It has taken me three years to finally run the ever so popular Chuckanut 50k. In 2013 I was whisked off to Kenya during the Chuckanut race weekend (tough choice, but Kenya won in the end). In 2014 a tough physical and mental battle was occurring in my body as I tried to heal from multiple hip issues/injuries. This year, well there was nothing holding me back other than the worry I wouldn’t be properly prepared for a very competitive trail ultra race.
In general, I mix my running time between road and trail. As much as I would love to visit the local trail terrain on a daily basis, it just isn’t always feasible. And to be honest, keeping some road leg speed, can be an advantage in endurance races, whether on trail or road.
Chuckanut was to be my first trail race of the year, and certainly not my last. I did my research in regards to the race. Asking fellow Ultra runners Jeremy Clegg and Ellie Greenwood what I should expect out there that day. Both of these incredible runners had raced this event (Ellie being last years winner) and knew the in’s and out’s, and ups and downs, of the race. It was obviously a poplar course with both friends, as they had given me a play by play of the race, and it couldn’t have been better. It gave me some confidence while I moved through the trails, knowing (ever so slightly) what was coming up ahead.
Friday night after work found me heading down South, over the boarder to where the Canadian dollar gets you nothing currently, in the passenger seat of Anne-Marie Madden’s truck. It was the perfect time to catch up, unwind, and hedge our bets on what the weather would do the next morning. It wasn’t looking like the sun would poke through, so a soggy run was expected.
The threat of rain and wind, and the assurance of mud and puddles had me undecided as to what to wear (like the runners version of what to wear on a first date I suppose!). Jacket on or jacket off? Arm warmers? Water bladder full or half empty?The gusts were strong as we readied ourselves just minutes before the race was to begin, so I opted for a hat that wouldn’t fly off, and threw on a long sleeve over my pack (kind of looking like I was wearing a fashionable shrug…), thinking I would rather have the option to take it off after the start if things warmed up, rather than being caught cold on a higher peak later on, wishing I had something to protect me from the wet conditions. In the end, it was a somewhat useless piece of clothing as it spent the majority of the race around my waist.
The beauty of this race is that is can appeal to both a climber and a not so skilled climber. Although I am not horrible at moving up hill, I still have some work to do. Having 10k at the start and the end of the race of rolling, easy terrain, allows people like me to stay in the race a little easier. For many, the last 10k of flatter, rolling trails (much like what you see on the Goose or Elk lake for you Victoria folk), is not a welcoming aspect of the event. From approximately 35km to 40k, there is a significant drop in elevation. It’s a perfect place to bomb down the switchbacks amongst beautiful trees, but it can also do some damage to the quads if one isn’t careful. For me, it was a feeling of freedom going down that last slope, and I kept in mind that in a short amount of time, I would be able to utilize some road speed on the flats, hoping it would give me a gap between myself and the next female runner who was on my heels.
What’s the earlier part of the race like you may ask? Well, after the first 10k of easier terrain, you begin the first climb. There is some great flowing single track, and due to the rain, a lot of slippery mud, puddles and slick rocks to be weary of. Around the 18km mark is a good long slog of a climb on a logging road, followed by more muddy ups and downs. The final climb, called “Chinscraper”, said to be the nastiest climb (although it was my favourite for some odd reason), begins around 33km’s, and after that, the downhill slope begins. Overall, the race has some technical aspects, and of course some open and speedy sections. With the rain, wind and mud, I would hazard to say it was a slower run for most people out there. However, it didn’t disappoint. What’s trail running without some dirt and close calls along the way? I am sure there is a health benefit to mud baths.
One trail race down for 2015 and I am extremely content with the 2nd place finish behind one of the USA’s strongest runners, Magdalena Boulet. I didn’t expect to place so high up, but I won’t complain about the result. I know I still have a lot to learn from these trails I am running on. My confidence has increased in the last couple of years, but there is so much more to gain out there. This change from road to trail and Ultra running only feeds the fire within. Running through the woods, weaving over uneven terrain, listening to what nature has to say and hearing my own breathing as I make my way up a mountain, couldn’t be more inviting. Every turn and each new climb offers something different. The challenges are numerous, but so rewarding. Bring on more dirt and longer runs. Happy running my friends. Enjoy the mud!