Sunday, March 20, 2011

Chuckanut 2011

The last time I was in Bellingham was 5yrs ago for my 30th birthday and my first 50k trail ultra.  I was returning this year to celebrate my 35th birthday.  More than that, however I was returning to start my journey towards the Alps ( and as a motivational tool to build back my fitness from a major setback in my health last November that resulted in surgery and required 6 weeks off.  Chuckanut, this year, was a very personal journey for me and necessary for me to put closure on that phase of my life and move forward into the next (and much more exciting) phase!

I took the trip with my bf, Stephanie Swaisland, who also shares a birthday this month - so what a better way to celebrate!

Fairhaven Park, where the race starts and finishes, is just beautiful!  It was a cold morning and I couldn't believe how many top ultra runners were on the scene.  I saw more cover shoot athletes from trail runner magazine than I ever thought could convene in one event.  It also made me realize that this would certainly make the efforts of us mere mortals reflect lower on the food chain when it came to results today.  Regardless, I was excited when I saw my race number was 316.  (my birth date)  That must be good luck, right??!! 

Well, the way my race started I would have thought that.  I paced myself very conservatively for the first 10k which was greenway trail and mostly flat with a few hills mixed in for spite.  I got passed a lot in this section, but I tried to just ignore it and stick to my plan.  I ran every hill and just maintained an even effort.  It took me 57min, which seemed slow compared to how I was feeling.  (No wonder I got passed so much!)

The next section was a climb similar to sections of the Hallow's Eve race on Vancouver's North Shore.  I ran sections of it, but also hiked a fair bit (at effort) to try to conserve as I didn't want to shit the bed too early.  It had been 3yrs since my last 50k (2008 Knee Knacker) and I knew I was out of practice. 
There was a long forest road climb ahead that went on for miles.  It was mostly runnable but I picked it apart and ran/hiked it.  I got a rumble in the Bronx, so I had to say good bye and drop myself down the bank to find some privacy.  Nothing pretty about it folks... sometimes you just got to do what you got to do.  10min later, I climbed myself back up to the trail and continued to Aid 3.  This section, despite being a logging road, had beautiful mossy trees and views of the ocean.

The nicest piece of this race and practically the only single track piece.  Approx. 8km of fun, rooty, rocky, steep rolling single track.  It was so much fun!!  I managed to pass quite a few people on this section, but in retrospect I may have had a little too much fun because at the bottom I was in for a surprise. 

Mud awaited and a lot of it.  For approx. 4miles to the next aid was mostly flat trail with some gradual climbs and then a descent into aid 4 and little chinscraper.  I was at 3hrs 11min in this muddy section when my knees just suddenly felt like I had ice picks sticking in either sides.  My quads started to burn and my it bands tightened.  I just thought 'oh no, not yet.  Please not this early into the race.'  OH YES!  It did come this early and it wasn't going anywhere.

The good thing is that I knew the course.  So I just tried to stay focused and break it down to the last 3 pieces I had left.  That was easier said than done.  Next up was a climb called little chinscaper.  When I arrived in aid 4 they had potatoes... yum!  I grabbed 2 and started on my way.  From this point on in the race, I never got passed.  Despite the agony I felt in my knees and legs, climbing was most comfortable.  So I made good time going up, (approx. 18min) knowing that I would loose time on the the next section, as we had to descent approx. 5km of double track. 

Downhill has always been my strength and where I make up a lot of time in long distance runs.  Unfortunately I just couldn't push it, so I resolved to let gravity do most of the work, grabbed two advil out of my pack and just hung on.  There were beautiful waterfalls all the way down and I wanted to stop to take photos but was afraid if I stopped, I might not get going again.

At Aid 5 I filled my bottle 1/2 full of coke and made up my mind to run the last 10k in run/walk intervals.  But as I turned out of the aid station, I saw 5 females 200meters ahead of me.  So I couldn't walk now!!  I committed to 85% of my max heart rate and figured I would try to hold this for a long as I could and see how it played out.  I also switched up my gate along the way repeatedly to try to use different muscles to take my mind of the crippling pain.  Before you knew it, I passed those girls and set my eyes on three more girls ahead of me and so on and so forth.  I held my pace and finished strong, passing over 20pp in the last 10k.  I ran this section well and in approx. 57min. (same time coming out - only having to work much harder at this time)

Not one time during this race did I feel like giving up or that I couldn't do it. I was focused and proud of how I got myself to the finish.  I knew I wasn't going to beat my previous time of 5:39 from 5yrs ago, but that didn't bother me.  In fact, when I looked back and realized I ran 2x's per week and took 8 weeks to prepare this year, I had already bettered this race experience by a long shot.

It was the first race I ever ran where I didn't know anyone at the finish.  My boys weren't there... I had no PACE pep's or family.  It was one of those moments where I finished and looked around and high-fived the air.  Nobody knew me or my story or why I was out there today... It was just ME.  And I was good with that.  Not that I didn't miss the familiar faces, more so that it didn't make it any less rewarding.  I thought that in itself was a bit of a breakthrough.

Watching Stephanie finish was exhilarating.  I was so proud of her and we just hugged and then avoided eye contact so not to cry.  We had one of those 'I love you man' moments in fairhaven park.  Then we started to laugh and make all the sarcastic jokes about why the hell we run this friggen 50k's when they hurt so much and take so flippin' long!

We drove home shortly after the race.  Changed clothes in a nearby gas station accepted that we would seize up the second we sat in the car.  We didn't care... we were in the next phase of our 'race'... joking and dissecting the details.  Sharing our play-by-play stories of each section and the people we met out there.  Reminisced about how we sat in the car to stay warm before the race and the crap I had to stop for out on the course!  LOL  We were both just genuinely grateful for the day we both experienced.  For the good, the bad and the ugly.

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