This will be a bit of an abbreviated race report since I gave most of the plot away a few days ago! (This ended up being, in no way shape or form, an abbreviated race report, sorry!) Todd and I headed down to Bellingham on Friday night for Saturday's Chuckanut 50km running event. As I have blogged endlessly about, I am coming off of a serious calf injury (it was actually both calves) that pretty much kept me completely off of my feet for a full month. I was able to sustain my fitness through biking and some gym work, but overall I was very uncertain as to if I would even be able to complete this distance after coming off of just five days of 'pain free', well 'serious' pain free running.
Todd was going into his first ever ultra race! I was highly confident that Todd would do amazingly well for himself as he is an athlete with endless potential, having only really gotten started with all of this a few years ago. His best attribute heading into a distance like this is how level headed he is. It sounds so simple to be able to run your own race, but in the four years I have personally been running I have met many a seasoned runner who have never, EVER figured out how to do this successfully! Todd had a game plan and I knew he'd stick to it. That and that alone would ensure a certain level of success for him going into his first ultra.
We were fortunate enough to have stayed with fellow ultra runner Daniel Probst who lives all of ten minutes away from the start of the event. We were up at 6am and in the end thankful that the race started ten minutes late at 8:10am.
The first 9-10km of this race are almost completely flat, on a hard packed forest service road...a road runner's dream...a trail runner's nightmare! I knew that I would really have to ease into this race as the last thing I wanted on the day was to end up with a D.N.F. next to my name. About thirty minutes in and I really wasn't feeling very good at all. The hard pack was beating up my calves, and even though we were hanging back and taking it easy, I was still breathing hard and struggling to find a rhythm to my step. Todd even commented at one point that I didn't seem comfortable at all. He was right, so I dropped back even further and just tried to limit my losses over the first 10k.
Shortly before the race finally headed into the single track trails there was a turn around where you could see the runner's ahead of you. Two guys were absolutely blazing a trail at the front and I found it hard to believe that they were running 50 on the day! They were already close to six minutes ahead of me and even the second group of runner's had put over 3.5 min into me. I was sitting back somewhere in the 30's positionally and was starting to get pissed off about how my race was unfolding. My mind was playing tricks on me but I kept telling myself that there was still a very long 40km until that finish line. I decided that as soon as we reached the climbs I was gone, calf pain or not, if I was going down with a DNF on the day I was at least gonna enjoy some actual running before that happened!
We had to squeeze through a few trail posts to initiate our climb up Chuckanut Mtn, and the instant that I cleared those sticks I went to work. I have managed to develop a pretty fast power hike over the years, which really comes in handy during steep ultra running events. I was hiking faster than most people could run and went about making short work of the first climb. One thing I definitely noticed was that my body was feeling much leaner than ever before. I initially learned to power hike because it was the only way I could be effective, but I was easily running terrain that I would have been unable to tackle at those speeds in years prior. It felt amazing! The great part about it all is that not one single person that I passed even attempted to go with me. I was killing it, and loving it!
Within approximately thirty five minutes of climbing I had made up the entire 3.5 min gap on second pack of runner's. We hit a huge switch back descent and I unleashed into it with a huge smile upon my face...God I love, and missed, downhill running and racing in general. Within a few switchbacks I peered back to see that the three runner's I had just passed were already nowhere in sight.
At the bottom of this descent the race filtered us into a 5km forest service road ascent. As I popped out I heard someone yell my name! One of the most enjoyable things that Todd and I have encountered over the last few years of doing the occasional event in Washington State is that we have gotten to know a whole other group of racer's, and of course, incredible people!
I started off power hiking the climb as I was unsure as to exactly how long it went on for at the time. As I did this one of the runner's I bombed past on the descent caught up to me and looked at me in dismay,
"How? How? How do you do that! I've never seen anyone run downhill like that before!!"
I laughed and simply replied that I lived in Squamish and it was all I really knew how to do! He slowly pulled away, but I was sustaining myself against the other runner's who were in sight, all of whom were of course attempting to run the hill. After a few minutes of power hiking and then chatting with a fellow competitor to determine what lay ahead, I realized that I could indeed run out this hill and hence drop a few more people. I went to work, quickly caught the guy I had traded spots with, and picked up another three spots. By the time we departed this climb in favor or more single track running I had managed to work my way back up to 15th place! I had gained somewhere in the vicinity of twenty positions in just under one hour of focused running! I WAS LOVING IT, and was definitely back in race mode, counting positions and shooting for the highest placing I could still salvage.
This mid section of the run was along a ridge line and then up and over the steepest climb of the entire 50km. We ended up in the fog a little, but you could really tell that this would be an incredibly scenic area on a clear day. Worth mentioning is that it was absolutely hammering down rain as we drove to the starting line. The race started, the rains seized and we got away with a completely dry...well dry from above, day of racing!
The field was obviously more spread out as I continued to gain position, and I ended up running quite a portion of this section in 'no man's land' (no one to chase, no one to run from). I slowly picked off a few more people and was surprised that not a single runner attempted to come with me. Usually when you pass someone in a race, at the very least, they come along with you for some period of time.
There was a ton of mud on the course, especially in this section, but none of it was really that deep, and certainly did not even compare to Knee Knacker 2005 'The Year Of The Mud', or anything you would encounter upon the West Coast Trail or The Juan De Fuca Trail. I was surprised to hear some people complaining about it afterwards...it's a trail race, we love mud!!
As this middle section of the run flattened out a bit my calves once again flared up on me. I was starting to slow a bit and told myself that I had ten minutes. If the pain got worse, I was done. If it subsided, I'd continue...but either way, I had to pick up the pace and continue trying to track people down. As soon as this flat section led into another climb my calves shut the hell up on me and I was able to forget about them. I came across a volley who informed me that there was another runner just thirty seconds ahead, AND that the leader's were just eight minutes in front of me! It was a huge boost to my confidence as I had effectively limited my losses since we departed the initial flat section of the course. I looked at my watch, we were now 2h45min in. Even if I did have to drop before the finish I would be taking a lot of positives away from this race. I went to work tracking down the next few runner's.
Again as the climbs became steeper I continued to reel in a few more positions. As we were spit back out onto the 5km F.S.R. that we initially ran up...which we would now be running down, I was ecstatic to learn that I was in 10th position, and 9th was all of thirty meters ahead! This downhill was an absolute killer! It was so hard packed, without any reprieve at all, that it truly felt like it was ripping the quads apart. I was right on the heels of the 9th place runner, and then he just stopped running. I was surprised at how strong he was looking, and not three seconds after I had that thought he just gave up. He ended up coming back strong, but it always amazes me how you can often believe that you are suffering more than the next guy, when in reality, everyone is dying by that point in time and it all comes down to who is mentally tougher and able to ignore every single thing that your brain keeps throwing at you,
'If you stop...right now...I'll grow all of your hair back for you...I swear it to you man c'mon, you'll have an Afro by the end of the week if you want one...and all you have to do is stop running....now...how bout now....NOW...just STOP RUNNING GOD DAMMIT!!'
As I came through the final aid station, at the bottom of the descent I was indeed told that I was currently in 9th place, and that 8th was thirty five seconds ahead of me. I started to dream of a seventh, or sixth placing if I could just finish off strong. This lasted all of about four seconds as the last two runner's I had passed, obviously road runner's, came blazing past me! I tried to hang on but my body was pretty shattered. During the descent I could feel muscle pain where I usually do not in ultra runs. Everything from my lower back to my abs, to of course my quads were screaming at me and it became very evident to me that I had indeed missed out on a full month of running. I just tried to sustain my position from there on in, which was now 11th overall.
As if this flat, 10k hard pack surface was not a torturous enough way to end an event, there was a collage running team out training on the exact terrain. I kept hearing footsteps, would then try to respond, before realizing that I just didn't have it in me and in my head simply tack on another placing to my day. 'Looks like I'm 12th now'. Then some young speedster would come blazing past and yell out,
"Nice work man, almost home!"
This repeated itself four times before I could actually determine if these guys were in the race or not before trying to punish myself further by going with them! The guy who was just 35sec ahead after the last aid station had increased his lead over me, although just slightly, and I realized that we were both in the exact same boat. Who had more left in the tank? With just one mile to go, 1.6k, I decided that 10th sounded a hell of a lot better than 11th. There was one minimal climb with two switchbacks. He exited the climb as I entered it. A nice family cheered us on, and I put my head down and bargained with my legs,
"Here's what I'm offering. Give me this, and I promise you I WILL NOT even attempt to stretch you after this race."
I started to close the gap and he shoulder checked. I was hoping he would have waited longer to do so, but this was enough to tell me that he was mine. He was checking because he was scared. The guy responded well however, and I remember thinking to myself, 'C'mon, I'm faster than you, just give this to me. I don't wanna fight for this!'
I consistently narrowed his lead until with just 400 meters to go I surpassed him. I tried to gap him right away and was successful, however I heard him respond...this guy just would not die! I upped the pace, so did he, and with about 300 to go I wanted this race over with. I pretty much sprinted it across the line and ended up putting 45sec into him as I finished in a time of 4hr28m57s (chip timing). I had snagged 10th place. I was amazed and so damn satisfied with my day!! The best part is that I was very confident that I did not mess myself up in the process of pushing through the pain. I knew that outside of the usual pain associated with recovery after an event like this, that I'd be back and running within a few days!
(I love this pic. This is in the first 10k of the race and these are the 3rd-8th runner's. Scott Jurek is wearing the red shoes and Brian Morrison the white visor. The other three runner's are currently running someone else's race plan and I caught all of them during the climbs. Number 274 is who I duked it out with at the line, while the other two are the the runner's who passed me back on the final 10k home stretch. I was back around 35th when this pic was taken!)
Now for Todd. I knew he would not be far behind, and at 4h40m28s and 16th overall, I was super happy for him! He too suffered on the final stretch of the race and had managed to pair off with the lead female runner in the event for the final 15k or so and they both helped each other keep a solid pace. They crossed the line together, but Todd's chip must've started just after hers. So not only did Todd have a solid race, but in just his first ultra run, he managed to not get 'chicked' or 'skirted', and that is with the utmost respect to all the female runner's out there because they are all pushing the guys to their limits in events such as these. In fact the gaps between the top female and male ultra runner's are surprisingly small and it's not uncommon to see a strong woman standing atop the podium, having chicked the entire field of competitors!
With the race chip timing they were able to give exact split times, and after reviewing it I was elated to see that I had the 4th fastest time in the entire field over the middle section of the race. I was just 4min slower that the top guy and but 2.5min behind world class and famous in our circles, runner Scott Jurek! As if I needed any more positives to walk away with, this was the first event of this length, in that 4hr-5hr range, which would include all MOMAR races and sprint adventure races in general, that I did not suffer from a single leg cramp throughout! AND, I took in far less while racing as well!! This was the first event I did with Thermolytes electrolyte tablets and I will never attempt another race without them!
My total nutrition on the day:
-1 Bottle of Carbo-Pro 1200
-6 Thermolyte Tablets
-1 Package of Cliff Shot Blocks
-My brand new, super hot Montrail Hardrock 08 shoes. Love em!
-Helly Hansen Lifa long sleeve, with a Lifa short sleeve over top.
-I was even able to carry my Helly Hansen Mars jacket along with me for the first half of the run, just in case, and not even notice that it was in my pocket!
That was it, that was all, not a single cramp for the very first time! I have yet to do an event where I did not learn something about my body. Hopefully this will all help me when I hit the starting line for the Miwok 100k in just six weeks time. In the mean time, thanks to Ean Jackson's broken rib, I was able to scoop myself an entry into the 50k Diez Vista on April 5th. This will be a tune up race leading up to Miwok, with a full week of training going into it. I have done this race once before, in 2006, and it was the absolute worst performance of my life. I 'blew up' (bonked) big time and crawled home to a 13th place finish. So at the very least, I am hoping to vindicate myself upon this course. Until then, I just damn happy to be back running, and competing, once again!!
(4/5's of the crew that ran the Howe Sound Crest Trail together in Sept)