Boeing guy) and the minutes just started ticking off. I was feeling in the zone and pretty strong, and I'd guess we were not to far above 8/min. pace. It was fantastic, the best I've even been at that point. I eventually left him after 3 miles or so, then immediately the sky opened up and drenched us all. Just soaked to the skin after a pretty decent day otherwise. But that gave me something to think about other than cramps or pain, so I focused on how wet I was and kept moving. After getting back into the heavier forest I had a small tickle and stopped for a few seconds to stretch, but a group ran up on me and pushed me back to get a pace going. After the road and final switchback I had another cramp threat, but it quickly subsided and I knew I could finish strong. Ended up picking off three more runners, including a guy with maybe 400-500 meters to go, and I even had a hint of steam to stretch my legs for that last 200, giving me a 59:19 final leg.
So I didn't set a time record (other than "personal worst time"), but I gave myself a really good boost of confidence that I can manage cramps and run wisely, and I can finish strong on the Interurban. I was even able to walk up and down steps both last night and today, which isn't usually the case. It hasn't been a great mileage year, so I wasn't expecting anything more than an enjoyable day in the woods -- and I got that. Jon ended up in the Top 20, at 4:20, which I thought was great, and we enjoyed a few hours in the cold with other runners before going back to Seattle (where it was sunny) for showers and dinner.
brooks cascadia 5 -- Might be time to retire these guys, they've been through enough