Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Chuckanut 50k

Dinosaurs make the best cheerleaders

The Chuckanut 50k is one of the classics of trail ultrarunning. Year after year, people ask us if we've run it and our curiosity finally piqued. The timing has been difficult as we've always had other races; the two previous year's we've run Peterson Ridge 40 miler, and before that it was our cyclone-enhanced Tarawera race in New Zealand. This year is also Chuckanut's 25th anniversary, a milestone we seem to enjoy since we ran Miwok on its 20th and Hood to Coast on its 25th.

At the start



We’ve had a quite a winter here in the Pacific Northwest, and there was snow on the course until about a week before the event. I knew better than to expect good weather, but I checked frequently and was excited to see some not-rain moving closer and closer to race day.

Traditional starting line selfie

Chuckanut starts in Fairhaven, on the southern outskirts of Bellingham. It was forecast to rain all day until we finished the race and hover in the mid 40s (F) so we knew we'd have to gear up just right to stave off feeling cold, especially after last week's taper that ended up feeling rather miserable in the shivering rain and splashy mud.
First use of the ultra-light waterproof gloves we were required to have for CCC

Ann got to Bellingham first and picked up our race packets. I stayed in a hotel to the north with my family, and Ann stayed to the east in a rental house with hers. She and her husband came to pick me up just before 7:30am and he dropped us off near the race start, leaving my family peacefully sleeping. With later-than-average an 8am start, it was nice to take it easy in the morning and not feel rushed.

The bay, from the long, flat gravel road out

We walked from the designated drop-off spot, along a greenway trail that would be part of the race. Ann told me that the first and last 10k of the course was on this same flat, gravel trail. I hadn’t looked at the course map or description at all, and this was not welcome news.

Enjoying the hippie aid station perhaps too much

We didn’t have too long to wait at the start/finish area in Fairview Park. We took a photo with a woman welcoming runners in an awesome T-rex costume, someone recognized me from a mutual friend a decade-plus ago, and we rehashed our gear choices while getting used to the steady rain. Then we were off, chatting in a tight pack of people right back the way we came on the trail into the park.

View of... clouds

The greenway connected us through neighborhoods and parks, then up to a flat, straight road where we could see the bay through the trees. When we saw runners headed toward us, we knew we were near the first aid station. After that, the flat part was over and we headed up the mountain.

It was fully cloudy and the view was all cloud

We ran up fire roads to the next aid station. I was grateful that Ann wasn’t pushing to run all the uphills, because I sure wasn’t. We got to the next aid station, which was strung with rainbow flags and hippie-themed. After getting a bite to eat, we made a beeline for the kissing booth. “You’ve got a customer!” shouted one of the volunteers. As the man made his way over, I said “No, I want to kiss HER and I want YOU to take a picture.” He obliged.
Long, flat gravel road

Then we were off the gravel and on to a trail along a ridge—surrounded by lovely trees and huge rocks, with what would’ve been amazing viewx if not completely obscured by clouds. As one of the volunteers at the aid station told us, this was the best part of the course. It felt worlds away from everything else, and we could finally relax and enjoy the trail without a crowd.

Some very technical parts

There were small laminated signs all along the course, and it was on this section of trail that I started to pay attention to them and realize how hilarious they were. We came to what should’ve been a stunning view of Mt Baker, but only saw white. Just next to the open vista was a sign with a photo and the words “Just in case it’s cloudy today, here’s what you’re missing!” We laughed about that one for a few miles.

A huge rock and maybe a view, if it wasn't fully cloudy

Then there was the downhill. By now we were long since soaked through, so on a particular stretch of trail that could be described as a mud slide, I let loose and flew right down the middle, splashing through the water and laughing. It felt like flying.

A lovely, full waterfall along the trail

This muddy stretch led us right into another aid station, this one pig-themed. From here we had the section called “Chinscraper” and it got significantly colder, not just because we had a slow climb up some extremely steep, rooty, rocky, technical sections. The sleet and hail didn’t help.
Downhill mud

Finally, we came back out onto the same gravelly fire road. Familiarity made it seem like we were getting close, but running memory is typically full of holes. We hit a long section we didn’t remember, and worried when we didn’t see trail markers for a while.
Chuckanut trail signs

But we were on the correct course, and eventually got back to that first aid station—now the last one. Just the long, straight, (mostly) flat 10k lay between us and the finish. We could easily see a half-mile or more ahead of us, people walking at the end of a tough race. It remained unspoken between us that we wished we, too, would stop and walk. But we didn’t. The rain finally stopped, and we slogged on at a slow, steady pace, reeling in the walkers. That felt good.
Right before a massive puddle/lake near the end

We made it back to the connecting parks and through an unfamiliar neighborhood, seeing runners who had finished their race walking away. Then we turned two corners and there was my family, right at the finish line.

After taking some photos and changing into dry clothes, we went back to our accommodations to clean up, and met up again for dinner at Wander Brewery, where the race was putting on its 25th anniversary party.
Ann, ready for more action

Chuckanut is a well-organized race, with a great sense of humor in all those signs and the themed aid stations. I enjoyed the middle 30k loop, but the 10k out-and-back section was not my favorite. I really liked Bellingham, in all of its moody forests, friendly runners, and great breweries, and I’d love to return for an adventure run. In the meantime, we’re keeping an eye out for a new race to start off next year.

No comments:

Post a Comment