Here contains the ugly truth about my first running of Chuckanut Mountain as part of the Chuckanut 30K. If you want the gory details of my race of where things really went south, skip down to My Literal Downfall. The Race Start is not a bad place to start as well.
This is my first real blog post. I have another post in the making that tells how I got here but best for me to keep up with things while they are fresh and then I’ll come back to the old stuff.
Having completed several Half Marathons and 25Ks, I decided the time had come for me to go a bit further and the Chuckanut 30K seemed like a natural progression. Of course it was only after I signed up did I look at the course profile and hear just how intimidating the Chuckanut “Middle 18 [miles]” can be. But I was committed and run it I would.
I’ve been taking a Running Development class at the Willows Run ProClub, with Coach Michael Covey for the past year, working on my running form, strength, and training for upcoming races. Michael helped set up my training plan, with a variety of runs and exercises during the week and Long Slow Runs on the weekends. I also work with Trainer Amber Zoeller twice a week on strength training.
My Long Runs are up to 18 miles at a nice, slow 11:30 pace, tracking my water and food (if you can call Honey Stinger chomps “food”). I’m now very comfortable that the two 26oz bottles on my Ultraspire Kinetic are perfect for a comfortable 18 miles but only last about 13 miles in heat. Also know that the Honey Stinger Chews and Clif Shot Bloks work well at 200-300cal/hour and between the 2 Nuun tabs per bottle and chews I get 500mg sodium per hour which is just about right.
We’ve been working on trails and hills in class and in preparation for Chuckanut I’ve been doing treadmill intervals of 6% incline at 6mph for 3 min then 6% while walking for 90 secs; definitely a hard level for me (5.5% and 5.5mph is much more doable). I decided to take a look at the Chuckanut 30K Garmin Profile that Candice Burt, RD posted to see how it compared to my training. Little bit of geometry (who said I’d never use Sine and Cosine outside of school) and I came up with the angles. Amazingly, the incline I calculated from the profile just about matched what I was doing on the treadmill. But then I noticed that the treadmill showed I was gaining less elevation than the Chuckanut profile said I should be gaining. After lots of head-scratching and finally contacting the treadmill manufacturer, I realized my error. I was working with Degrees (0 = Flat and 90 = straight up) but the treadmill was showing % incline (Rise over Run). Recalculating, the first 2 hilly sections of Chuckanut were closer to an average of 9.5% incline for two miles each and then Chinscraper was far over 15%. Whoops. It would have been better if I hadn’t figured that out.
I got to Bellingham the night before. Someday I’ll be used to running enough that the thought of getting up at 5:30 in order to get to a race where I’ll run 4-5 hours won’t be nearly as intimidating as it is right now. After a quick drive around to scope out the starting line, Cleator Rd, (which was just as obnoxiously long and steep as I had remembered it from volunteering at the 2012 Chuckanut 50K), and Chinscraper (which I didn’t even get to before turning back) it was off for a quick bite and early bed.
After a great nights sleep, it was off to the course. Got there plenty early so there was still lots of parking. Registration was a breeze and picked up my glass and shirt (at some point I’ll realize I really have too many shirts but not yet). Larrabee State Park was a great location for the start: Nice green space, covered areas, band stage, etc. The weather was great, with sunny skies and 54 degrees climbing into the mid-60s by the afternoon.
After a super-quick briefing, so quick my watch hadn’t found the satellites yet, we were off. As always, the pace was too fast but I was appropriately towards the back of the pack and ended up with a good group of 4-5 including fellow Half Fanatic and Marathon Maniac Steven Ferry.
The first 1.75 miles were a fairly solid uphill, gaining 1200′. It then was mostly downhill to 650′ elevation until mile 3.5 when the course met up with my arch-nemesis Cleator Road. Cleator just goes on and on at a steady uphill until hitting 1800′ at the top at the Cleater Road Aid Station before turning North onto Chuckanut Ridge Trail. The awesome volunteers helped me quickly refill my bottles (having gone through 1/2 of each, dumped one in the other, refilled w/water, then added two of my dear Nuun tablets, thanked the very helpful volunteers and then took off down the trail.
My Literal Downfall
And this is where things fell apart. 0.7 miles from the aid station, there was a boulder in the middle of the path. I glanced to the left and didn’t see the trail. To the right was a fairly steep cliff but what looked to be a wider path than to the left. I decided to go down a bit and sure enough saw a pink ribbon so I knew I was on the right path. I went down a little further and the path became very steep. Given the steepness and rough terrain, I began to have my doubts but perhaps this is what was meant by “technical terrain?” I knew things were out-of-control when I found myself sliding butt-first down huge boulders until I hit the “bottom” and knowing less-fit runners could easily get hurt on this route, especially during the 50K in March. The pink flags were now nowhere in sight, although there were a few white ones labeling a creek trail (which was nowhere to be found). There was no way I could make it back up the hill but I circled around trying to find the ribbons. I did spot them again but also realized I had been going in circles. Not good. I was doing pure bush-whacking, getting fairly scraped up.
25 minutes after I started down the hill, I finally connected with Lost Lake Trail. While there were no markings, I knew I needed to turn Right and head south so I started on my merry way. I had my doubts, which got worse when a very fresh looking, young runner came dashing by me saying “good luck”. He was definitely not the type usually found in my rear-of-the-pack group. My fears were confirmed when a fast couple also passed me and when I asked told me they were at mile 12 while my Garmin 610 showed 8. Crap. I had just DQ’d.
I continued on to the aid station at the bottom of Chinscraper, which for me was about 10.5 miles in compared to 14.4 for everyone else. The “congratulations!” from the volunteers were that much sadder given my state. I spent an eternity, >8 minutes, at the aid station having a good pity party and feeling dejected. I really, really didn’t want to DQ.
Someone suggested doing Chinscraper / Fragrance Lake loops to make up the mileage but that didn’t sound like fun (and a good call after I experienced Chinscraper later on). I’m not sure it was directed at me but I heard one of the volunteers mumbling about runners hanging out at aid stations for extended periods. While it came across as pissy at the time, it’s what I needed and I thank him now. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do but I knew that I was going to get to the finish line along the remaining course. Halfway up Chinscraper, I knew that Chinscraper loops were out of the question; it will take me months to forget my first Chinscraper climb. 🙂
When I got to the top of Chinscraper, I had the beginnings of a plan. Looking at my watch, I was 3:30 in with 2:30 remaining until the cut-off. I was feeling good and felt like I could go for a while. I knew that there were about 11 miles to the Finish from the Cleator Aid Station and I figured I could do that in 2:30 since it was mostly downhill and I had good cause to skip doing Chinscraper again and instead skip over to Fragrance Lake Trail at the bottom of Chinscraper. I’d only miss a downhill section from the top of Cleator to Fragrance Lake Trail to the Aid station but I figured the extra miles I’d put in more than made up for it in my mind.
One important question was whether the sweepers had already come past the Cleator Aid Station. If they had, then it wouldn’t be prudent for me to go both because the markings would be gone as well as there would a runner on the course that hadn’t been swept. I asked the Aid Station workers and they assured me they sweepers hadn’t come by and there were still ~25 runners still to pass through. That seemed high considering the significant amount of time I’d just blown going in circles but I wasn’t thinking quite clearly enough and trusted them. I let them know I screwed up and was going around again, giving them my bib number so they could keep track of the random guy on the course.
About 10 minutes in, I realized I hadn’t seen any pink flags. I hadn’t really been watching for them since the trail was clear so I started watching. I passed the boulder which caused my original downfall and sure enough the trail went around to the left avoiding the cliff. I gave myself another 1/2 mile before I’d turn around if I didn’t see a ribbon. No ribbon. OK, 1 mile more. The trail was clear and easy to follow but still no pink ribbons. The sweepers had obviously been through and done a thorough job in cleaning. The Aid Station volunteers must have been referring to a different question… “have the sweepers come up Chinscraper behind me” and not whether they had already been down Chuckanut Ridge Trail.
It was around this time that I tried to play Superman (flying through the air, arms and legs outstretched) but my flight was short-lived and I hit my knees hard. Was bleeding a bit from both but nothing was gushing and I could run so I ignored it. I certainly wouldn’t want to waste time pulling out all that antiseptic and bandaids I was carrying with me. 🙂
I now came upon a turnoff or two but the trail I was on seemed right. I also pulled out my phone and checked the GPS to see where I was. I had made the good move of exporting the Garmin 30K course map to MapMyRun so I could see it on my phone. Unfortunately MapMyRun app on the Windows Phone sucks and won’t show you a Route and your Location on the same screen (!!!). Crazy. But I saw that I was paralleling Cleator which seemed correct so I kept going. I frequently stopped to double check the GPS which slowed me down but was a bit reassuring. Then I finally found a pink ribbon missed by the sweepers and felt much, much better. I picked up speed and eventually hit Lost Lake Trail. Connecting to the Chuckanut 30K webpage, I saw that Chuckanut Trail intersected Lost Lake Trail which went directly to Chinscraper. I was back on track and at 4:30 in I had 1:30 to finish 7 miles; definitely doable. Unfortunately there was still the occasional turnoff and I spent a bunch of time on my phone verifying my location keeping me far slower than I had hoped.
One hour fifteen minutes and 4.5 miles later I was back at Chinscraper. Rather than going back up Chinscraper, I hung a left onto Fragrance Lake Trail and headed towards the finish. I had about 2 miles left. About 5 minutes on my way, a fresh, spry looking runner (again, not someone in my slow-class), who I later found out was Lisa Wood a FB fiend-of-a-friend, came running up behind me. Seeing no number, I correctly surmised she was indeed a sweeper. She confirmed but was in a rush to get back to the Finish and told me there was still another runner behind me with the other sweeper. I would have been fine w/last place given the circumstances but it was nice to know that I was still in the game. Lisa was doing an <8 min pace, something I was not going to keep up for any length of time after that run, despite being downhill. While she underestimated the distance to the finish a bit, she was incredibly encouraging and wished me well as she took off while I settled into my finishing pace.
A mile and a half later, I crossed the finish line at 6:05:33. I was 65th out of 66 and the last male. And I was still damn proud of what I accomplished. I had not let the wrong turn stop me; I went around and did it right. In the end I ran approx 35K or 21.7 miles (my Garmin shows a bit less than that but it lost GPS at the end and looking at other Garmin tracks this should be right).
I put together a spreadsheet showing the various checkpoints on the course, both planned as well as what I ended up doing.
Here are the GPS plots:
For nutrition, I did my standard bagel, banana, and protein shake an hour or two before the start. During the race, I went through 2 Honey Stinger Chews (160cal*2) and 2 Clif Shot Bloks (200cal * 2) for a total of 720cal or 120/hr, waaaay too low but I was also going waaaay to slow thanks to my misadventures. I went through 26oz Nuun (720mg sodium) in 1:40 (Cleator Aid) and then 52oz more (1440 Na) in the next 4 hours to the Chinscraper aid station at which point I grabbed a 12oz bottle of water. Adding 320mg from the chews, I ended up w/approx. 400mg/hr which again was low but so was my pace. I felt fine and had plenty of energy, but sometimes you just need to eat. Oh yeah, stole a few chips and a touch of coke at the aid stations, but nothing significant.
I want to thank all of the great people who made the Chuckanut 30K possible. Candice put on a great race, well organized and a blast. The volunteers were all incredibly nice and helpful, and the Sweeps especially were encouraging. I look forward to running it (correctly) in the future.
That’s enough for now. I may come back and update some stats and links.