Dane Mitchell, whose strong finish at Chuckanut 50k in WA included besting a number of very well-known ultrarunners, sends along this race report from the race. Heck of a job, Dane! The photo used is c. Michael Lebowitz / Long Run Picture Company; visit this link to browse his gallery of race photos or purchase un-watermarked images.
I headed out to Bellingham, Washington this past weekend to take part in the 20th anniversary of the Chuckanut 50k. I left CO under sunny skies & 70 degree weather, and was greeted in Seattle by rainfall & temps in the 30s.
It was the first time I’d been back to Washington since I graduated college in Olympia years ago. It was really nice to get back to the greenery, albeit for a short visit.
Along my drive north towards Bellingham, the sun peaked out and the clouds cleared out for the remainder of the day. I picked up my packet at the Fairhaven running store and went for a shakeout run on the last few miles of the course. I was feeling cautiously optimistic.
My training has been steady since moving to Boulder in November, with just a few hiccups. Because I really needed to rebuild my strength, I’ve been focusing more on hills and thresholds, without much emphasis on speed work and intervals. My goal was to have a solid race effort without any injuries or mishaps, which have been ever-present for the past year.
This seemed like a good course on which to get back in the saddle. And now that I’ve finally made my way back out west it seemed fitting to start off with something really competitive (though I didn’t realize how stacked this race would be).
Race morning was cold and rainy. Because of the size of this year’s race, it was organized to start in waves, which I think was a great decision. Though there were 700 entrants, it had the feel of a small trail race. We all huddled under tents, did some jogging, or sat in cars with the heat on. Without too much fanfare, our wave took off at about 8:00.
I made the mistake of starting about 4 rows back. There was very little time to thin out before we were on a gravel path. I found myself farther back than I would have liked and really had to work for the first mile or so to skirt around the edges of the path and get up towards the front. I wasn’t watching our pace, but it’s probably the fastest beginning miles of a 50k that I’ve been a part of. Once I got towards the front, I settled towards the back of the pack and relaxed for a bit.
It’s a rolling, fairly flat rec. path for about 6 miles. Because of the quick pace, there was notably less chatter than normal amongst the guys around me. After that, we hit the first aid station and began our first climbing. It was a pretty long climb, with some switchbacks in which to see the string of frontrunners. The drizzle of rain became steady snowfall towards the top of the climb. It was a little surreal to be running through this beautiful, green landscape that was quickly turning white.
I stayed towards the back of the front pack for this first single-track section, probably in about 10th position. After a steep drop with muddy curves, we kicked out at an aid station on a dirt road. This section lasted longer than I would have anticipated. It gets pretty steep in spots, and was covered in snow by the time we got to it. I baby-stepped my way to the top of this climb and managed to pass a few guys in the process.
The next section is tricky singletrack along a narrow ridge. I think the snow made it a little more hairy to run on, but it was pretty easy to follow the footprints of the guys up ahead. It took a lot of concentration, but the slow speed made it a good time to recover. You eventually come off the ridge and wind around on some really muddy, sloppy trail for a couple of miles before the steep Chinscraper incline.
I was feeling pretty good throughout the race, taking in plenty of nutrients and trying to stay hydrated. The volunteers were probably the most prepared and quick to act that I’ve seen at a trail race. They had the water pitcher in hand, ready to pour as the runners approached. They really did an outstanding job on course.
Chinscraper wasn’t as hellacious as I thought it might be. The grade goes from rolling ridge trail to incredibly steep. Fortunately, the incredibly steep doesn’t last all that long from section to section. In some ways it reminded me of the climbing up Green Mtn. in Boulder. I power walked a couple of areas where it seemed faster than running. Soon enough, you pop out in a parking lot and find yourself cruising down a dirt road. It’s easy to think that you’ve put all the effort behind you at this point.
I cruised down this area and began seeing the next waves making their way up the dirt road. I was moving pretty well, but was cautious to stay in control so as to not burn my legs out for the 6 miles of flat at the end. After a mile or so, I came to a turn and a volunteer to direct me back to singletrack. I later learned that this is the turn that the front 3 guys missed and had to backtrack. Eventually this trail becomes a road again and finally bottoms out on the 6 mile stretch that we started on.
As I was forewarned, this section lasts forever. And, as I was not forewarned, it is slightly uphill for half of it…I swear. This is the section where I was passed by Adam and Sage, who would eventually finish 1 and 2. I had passed Adam earlier on the technical section and Sage had taken the wrong turn on the hill up above. I didn’t feel like I was necessarily bonking, but I definitely had nothing in the tank. I was in survival mode, just trying to stay steady. These guys had some juice and strength that I just didn’t have at that point.
The rest of the race was a march into the finish. I could see the other 4 guys up in front of me for most of the time, until we hit the woods one more time before the last part of the rec. path. It was a relief to make the final turn to the finish, though a little bittersweet that I didn’t have any kick left to finish the last few miles stronger.
Overall, the race was a great experience. As I mentioned to a couple of people at the post-race party, it’s the kind of race that reminded me why I race trails instead of roads. It was a total adventure- slopping through snow and mud, dodging logs, getting slapped in the face by low branches, and grinding up wicked climbs.
It was also good to run a solid race with some of the best guys out there. I was able to finally put some faces to the names I’ve heard or read about in the past. I can only imagine that this race will continue to attract the top runners in the sport with the legacy it’s already created.