This race was a giant lesson in expectation vs. reality. Also a reminder that ultrarunners can exaggerate a tiny, small…very little bit…occasionally
The Chuckanut 50km Race takes place every March in Fairhaven, Washington, and is an unofficial kick-off for runners in this area. It’s one of the first spring races and there’s good representation from Vancouver. This year’s edition of the race was my first experience, and over the past few weeks I have heard allllll about it from friends and local runners who have made the drive down to Washington in the past.
The course is a lollipop (also…manage expectations…NOT candy. It means the first 10k and last 10k are the same trail, plus a 30k loop in the middle).
The tone of feedback I got about the race was similar to the dread instilled by horror movie trailers. The last 10 kilometers is pure torture, Chinscraper will destroy you, don’t expect to be fast. Then I’d hear these same people say they had voluntarily returned 2, 3, 4 times to keep running the race. I should have realized this was perhaps early-season-under-trained syndrome speaking, and known that people going back for more meant the race was more than worthwhile
On race day we arrived early, grabbed our race bibs, got dressed and had time to spare for a nap in the car. Car naps at 6am are truly the greatest. The forecast called for rain but the air was dry when the start gun went off. I find that mental sensory overload takes over at the beginning of my races. My mind races (pun intended) so I used the first 10k ‘lollipop stick’ to get rid of my mental blocks (the usual ‘ohmygodimnevergoingtofinish’ and ‘icantbelieveieverthoughtishoulddothis’ and my favourite ‘howisTHATpersonpassingmetheydontlookfitatallohmygodimtheworst.’)
Once I hit the mid 30k section ‘loop’ I realized the race, despite the warnings I received, was NOT dreadful, and I was not, in fact, running on an iron-spiked hamster wheel hovering over a pit of lava. I could relax a bit. Truthfully, I was shocked at how beautiful it was. Reminding myself to scold my friends afterwards for being drama queens, I plodded on through the trees, had some snacks, and kept my feet going. Left right left right until I hit the finish line (I still repeat the same mantras from my first ultra last summer in every race I do). At one point I spent about 5k in a highly accelerated sprint. I would like to say it was a burst of energy or incredible fitness levels, but no…I sped up because it’s hard for me to run and roll my eyes at the same time. A fellow female runner’s decision to bring a portable speaker to the race sparked my speed. I will preface this story by saying I don’t know this woman, for all intents and purposes she is an extremely nice person who shelters lost animals for a living and has a carbon footprint of zero. However. I was annoyed by the music and wanted to put space between me and the speaker. In an effort to rid myself of
Everybody Dance Now a particular song, I bolted through the trees, carefully tip tapping over rocks and scrambling down switchbacks. I felt like I was bolting, in reality I was very likely running at an average pace. Every once in a while I would hear a faint sound from behind me, Bob Seger or Milli Vanilli (or the studio musician he hired to be his voice, I suppose that’s up for debate). After about 5k of straight running and hearing snippets of Debbie Gibson I slowed down the pace, stopped to tie my shoes COUGHnotreallyCOUGH, and politely let her pass. I pick my battles.
Once that fiasco was over I did a physical and mental assessment. An internal State of Chels speech, if you will. I was happy and feeling good – no stomach issues, no pain, and I was actually feeling decent. However, by this point the light mist in the air had turned to full-on RAIN (as in…stand-in-the-shower-with-your-clothes-on-rain). As much fun as this zipping through the trees was, this downpour had me focused on finishing. When I made it to the top of Chinscraper I glanced backwards at the
zombies runners hunched over with hands on quads making their way up. I turned back to where I needed to go and made a mental commitment to run the rest of the race at a good pace without stopping. And that’s what I did.
I’m proud of the fact that no one passed me in the final stage of the race. I slowly picked away at the runners ahead of me, catching and passing one at a time. I felt strong and made my way to the finish line, unsure of my time but knew the bets on my finishing time were between 6:50 and 7:30. I came around the corner and saw the clock at 6:38.
Chuckanut was an eye opener for me. Not fast by any means but I really didn’t SUFFER as much as any race I did last year. My stomach, which used to churn at the thought of eating while running, digested everything I ate with no issue. My legs buckled slightly less going down and burned slightly less going up To quote my 89-year-old British granny (once a marathoner herself) I felt more ‘pep in my step’ (say it in a British accent, it’s better that way).
So here’s my idea. The next 50k I do, I’m pushing it, and going for speed. It may come at the expense of finishing the race, I may crash and burn, I may end up throwing in the towel and demanding a helicopter lift out. But I’m going to do it. I’ve already titled the race report ‘THE HARDEST RACE EVER IN THE HISTORY OF ALL RACES.”
What’s that about runners exaggerating?