March 24, 2012

Chuckanut 50k

The Chuckanut 50k was supposed to be my relaxed 2012 opener.  A quick look at the entrant list showed exactly the opposite.  For some reason everyone and their brother decided to open up at Chuckanut.  I took off work on Friday and drove 9 1/2 hours northwest to Bellingham, WA.

A string of sunny, warm days in Missoula has taken away all the snow and ice.  I was surprised by the amount of snow along the passes on I-90.  Look Out Pass, which acts as the border of Idaho and Montana, had several feet.  The Idaho sign was almost completely buried by snowdrift.

Most of eastern and central Washington is flat farm land.  The mountains pick up again at Snoqualamie Pass.  I remember when Dave and I passed this section on the Greyhound.  It is hard to focus on the road here...

Fifteen miles east of Seattle I stopped for gas in small town called North Bend.  Towering in the back is the Rattlesnake Ridge of the Cascade Mountains. I would love to run up there....

On Saturday morning I left my hotel around 6:30am and picked up my race bib.  There was a steady rain and the temperature was hovering in the upper 30's.  Because Friday afternoon was so beautiful - upper 50s and sunshine - I was a little let down by the crappy weather.  

Around 7:15 am I jumped out of my nice warm Jeep and went on a cold, wet warmup.  Everyone was huddled under the tents to stay dry and warm.  In order to get us out on the starting line they had to move the tents!  

(photo by LongRun picture company)

Thank God they let us go in waves.  I kept getting pushed further back at the start line.  When the race started I had to move to the outside which made for an interesting left hand turn 100 meters into the race. 

(photo by LongRun picture company)

The first six miles were on a relatively flat gravel path.  John Loutiti went out hard and a group of 15 or so followed quickly behind.  At about 3 miles Mike Wolfe and Adam Campbell accelerated to catch a small group in front of us.  I stayed under control and slowly brought them back with the rest of the  group right behind me.

(photo by Glenn Tachiyama)

The two groups came together right before the first climb.  Adam Campbell led the group of Mike Wolfe, Max King, Mike Foote, Jason Schlarb, Sage Cannaday and myself for the entire second leg.  The trail from this point forward consisted of loose snow on top of mud.  We moved quickly but cautiously through this section.  Everyone once in a while we could see Loutit in front of us.  

(photo by Glenn Tachiyama)

Eventually we came to the long gradual climb up Cleator road.  Sage and Max decided this was their time to break and I followed.  Slowly I pulled away from the rest of the group and caught Max and Sage at the top of the climb.  Sage asked out loud "doesn't anyone stop at aid stations in ultras?".  I laughed and Max took off down the trail.  Sage and I followed Maxs' footsteps for the next mile along the Chuckanut Ridge.  I was having a lot of fun up there - launching myself over fallen trees and sharp rocks.  I could tell that Sage wanted to find Max so I stepped aside and let him go.  Max and Sage would build up a 2 1/2 minute lead over me on the technical but flat Chuckanut Ridge section.  

Before you leave the Chuckanut ridge you have one last climb called Chinscraper.  This section was important for me because I wanted to take back some time on Max and Sage.  I was let down at how short and flat this section was.  There was one good steep section but that was it the rest was runnable.

(photo by Glenn Tachiyama)

(photo by Glenn Tachiyama)

(photo by Glenn Tachiyama)

(photo by Glenn Tachiyama)

(photo by Glenn Tachiyama)

My surge on Chinscraper had paid off, I was not only a minute and half behind the leaders.  Now it would be all downhill and flat to the finish....  well not exactly.  Someone at the aid station told me to turn left at the upcoming gate.  I bombed down Cleator Rd to catch a glimpse of Max and Sage and shared exchanges with the second wave coming up.  When I arrived at the gate there was a young lady - race volunteer.  I asked her if we turn left and she said no and that I need to go straight.  There was a side trail next to the gate but it was flagged off in orange and this lady race volunteer was clearly blocking it.  Something didn't feel right but when I saw the Brooks shoe prints of Max and Sage continuing down Cleator rd I just kept charging.  Maybe there was another gate....  about 1/2 mile later down the road a subaru comes rolling down the hill honking and waving.  A guy told me that I was "off course and needed to return to the gate".  That was demoralizing because I had been moving fast down this stretch and now had to climb all the way back up.  Oh well - I'm getting used to race volunteers directing me off course.  I returned to the gate and found the lady volunteer who knew I wasn't happy with her.  Instead of admitting her confusion / mistake she scowled and told me there were only 3 guys in front of me.... well there were only 2 before lady!!  The downhill stretch to the interurban trail was steep and twisty.  I managed to catch Dane Mitchell on the way down and was in 3rd when I hit the last aid station.   

In the back of my mind I knew Max and Sage were charging behind me so I pushed through the aid station (probably a a mistake).  I could see Schlarb and Loutit in front of me and I managed to pull within 15 seconds of them with 3 miles to go.  As I was about to pass Loutit and take over 2nd place, I heard footsteps behind me.  I was surprised to see Adam Campbell go by with a short albiet quick stride.  Again I found myself in 3rd place but Schlarb had seen Adam coming and picked up his pace.  With 2 miles to go Sage finally caught me and I was relegated to fourth place.  At this point I was on the verge of bonking and my eyes searched for the finish line.  There were a few climbs towards the end and I noticed Dane had pulled back some time on me.   In the last half mile I could see the race strung out before me (Campbell in bright yellow followed by Sage and Schlarb) but there was nothing I could do to pull them in.  It was like those dreams where you can see where you want to be but you just can't move any faster.

The shriek of the loud speaker brought life back into my legs as I crossed the line in 3 hrs and 51 minutes.   Not a bad start to the season but a little bittersweet with the extra minutes off course.

(photo by

After crossing the finish line I hobbled over to the food tent and chowed down on bread, coffee, soup and a tub of cream cheese.  The sloppy trail conditions and my need to vault over rocks and trees led to nasty blisters on my heels.  It took me five minutes to hobble over to the first aid building and wash the mud off my bleeding heels.  Inside I found Sage getting stitches from a nasty fall on a wooden bridge.  I was lucky to not end up with stitches.  Once I was cleaned up I took the shuttle back to the parking lot and headed to Seattle.

My brother asked me to take some pictures of Seattle's Common Municipal Library.  I'm happy I made the side trip because this place was amazing.  My brother and I had walked around Seattle last winter but we never came across this crazy glass building.

The entrance had a huge glass overhang and an anchor?

The inside was really nice as well.  I've never seen a huge auditorium in a library.

The wooden floor had an interesting design.  Not quite sure why they letters are in reverse - maybe there were mirrors on the ceiling I didn't see...

My visit to the library was quick because the two dollars I put in the parking meter only gave me 20 minutes.  Best $2 I have spent in a while.

My next race will be the Ice Age 50 in May.  That seems like forever now that I have the competitive juices flowing.  However, there are plenty of muddy trails and cloudy mountains in Montana to climb until then!

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Originally from Strongsville, OH, I spent 8 years in Raleigh, North Carolina and have since recently moved to Missoula, MT. I have been a runner all my life and have recently started pursuing ultra marathons. Any excuse to be outside and on the trails.