Most men either compromise or drop their greatest talents and start running after, what they perceive to be, a more reasonable success, and somwhere in between they end up with a discontented settlement. Safety is indeed stability, but it is not progression. – Chriss Jami, Killosophy
Chuckanut 50K, the official start of my 2018 race season, my 2nd race season as a trail runner, and my first ever 50k race!!! (I skipped a step and went straight to the 50miler :P) I was/am feeling a great deal of anticipation and excitement but also a lot of anxiety. The expectations are higher. Mostly my expectations from myself but also (I think) from others? People have seen me improve significantly in the course of the past year and I often feel they believe I can do better than I believe I can!
My initial plan was to race Chuckanut conservatively and to treat it just as a training run. But then I stumbled across the quote above and realized I wouldn’t be satisfied with my performance if I didn’t really push myself to see what I’m capable of! I’ve been thinking a lot about limitations lately… what are my limitations? What are my barriers? How far an I push them?! I’ve never really found out yet. I’m very new to running and racing still, and don’t have a lot of experience pushing my limitations and don’t really even know where they are! And while I’m competitive, I think I tend to be more internally competitive than competitive with others… but that can change.
I’m finding more of a desire within myself to identify my barriers to being a successful runner and eliminate them so that I can really push myself and see where my limitations are and what I’m really capable of. It makes the cautious part of me freak out though!!! But I don’t want to hold back in life or running because what is life or running if we don’t give it our all?!
Obviously it’s pretty impossible to give 100% all the time (but is it?!) but I do want to be able to say I gave it everything I had, whether it’s racing or life!
So my goal for Chuckanut was to push myself as hard as possible for as long as possible… and no matter what, free myself from my doubting mind and find joy and peace within myself!
About 2 weeks prior to the race I ran the majority (47k) of the course to give myself an idea of what it would be like, where I’d have to conserve energy and where I could really push myself. I found it to be an extremely runnable course – which is actually super challenging for me because runnable hills are not my strong point! However, my lovely friend Katrina and I realized as we trudged the last 10K on the flat that that’s flat 10K (which is actually 11k) would be the most challenging part of the race for sure and the most difficult to maintain a steady pace on. But regardless, I was so grateful to have had the chance to see the course in advance (most of it)… although the GIANT cougar footprints we saw in the muck in one section were a little terrifying, I was grateful to know that about 500 other people would be running with me that day and the chances of me actually running into GIANT cougar were nil!
I drove down to Bellingham the morning of the race, cranked my tunes, getting in the zone. My car showed freezing temps at one point! I was really hoping it would be a bit warmer for the race. I hate the cold and would have a hard time parting with my jacket, but I really didn’t want to have to cram it in my pack 5k into the race!
Toeing the start line… mid way through the pack… hanging with a few friends from the Abby Trail Running Club… I was just ready to get moving and do the thing!!! (Also I had ditched my jacket and in my little shorts and T-shirt, I couldn’t stop my teeth from chattering so I needed to get going to warm up!!)
And GO!!! We took off running through the park… pretty much at marathon pace! Definitely the fastest race start I’ve experienced! But then…. it’s a fast course so people start out faster!
The first 10.9k along the inter urban trail were pretty unremarkable… chatted with a few people I knew briefly along the way… oh and my freaking foot went numb! I’ve been struggling with this issue for a while and I still don’t really know what causes it. Tight calves? Hamstrings? Glutes? Some tightness somewhere I think. Need to work that out because feeling like I’m running on a block foot of heavy lead slows me down! Anyone have any suggestions or ideas?! Please help!!
By the time I got to the top of the first climb up the Fragrance Lake Trail – which is lush and green and gorgeous… the numbness was gone and I was found my groove along the Two Dollar Trail, a mellow and rolling single track trail with beautiful little views of Chuckanut Bay here and there. I attempted to fly down the downhill to the next Aid station at the bottom of the Cleator Road Climb, but the trail was narrow and congested with a cluster of runners and even though I passed a few, it was hard to get up to the front of the group so that I could really fly!
Ahh… then Cleator Road. 4.5km with 368m of elevation gain with an average gradient of 7.9% – which means it’s a pretty runnable hill – but it’s long and just seems to go steadily up for ever and can just completely sap you of any excess energy/destroy you for the remaining 30k if you’re not careful. I plugged in my headphones here and kind of just zoned out as I tried to run as much of the gradual uphill as possible… taking hiking breaks here and there when the gradients was steeper or I needed a little break, running forward again every chance I could. I ended up knocking off at least 10min off my time from 2 weeks prior when I pre-ran the course and made it to the Ridge Trail turnoff feeling pretty decent.
The only problem, and this was a big problem that would plague me for the majority of the race, was that about 10km prior, my stomach started feeling a little off. I wasn’t sure whether I needed to make a pit stop or not, but anytime I drank anything or took a gel my stomach was like woah!!! Nah man. We don’t like that shit. I’ve never ever had GI issues on a race or even on a run before so I wasn’t really sure what to do. Ultimately I kept pushing through because it was nothing that would actually stop me, but just enough GI upset to make it difficult to maintain my required caloric/water intake through the race, resulting in definitely less energy for some of the climbs and especially for the last 10k of the race!
Anyways… arriving at the Aid Station at the top of Cleator Ridge was so fun! There was a rowdy St. Patricks theme and booze!!! Shots of Jameson! Since my stomach was already off, I took just the tiniest shot of Jameson because how can you pass up a little whiskey 20k into a 50k on St Paddy’s Day?!!
And then the Ridge Trail! My favourite section of the course. It’s rocky and rooted and one of only 2 particularly technical sections on the course. It’s fun and flowy with a couple climbs and tricky little descents, especially in one section over this tree’s roots!
I really enjoyed this piece… I chatted a little with the woman ahead of me… who ultimately ended up kicking my ass even though she had 20 years on me… age really is just a number!!!!
From the Ridge Trail, the course heads onto the Lost Lake Trail… which is also pretty beautiful and flowy with some short moderate hill climbs and descents… I was a little back and forth with a couple runners there… they’d catch up to me on the uphill (as I was lagging due to my lack of calories here…) and I’d pass them on the downhill… pushing to just make up for anytime I was losing on the uphill bits I was struggling on.
Thinking back now, I recall listening to the Ginger Runner’s interview of Sally McRae, the Yellow Runner after her Tarawera Ultramarathon 100mile win… and Sally was talking about how when passing a runner at one point, to get into first place, her goal was just to pass hard and she had to just crush his/her soul and run past as fast as possible and put as much distance between them as possible so the other person would feel like they couldn’t pass back again and just bury her! She even turned off her headlamp so that they couldn’t see where she even was! That is soul crushing. But Sally sounds like the sweetest most positive person, but you gotta do what you gotta do in a race! Maybe I should have passed more assertively. Maybe I should have really crushed those runners I was back n forth with so that I’d really get ahead and they couldn’t pass me again. But the reality was that making a move like that at that point would have destroyed me and drained my remaining energy reserves! Maybe not. But it’s a good lesson for future races.
2nd last section of the trail… the infamous Chinscraper Climb. I had not pre-run this section so I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. Ohhh I was glad I’d done all those Abby Grind repeats, BCMC repeats… this trail is steep as !!! Chinsraper is an accurate description. Scalped a few people here because my well trained legs were feeling strong for this kind of climbing at least! It’s a steep go but I pushed hard through it, managing a huge smile and a laugh for the photographer perched near the top, but actually really enjoying this section!!
And then into the last downhill of the course… about 5k down a forest service road with the tallest trees along the side!!! I was blown away by the beauty of the forest in that section. As the trail went down, the trees rose up so tall and I felt so small, but yet so powerful and free as I flew downhill, that quad busting beautiful descent!
It was here in this section of the course that I really found what I was looking to find in the whole experience… the deep appreciation for all that my body is capable of… the time to process the moments that drive my running… the moment I felt my soul spring free… when I was overwhelmed with the joy of it all…
Running down that last descent, I was overwhelmed with emotion, struggling to breathe beneath the tears… deeply sad to my core tears but also joyful tears. I’ve seen an indescribable amount of suffering in the past few months that has impacted me to my core, caused me to question my deepest values and beliefs, and I’m still struggling to process it all.
We all run for different reasons unique to us and our lives… and some runs are motivated by just the joy of running, other runs are motivated by the dark twisty in us that needs an outlet… and some runs are motivated by the people we encounter in life.
This race is dedicated to the memory of a patient who touched me in ways no other patient has before and I hope no other patient will again. He was a runner too… but his disease immobilized him, took away his beautiful positive personality, took away everything and left him with nothing but the most severe suffering I’ve ever seen. I am still devastated by it and I was just his nurse. We tried everything. Absolutely everything. For months. In my experience, palliative care always wins. There’s always some way “to cloak” or mask the symptoms, to make people comfortable and give them quality of life for a longer or short time. But this time palliative care failed. We failed. And that continues to plague me.
I don’t want to use this story for dramatic effect, but this is what motivates me! Situations like this are a huge part of the reason why I run and a constant reminder to me to be grateful, so grateful for my health and strength! And it puts life and running into perspective for me. What do I personally know of suffering aside from the suffering I’ve seen? I call some runs a sufferfest but really, no suffering I go through on a run will ever compare. My challenges are nothing in comparison and so how can I not push through?!! There should be nothing holding me back!
We are strong. We have our health! We can run 50km!!!!!!!!!! We have a huge responsibility to care for our bodies, to use our bodies to appreciate this world we live in and the strength we have within us, the strength gifted to us!
On the trails here, immersed in nature, surrounded by the most positive and uplifting community, I processed some of that grief, I found some clarity and comfort, happiness, and such overwhelming gratitude for the opportunity, the health, and the strength within me to run and race like this! Even if my outcome wasn’t quite what I’d hoped it would be, how could I be anything but grateful?!
Anyways… back to the race… final 11 k on the flat… I felt like I was trudging along at snail pace… but I managed to run 99.9% of that last 11k. Somewhere in the last km or so, I paused for a couple seconds to get a proper drink from my bottle (thinking I had a few more km to go as per my watch…) and some girl came running past me saying “girl… don’t stop!!! You’re almost at this finish line!!!” That was just the kick in the pants I needed to get my ass in gear and run the rest of the way to the finish. Despite having almost zero energy left, hearing those finish line cheers always gives me a huge burst again and I found just enough strength to “sprint” the last 100m or so and finish strong!!!
A few of the amazing women of the Abby Trail Running Club were at the finish line waiting for me with huge hugs! I’ve never been so emotional at a finish, but that was a special race! And I’m so grateful to have spent a few more hours post race with friends… enjoying a little pizza and beer and a lot of laughs!!!
I’m still learning so much about this running/racing thing… but life’s all about learning… so I’m hoping to just continue to learn and grow into a better person primarily and better runner! I definitely learned that I have a long way to go with nutrition, not just race nutrition but nutrition in general in the weeks and months of training. I need to run a lot more long runnable hills too… that’s always been an area of weakness for me but I need to actually do something about it now if I’m going to seriously keep running races like this. Also I need to do way more back 2 backs.. if a 50k race destroyed me for a couple days, how am I going to run a 50miler and 50k the next day?!!
So basically no more excuses in training, and training includes nutrition, booze and sleep. No excuses.
Finally… thanks to all the wonderful people who supported me, encouraged me, inspired me. Huge thanks to the race directors, volunteers and everybody there cheering and supporting on race day!
Can’t wait to run this one again next year!